From Journalist to Entrepreneur
Partial unedited notes on a Saturday, Oct. 3 session at the Online News Association annual convention in San Francisco.
- Mark Briggs, CEO, Serra Media, moderator
- Ann Grimes, acting director, graduate journalism program at Stanford University
- Scott Lewis, CEO, voiceofsandiego.org
- Om Malik, Founder/CEO, GigaOm
Discussion notes by Bill Densmore
twitterstream for this breakout viewable at:
Ann Grimes: What we're seeing with our 20-somethings is a lot of them want to do startups. "From where I sit today it seems like there is a tremendous amount of activity going on."
Scott Lewis, voice of San Diego: Start as a writer in 2005. And there was a crisis in leadership. He and a friend put together a proposal for the board of directors. He was co-editor.
"We kept hoping that a magic businessman would show up someday, but that magic person turned out to be little old me." He took over the job of CEO. Burden fell on him to try and diversify revenue and "reach that elusive goal of sustainability."
Goes to bed with the jobs of 13 people on his mind and wakes up with it on his mind, and sometimes doesn't sleep.
"I've had to learn how to fire people and cut costs ... and make tough decisions."
They are above budget, continuing to diversify their revenue streams and having an impact on San Diego. He is working to enable peole to have more and more impact, "it is as much of a thrill as anything I did journalistically."
Mark Briggs: Doing a startup is like having a baby.
Om Malik, founder/ceo, GigaOm. "GigaOm just started." He was frustrated with working at a monthly magazine. He had experience as a daily. In 2005 he left the monthly to do the 24/7 blog. Started June 2006.
there are 21 people, and a network of seven blogs now. STarted four and acquired three, had four conferences in 2009 will have six in 2010.
"It looks much easier from the outside than it really is."
"I think there is a myth about the startup entrepreneur, we have turned them into rock stars." "But when the rewards come in it is a fantastic feeling. It is a pretty proud moment. But as a startup, 99% of the time you're going to have bad days but there is one day that is awesome."
Mark Briggs cites successful multi-stream journalism startups
- ProPublica.org --
- ArtsJournal.com -- Profitable for a long time, an original aggregator site.
- Xconomy -- San Diego, Seattle and Boston. Paying really well.
- Pegasus News -- sold twice. Continuing to grow, setting new records for traffic and revenue.
- Spot.us -- started spot us in the bay area and crowd funded journalism. Now branching out into los angeles.
- publish2 -- Scott karp started company which is in the same market as Serra Media. Journalists can provide technology to help journalists provide coverage and content. Others like CoverItLive and Caspia.
Back to discussion
QUESTION: How will this wave of entreneurialism affect the big media companies?
Anne Grimes: Some of these are being formed by people who have left legacy media.
MSM media advantages: Distribution, and advertising.
"I don't see any difference in my journalistic staff than any other staff" in the MSM.
Scott Lewis: "A type of cluster has come up in San Diego and I'm very proud of that. We have inspired people to think that they can do a site like this."
Re competitors: "I have to really think about who my competition is. They are only focused on advertising."
Big donors, small doners, grants and foundations, corporate sponsors and advertisers and trying to develop syndication.
"I'm pusuing an egamgenet wiht san diego. i want people to now that we are a servic eand we are there for them."
Newspapers: Editorial sides think as competition. "BUt as a business are we competitive with the union tribune? They are not trying to set up a sophisiticated member program, they don't do sponsors in the same way, they don't apply for grants."
"I also think the traditional papers are reacting very strangly." Emphasizing power and size. "I think we are going to see the trajectory of where we are going hurt that."
QUESTION: Would VC's fund a local news operation now?
Anne Grimes: There is a lot of activity in this space that is drawing a lot of headlines. Rcently in texas we have seen Austin Ventures step up to the plate to back the TExas Monthly there to the tune of $5 million. Now they hope to make that sustainable, they hope to get a return on investment, $5M isn't a lot."
In San Francisco, Warren Hellman has backed a new venture for bay area news. "Their hope is to turn it from a nonprofit into a moneymaking operation."
Om: "I can tell you they do want their money back."
"I basically have made my problems other people's problems in my business."
Because you are on the web you have to treat and measure everything>
"What you are seeing is the breakdown of the channels of communciation, It's the atomization of news. "I live to sreve my readers -- we have to make that our mantra. If you are going to be a journalists, you always have to remember who you are serving." and everything has to be measured against your P&L. The VCs help you to do that.
Om's three revenue channels . . . they go back and forth seasonally between profitability and non-profitability. Three product lines are advertising -- mostly sponsorships -- very little CPM, a research business, a subscription business that is growing actively, and an events business. They are decreasing their reliance on advertising.
Scott Lewis: "He's focused on the mission. "In order to sustain it we need as many revenue sources as possible and the nonprofit model offers more revenue sources. We have to react to amarket, create a need and fill it and continue to provide a service. We feel there is a total market relationship it's just that the return on the relationship gets reinvested in the mission."
"When ChiTown went down a couple of weeks ago it raised a lot of questions ... I think if anything it shows how much is avaialble in the non-profit sphere."
"I think there's an interesting thing going on right now, everybody sees an opportunity, I don't think they see exactly how it plays out."
Scott Lewis: Focused on the mission.
Ann Grimes: "Fundamentally jouranlists are really risk averse." "The jouranlists say lets throw the spagetti agaisnt the wall. ... it just has to be good enough to get the first version out there and temperamentally people are very resistent to that."
Mark Briggs: Good point -- journalists are good at perspective and looking at why other people screwed up. "Now its journalists chance to step up."
AUDIENCE QUESTION: "How do the grownups among us .... " take the leap?
Mark Briggs: First of all you have gotta convince your wife, and if she has a full time job that's a pretty good start. And you do a lot of things in advance. Before I left my job we had built a working prototype, we had taken it to a conference. We had a lot of proof that we were onto something good.
Om Malik: "Either do that, or just wait for the axe to fall."
QUESTION: To what extent is it important to speak the language of technolgy if you are a journalist.
Om Makik: There are five technologists in their 21-person team.
QUESTION: Question from Kelsey Proud at the University of Missouri . . . Do you feel it is the journalism school's responsibility to teach and integrate entrepreneurial thinking into their curriculum ... or up to us ... to go out and get those skills on our own."
Malik on entrepreneurship
Om Malik: "If you have to go to college to be an entrepreneur, than I think you are in the wrong space ... you drop out of college to be Bill Gates ... no college, no program can teach you to be an entrepreneur, you either want to be one or you can't be one. . . .If you are making yourself into that kind of person, I think you will be more invested if you do it self . . . there is no playbook there are no coaches . . . in the end you are the one who is in the spotlight . . . go work on a paper, even partitme if you have to do it for free, you will learn more."
Ann Grimes: Explains why Stanford started the entrepreneurship program. "There is no playbook, I agree with Om on that . . . and Stanford is not the only school moving into these uncharted waters. Obviously Missouri is doing some great stuff, Arizona, USC, Northestern, CUNY, and Berkeley.
Barbara Martinez with GlobaPost.com ... previously she was with Politico.com ... "One thing I worry about is at this particular even thtere are so may great ideas that are small and may not get the chance to bubble up to the top."
Om Malik: "YOu just never know. This is the beauty of this environment right now. You just don't know who is going to be successful."