One of the sad things about working in media over the last eight years is the annual tradition of pre-Christmas layoffs. And somehow, no matter where I've worked, I have eluded the knife every time.
Today, at Yahoo, two things were the same as almost every other time: I eluded the knife again, and someone who I thought was one of our single biggest assets got cut. But the layoffs were different for two reasons, too:
1. It was way more people than I've ever seen laid off before, at about 1,500
2. It wasn't because the company was losing money; it's because the company is trapped in the Wall Street game.
Now, as a business reporter, I get it, Wall Street. Yahoo is a bloated company and its investors gave the board years to make necessary changes. It didn't. And while I wasn't at Web 2.0, everyone who saw Jerry Yang's talk said he couldn't articulate what the strategy even is. That's just unacceptable after the last few years of Yahoo's floundering and turning down the Microsoft bid.
Yes, as a business reporter I get all of this. Still, as a journalist, I'm so struck by the power and reach of Yahoo's platform. This may be a troubled asset next to, say, Google, but not next to 90% of media companies around the world.
In light of this-- and all the layoffs that everyone is going through this Holiday season-- the video below had a particular resonance for me today. Typically I'm a fan of Diane Von Furstenberg-- but today I'm sort of a fan of her husband.
My sympathies go out to the people behind the shows canceled on Revision3 last week. Clearly, a lot of fans were upset. You could see it in the comments on CEO Jim Louderback's blog: People loved the shows that were canceled and outraged that Rev3 would do such a thing. That outrage fed itself as they read each others comments. "See! Other people loved these shows too! How could you cancel them?!?!?!"
I have no doubt they were loved and no doubt Jim did the right thing. And that weird dichotomy shows why we still don't have full-fledged original content channels online: Video is hard to do well and video is expensive.
That causes two problems that are still hurting original video content online especially as we enter a protracted downturn: Audience and money.
When I took the job at TechTicker, I had no idea a massive credit and banking crisis would become the dominant story of the markets. As I wrote before, it makes me feel a tad irrelevant as someone who focuses on tech companies and startup culture. But the plus is it's forced me to stay very engaged in the news flow of this crisis, and re-engage with my finance reporter roots.
Fun fact: I actually started my career covering finance. The reason I don't have a Southern accent? I used to get mocked when I called Wall Street and said things like, "What do y'all think about this market?" Good times.
Anyway, during the last downturn I talked to experts over and over again who talked about a flight to quality-- ie focusing tech holdings on the big, safe tech names-- as the way to survive the turbulence. Similarly, I have CNBC on in the green room all day and all I hear is that same advice. OK, so let's see how you did if you took it: According to this chart you would have lost money on nearly every name.
Now, I KNOW, people will say ten years isn't long-term enough. Tell that to someone who was ten years away from retirement in 1999, first of all. Also, that should be considered long-term in technology, shouldn't it? It reminds me of something Peter Thiel once told me that flicks to the cultural difference between Silicon Valley and Wall Street: A bet on, say, Microsoft isn't actually a technology play. Because Microsoft wants things to stay the same. It's actually a vote against innovation.
What if instead of keeping the bet on Yahoo ten years ago as the experts told you to, you bought Google at the IPO? Or instead of SAP, you went with Salesforce? Young risky companies, yes. But, per Peter's point, it seems that's a wiser bet if you're a believer in the fundamentals of tech, because the fundamentals of tech involve change and disruption. Very few companies can stay on top of multiple market and technological shifts. Investors should think long and hard about that conventional wisdom this time around.
I've been meaning to note this for a few days, but no surprise so-called "Enterprise 2.0" companies are already having a hard time getting companies to pay (or keep paying in a few cases) for their tools. This report is focusing on bigger companies having trouble, so just think what that means for Enterprise 2.0 startups. I'm betting this will be the first decimated group of fire sales and walking dead.
Am I missing it or is there anyone out there that looks like they could whether the storm and become a big company? In a few months, you'll be able to buy a while-label social networking company for the change in your pocket. (To be clear: I put Ning in a different category, and I'm still very bullish on their prospects. I also don't think of SixApart as Enterprise 2.0, since it's not purely selling blog software to enterprises.)
Sorry for the attitude here, but I've been hard on Enterprise 2.0 as a group for a while, generally deleting any press release or pitch that has it in the subject line. 99% of them I get are bandwagon, me-too products looking for a market, or there are just already decent free alternatives. It smacks of the "B2B" movement that swept tech just before Web 1.0 collapsed. Well, it's reminiscent in terms of hype and pitches anyway. I don't think many Enterprise 2.0 companies raised huge amounts of cash, and clearly none of them have gone public, so if I'm right the fall out is, thankfully, minimal.
That kept getting chanted around TechTicker headquarters yesterday morning. No, we weren't particularly into meditation, although you'd think looking at Yahoo's stock lately, Mr. Yang would offer some new zen program for all those stock-laden employees. (Bonus Prize: One-thousand of you may be also getting pink slips soon!)
Rather, Om Malik was our guest. Remember when the early GigaOm tagline had something to do with "...just close your eyes and say 'Ommmmm'"? That was, of course, back in the day when blogging was Om's sideline job, not his empire in the making.
He's so busy that yesterday was Om's TechTicker debut, and even though he was late to the nice SF studio we booked him so he could avoid a 50 minute drive to Sunnyvale, he was a lovely guest. I look forward to having him back soon! One reason I like Om? He has strong opinions and doesn't mince words. He gets slightly more rabid as these clips go on too. Enjoy!
Om and I on Gartner's strangely rosy IT spending projections:
Om and I on why newspapers are now losing money ONLINE too:
Om and I on Jeff Bezos, aka the new Steve Jobs/Bill Gates (I gotta say, Om is right here and WTF Seattle gets ANOTHER one? Step it up, Valley!)
Om and I on, well, GigaOm and all that funding amid an ad crisis [UPDATE: THERE'S AN EMBED CODE PROBLEM HERE THAT'S PULLING THE WRONG CLIP. WILL POST THE RIGHT ONE ONCE IT'S SORTED. SHAME BECAUSE IT WAS MY FAVORITE OF THE FOUR!]:
I went on Flickr to find a picture of me giving a keynote for the speaker tab I'm about to add to the blog. (Yes, having conquered all that keynote angst, I am for hire!) Apparently, I've never searched my name on Flickr and was stunned to see so many pictures from the book tour that I'd never seen. It was actually a nice walk down memory lane. We're so nostalgic, Olivia is going to pull a few for a post later today.
I also came across this one by Thomas Hawk and suddenly, viscerally remembered how much MORE I worked and stressed out when I was on staff at BusinessWeek. This was right after my Digg cover that sucked up six grueling months of my life--including weekends and evenings-- and almost didn't even run. When it did run, it was my first big controversy, and I had no idea how to handle it. All I wanted to do was hide under a bed. It was just before the book deal that changed my life. It was a period when I wasn't eating (clearly!) or sleeping and actually started running to stay sane. I was barely in my 30s, depressed about the state of magazines and trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my career. I honestly didn't know if I could even be a reporter still and be happy or if all those jobs were just gone.
It reminded me of Jason's now much written about (and somewhat mocked) Startup Depression post. This was my period where my ass was getting kicked-- the point when it was, as he says and the awful cliche goes, darkest before the dawn. It was the time I could have just given up and, I don't know, gone into PR or had some babies. (Stop laughing, Olivia.) There was no way for me to know how much my life would change in just two years. I should remember this time every time I feel overworked, because I'm really amazingly lucky. (Or maybe good...? Groan, sorry.) I don't know many reporters who have as great of a life as I do right now.
Also, um, I know it's a wide angle lens and an artsy shot, but I don't remember ever being that skinny!
I'm going to the gym now. (Such a girl, I know.) After the gym, less sap. Really.
Yes, the "I Can Has Cheezburger?" book is coming out October 7. But you can get one FOR FREE now!
Why? Because we have the same editor.
How? By sending Sarahlacy.com a LOLCats-ed up photo of a Web entrepreneur or Valley personality. Here are two of me to get you inspired. We'll have five winners. Send to Olivia at sarahlacy dot com. NOW!
[Can't seem to embed this one. (FAIL!)]
Typically when people ask if I hold grudges I point out that I'm friends with Robert Scoble. If you're in the Web scene, that says it all. Scoble was one of three big rabble rousers at the infamous SXSW incident that is pretty much literally all around me as I write this on a lonely Saturday night in the lobby of the Austin Hilton.
To the right is the table where Mark and I joked about how funny it would be if we staged some sort of book-selling controversy on stage. Oh, yes. Hilarious. To the left, the table where I sat in a stunned state afterwards with Brandee Barker, of Facebook, and my Yahoo publicist Stephanie Arnoldy-- a God send that week. And, of course on the other side of the lobby, there's the couches where Scoble awkwardly but sincerely apologized just before we both left town.
And did I mention I just started taking antibiotics for a virus that won't go away and am not allowed to have a drink right now?? If I were on Austin's Chamber of Commerce I would re-tagline this city: "Austin: It's Always a Character Building Experience." (I'm being mostly dramatic here, we've actually had a phenomenal time.)
But back to grudges: It occurred to me recently that I could probably replace Scoble's name with Paul Carr, who by his own admission was pretty brutally vicious to me at sxsw too, and, well still brings the whole thing up on the rare occasions we're in one another's country. In other words, fairly recently, as he was in town for TechCrunch50. And it was that visit that prompted me to finally read his book, Bringing Nothing to the Party, True Confessions of a New Media Whore.
In July I was in New York at a friend's house and picked up a copy of an Entertainment Weekly from his coffee table because, yes, the young actors of the upcoming Twilight movie were on the cover. I'm no band wagoner. My niece, Ramie, turned me onto Stephanie Meyer's vampire series back in 2006 when Meyer was only on book number two, and, well, I was on my own book number one and in desperate need of an engaging read on a flight back to California. I typically do my best writing on the plane, but my laptop was experiencing epic problems the Memphis Apple store refused to address. (That's another story, read my vicious Yelp review here if you care. Scroll down to "Sarah L.")
I opened my niece's well-worn version of Twilight as soon as I got in my seat. The next thing I knew: "Ding! Flight attendants prepare the cabin for arrival." It was an utterly captivating and engrossing read that I immediately told everyone I knew about, addicting a good number of my adult friends.
Recently, as the press was crowing Meyer the new JK Rowling, an un-initiated friend asked me how furious I was as a writer that someone writing stories about Vampires would make so much money. "Not at all," I answered. I admired Meyer for following her dream and her ability to weave a narrative that sucks you in and destroys all space and time. I take writing cues from all sources-- as Katie Hafner lovingly pointed out, classic AP style isn't necessarily my favorite. (In fact, I think it kinda sucks the life out of a story, but shhhhhh! Journalists are all supposed to pretend it's awesome and people love it.) The ex-English major in me was fascinated by technically how she did it as the writing didn't seem particularly sophisticated on the surface, and the tired-of-thinking-about-business-and-tech side of me just wanted to be entertained. I couldn't be happier for her mainstream success.
So, I was sad to read in that E. Weekly about all her struggles with the Internet and the very, um, nuanced breed of rabid love and hate fans that come with it.
Recently I did a reading at Google and had lunch with one of the guys who helps recruit college kids to Google. Given the general Google mania among investors, users and Valley folks who hear the lore of the free lobster dinners and massage chairs, I would have assumed his job consisted of saying, "Hey, young genius, want to come work at Google?"
Apparently, it's a good deal harder than that. It seems a whole mini-generation of smart would-be engineers read all those business stories about their jobs being outsourced wholesale to India and pursued other careers. Bill Gates weighed in on this in front of congress earlier this year, too, in his argument for more H1-B visas and was asked by a numskull senator if this was really about taking more high-wage jobs from Americans. I was listening to the hearing on NPR, but even over the radio you could almost hear Gates's disdain for the ignorant question. After all, PhD level engineers are hardly equivalent to migrant workers. He calmly replied that Microsoft wasn't trying to hire foreign engineers on the cheap, these were six figure jobs that Microsoft physically couldn't find enough Americans with the requisite education to hire.
That's bad enough for innovation, tech and the Valley and has been a hot button issue for many local CEOs. But in a recent interview with Tom Foremski, entrepreneur Judy Estrin points out a surprising double whammy in the education system's de-valuing of more artistic and creative endeavors via No Child Left Behind. This may seem like a crazy leap, so bear with me.
Tech is a broad category, but as I've argued before so much of consumer Web innovation (and maybe mobile too, with easy to use platforms like the iPhone) isn't really so techy anymore. There's a very strong creative element to it, building on top of a pretty standard hardware and software stack, with increasingly easy-to-design tools. The best "visionaries" of the Web today are people who appreciate design, usability, name, brand and marketing. Marketing in that grassroots sense, not slimy business sense, but still, its marketing. So what happens to the future of the US tech economy if colleges aren't producing enough computer scientists and elementary and highschools aren't training people to think creatively? It's not good.
The clip is below; her point on this is towards the end. (Thanks to Jeff Slobotski for sending me the link!)
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