Thu Sep 29 2011

The early days of Techcrunch

I remember it well: back in June 2005, I sent Michael Arrington an email criticizing his personal blog design. I also remember that design quite well - it really did look like crap. Mike and I had been blogging about similar subjects and exchanging blog post comments. Back then I was blogging at (which became my company), and Mike was starting Techcrunch. Those exchanges and that particular email I sent eventually led to Mike asking me to design Techcrunch. I needed a challenge and decided to take him up on the offer. Eventually the design launched, reader numbers grew, time passed.

A couple months later, on August 25th, I got a long email from Mike. An email which shows a side of Mike that most people sadly don’t get to see, and which included the following:>I’ve spent some time discussing edgeio with you and skirting the idea of you working with us. I believe you are a perfect fit for what we need right now. You have the skills we need and more, and I enjoy working with you. One thing I tend not to do is sell myself. I like to let my history speak for itself. But I am going to do a little selling here. (…)

I am going to rent a house next week and we will base operations there until we get a proper office. It will be at least 3 bedrooms and you are free to stay there rent free if you’d like to. (…) Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested. You are our guy.

About three weeks later, I was landing at SFO and moving into what for the 4 following years was called the Techcrunch HQ - or simply Mike’s place. In addition to working on Edgeio, in which I served as designer/developer, I was designing and writing for Techcrunch. I was seeing first-hand the beginning of what the site is today, but neither Mike or I had any idea of what the future would look like. I remember paying close attention to the blog’s reader numbers, installing the first analytics. I remember when people started just showing up at the door to talk about stuff for posts. I remember the first few times we went out to see other startups - like going out to meet Chris Messina and the rest of the Flock folks who were working from a garage in Palo Alto.

I remember going to bed and Mike being up, writing. I remember waking up, and Mike being up, writing. “Did you get any sleep?” - the answer was often “Nah”. That was okay. We’d go out for tacos, write a few posts, meet people, sleep. I remember suggesting throwing a party. I remember that first one well: Jeff Clavier, Keith Teare, Clarence Wooten and a bunch of other people showed up. The second one we did had a lot more people, demos in the living room TV, Dave McClure giving out Simply Hired tshirts. I remember Chad Hurley showing up to talk to me about doing design work for a startup he was working on (I might tell that story in a future post). The parties would continue to grow. The blog would continue to grow.

These days, Techcrunch is huge - Mike talks about how big it is in his post at Uncrunched. With the growth, a lot of things happened. People got hired, the blog grew a personality (a huge share of which was a mirror of Mike’s own), it took center stage in Silicon Valley, and got acquired. Some people started loving Techcrunch, some people started hating it. It is easy to criticize Mike because he has an opinion, just as it is easy to criticize Techcrunch because as an entity, it has an opinion too. And criticize people shall, as it is their nature. But having been there, knowing Mike, knowing the blog, my opinion is perhaps tainted.

I want Techcrunch to succeed, but I know Techcrunch isn’t the same as it was before. If I had to bet, I’d bet on whatever Mike does next, over Techcrunch itself. TC employs talented people - people who I believe are too good to be left at a blog that lost its core -, like the frequently criticized but brilliant writer MG Siegler. Techcrunch may survive because it became a goliath: but it will survive soulless. And now that it’s been a year since the AOL acquisition, I wish I could have just called Mike a year or so ago, and asked him to reconsider their offer.

”Did you get any sleep?” - “Nah.”