Meet the wizard of Web 2.0
When TechCrunch's Michael Arrington talks - and he talks a lot - Silicon Valley listens.
(Fortune) -- Mike Arrington tells me he has one wish: He'd like to write about startups. This surprises me since I - and just about everyone else I know - read his TechCrunch blog daily, mainly for his startup coverage.
But no, he says: "I'd really like to have just a startups blog. Cover every single startup. But that's something only about 50,000 to 100,000 people care about."
Let me parse the irony here. Arrington, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur, launched TechCrunch in June 2005 to cover the startup world. It turned out that his passion and insider's knowledge quickly established him as the Walter Winchell of Silicon Valley - part gossip columnist, part kingmaker, anointing the best of the latest wave of Web 2.0 companies.
A positive mention on TechCrunch doesn't necessarily assure a company's success, but it sure helps. TechCrunch today tops the lists of the most influential - and linked-to - tech blogs, and courting Arlington has become an integral part of the launch cycle.
Arrington has expanded overseas- French and Japanese editions of TechCrunch launched two years ago- and added a half-dozen ancillary blogs to his network. But with each growth spurt, he's moved further away from the thing he loves most: covering startups.
Arrington and his team work out of a dowdy ranch-style home in Atherton, an upscale suburb south of San Francisco. The rental where he lives and labors looks more like a bachelor pad than an office, with his mostly male, caffeine-fueled co-workers huddled in bedrooms, clattering away on computers. A rangy Labrador wanders around, keeping an eye on things.
The big, slouchy, pale-faced guy with eyes ringed from sleep deprivation is Arrington; he tends to wake up at noon and start foraging like a panda in a kitchen stocked with too much soda and not much else.
The first order of business is to sort through the hundreds of e-mail touts and tips that came in overnight. This is the main source of an A-list blogger's daily work, what one former TechCrunch employee described to me as "idea flow." The idea flow is strong these days, says Arrington, and he has no problem with the grueling schedule. His problem is that the nature of what he does is changing. "Blogs," he says, "are starting to go the way of mainstream media."
Ah, the kiss of death: mainstream media, a term that to bloggers connotes a bland corporate worldview. But now that he mentions it, yes, he's right. All the successful blogs are starting to take on the trappings of the very thing they disdain.
Sites that started out as tiny operations - titles like ReadWrite Web, Mashable, GigaOm, and Silicon Alley Insider - have staffed up and are turning into small businesses. Arrington himself employs ten people.
That's because, like any business, blogs must keep growing to thrive. And Arrington intends to thrive. The site brought in $800,000 in 2006 and $3 million in 2007 - and the growth rate hasn't slowed. But the beast must be fed, and that means hiring more writers to amp up daily output. What started as a passion - a guy in his bedroom writing about startups and the wild go-go gold rush of Silicon Valley - has given way to covering daily tech news.
I don't mean to make too much of this. And Arrington certainly doesn't. He's too professional for that. A Stanford University-educated attorney, Arrington decamped from a short run at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the Valley's best-known tech law firm, to do biz dev at a variety of startups before launching TechCrunch.
His site hit a few bumps in the road. At one point he took heat for writing about companies in which he had an undisclosed stake. This is verboten in the business press but seems only to have enhanced his street cred in the Valley. A "Disclosures" entry on his blog currently lists investments in six companies, including a social network for dog owners called Dogster. "Don't look for the golden fountain of objectivity," he has written. "It doesn't exist"
Arlington is starting to talk about taking funding from investors as away to bring in more talent. As it grows, TechCrunch will become less Arlington's personal vehicle and more a news brand. That ought to make it easier to sell - the end game for most Valley entrepreneurs, including Arrington. "Everything,'' he says, "is for sale." Maybe that's how he can get back to writing about startups.