About Last Night…

The talk of the town today in Seattle has been TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington’s participation in last night’s TechFlash panel. One panelist said he wanted to spend the rest of his life building his startup, which is just the kind of hand-over-heart sentiment that Mike for some reason feels compelled to subvert, first by insulting the speaker, then in an odd spasm of regret, by insulting himself. Mike said in a few years the panelist would be a broken-down entrepreneur desperate to sell, just as he himself now is with TechCrunch.

Now this morning, the word is that TechCrunch is for sale. In interviews last week, last month, last year, Mike has said that he is thriving within TechCrunch, and that no one has any plans to sell the company, which now generates more than $10 million per year in revenue. And now today Mike observed that if he were trying to sell the company, he wouldn’t joke about it as an aside on a panel at Seattle University, marketing the company as a worn-out has-been that nobody would really want.

This is undoubtedly true. Anyone who has asked Mike directly about TechCrunch’s future, whether in public forums or in private, knows that the company has found a way out of the usual conundrum facing big blogs, which tend to run the founding editor into the ground, or lose their personality when he hires a team. TechCrunch is now growing happily, with a co-editor, a CEO, and a round-the-clock team of writers with their own bizarre styles.

So why didn’t Mike subject the rest of last night’s panel to a standard-issue TechCrunch sales pitch, blandly reciting how “great” and “exciting” everything is? John Cook can’t understand why a public figure making public statements can’t be taken at his word, and Mike can’t understand why he’s being treated like the CEOs of Motorola and Boeing, who never say anything interesting because their every utterance is, for both speaker and listener, nothing more than a recalibration of their companies’ stock price.

Everywhere he appears, Mike seems bewildered that we have become so earnest: about “entrepreneurialism” as a modern-day priesthood, about TechCrunch as an institution rather than a blog. What he seems to love about TechCrunch — about Silicon Valley and Seattle and all of its entrepreneurs — has always been the idea that we’re making stuff for fun; that the ideas and their inventors matter, not the publicists and the deal-makers; that we care too much and then feel silly about it; that we take ourselves seriously and then not seriously at all — and that everybody knows the difference.

Now TechCrunch is a bigger business than most of the companies it covers. We can stuff Mike into a suit and ask him to act the part, but I for one prefer the original edition: the overgrown hobbyist, the compulsive pot-stirrer, the fur-flying panelist.

Discussion

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    Amen — political correctness takes the fun out of life. I actually enjoyed the moments where the real Mike peeked through, talking about twitter striving to be the pulse of the planet, and debating (intelligently) with Andy Liu and others. Those were actually brain stirring moments, escaping from version 912 of the of VC vs. Bootstrapped debate.

    I look forward to much more non-PC discussion, and a lot of self deprecation (and significantly more passive aggression, of course)

  • http://stevemurch.typepad.com Steve Murch

    Count me in as well. Good post Glenn. I enjoy TechCrunch and learn a ton from it. Have a lot of respect for what Mike Arrington has built.

    I know Mike likes to goad everyone — and actually, Seattle techies are actually pretty far down on his list (far down after those who make inane products, for instance).

    As a former Bay Area resident and now Seattle resident, I'm fine with goading — I know it's in good fun, and I don't think there's anyone that'd say that Silicon Valley isn't the center of high tech worldwide.

    I admire the fantastic business he's built. It's a major bootstrapped success, and it'll either continue to earn him a great lifestyle, or a terrific exit if and when he desires. It's great that he's brutally honest, controversial and direct. He and the TechCrunch empire have definitely got the pulse of a large chunk of the (software/hardware) tech community.

    The only thing I have a problem with is what I see as hypocritical — he never misses an opportunity to chide those that seek work-life balance (at least in the form of the Seattle lifestyle), yet he very clearly is choosing it for himself. Yes, I know he works long hours. But he's also not raising VC funds, e.g. scaling it well ahead of revenues, doing huge-impact things like broadcast TV, or, in general, drinking the “get big or go home” Kool-Aid that is right for some businesses, but not all. He's rightly maximizing his freedom and control, running a profitable business and building value, and that's great. He's not employing 200 people with at-risk capital on an even bigger “change the world” dream, and that's fine too.

    To Mike I'd say — if Seattle is too chummy or polite or not innovative enough, or all those things — by all means call us out, and let us know why you think that's a horrible thing. But don't publicly ignore the reasons why you yourself are choosing to add some balance to your life, too, at the expense of making an even bigger impact.