Month: September 2011


WLTM

You know what’s hard? Trying to hire people while in “stealth mode”.

Actually, no, that’s not quite accurate. What’s hard is initiating conversations with people I might one day possibly want to hire while at the same time not being rude to great people who want to work on the New Thing but who I’m not ready to talk to yet… while in stealth mode.

Since Alexia’s post on TechCrunch yesterday, I’ve had about 100 billion emails from people interested in working at the new company. Of those 100 billion maybe three are exactly the kind of people I want to talk to. Not three billion. Three.

It’s my fault, of course. I’m the one insisting on playing this silly “stealth” game. Not, as some have suggested, to build hype around the company — empty hype has been my downfall before; I don’t intend it to be again — but rather because I want to make sure I have a few key things in place before I start telling the world what we’re doing here (more on those key things later).

As part of my attempts to be a better person, I try to reply to every email that I receive that isn’t a sales pitch or spam. If people are kind enough to send me thoughts on one of my books, or to seek my advice on something or to ask me to answer questions for a college project — or just to say hello, then I think they deserve the courtesy of a reply. I’ve emailed a fair few strangers in the past — authors, experts, folks I admire — and I’m always grateful (and flattered) when they respond. And, yeah, I guess I’ve been subconsciously pissed off when they don’t, even though I know they must get a sackload of emails a day. So I always try to reply.

If the recruitment emails keep coming in at this rate though, something’s going to give. And I’m sure as hell not going to hire an intern just to filter my mail.

So, here’s a friendly request. If you’re interested in working on the New Thing, I’d love to hear from you.

I’d love to hear from you right now if you have executive-level experience in a media or media-technology company. At this stage I can’t be any more specific, but I’m happy to filter. If you’ve built the technology that powers either of those types of company, I’d love to hear from you right now too.

If you don’t fit into any of the above categories, then I’d still love to hear from you. But I’d be overwhelmingly grateful if you could hold off for just a few weeks until I’ve explained what the company is planning to do. That way I can promise you a personal reply, and there’s far less chance of me accidentally overlooking someone awesome just because they don’t fit into a category of person I need to talk to right now.

OK? OK!

I’ve just re-read the above and — wow — I sound like a dick. I’m soooo flooded with people who want to work with me. I know, I know. But it’s 1:27am and I have an inbox full of mail to respond to before I can go to bed.

God, I can’t wait to be able to talk more about what this thing is.


A List Of Things The New Thing Isn’t

I’ve spent my day fending off questions from my erstwhile TC colleague Alexia Tsotsis about what the new company will actually do. Apparently she’s been calling Mike and Tony too. Pesky reporters.

Anyway, the only way I could get her off the phone was to promise to send a list of things the company won’t be doing. Here are a few of the ones I’m most pleased with. The full list is in her post here.

13. Adding soundtracks to crossword puzzles

16. “I, Mac” – A gourmet Mac and Cheese franchise for hipsters

21. A microblog platform for public resignations

22. Potterless: a virtual community for grown-ups who hate Harry Potter

23. Wifi on planes (note: this may already exist)

Obviously I’m not going to comment on her conclusions in the post, but it’s certainly interesting to read her conjecture.


Downtown Vegas: Where Better To Build A Company Than In A Giant Start-Up?

Today is my first full work day in my new downtown Vegas home. I’ve spent countless hours down here over the past few months, but there’s a palpably different feeling now that this is where I actually live. It’s very exciting.

As I wrote yesterday, my decision to base The New Thing in downtown Vegas is in large part due to Tony Hsieh‘s ‘Downtown Project‘. Having sold Zappos to Amazon, Tony has turned his attention to — in his words — “playing SimCity with a real city”. As recently as last year, this place was a mess. With most of the tourist action long having moved to The Strip, downtown Vegas with its iconic hotels — The Golden Nugget, the El Cortez — had suffered a form of urban degeneration. Buildings lay empty, unemployment was high and morale was low. Sure, there had been attempts at gentrification — like Streamline Tower, a 275 unit condo building completed in 2008 — but the housing crash put paid to those. By 2010, says Hirise Living, Streamline had only three units sold, all distressed bank sales at an average of $115.00 per square foot.

Enter Tony, who visited the downtown area as part of Zappos’ search for a new corporate headquarters to accommodate its growing workforce (Zappos is currently located a few miles out of the city, in Henderson). Downtown’s problems and  the fact that the city was about to move out of City Hall, leaving a giant empty building, gave Tony his big idea.

Working closely with existing downtown entrepreneurs like Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite (owners of the hipster-friendly Downtown Cocktail Roomand the San-Francisco-and-Austin-esque Emergency Arts building), Hsieh began to affix post-it notes to the wall of his new apartment. Each note was an idea: City Hall would become the new Zappos HQ, injecting 2000 people right into the heart of downtown; Fremont Street East would play host to new restaurants, bars and coffee shops; there would be a free bus service to bring more people downtown; there would be parks; schools; book stores — hell, whatever the town needed, Tony would build — or work with people who could.

To kick things off, he bought up an entire floor of Streamline (now renamed The Ogden) to provide accommodation for downtown early adopters. (A few months later he bought a second floor. And then over dinner two nights ago, he casually mentioned that he’d bought up every other available unit in the building.)

When I came to Vegas to write my month-long Strip Diary, Tony was quick to contact me and insist on giving me a tour of downtown. I was skeptical. Every run-down town in America claims to be on the brink of a renaissance, and Tony would hardly be the first entrepreneur with big plans to regenerate a street or two. But what I saw in Vegas — and wrote about here — was something different.

For one thing, the guaranteed injection of 2000 Zappos employees avoids the problem of having to “build it and they will come”. They are coming. Second, Las Vegas is already a world famous city, with excellent transport links and some incredibly wealthy residents (it’s also becoming the place where successful tech entrepreneurs relocate after selling their companies: another Vegas transplant to contact me for my Vegas diary was MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson). Every year millions of people visit the city for trade-shows and conferences, and Vegas is only a 90 minute flight from San Francisco or LA. Encouraging people to move here is a way softer sell than asking them to relocate to, say, Tulsa. (If anyone decides to create an alternative to South by Southwest — and, as I’ve written before, they should — downtown Vegas would be the place to do it.)

So, for all these reasons and plenty more (Vegas is a hotel-dweller’s mecca), Tony didn’t have to work too hard to convince me to start my new company here. In fact, I suggested it. Over the past few months, I’ve felt increasingly at home here. I’ve made a bunch of new friends, and my old friends from San Francisco, New York, London and beyond have proved reassuringly willing to come out and visit. Hopefully that same enthusiasm for jumping on a plane will hold true when I start hiring.

Actually, during my five or six stays downtown I only met one person who had moved here and regretted it. It was maybe three months ago and he was an entrepreneur from LA who had heard great things about Vegas and had landed a few weeks earlier to investigate. “It’s not the same as LA, man” he complained. “There’s just not  enough to do here yet. There will be, but it’s not ready. I’m going to leave and come back when it’s done.”

I sympathised. Compared to San Francisco, too, downtown Vegas couldn’t offer the range of late night food options, millions of interesting strangers, culture and arts scene etc etc etc that I’m used to. And yet…. after a few more visits, as I came to understand what was happening here and also started to see the Downtown Project’s plans starting to become real, I became a convert. Where better to build the next big company than in a town that is one big startup?

And it seems I’m not the only person to think that way.  Last week, as I was wandering back downtown from a meeting on the Strip, I heard someone shouting my name. I ignored it. But the shouting got louder. “PAUL!”. I stopped and turned around — to see the LA entrepreneur standing outside an apartment building across the street.

“Oh, hey there,” I said, “I thought you were going back to LA.”

“No way, man” he said, “I’ve been here for months now — and I love it here. I’ve just bought an apartment in this building. I’m never leaving.”


What’s Next?

So, as promised, here’s an update on what I’m doing next. It’s pretty exciting. [Update: so exciting, in fact, that while I was writing this post, Henry Blodgetscooped me on my own news.]

I’m starting a new company, with financial backing from Tony Hsieh (Zappos,Delivering Happiness) and Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund. We’re not ready to say too much about the specifics right now but — spoiler alert! — it will directly address an issue I’ve written passionately about for both TechCrunch and the Guardian.

It should be an interesting adventure, given I literally wrote the book on start-up failure. With that in mind, I’m going to be writing a start-up diary about the creation of the company. It will appear weekly on The Guardian, with more regular updates here on the blog (and of course on Twitter).

Some other details…

The company will be based in Las Vegas, in support of Tony’s “Downtown Project” which aims to attract innovative and creative companies to downtown LV. Since writing my month-long Vegas diary for the HuffPost, I’ve become addicted to the city and fascinated by Tony’s plans to redevelop/reinvigorate the downtown area. Simply put, I can’t think of a more exciting place in America to start a company.

Having Michael’s backing through CrunchFund is awesome for two reasons. First, I love working with him and am really happy to have the opportunity to do so again so soon after the whole TechCrunch/AOL debacle. And second, half of the money in the CrunchFund comes from AOL. I mean — ha! AOL! I asked Mike if he wanted to comment for this post. He wrote…

“Paul has managed to be successful at failing in almost everything he’s done professionally. It is my sincere hope that his experience, his passion, or just dumb luck will lead him to fail to fail this time.”

Certainly over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time examining my previous failures, repairing various character flaws (particularly those related to alcohol) and generally trying to figure out how not to be such a total fucking dick. As such, this adventure will either be the culmination of all that work and self-examination, or the final nail in my coffin.

Let’s find out together, shall we?

Wish me luck.


The back story

Last Friday, I resigned from my gig as a columnist for TechCrunch. For the bloody details, see here or watch the video below from CNN…

Having literally written the book on startup failure, and having been fired from every job I’ve ever had, resigning was a new experience for me.

Still, every cloud — right? And having spent the past five years figuring out why I was such a business failure, quitting drinking and — you know — generally trying to stop being such a fucking dick, the time seemed right to do something bold, and possibly ridiculous.

This blog tells the story of what happens next.

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