BoomTown Decodes TechCrunch's Dream Team Memo (So You Don't Have To)
So what prompted TechCrunch Editor Michael Arrington to pen a pugnacious piece on how blogs should not be raising so much venture capital and instead roll themselves into a “Dream Team,” with the unusual title of “More Bloggers Raising Money. Here Comes Politics. And Here Comes My Rant” yesterday?
Well, besides garnering Arrington a big dollop of traffic and attention, which is perhaps one of the blog entrepreneur’s most impressive talents, could it have something to do with the fact that he’s been busy recently talking to several well-known tech blogs about joining a roll-up organized by TechCrunch itself?
Or that he has told several people I spoke to that TechCrunch was considering doing this by raising as much as $15 million, giving it a $35 million valuation?
Reached by email last night, the voluble Arrington declined to comment.
Thus, a BoomTown translation of his TechCrunch piece is Job No. 1!
Arrington wrote: More blogs are raising venture capital, we’re hearing from people they’ve pitched. Newcomer Silicon Alley Insider is looking for a $3 million to $5 million round, if reports are correct. And paidContent is pitching for a second round in that same range (paidContent raised a round of “less than $1 million” in 2006). We’re also hearing that paidContent is trying to sell the company for $15 million or more, and just bail out with some spending money.
Translation: If that scalawag Henry Blodget thinks he can steal even an iota of my thunder, he better get ready to rumble. And while it is entirely incorrect that paidContent is selling itself or raising that much money, I love the smell of napalm in the morning and FUD in the blogosphere!
[BoomTown actually contacted paidContent's founder, Rafat Ali, who strongly reiterated that the site might raise a very small amount of money, nowhere close to $3 million to $5 million, and was not trying to sell the company at all.]
Arrington wrote: These rumored deals come as funding for bloggers is heating up in general. Just a month ago VentureBeat reported a $320,000 raise. In 2007 we saw Sugar Inc. ($10 million), GigaOm ($1 million), Xconomy, Blogher ($3.5 million) and The Huffington Post ($10 million) raise venture capital. That’s at least $25 million in 2007 invested in blogs and blog networks.
2006 was a mild year by comparison–SeekingAlpha raised an undisclosed round, as well as B5Media ($2 million), paidContent ($1 million), Sugar Inc. ($5 million) and GigaOm ($325,000). That’s just $8.5 million or a little more, about one-third of the amount invested in 2007.
As far as we know, no significant investments were made in blogs in 2005. Weblogs, Inc. raised around $300,000 in 2004, but before they got around to spending it they had sold themselves to AOL (TWX) for an estimated $25 million. The investors, including Mark Cuban, received 15x on their initial investment.
Translation: And if that elfin Jason Calacanis can score, where’s MY payoff!?! I mean, I am the Jason Calacanis of Web 2.0, aren’t I!? The Mac Daddy of the widget economy! The Sultan of Zing! And did Calacanis ever have the chutzpah to pose for a picture lighting cigars with a handful of crisp, flaming Benjamins! I think not!
Arrington wrote: But apart from that first 2004 investment in Weblogs, Inc., there haven’t been any sales or liquidity events to suggest these investments will be a success. And back then blogging was a cakewalk. Most bloggers linked to each other constantly in a state of brotherly or sisterly love. No one was making any money or getting much attention, so for the most part people got along (with notable exceptions like engadget/gizmodo, who play to win).
Translation: The rain may never fall till after sundown./By eight, the morning fog must disappear./In short, there’s simply not/A more congenial spot/For happily-ever-aftering than here/In Camelot.
Arrington wrote: Those salad days are long gone. Writers suddenly want to be paid market wages, far above the $5 per post that they received two years ago. No, we’re talking a big salary, with benefits, and stock options. There went half your margins at least.
Translation: Wages?! Big salary!? Benefits!? Stock options!!!??? Half your margins!!? Who do these people think they are? The Web 2.0 shooting stars I write about incessantly in TechCrunch?
Arrington wrote: And writing good content is only half the battle. You have to figure out the complex, dynamic web of politics between bloggers and mainstream media before you post to know where to get support. And you’ll need support in the form of links from other prominent bloggers. An early push can take a post and make it a headline on TechMeme, which leads to page views and notice by sponsors. But since blogging is almost by definition a conversation between bloggers, fights tend to break out over emotional issues. Cliques develop. Can you count on them to support you down the road?
Translation: TechCrunch is from Mars, Valleywag is from Venus.
Arrington wrote: Personally, I’ve found that if a fight is necessary, fight clean and fight hard. Make it as bloody as possible and end it fast, with no loose ends dangling about. Leave no lingering emotional stone unturned. When everyone gets up and dusts themselves off, the issue should have been resolved one way or the other, and both sides should be happy to shake hands and tango another day, even if the handshaking is done privately. Those that aren’t capable of doing that tend to push themselves to the outskirts of the blogosphere, where their main job is to lob in attacks at random intervals, pursuing long-forgotten insults.
Translation: Bloody tango? Ouch. Ew. Yuk. And handshakes after that seems unhygienic. But let’s solider on. Aha! Another Broadway musical clue! The Jets are gonna have their day/Tonight/The Jets are gonna have their way/Tonight/The Puerto Ricans grumble/”Fair fight”/But if they start a rumble/We’ll rumble ‘em right.
Arrington wrote: So today, at best, I’d describe the blogosphere as a frontier town with no lawman (I mean, O’Reilly has a badge on, but no gun and no jail). You can do just about anything you want, but the politically savvy folks tend to arm themselves to the teeth and gang together to protect their property. Everyone else is in the middle of chaos, either fighting blindly for attention or politely asking (by linking early and linking often) if they can join the big Gang.
Translation: Wait, now the metaphor has shifted to the Old West? OK, we can keep up: Anything you can do, I can do better./I can do anything better than you./No, you can’t./Yes, I can./No, you can’t./Yes, I can./No, you can’t./Yes, I can, Yes, I can!
Arrington wrote: And now that the big guys in the Gang are being injected with capital, hiring tens of employees and expanding their businesses, they suddenly have a lot more to lose. Linking is never done just because. Rather, links are your political capital that must be expended appropriately. Don’t link at the right time and in two weeks when you’re pushing your own headline, you’ll wish you had. When you stop seeing other blogs as people you admire and want to discuss things with, and start to see them as your competitor, your brain shifts and you stop linking the way you had previously.
Translation: Hey, how did we get to Washington, D.C. and the inside of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s cerebral cortex in the midst of yet another compromised political calculation? It’s like we’re on “Fantastic Voyage”!
Arrington: Luckily, the newbie bloggers are there to fill in the links when they’re needed. That’s why, if you are a mid-level blogger, you are likely courted by the bigger blogs looking to get your support. If you know what’s going on and are willing to play the game, you can see your blog rise very, very quickly. Choose the wrong blog, though, and you may find yourself alone and lonely in your forgotten blog.
As an aside, when I see a young but promising blogger, I’ll start linking to him or her constantly to build them up (others, like Winer, Scoble, Jarvis and Rubel did that for me). The goal is to help move them up to a position of influence as quickly as possible. The more non-crazy influencers in the game, the easier it is to ignore the noise generators and the better the overall conversation becomes. Over the last year, for example, Silicon Alley Insider, CenterNetworks, LouisGray and Mathew Ingram I’ve been pushing hard. These guys rarely agree with me, but when they talk I listen because they’ve put some thought into what they are saying and how they are saying it. Those guys haven’t hit the big politics yet, and tend to link out a lot to everyone. They are a very important part of the ecosystem–pushing their link votes toward stories they find interesting and helping those other bloggers get headlines and maintain their place in the Gang.
Translation: Next stop, the stylings of Mr. Michael Corleone! There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Arrington wrote: So what’s the point of this rant? Well, all this money flowing into the blogosphere is disrupting the complicated and emotional, but also stable way things are done. Bloggers with money and employees and health care programs and boards of directors and shareholders have to play politics with a whole new group of people, splitting them away from what they do best–Fighting the Blog War. Their behavior can become erratic as they have to decide to tone down their writing to get a certain type of sponsor on board, which in turn lets them make payroll. Investors want to see growth, so more and more blogs are launched, but perhaps without the right talent to grow it into a long-term business.
In short, I believe the money is being, for the most part, wasted.
If a VC hands you a check, their intention is not to hang around for 20 years while you build a nice lifestyle business for yourself. What they want to see is an exit, preferably a 10x or higher exit, within 3 to 4 years. But something tells me that few of these networks are going to be able to grow quite as easily as they think and reach those liquidity events. The talent is, increasingly, locked up. Even when new talent is discovered or trained, every niche has serious heavyweights already there with page views and advertising dollars to back them up for a long fight.
Translation: Finally, the point! Which is: Assimilate or Die!
Arrington wrote: At some point it’s going to become painfully obvious that the only way to get to a massive valuation is for the top talent to band together in a company where they each have an equity stake and therefore a reason to work all night on that next great story. They’ll each have their own space to stretch their legs and let their personality run around a little. Someone needs to pony up a big round of financing around an existing blog, or perhaps a new entity, and then start rolling them up into a big fat CNET-crushing $200 million/year in revenue business.
Translation: This is my sneaky but clever way of floating a trial balloon of an effort I am already trying to organize. The existing blog? Mine! The new entity? Run by me! The $200 million a year? Mine, again! Now, enough about me–what do you think of me?
Arrington wrote: It can happen. In fact it’s almost certainly going to happen. But if you bloggers go out there and raise $3 million to $5 million on say a $10 million valuation, you’ve just priced yourself out of the roll-up. That option will be closed to you, and you’ll be stuck out in the cold, taking life-support payments from Federated Media or another ad network, and having a generally awful time running your business.
Translation: Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
Arrington wrote: What I’d like to see, and even be a part of, is the blogger equivalent to the 1992 U.S. Men’s Basketball Dream Team. That team could take CNET apart in a year, hire the best of the survivors there, and then move on to bigger prey.
Translation: After we are done bloody-tangoing with Neil Ashe at CNET (CNET), Owen Thomas and his evil overlord Nick Denton better sleep with one eye open.
Arrington wrote: Just the thought of being a part of something like that has held us back from raising any outside capital at all. I believe we have the beginning of a team that can play a role in this new Dream Team.
So think twice before taking that venture money, guys. You may be shutting more doors of opportunity than you realize.
Translation: By saying we have held back from raising any outside capital at all, what I really mean to say is that I am going to do it.
Resistance is futile.