I’m still digesting today’s somewhat surprising news that Michael Arrington has hired Heather Harde as CEO of the TechCrunch Network. For those who don’t know, Heather is currently in charge of Acquisitions and Mergers at Fox Interactive Media.
(Photo by Dave McClure)
So there’s a few things to think about here…
Firstly, I think most would agree it’s a bit of an exuberance of hire a CEO to run the affairs of a few blogs (albeit popular ones). Even if cash is abundant, and the rumors are true that advertising is $30k+ a pop per month on TechCrunch, it is still pretty extravagant.
It’s therefore pretty clear to me that Michael is clearly aiming even higher then now and has bought in the CEO to take the business to a significant new level.
The second aspect to consider is the choice of CEO. As a senior vice president at Fox Interactive Media charged with looking after $2B+ worth of budget for new acquisitions, Heather must be very well remunerated – and thus expensive to attract. With that in mind,
one can only assume she has taken a percentage stake in TechCrunch she has become a significant share holder according to other TechCrunch shareholder Keith Teare.
For Heather to be interested in TechCrunch shares, Heather must be thinking the business is going somewhere (beyond blogging) and with her own business talents being bought on board, one can only assume it is. Leaving FIM (Fox Interactive Media) is a big step – even if the post-Ross Levinson days are not as rosy as before – and she certainly would have had plenty of offers and opportunities to do pretty much whatever she wanted.
Many are speculating that TechCrunch will expand its media empire, like Gawker Media and GigaOmniMedia, into new topic genres. However this still seems like relative peanuts for someone like Heather and so I think TechCrunch will be getting into the Venture Capital game. And if it’s not, it probably should.
Here’s a few reasons why I think this is the case:
- Venture Capital is about business intelligence as much anything. One can argue that Micheal Arrington has an eye for picking out future successful startups as that’s basically what he’s made his mark doing up till now (albeit writing about them). If I had a fund or money waiting to be invested, I can think of a lot worse places to put it than into Micheal Arrington’s hands to look after for me.
- Anyone looking to run a successful Venture Capital firm ultimately needs to make sure they’re able to make that return – and that basically means successfully flipping the companies one invests in. Micheal already helps raise the profile of start-ups which gets them noticed by A&M teams. But what better way of ensuring that each flipped company gets the best deal possible then by having an experienced poacher-turned-gamekeeper on your side looking after the specifics of each deal?
- Working on the assumption that everyone aspires to grow their business and make even more money, A VC direction is perhaps the only way to take TechCrunch to the next level in terms of size of the business and it’s returns. I can’t see Micheal having the time, patience or inclination to run a product-orientated start-up whereas VC’ing probably only adds a marginal overheads to the existing TC business.
- There’s nothing like giving out shit loads of someone else’s money to unremarkable companies to make you feel like maybe you’re the chump for not taking some of the money off the table for yourself. Maybe Heather aspires to getting some of the A&M capital that’s still around for herself?
With my ‘Media 2.0’ cap on, I think such a potential development would raise all sorts of editorial issues for the TC blog to think about – however Micheal Arrington has already shown that he does not consider TechCrunch to be ‘unbiased’ nor does he seem to be worried too much about editorial objectivity.
Tim O’Reilly, a book publisher but self-proclaimed ‘industry intelligence gatherer’, recently launched AlphaTech Ventures as his investment dept, and I don’t think he’ll be the last to get involved in this area.
Could Michael Arrington be about to throw his hat into the ring to join some pretty heavy hitters in the VC world?
And perhaps even more importantly, would you see Micheal on the board of your start-up as a help or a hindrance?
If you look at how Keith Teare came to be a shareholder in TechCrunch – it’s because he and Mike were working together on Archimedes – an investment fund of sorts. So it’s hardly a new concept there. That said, although Mike undoubtably has a skill for writing constantly about startups, I don’t think this shows he has a skill at picking them. He’s covered a lot of stuff over the last year or so – but never goes back and covers what became of most of them.
Ben – great analysis. I added your link to my writeup about this.
Not a bad bit of speculation on your part. I don’t know if you’re right or not, but your VC idea sounds certainly plausible.
Obviously with someone like Heather on board, Mike will be thinking big. Which is no bad thing.
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Ben this is an excellent reflection on the issues at hand. It makes sense to me that Mike and Heather (correctly) see TechCrunch expanding aggressively into VC and facilitating aquisitions of the many companies on their radar screen. The level of insider info at TechCrunche raises ethical issues that should be addressed in depth. e.g. how much disclosure should they give when they are reviewing, pitching and investing in a startup?
great insights ben.
wouldn’t surprise me to see a) TC raise funding now, b) open an investment / incubator arm, and c) kick butt.
nice photo too… (who snapped it? 😉
TechCrunch 2.0: Heather’s in Charge
Hollywood 2.0 Originally uploaded by dmc500hats. damn, that’s amazing… ex-FIM/NewsCorp exec Heather Harde is taking the reins over at TechCrunch. the story was broken first by Om Malik, no stranger to Heather or FIM / News. other insights from Ben M…
Well it’s as much about presentation and it is about substance, unfortunately, sometimes. I guess I should have written he **appears** to be able to have a knack for writing about startups.
He also has enough friends and connections to advise him and keep him on the straight and narrow.
The ethical issues are enormous and as a media commentator myself it would just be such a large conflict of interest anyone else wouldn’t consider it. I’m surprised O’Reilly didn’t get nearly as much flack for AlphaTech Ventures as they did.
But TechCrunch has always been the blog that defies the rules. People know it’s biased, it’s evaluations are very hype orientated, it rarely goes back to investigates success/failure of companies it profiles, etc etc.
In most other genres people would discount a news source like this, but we still continue keeping TC in our RSS readers. Hey, you can’t knock it if it’s successful I guess.
If Mike and Heather are then investing in the companies they are writing about it could all be a step too far – but then if they make significant returns on the VC side, they could even eventually let TC whither (I don’t think you could sell it off – it wouldn’t be the same) to concentrate on the far more lucrative side of the business.
Hey, sorry about the lack of credit. It was 1am when I wrote this but that’s still no excuse. Fix now 🙂
If I were running a small-team startup, apparently about to raise a fund (which takes at least a year), and had no investments lined up – why would I hire somebody *now* to take care of the acquisition of these startups – startups that haven’t been invested in by a fund that is being speculated enough, let alone the 2-5 year window to build these startups to the M&A stage.
“A VC direction is perhaps the only way to take TechCrunch to the next level in terms of size of the business and it’s returns.”
Techcrunch continues to grow strongly, and has more obvious and better opportunities than the VC fund route. Also VC is a very long-term strategy, the image of rich VC’s not doing a lot of work and making a lot of money is fiction, and it takes decades to establish a successful fund. Whichever way you look at it having a small startup raise a fund like what you outline doesn’t make sense
I think more commentary needs to look past Heathers role in M&A and more into her experience from working with big media and how that will compliment Mike and TC – this is an interesting story
I agree with Calacanis when he says that TC has the opportunity to be the next CNet/Wired etc. and to lead “new new” media
thanks ben… no worries on pic & still a great piece 🙂
and of course nik – his growth is yours to some extent too as he is a stockholder or investor in your app right?
Mike: yes Mike is on my board and also an investor, along with other folks (and to respond to a question in the original post, he is excellent in that role – better than I ever expected and always has time, one of the best investors/advisors a web-related early-stage company could have (along with Jeff Clavier and some others – another topic))
I am not sure how his growth correlates to my own growth though, our companies aren’t tied together in anyway.
Anyway my original comment was just to say that the VC speculation re: TC does’t have too much of a foundation and other parts of the story are more interesting – though there is nothing wrong with speculation
Ben, great post and congratualtions on the new role at France Telecom/Orange(?).
I agree with Nik, who probably knows more than most about Mike’s future plans, a media company play is more likely. It wil be interesting to see if that includes properties in Europe.
The success of PodTech.net with both Scoble and Calcanis plus the success of RocketBoom may show one direction for TechCrunch along with the TechCrunch 20 anouncement
Thanks Sam – it’s “Orange France Telecom” – France Telecom is the parent company but the project I’m working on is a consumer orientated one and as such will be branded “Orange” (if it even ends up having a corporate badge at all…)
I actually wrote to Micheal about this and he says he’s not going into VC with Heather. I’m really intrigued as to what he’s up to but also now wondering whether Heather wanted ‘out’ of FIM just as much as she wanted ‘in’ to TechCrunch…?
Blogs, vlogs and even conferences don’t seem like the kinds of products Heather would be immediately interested in. The plot thickens…
[…] that TechCrunch has hired a CEO. And the blogging community is having a field day with it, debating what it means for TechCrunch and the blogging community […]
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