In the wake of a drama-filled week for tech and media in Silicon Valley, I walked away from this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference feeling, well, undisrupted, disillusioned and disgusted. Shortly following my adventures at Burning Man, where I felt an overwhelming sense of inclusiveness and appreciation for community, Disrupt left me feeling the dirtiness of greed, the implications of egotism and the exploitation of media as a soapbox for personal agendas.
My immediate reaction to Mike Arrington’s announcement of CrunchFund and subsequent ousting from TechCrunch (see below for a timeline), was one of indifference until I realized the potential implications on the greater startup community in Silicon Valley. In many ways, TechCrunch is the voice of Silicon Valley, with Disrupt serving as its hallmark event, showcasing the most innovative new companies. But the blog and conference increasingly became an embarrassing display of Arrington’s blatant disregard for the startup and TechCrunch communities (although this is nothing new – see his 2007 post that “Silicon Valley Sucks”).
One would have hoped that Arrington would have graciously stepped out of the limelight and let Disrupt really be about the startups. But Arrington made more of a show than ever to make this year’s Disrupt about himself: not only did the conference begin with a speech from him announcing his resignation from TechCrunch, but ended with him on the investor panel of Disrupt’s startup contest evaluating companies he had invested in (and clearly had seen pitch before). The final shameful conclusion came with Arrington’s pending investment, Shaker, winning battlefield.
The general lack of sophistication, elegance in design, cutting-edge innovation and tackling of real problems showcased at Disrupt was not a representation of startups, intellectual capital or innovation in Silicon Valley. In fact, I am constantly amazed by the passionate pursuit of my fellow entrepreneurs here and their amazing accomplishments. While Shaker is interesting and I admire their team, it is neither a disruptive company nor is it solving the very relevant consumer need of facilitating meeting new people and the huge opportunity that Facebook’s open platform presents in the space. Instead, Shaker, as well as other finalists, seem to be more of a reflection of Arrington’s personal investment interests (check out his poor track record of angel investing, which includes a social network for dogs and a co-investment with MC Hammer, and his full CrunchBase record here).
Personally, I don’t care that Arrington invests in startups that he blogs about, because I don’t hold him or TechCrunch to any journalistic ethical standards (although I do admire the integrity and insights of the majority of TechCrunch’s writers). I value TechCrunch for three reasons: its entertainment value, its relevancy to the startup community here in the Bay Area and the attention it gives to new ventures. The repercussions of Arrington using the blog and conference to lament his personal disagreements with AOL, the public company he chose to sell TechCrunch to for a healthy sum of money, unfortunately jeopardize all three of those qualities, as well as the public perception of the Valley, while marginalizing the very community that made TechCrunch so successful.
Besides the disrespect for his former colleagues and the entrepreneurs that work their asses off in pursuit of building something novel, Arrington’s actions also reflect poorly on the public perception of angel investors. While the interests of angels are not always aligned with entrepreneurs, investors such as Fred Wilson (whose blog, AVC, is beyond fantastic and insightful) and Dave McClure, care deeply about the companies in which they invest.
The Good News: With Arrington out and the spat over, TechCrunch can get back to actually discussing startups and breaking news rather than starting news. I just hope they don’t lose their editorial balls. I also hope MG Siegler (whose reactions and personal struggle to make sense of the situation I appreciate) better not be leaving to join Apple.
TechCrunch Arrington Departure Timeline
- CrunchFund, a $20 million venture fund to invest in tech startups, is publicly announced with Arrington at the lead and AOL as an investor
- A media firestorm erupts over the ethics of the move
- Arianna Huffington says over the phone to the New York Times that Arrington “ is no longer on the editorial payroll effective immediately” but he could continue to write s an “unpaid blogger” (This launches a new chapter of drama between AOL/ Huffington/ WSJ Drama)
- AOL CEO Tim Armstrong issues a statement saying “TechCrunch is a different property and they have different standards… we have a traditional understanding of journalism with the exception of TechCrunch.”
- In response, Paul Carr, TechCrunch (former) writer tweets “F__ you AOL” and then posts a profanity-filled rant about AOL titled “Yes Of Course I’ll Resign Unless Mike Arrington Chooses His Successor”
- Arrington makes it clear he doesn’t even know if he works for AOL anymore, telling The New York Times, “I have no idea what AOL’s final position on this will be. I look forward to hearing it. I’ll respond once Arianna has made her last statement.”
- MG Siegler posts “If AOL does make the “colossal f___ing mistake” of tossing founder Mike Arrington, we’re screwed” (this is posted after Arrington is fired…)
- TechCrunch reports a glowing review of Arrington’s investment Bitcasa outraging readers as well as the technology media community. ”Reads like ad copy, then comes the CrunchFund disclaimer,” tweeted Valleywag columnist and Gawker tech writer Ryan Tate
- Arrington publicly announces his ousting from TechCrunch on the first day of Disrupt wearing a t-shirt that said “Unpaid Blogger” — a dig at Arianna Huffington – and says “It’s no longer a good situation for me to stay”
- Paul Carr publicly resigns via posting on TechCrunch, sabatoging the media outlet and his new boss (although you do have to just feel sorry for him, see Arrington’s coverage of him in February 2011)
- Erick Schonfeld’s response
Guy Kawasaki, always deserving of last words, tweeted in response, “If this transcript is accurate, and one never knows with TechCrunch, I respect Carol Bartz even more now.”