I spent the past few days celebrating the city’s startup ecosystem. Did you know that, of the top ten companies on CNBC’s latest disruptor list, four are based in New York, three are from China, and just one (AirBnB) is from the Bay Area? Software is, indeed, eating the world and creating opportunities everywhere.
It has been quite a whirlwind of a week. Last weekend I was in Big Sur, celebrating (and officiating) the wedding of my dear friend Steve Jang and his lovely bride, Margaret DesGaines. It also meant an opportunity to enjoy the rugged beauty of Big Sur and the California coastline. A week later, I was up in Napa, to spend what was a relaxing weekend with a handful of friends to celebrate my 50th birthday. Instead, Matt (Mullenweg) surprised me by a (almost a) surprise party (first in 50 years) with collection of some of my closest friends. That was the best gift ever – plus to have it in my favorite spot in the wine country – Bottega of Yountville was even more amazing. Continue reading “Big Sur to Pittsburgh to Big Apple: What a week!”
I was in New York for a minute – or rather 36 hours to attend a friend’s 50th birthday and was reminded why I like San Francisco summers – they are colder than some winters and you don’t have to sweat like a crazy person all the time. I don’t like the hot and humid weather, though I like how colorful and beautiful the city and its residents look. I mean even the New York Black takes on a new meaning. Continue reading “In a New York Minute”
My 48-hour layover in New York was brief but enjoyable, as it allowed me to indulge in a few of my favorite things: eating breakfast at Oro; visiting my favorite shoe store, Leffot; and chitchatting with owner Steven Tafel while I enjoyed afternoon tea at the Crosby Hotel. I even managed to see the very smart Matt Buchanan and his equally smart and hilarious boss, Choire Sicha.
Matt introduced me to a newish place called the Egg Shop in Nolita. As you might have guessed, eggs are on the menu in various permutations and combinations: scrambled and in sandwiches and bowls. Fantastically prepared eggs, presented in a cheerful manner matching the decor of the smallish place, which can fit about 20 young and hip people. The food was great and prices modest, but I don’t like noisy places. So we ambled over to Oro for a coffee.
Choire joined us, and we talked about The Awl and what it is like to be living in the shadows of media behemoths with valuations of over a billion dollars. Being a lifetime media guy, I couldn’t help but talk about the landscape with them. We agreed that Vice is on way to hitting escape velocity and that BuzzFeed will become a video-centric company in 12 months and invent new video concepts. Goodbye, listicles, and perhaps hello, IPO!
Choire pointed out that if you have between 5 and 8 million unique visitors a month, you can build a solid independent web publishing business, though one shouldn’t count too much on getting people in through the front door. I agree: Small, focused publications without the expectations of growth that come with investors can carve out a nice niche, though that won’t translate into the founders’ summering in the South of France.
That said, if I was starting a one-person publication, I would use Robert Scoble’s model — sponsored by one or two companies, publishing directly on Facebook as a person (a verified account is a big bonus) and using direct marketing channels such as mail and LinkedIn. I would not use Facebook Pages, as they don’t quite get the kind of lift more-personal posts get in the feed, and of course Facebook wants you to spend a lot of money to promote the page. I tried it for Pi.co. Promotions don’t quite work and can be expensive. Unlike Robert, I much prefer to publish first on the free and open internet and if nothing else, at least have an archive for my writings. I recommend others do the same.
Our conversation forked into the lessening importance of blogs as entities, and it was remarkable how aligned we were in our thoughts about the heyday of blogging. In the early half of the aughts, blogs were where people would get, gather and gab about the information that was relevant to them. Today it is hard to do, because people left for other places. The liveliness of the conversations on my Facebook posts (mirrors of my weblog postings) is reminiscent of the early days of Gigaom. These days only a handful of bloggers — Brad Feld, Fred Wilson and Dave Winer, for example — have been able to build a community. That community is and was what made blogs so intoxicating and addictive — a point often lost on publications that use blogging software and describe their soulless pieces as blog posts.
Choire and I talked about the specialness of loyal readers. I love The Awl, though I don’t think that is a compliment, because it is written for a different kind of reader (Millennials). I attribute my love for their publication as a conscious understanding of my inability to grow up. Or maybe I just like sassy and ironic writing by scribes who don’t give a toss. I walked away from our chat determined that I need to interview Choire for Pi.co.
Breakfast over, it was time to take off for the airport, as I needed to be in one place to join a board call for Veniam. I didn’t want to miss a word, since so much exciting stuff is happening at the company almost on a daily basis.
There are days when I can’t thank my lucky stars enough for great Uber drivers. Mine pointed out that if we took the Belt Parkway, we would get to the airport about 30 minutes earlier than if we took the more traditional route. And so we went on a scenic route. I can’t believe I’ve never gone for a photo walk in that part of Brooklyn. Next time, perhaps.
If my Uber ride was a delight and a good example of good customer experience, the next part of my journey wasn’t as good. Since I am using Oneworld to fly around the globe, I was taking Finnair to Helsinki, my next destination. The airline apparently has a limit for carry-on bags of 10 kilos, or roughly 22 pounds. My bag was a shade under 25 pounds — overweight by two pounds and change.
It is a Ghurka leather duffel that isn’t meant to be checked in. There isn’t much in terms of protection, and the leather can’t withstand a tear. I tried to reason with the not-so-pleasant staff but to no avail. Ironically, getting onto the plane I saw bags that were much larger in size and packed to the gills compared to mine. At this point, a few hours into my flight, I am full of apprehension about the bag and what state it will be in when it arrives. I have my fingers crossed!
The inflexibility is what left me disappointed with the airline. Here was a chance to form a meaningful relationship with a first-time flyer, and instead all I can remember is the insolence of the ground staff. When I land in Helsinki, my first order of business will be to re-route myself and avoid Finnair.
What has made the day worse than usual: My slightly sore throat from last night has turned into a full-fledged summer cold. I have a runny nose, tearing eyes, sore throat and general tiredness that is making me a little irritable, though I am determined to not let that come in the way of fun! I arrive in Helsinki soon, and I plan to walk around for a few hours before settling down for the evening and finishing some work, checking emails and then falling asleep in my hotel bed.
#fullcircle #newyork #helsinki
August 21, 2015, sleepless, somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, listening to one of my favorite musical acts, Bliss. They are from Denmark: not quite Finland, but close enough!