May 2011 Archive
I just got home from TechCrunch's second New York Disrupt Conference, and as detailed on this blog already, I was pretty exhausted from the travel and the pace. But it wasn't hard getting the adrenaline pumping each day. The conference was one of the best ones we've produced to date.
It occurred to me the other day that this is the happiest I've ever been working full-time for someone else. No one is more surprised at this than I am. I put off joining TechCrunch full time for years, in part because of my book, but also because I wasn't sure the massive egos of Arrington and me could fit under the same roof. And when AOL bought TechCrunch, I didn't think I'd last a month.
But Disrupt reminded me of every reason why TechCrunch is such a great fit for me. In short, it's all about the entrepreneurs. There was so much positivity and support around the companies launching, and everyone got so emotionally wrapped up in who they wanted to win. And doing backstage interviews with the finalists, just before we found out the winner, it was clear how much the platform had already helped their companies. That's an amazing and humbling thing to be a part of.
That sense of community and really rooting for great entrepreneurs is always what I've argued has made TechCrunch so succesful. In my previous jobs for traditional media companies, I hated the cynicism, the desire to shoot down anything just because it was new or differnet. Until of course, it hits a clear tipping point and then everyone pretends they believed in it all along. That doesn't serve readers in any way, and TechCrunch is the opposite of that.
But the other reason I love working there is they give me a big platform, pay me a nice salary, but let me do pretty much anything I want, whether that's flying to Nigeria or blogging from home in pajamas. I don't know another job like that in the media world. There's almost always a trade off with one of the three: Platform, pay or autonomy. It feels too good to be true. Hopefully, it lasts for a while. (At least until I give into that itch to write another book.)
The vareity also allows me to do a lot of different jobs in one. For Disrupt, I got to do three days of live television hosting the livestream backstage. I wouldn't want to do TV all the time, but for three days it was a lot of fun. Our head of TechCrunchTV, Jon Orlin, was in his element, building out an insane backstage studio and basically producing more than 24 hours of live programming. I'll be posting some of the interviews people may have missed on TechCrunch this week. You can watch most of them here.
I'm bummed I won't be able to do it again for a year: I'll be giving birth (or preparing to or recovering from giving birth) during San Francisco Disrupt and on stage during Beijing Disrupt.
As most of you know, in addition to growing a baby I've also been traveling around talking about my new book, Brilliant Crazy Cocky. My goal is to sell books (duh), but also (hopefully) to inspire people outside of the Silicon Valley ecosystem by telling some of the stories of innovation and jaw-dropping human triumph that I discovered along my forty week journey in emerging markets.
A few people have asked to see a video, and until now I didn't have one. But Next11 just posted one on its site today. The time slot was a bit shorter than I'm used to and I was fighting a cold, so I'm not sure it's my best performance. But lucky for me, the entrepreneurs I met reporting the book are so amazing, it's hard to mess this keynote up too much! Check it out here. My next talk will be at the Creative Company Conference in Amsterdam.
Btw, I should give a shout out to my speaking agents at the American Program Bureau. Not only have they been booking a ton of dates for me this year, but I've never had an organization take such good care of me, prepping me for events, organizing logistics and asking again and again if there's anything they can do to make the baby and I more comfortable. Thanks guys.
Well, I am back from most of my jetsetting. My trips to Berlin and New York were great, but towards the end the travel and pace got pretty brutal. Particularly, my flight back from JFK. I'd asked to be booked on an early flight, because all Hell seems to break loose after 12 pm at JFK. But AOL Travel booked me on a 7:15 pm flight.
Evening before Memorial Day weekend-- you can imagine how packed that place was. The security guy told me the flights leaving JFK were collectively at 95% capcacity. Mine was overbooked, and people were already being rolled over to Saturday. Then a storm West of us meant forty planes could not take off, leading to an epic backup of flights that meant we sat on the plane for more than four hours. (Per the FAA rules, we went back to the gate at three hours, but I didn't get off the plane. I was basically staging a sit-in until I got to San Francisco.)
In case you've never been pregnant, let me tell you-- 4+ hours with no water in an upright coach seat isn't a good idea. I landed at 4 am dehydrated and with about ten pounds of extra fluid in my legs, but thankfully no blood clot.
None of this has to do with Reid Hoffman. But the general insanity of the last week explains why I'm only now linking to this TechCrunch story I wrote on him on the eve of LinkedIn's rocket-ship IPO. If you haven't read it, you should. Not because I wrote it, but because the insanity of LinkedIn's stock has twisted the mass-media story into something about greed and capitalism and OMG! ANOTHER BUBBLE! Unfortunately, that obscures the core of who Hoffman is as an entrepreneur and what made LinkedIn so successful.
I have followed LinkedIn since I was an unknown reporter at the San Jose Business Journal-- nearly ten years ago. I've written magazine stories, blog posts, books and done video interviews about LinkedIn and Reid as my career has twisted and turned since then, and LinkedIn's future has slowly but steadily mapped up and to the right.
I won't pretend I'm totally impartial here: Hoffman is one of the more generous, good-hearted people I've met in my 15 year career interviewing entreprenuers aorund the world. It's almost impossible not to like him. But what's important about Hoffman is that he's also incredibly good at what he does. I argue in the TechCrunch piece that he should be the model for wide-eyed entrepreneurs looking to the Valley for role models, not Mark Zuckerberg.
I didn't mean this as a knock on Zuckerberg at all. He's one of the most impressive founders I've ever met. But Facebook is a once-a-decade phenomenon. You are likely not a Mark Zuckerberg. But with hard work, talent, dedication, and vision, you could be a Reid Hoffman.
And certainly no one should emulate the phony Mark Zuckerberg that Ben Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin invented to enrich themselves. Just after "The Social Network" came out, I had lunch with Valley entrepreneur and angel investor Shervin Pishevar and we were talking about the movie's potential impact. He said he was worried that a generation of kids would watch the movie and think that's Silicon Valley-- the same reason a generation of douche bags went into finance after watching Wall Street-- a movie that was supposed to be warning America about glorifying greed.
I was reminded of this conversation at Disrupt earlier this week. I don't want to get into the details (again) but a company named Lumier was set to demo. Instead, a guy who looked to be clearly mimicking the Sorkin version of Zuckerberg got up, bragged about his role in the Windows ecosystem (who knew people bragged about that?), demoed little more than an animation he was proud of, and essentially told the panel of esteemed judges, the audience that had paid thousands of dollars to be there, and a room of startup hopefuls who didn't get the opportunity to launch their companies on stage, that "that should be enough" for us.
The way he spoke sounded a lot like Zuckerberg from the movie, which I chalked up to a coincidence. But several people who've worked with him before have since emailed me to say he never talks like that normally, and it was as if he was affecting an accent.
I have no idea if that's true. I've never met him before, and have no desire to talk to him ever again. But I do know this: This kid gained nothing but contempt for his performance. No one thought he was badass. You know what made the real life Zuckerberg badass? BUILDING A HUGE $50-BILLION COMPANY.
I first met Zuckerberg when he was 19, and he was a bit of a punk. (Still nothing like the movie's depiction, by the way.) But tellingly, no one was feting him then. It was only when he rapidly grew out of that bratty mid-college phase, surrounding himself with people he could learn from, and conciously working to become a better person that Facebook became the phenomenon it is today and Zuckerberg became the person that would-be entrepreneurs aspire to be. The person who was worthy of a film. Too bad one wasn't actually made about him.
So to sum up: You probably aren't the next Mark Zuckerberg. But if you're going to try to be anyway, pick the right one to emulate. You know, the actual one.
Paul Carr came over to explore Berlin with me after my Next11 keynote and his book launch in London. We wandered through Mitte for a few days, checking out shops, restaurants, starups and galleries and both kind of fell in love with the city.
It helped that we made a great choice in hotel staying at the Weinmeister. The site looks sort of pretentious and awful, but it was the textbook good, local boutique hotel.
Since Paul is the hotel expert, we decided to do a quick video about it, that also became a wistful description of how much older and calmer we are since our first books launched in 2008. And then there's a dog fight.
Note that Paul seems fit and refreshed thanks to his sobriety; whereas I look like a woman who is six months pregnant, tired and traveling too much.
In Berlin for the Next11 conference and hitting a wall. I actually think it has less to do with being pregnant and more to do with jetlag and a cold. I am just hoping to get through my keynote today without coughing too much.
Speaking of, I am the closing keynote for the conference, which can be the kiss of death attendance-wise. If you're at the conference- please stay!! I'll be good! I promise!
I'm staying a few days after the conference with Paul Carr to see some of Berlin before we head to TechCrunch's Disrupt NYC. (No sense flying back across the country.) I'm excited to see a bit more of the city and do a few more meetings with entrepreneurs. Only a few more quick trips after Disrupt before I'm (somewhat thankfully) grounded!
I started out with a photo essay about "Computer Village," where many Nigerians go to buy technology or get it repaired. One or two attention-seeking Nigerian bloggers got upset about this post saying it wasn't reflective of Nigerian tech entrepreneurs. Um.....yeah, that's why I didn't say it was. I don't consider the Best Buy in San Francisco the braintrust of Silicon Valley either. But it's always interesting to see how everyday people around the world buy and consume technology produced by US companies. To check out the post, go here.
*This* was my post on Nigerian tech entrepreneurs. The scene is definitely more nascent than what I've seen in countries like Brazil or Indonesia, but I was really impressed by a few companies I met. My favorite was a company called Gyst. Read all about them and the other startups I met here. The article also talks about some of the unique challenges to starting companies in Nigeria: In particular an insanely skewed dual economy thanks to oil money and corruption and the stigma Nigerian scammers have cast over the legit tech community.
My next two stories were about the insane world of Nollywood, or Nigerian filmmaking. It's the second largest film industry in the world by volume, a potential goldmine and an industry that captures all the unique nuances of the Nigerian spirit-- both good and bad. If the post on tech entrepreneurs represents the hopeful case for the country, and the reality of 419 scamming represents the most troubling side of the country; Nollywood is right down the middle. A good story turned into a great story when we got detained by a vigilante court and had to bribe our way out. You have to click on a story that starts out: "It was when they pulled out the machetes that I started to worry."
For glimpses of the chaotic market where Nollywood movies are bought and sold, go here.
Finally, today I posted what I expect will be the most controversial story from my trip. It's about the world of 419 scammers in Nigeria. I spent my last day in Nigeria talking to about a dozen current and reformed scammers, and it was chilling and fascinating at the same time. Westerners will probably feel like I'm glorifying criminals; many Nigerians will feel like I'm bringing more attention to the national stereotype that plagues them. But, as I argue in the post, Nigeria has to face and tackle this problem if it is going to realize its potential in the emerging world, and I wanted to understand the people behind the emails and attacks.
Not surprisngly, they share a lot of the same characteristics of great entrepreneurs-- which is terrifying and encouraging for Nigeria's future, depending on the path the country takes. I tried to present their stories without judgement, but I found the toll that a life of crime had taken on these "Yahoo boys" heartbreaking. From one current scammer:
“You white people have very flexible hearts. We’ve seen it. That’s why there can be no true love in Nigeria. Your closest friends rip you off here.” He continued, “I wish I could stop. I’m not into the black man power like some people. I don’t want to make someone sell their house; I don’t want to take everything. I just can’t find a job. If I had a junior brother I wouldn’t teach him. You get addicted to it.”
For the full story, head here. It's a fascinating country that will change a lot in the next five to ten years. I hope we get to go back.
Later today, I head to Berlin to speak at the Next11 conference, and meet with several German entrepreneurs. After that, I'll head directly to New York for TechCrunch Disrupt. Wish the baby and me luck kicking an annoying cold that came back from Omaha with us.
I'm only doing three unpaid speaking gigs this year as the baby needs a new pair of....everything. They're all special cases.
One is in Berlin next week, and I committed before I knew I was pregnant and my travel schedule would be this mental. But I've been dying to go to Berlin, so I kept the date. Paul Carr is meeting me after the UK launch of his book and there are several interesting startups I'm going to meet with.
Another one is in my hometown of Memphis, and the day before my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. It's the family's only chance to marvel at my massive pregnant belly-- something my parents were starting to doubt would ever happen. And I can influence the kid's taste buds with some Memphis BBQ. That one is a quadruple no brainer.
The third is Big Omaha, where I'm speaking today. Omaha was one of my favorite spots during my User Generated Book Tour in 2008. I met Jeff Slobotski while I was here, and told him he needed to capitalize on the connections and energy between the 150 or so people who came out to my event.
He organized Big Omaha later that year, and it has become huge in a short period of time. There's an amazing roster of speakers this year, and tickets sold out in a flash-- with a 300 person waiting list to get in. I told him yesterday he needs to bite the bullet and make it a bigger event next year. The Midwest is clearly hungry for what he's doing.
They agreed to fly me here and buy some books, so I was thrilled to come back to speak-- even though I only had a few days between Nigeria and Berlin. The baby: Not thrilled. His catch phrase this month is rapidly becoming, "Oh, FFS." (I don't know where he picked up that kind of language.)
Anyway, last night I get and not only have they booked me into a gorgeous room at the historic Magnolia hotel, they left me a goodie bag-- complete with cow-themed baby toys. When I begged off the opening night party to catch up on work, they recommended an amazing restaurant-- Flatiron Cafe-- half a block from the hotel and offered to make a reservation.
It was a perfect evening. I finally got the headspace to draft the rest of my Nigeria posts (two big ones running this weekend) and had a phenomenal meal of crispy jumbo prawns and a Berkshire pork chop with sweet corn brulee. The restaurant is completely surrounded by windows and a surging thunderstorm outside only added to the mood. (In addition to BBQ, thunderstorms was someting I had to give up moving to California eleven years ago. I always miss them.)
Of course, when I went to pay, Slobotski had already picked up the tab. What??? As anyone from the South or Midwest knows, hospitality isn't just about spending money on a guest-- it's thinking of little details like that.
This morning I'm headed off to a breakfast organized by the Kauffman Foundation, my knights in shining armor who funded part of Brilliant Crazy Cocky and also support Big Omaha, then to the conference. My keynote is this afternoon and I'll be talking about the innovation I found around the world during my book. The message is: If Rwanda can innovate, Omaha certainly can.
Then I gotta fly home to catch up on work and leave Sunday for Berlin. After Berlin, I'll see you all in New York for TechCrunch Disrupt!
If you're here and you have a book and want me to sign it, don't be shy. I'd be honored.
Today I spoke at the Platform, an event in Nigeria put on by the Covenant Christian Centre aimed at inspiring Nigerians to think outside the box. I was a little intimidated. Not only was the site on the same grounds where Nigeria declared independence, but I was sharing the stage with some amazing speakers. And there were 10,000 people in the audience and millions more watching on national television and the livestream online. Quite the gig.
Here's a glimpse of what it looked like-- only the audience fanned out from the stage in a T-shape, so the camera only captures a fraction of the people there. (I'm the tiny speck on stage above.) It was amazing looking out at all the faces, hungry for inspiration. Hopefully they left happy!
After the big keynote, we did smaller breakout sections. I did my first keynote about the different types of innovation I found during my 40-week journey around the emering world. For the second one, I talked about lessons entrepreneurs should learn from Silicon Valley's ecosystem, and traits of Silicon Valley they shouldn't try to replicate. Pregnant lady on parade!
My poor baby must be sick of my keynotes. I remember once in junior high someone asked me the definition of existentialism, expecting to stump me and I rattled it off without batting an eyelash. I wasn't a prodigy-- my dad was just a philosopher and I grew up listing to that stuff. Likewise, after all these keynotes my baby is going to be born knowing the GDP, population and growth rates of the seven largest emerging markets.
Finally, here's me with Pastor Poju-- the head of The Covenant Christian Centre and the organizer of the event. And below, there's me with some of the staff. They put on an amazingly seamless event.
During my book travel, I posted a series of International Travel Tips. Most of them revolved around how I managed to live out of a tiny green suitcase for up to five weeks and three countries at a time. Now, I'm doing it pregnant.
For me, traveling pregnant isn't near as difficult as many people imagine. I'm having an insanely easy pregnancy, and the doctor has ordered anyone who wants me to fly across oceans to speak has to fly me business class-- a luxery I've never had before. Still, there are some pregnancy-travel necessities that I've come to appreciate.
1. COMPRESSION SOCKS. Other than a Passport, this is the only thing that would get me to turn around and drive back to the house mid-airport dash. The only real threat of this kind of travel is the increased risk of bloodclots, and one of the best ways to guard against it is wearing maternity support hose. Blech. I wore them on my flight to Indonesia and was miserable. They're just not comfortable and I look about as cool as a 1980s secretary who's switched her heels for tennis shoes for the commute home. Even the maternity ones squeeze my belly more than my ankles.
But I picked up these compression foot-less socks at The Nest, a great maternity boutique in San Francisco, earlier this month, and I adore them. Anytime my ankles turn into elephant feet, I throw them on just like I'd put on legwarmers during a flight or in the evenings and the swelling goes down dramatically. Last week, I wore them under some boots walking all over New York, then caught a flight home in them, and still got home to normal, non-cankles.
They're actually comfortable too. No one minds compression around their ankles-- it's like a massage. It's the full pantyhose pushing on the belly that suck.
2. ThinkThin Bars and Decaf Green Tea Bags. I discovered ThinkThin bars when I was crashing Benchmark Capital's offices a month ago and fell in love with them. Low on sugar, high on fiber and protein and yummy, they are my new favorite ready-snack. And those are more important to have on hand pregnant, because I can't do two things I do constantly when I travel: Skip meals and then eat anything in sight.
I've also found that "decaf" doesn't exactly translate in most places. Having some tea bags in my purse at all times makes it easier to turn down coffee when I'm horribly jetlagged.
3. Maternity Trenchcoat. I got this awesome coat at The Bump, a maternity boutique in Brooklyn that Mr. Lacy discovered while he was working in NYC earlier this year. It's hands-down the best maternity store I've found, and this trench was one of the best things I bought. No jackets button these days-- obviously-- and that's a problem living in windy San Francisco. This trench is great on the road too, because it keeps the wind out, but is incredibly lightweight, packs easily and doesn't wrinkle. It's an instant way to look pulled together-- looking fitted and classic up top, with plenty of room to flare at the belly.
4. Atlas Visa. Regular readers know the most annoying part of all my book travel was dealing with VISAS. Because my husband and I were bootstrapping this book and strapped for cash, I couldn't afford expediters and spent days at consulates, mostly begging to get documents in the short windows I had between trips. Thankfully, a full-time job has changed that, and the best visa expediter I've worked with is Atlas Visa in Washington DC. They've got great relationships with each consulate and are super efficient.
5. Pinky Ball. For those who don't know the way around a pilates studio, this is a hard pink ball about the size of a fist that rolls out all your tense muscles. It takes up little space, and put it on knots in your back and rock back-and-forth in your seat or against a wall, and you've got an in flight massage.
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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