How Gizmodo creator Peter Rojas left to launch Engadget with Jason Calacanis

There was a period where I was turning my back on technoloIy, on the internet and I just felt like, “Ah, who cares?” I was living in Venice Beach and just enjoying life.

Then I started reading these gadget blogs. Engadget was my favorite. I couldn’t stop hitting refresh on the page waiting for the next article to come up.

Engadget was a blog that taught me about podcasting. Yeah, podcasting I learned about on Engadget. Well, that got me into Gizmodo and a bunch of other things and they brought me back into tech.

Today I have the founder of that blog. His name is Peter Rojas. He went on to cofound GDGT in 2009 and sold both companies to AOL. I’m glad to have him on here at Mixergy.

Peter Rojas

Peter Rojas

Engadget

Peter Rojas was co-founder of GDGT, a venture-backed social commerce startup.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is home of the ambitious upstart.

I’m really excited about today’s guest because there was a period there where I was just turning my back on technology, on the internet, on everything and I just felt like, “Ah, who cares?” I was living in Venice Beach and just enjoying life. And then I started reading these gadget blogs. Engadget was my favorite. I couldn’t stop hitting refresh on the page waiting for the next article to come up. I had one of the old smartphones and I would check it constantly on the old 3G or pre-3G internet connection.

Engadget was it for me. And then that got me into Gizmodo and a bunch of other things and I brought me back into tech. And the founder of that blog is here with me today and man, I’ve been so excited to talk to him that I actually said to him, “No pre-interview. Let’s get to talk as soon as possible.”

His name is Peter Rojas. He founded that site. He then went on to cofound GDGT in 2009. He sold both companies to AOL. GDGT was a site that made it easier for people to find the right gadgets. Engadget was a blog that taught me about podcasting. Yeah, podcasting I learned about on Engadget. Today he is an entrepreneur in residence at Betaworks, where he is focusing on seed investment. I’m glad to have him on here at Mixergy.

This interview is sponsored by a company that will help you find their next developer. They’re called Toptal. And by a company that will help you host your website. It’s called HostGator. I’ll tell you more about them later. But first, Peter, welcome.

Peter: Hey. Thanks for having me on.

Andrew: Do you remember those old–sorry, what were you going to say?

Peter: I was really honored that I helped bring you back into tech. I’m really flattered by that. Thank you so much.

Andrew: I really was so sick of it all. I had a tech company. It did well, but I got burned out on the whole thing and I was just living on the beach running, enjoying myself. Do you remember the old articles where you guys talked about how to even download a podcast, how to record it?

Peter: Oh yeah. We discovered podcasting really early. In fact, I credit Phil Torrone.

Andrew: Yes, he had this geeky photo of himself with all the gadgets that a runner would have, with a watch that let you keep track of your distance.

Peter: He was using GPS to track his runs, stuff that we take for granted now, but he figured out how to do these things hacking things together. Phil was a friend of mine and I convinced him to start contributing to Engadget just writing sort of–we used to call it–I’m trying to remember what is column was called. It was like a Hack Tuesday kind of thing. So, he would do like a cool hack every week.

And then one of these weeks, the hack was like how to get podcast feed into iTunes, which people think Apple invented podcasting. It wasn’t. It was guys like Dave Winer and Adam Curry or the ones who figured out how to attach an MP3 to an RSS feed. Just getting that into iTunes so you could get it to your iPod, that was a big deal.

Phil figured this out. He wrote one of the first guides to creating a podcast, to creating a podcast feed. I actually gave him a ton of credit. He helped create the Engadget podcast. I think that without him, podcasting would not be what it is today and he deserves way more credit.

Andrew: Way more credit. And then went onto Maker Magazine, I think.

Peter: Yeah, to Make Magazine.

Andrew: Make Magazine, exactly.

Peter: Now he’s at Adafruit with Limor Fried. Phil is just one of those legendary guys who is just–I can’t imagine Engadget without his contribution to it.

Andrew: So, here’s a story that I heard Jason Calacanis tell about how he got you from Gawker Media, where you were running a gadget blog.

Peter: Yeah. I created Gizmodo there.

Andrew: Yeah. You created Gizmodo for them. Here’s what he said–and I was so shocked by the way–he was so good on stage. He was so flamboyant, so excited that actually, after he talked, I went to garbage to see the cup of coffee he was drinking from. I lifted it out of the garbage. I smelled it to see was there alcohol, to see if he was like drunk. Now I know he’s that energetic all the time. He doesn’t need alcohol.

Peter: Yes. He is.

Andrew: So, here’s a story he said. He said he stole you away from Nick Denton. Not only that, but he hated Nick Denton so much and you have to compete so aggressively that he told you not to tell Nick that you were leaving to create a competing blog with Weblogs Inc. with Jason Calacanis, not to tell Nick Denton until Nick Denton was away on vacation and was up in there, so as soon as he landed and felt completely helpless, that’s when he discovered that his biggest nemesis, Jason Calacanis, stole his best writer and best creator.

Peter: I think at the time Elizabeth Spiers was probably the more talented of the two people that were at Gawker at the time.

Andrew: What about the rest of the story?

Peter: So, that is not exactly what happened, but it is true that Nick had gone on vacation. So, Jason and I were planning to–we’d already agreed to work together and start a new site. I had obligations to continue to work on Gizmodo, which I honored. I waited to tell Nick that I was leaving. I was going to tell him and then he happened to be in Brazil on vacation for a month or something like that because he’s a very wealthy individual and was taking time off.

So, I didn’t intend necessarily to tell him while he was on vacation, but I certainly took advantage of the fact that he was not able to respond as quickly as he would have liked given the circumstances. We tried to take advantage of everything we could to give Engadget a good launch, which it did. It did very, very well.

I will say that I did not use Gizmodo as a platform to promote Engadget. I didn’t announce my departure or launch of Engadget on Gizmodo. I certainly could have. I had access to it. I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do. So, I left and the let the word spread through the blogosphere.

Andrew: Right. But are you so aggressive, like Jason, that you would want every last inch to the point of taking this guy who gave you a job who you were working with a waiting for a vulnerable opportunity to leave him so you could start a competitor?

Peter: We didn’t wait. We already picked a day that we were–

Andrew: I see. It wasn’t calculated that way to even release it to him.

Peter: No. He happened to be on vacation when it happened.

Andrew: And you were okay with that?

Peter: If anything, the site launched later than it was supposed to. I think it was supposed to launch March 1st and we launched maybe March 3rd or March 4th. It just was a coincidence that Nick happened to be traveling at the time that we did that.

Andrew: He also said at this conference that he had to get you on so badly that he gave you a piece of the business.

Peter: Yes. I owned a substantial–

Andrew: What’s a substantial? You owned 5%?

Peter: I don’t want to say the specific number, but it was like a founder share of the business.

Andrew: A founder share. Not equally to Jason, but can we say more than 25%?

Peter: I’m not…

Andrew: You’re not even going to give that number?

Peter: I’m not going to get specific, but it was a founder share of the business.

Andrew: Okay. Did you have to earn it over time?

Peter: No.

Andrew: No. He just gave it to you right there.

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: Wow. All right. So, you did it. What do you think it was that made that–

Peter: I had the same terms that he and Brian had, Brian Alvey had, with respect to the–we had an agreement with respect to the ownership of the business.

Andrew: What do you think it was that got you guys to take off so much beyond the fact that you already had a reputation?

Peter: Well, I think that there were–I think that there was a lot of luck involved, which I don’t want to ever underestimate the role that timing and luck play in success. If being successful was just a matter of having a good idea and working hard, then every single one of my friends would be a billionaire and that’s just not how it works.

I think that we did a few things right. I think that we understood the dynamics of how traffic was starting to flow around the web at that time in ways that other people hadn’t really picked up on. We thought a lot about Google and search and that being a big driver of traffic. Google’s index really liked blogs because they were very link-rich. With the way page rank was structured, links were obviously–and still are–links is how Google determines page rank and things like that.

So, blogs were constantly linking to each other and creating this sort of web of authority and influence that Google was using to figure out how to rank things. So, we were creating pages that were ranking higher for products than the company’s pages were themselves because those companies weren’t doing very much to drive inbound links, like organic inbound links to their pages.

At one point, we ranked higher than Apple for the iPod, ranked higher than Sony for everything that Sony put out, pretty much. So, we would be first–I would check all the time to see how we were doing in search.

Andrew: What did you do to increase the links you were getting so you could rank higher?

Peter: You know what I did? I did one thing. I didn’t do anything black hat or sketchy or anything like that. I did one thing–I created stuff that people wanted to link to.

Andrew: What did that mean back then?

Peter: That meant creating good content. It’s actually tougher now because it’s so noisy, but at the time, there wasn’t a site where you could go and just see every day everything that was interesting going on in gadgets, which sounds insane, but it didn’t exist. I have this obsessive quality where I want to catalog things. I also was a record collector. I brought that same mentality.

Basically what I did was I said, “Let’s think about tech as this new form of pop culture,” in that people want to read about gadgets in the same way that they want to read about movie stars and sports and movies and TV shows and things like that. Even if they’re not interested in buying something that day, they still want to follow the story of the product or the story of the company and the rumors and the scoops and all that stuff, the reviews.

So, before Gizmodo, most writing about consumer electronics was really focused on–it was kind of like Walt Mossberg-type, either reviews or it was trade journal stuff aimed at people like an enterprise trying to figure out what stuff to buy. There was this idea that there was this world of enthusiasts who wanted to read about stuff all the time and know about all the stuff going on. That was kind of a foreign concept.

But I was noticing that there were all these little enthusiast sites out there focused on various niches in the gadget world. So, there were sites about the pocket PC, like Pocket PC Thoughts, which was a great site. The guy Jason Dunn, who run it, was a friend of mine and someone I really respect and got to know through the process of doing it.

But there were lots of these sites out there. There was nothing that was sort of aimed at the whole swath, the whole world of gadgets, I guess. So, my thing was just create that place where you can find all that stuff every single day.

Andrew: And I guess that is what got me into the site, that I would feel like I knew everything that was coming out that was important. I wouldn’t know about the latest blender. But if there was a pocket PC that I would never buy, I still wanted for some reason to know what it had that my phone didn’t have.

Peter: Yeah. Isn’t that weird? In the same way–I still am that way. I still want to know about this stuff. That was this quality they had, which was like I don’t necessarily want to buy everything. In fact, I couldn’t. But I still wanted to know about it and I wanted to find out about and I kind of got excited–you kind of get excited like kind of gossiping about this phone or that laptop or whatever.

So, I think that’s what I tapped into was this sort of–I don’t want to say zeitgeist, exactly, but I think there was sort of this undercurrent in the culture. I think tech has now become a form of pop culture, that is clear. But when I started Gizmodo in 2002, that was not really obvious yet.

Andrew: But Peter, I have a lot of really bright, great accomplished entrepreneurs on Mixergy. Sometimes I have to struggle to find a way to make them interesting. I have ways to do it. You I’m sure also had ways to take tech, even though people were interested in it, to take something that would ordinarily be a blah issue and turn it into a story. What did you do?

Peter: So, it was the way I talked about it. I talked about it in the way that–I don’t want to say no one. But I tried to be funny but never too funny. I always hated when you read about gadgets in Maxim, for example, which was just like you dumbed it down. My thing was, “Hey, let’s assume that my audience is smart and savvy and clever and I can talk with them and make the inside jokes and kind of talk about the rumors and be very casual but still informed and smart about it.”

I think that was a voice that was kind of missing. I could be irreverent, but I also clearly loved the subject matter. I loved the stuff. I that coming from the approach of a passionate enthusiast but who still could take sort of a critical kind of irreverent eye to the space, I think was something that hadn’t really been done. You’ve seen in other spaces. You can see it when people write about politics or other forms of culture and things like that. But I think it was the voice that really differentiated it.

I tried not to write too long. I tried to keep it pretty short. But I would always throw in little jokes or little asides or this idea that I wasn’t trying to write for everybody. I was trying to write for people that were excited for this stuff and passionate about it. That was something that when I was a journalist–I was a journalist before I was a blogger, which is increasingly rare, I think.

Andrew: You worked for Red Herring Magazine.

Peter: I worked for Red Herring and I wrote for The New York Times and other places.

Andrew: I didn’t know about The Times.

Peter: Just a little bit, but I freelanced for a lot of different places. I wrote a column for the Guardian newspaper in England. I actually took over Nick Denton’s column for a while.

Andrew: What about expanding you? So now you understand because you had all this experience how to communicate to this audience. How do you, when you start bringing in new writers, express to them, “Here is our voice?” Did you guys have a style guide? Did you have a photo of the ideal person somewhere in the office or online?

Peter: I wrote a style guide.

Andrew: You did?

Peter: So, Gizmodo was just me. No one else wrote for Gizmodo besides me the whole time I was there, which was a real grind. I never took a vacation. I never took a single day off. With Engadget, it pretty much was just be at the start and then within a few months I started to bring in other people. That was actually one of the reasons I left Gizmodo is because Nick’s vision–which is kind of ironic now–Nick’s vision for Gawker was a network of single person blogs working part-time. I had this idea that I wanted to take on CNET and Wired and have something that was 24/7.

Andrew: He didn’t want to do that.

Peter: He didn’t want to do that. He had another business he was working on, actually the first version of Kinja and that was what he was focused on.

Andrew: I didn’t know.

Peter: Gawker was a sideshow for him. It was only when Gawker took off and Kinja failed miserably that he realized that he needed to focus his efforts on Gawker. So, actually a few months in, I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I actually sat down and wrote a style guide. It was one of those weird moments where you have to actually analyze your own voice and style of writing and approach to things and be very self-reflective about it.

So, I actually tried to codify, “Here’s how an Engadget post gets written.” Some of it was functional things like, “Here’s how we capitalize WiFi and spell WiFi.” I think we don’t do the hyphen, like that kind of stuff. Some of it was really don’t make “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” jokes or references because those are too easy.

Another was no booth babe, sexy stuff. I always felt really strongly that that kind of part of the tech world I just found repulsive, like the whole booth babe, this idea that tech is for guys or gadgets are for guys, I always hated that and never have ever made that part of Gizmodo or Engadget.

In fact, when I left Gizmodo and they started doing this like Gadget Girl of the Week feature, which was fortunately very short-lived, I was pretty upset by that. It felt like you’re sort of saying, “This is for a certain kind of person.” Yeah, I think that Engadget and Gizmodo are for people that were enthusiasts about gadgets, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guy.

Andrew: When you write something that big, how do you keep it from being so bureaucratic that no one goes to it unless they have an argument, like, “I told WiFi has no hyphen. Let’s go look.”

Peter: It was only maybe like seven pages. It wasn’t so codified. It was more about a sense of style. Also, I was really, really picky about who I would hire. So, I really spent a lot of time training people and a lot of time focusing on making sure that people could sort of figure out the voice and get that style stuff down and it required a lot of hiring and a lot of firing, which is unfortunate. But I think we once fired someone after two days because they just couldn’t write quickly enough, it turned out.

Andrew: You were trying to, you mentioned earlier, like catalog the world of technology as it was coming out. One of the things I heard was that you created internally some system before Google Reader for seeing all the press releases and all the stories you need in one place in a way that you could easily go through them. Did you do that?

Peter: So, we did two things. One is we had–so, before there were collaborative RSS readers, what we would do is we would use an app called NewzCrawler and then we would–this is such a convoluted thing you don’t have to do anymore–one person would be in charge of looking at all the RSS feeds that we had, and we had like hundreds of them.

And then you would save the file with the save state. We saved it to a server and then you would sync it. The next person who had the baton, so to speak, who was in charge of crawling the feeds, would then sync with that and then they would take over and kind of be in charge of checking what was coming through.

So, occasionally you’d have this issue where somebody wouldn’t check in when they were done with their shift and then they would go away. This was pre-everybody having perfect cell phones everywhere. We’d sometimes have those kinds of issues. Now with the cloud-based computing and things like that, sort of seem completely anachronistic.

But we had that system and then we also had a tool called Backlogger where we would take links that we found, whether they came in as a tip from a reader–we got lots of great stuff from tips from readers or from an RSS feed or from wherever. Then we would put it into a system where we would figure out who was going to write about it or not.

Andrew: And you built that internally.

Peter: We built that internally also. I think that Engadget might still use some descendant of that software, believe it or not, at least it was last time–I left last year, but I think up until a couple years ago, they were still using it.

Andrew: Let me do a sponsorship message about a company you need to know and then I want to come back and ask you about one thing that any entrepreneur is listening to us is wondering right now and one thing that I’ve heard people who worked for Jason have said behind is back but I know he knows it.

The sponsorship is for a company that you–you know Toptal.com? You, I mean Peter. I figured as long as I’m talking, I might as well talk to you.

Peter: Actually, no, I don’t know them.

Andrew: You don’t know them? Oh, good. You’ve got to know them. They’re backed by Andreessen Horowitz. Here’s the deal with them. Founders realized hey, it’s really hard to find developers. You must know this as a guy who’s working with entrepreneurs in tech so much. It’s really hard to find developers.

What if he puts together a network of developers ahead of time, he pre-screens them, he pre-tests them, he pre-vets them, excludes all the riffraff and all the good people and only keeps the great people in his network–so, 97% of people who apply or want to be a part of it get rejected. The top 3% are in there.

And then when a developer needs to hire another developer, when an entrepreneur needs to hire a team of developers, etc., when they need to do this hiring, all they do is they go to Toptal, they tell Toptal who they need and Toptal goes to their network, finds the right person–we’re not just talking about a pair of hands, like a really bright person, connects them and if it’s a match, they get to hire that person right away.

They can work with them on a project basis, part time basis, full-time basis, whatever it is. It’s all there at Toptal. They’ve been backed, as I said, by Andreessen Horowitz. They’ve been used by so many big companies including Ideo, Airbnb, etc. and Zendesk.

Here’s the deal. If you’re a Mixergy listener, they’re going to give you 80 free Toptal developer hours when you pay for 80. In addition to that, there’s a no risk trial period of up to two weeks, which means if you’re not happy with the developer, you don’t have to pay. You will not be billed and Toptal is still going to pay the developer themselves. As I said, they’re backed by Andreessen Horowitz. They’ve got really good supporters for a reason because it’s such a good company.

I’m glad that you don’t know about them, Peter, because if you don’t know about something, I’ve gotten finally to turn you onto something.

Peter: Recruiting is such a challenge. It’s always a challenge, but it’s, I think, it gets worse and worse. I have a lot of founders that ask me, especially ones that are thinking about where they want to locate. They worry if I’m in New York, maybe it’s easier, but there’s a smaller pool. But then I’m in the Bay Area and it’s so competitive and obviously it’s hard to compete with the money that Facebook or Google is going to throw at people.

Unless you have been around for a really long time and have this amazing network, it can be really, really hard. Again, if you just raise money, you raised your seed round, you don’t have to go and spend six months or twelve months hiring. You want to hit the ground running and get going.

Andrew: That’s the big thing. How fast do you want to get started?

Peter: Yeah. No time to waste. That’s how I feel.

Andrew: I’m so glad these guys are sponsors. I feel like when you get a good sponsor, they elevate the brand. I’m sure you know this as a content creator.

Peter: Absolutely.

Andrew: Here’s the thing that I know a lot of entrepreneurs wonder. You were a one-man band at Gizmodo. Why did you team up with these other guys? Why didn’t you just go and start your own thing?

Peter: Because it was actually kind of hard then. First of all, I was broke. You know you get that letter in the mail from the Social Security Administration where they tell you your earnings per year for the last whatever years. I saw the one for 2002 and I think I made like $9,000 or something like that that year.

So, it was harder to set stuff up. We didn’t have WordPress and all these things or Squarespace where you could just setup a blog. When we setup Gizmodo, we actually had Ben and Mina Trott from Moveable Type design and do everything. We had to pay them to do that. Nick paid for that, right?

Also, I was a freelancer and I needed the income that I got from doing Gizmodo. In some respects, I wish I had gone and done some of that stuff on my own. When I hooked up with Brian and Jason, one of the things that really was attractive to me was that Brian was working 100% on the platform on the tech. Jason was really focused on business development and building the business and bringing advertising and stuff like that.

I got to focus on the editorial and content strategy part of things, not just for Engadget but for other blogs and Weblogs Inc. as a whole. That was what I was really excited about, thinking about, “What’s the product we’re creating and how can we be the best at what we’re trying to do?”

And I think I probably–it wasn’t necessarily my dream to be an entrepreneur or be a founder at that time. I just wanted to change the game for tech journalism. I was somebody who never aspired to be a founder or never aspired to be an entrepreneur.

Andrew: What did you want to be growing up?

Peter: Well, first I wanted to be an astronomer. I think a lot of eight year olds want to be, or maybe not anymore. But maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson is changing that. Honestly, when I was in college, I thought I was going to be a professor. I wanted to be an academic. I went to grad school and wrote a dissertation and did all that stuff and thought, “Okay, now I’m going to go and try to get a PhD and then hopefully next up is assistant professor or English somewhere.” I have a Master’s degree in English.

I went to grad school and realized I didn’t want to do that but wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do. I ended up very randomly getting a job to be an editor at Red Herring just by chance almost. And then I discovered, “I love writing. I love writing about tech. I always loved tech, but I never put two and two together that was something I should do until I ended up with the job. I made a ton of mistakes. In fact, looking back, I feel like I did so many things wrong.

Andrew: What’s one dopey thing that you look back on and you can’t believe you did because you should have been smarter back then?

Peter: I remember asking really stupid questions when I would do an interview or not understanding things. I wrote this 4,000 word article about open source and I got a lot of really basic stuff wrong. I misunderstood what Apache was. I realized that rather than going really deep in one subject, when I was there I sort of would just skim above the surface and cover a whole bunch of different things.

That’s actually one of the things I loved about being able to do Gizmodo and Endgadget is I just went really deep into gadgets. I didn’t have to try to learn about all these other different things. I could just kind of focus on the thing I was excited about. But I will say that my experience at Red Herring, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I ended up getting fired. It all worked out, I guess.

Andrew: Do you feel miserable when you were only earning $8,000 a year. You’d been fired before when you weren’t on a clear path or were you feeling so good because you were–

Peter: I was miserable. I was really unhappy.

Andrew: You were. And you just kept doing it. You loved it, but you were unhappy with life in general.

Peter: I was frustrated because in 2001, I lost my job at Red Herring. The economy was collapsing, not surprising, right? I moved to New York. I had found this thing that I really liked and was good at. I think what was hard for me was being an editor at Red Herring and having found this thing that I loved was such a strong part of my identity. You know what it’s like. You’ve clearly found the thing that you love doing. When you find that thing or one of those things and it’s taken away from you, you kind of start to wonder who you are.

That was a real frustration for me. After I finished grad school, I’d had this period of about a year before I found my job at Red Herring where I was like, “What am I going to do? Am I going to go to law school? Am I going to do this or am I going to do that?” Before I found kind of Gizmodo, I had that same thing where this angst around, “What am I going to do? I feel like I’m wasting my life.”

After a couple of years of Gizmodo–this was like a part-time job. I was getting paid $1,000 a month. I was basically working full-time. It was not sustainable for me. I remember I got to this point where I had to figure out what I was going to do. I really liked blogging and I felt like I had found my thing. I was getting job offers.

In fact, doing Gizmodo was raising my profile and I had gotten a job to be the tech editor of Money Magazine. I remember they offered me the job and I said, “Well, I can only take the job if I can keep doing Gizmodo.”

Andrew: Because you loved it so much.

Peter: And then I was like, “But this makes no sense. I’m taking a job that I would have killed for before to subsidize me doing this thing for Nick…” None of it made sense. Then when Jason reached out to me, I just thought, “Now I can go and just keep doing what I like. I can do it at the level that I want to do it at the scale and the ambition that I believe in and I don’t have to continue to do this other work. Even when I was doing Gizmodo, I was doing all this other freelance work to pay my rent and to get by. I said, “I just want to focus on this thing that I love.”

Andrew: I’m smiling because I’m looking now as you’re talking at a photo of you and Nick Denton on Gizmodo’s about page. You’ve got long hair, a beard, you’re wearing a sports jacket.

Peter: I remember that photo.

Andrew: You’re asking people to support Gizmodo by sponsoring or in any way they can.

Peter: We didn’t have ads at the time.

Andrew: You didn’t?

Peter: You know why? There was no way to sell ads. We were too small to be at the scale of any of the ad networks and there was no Google AdSense at the time.

Andrew: I see. “Support us by using the accompanying Amazon link so that we can make some money.” That’s actually something he’s doing now and he’s doing pretty well to it.

Peter: He came back to it. That was the original business model, Amazon affiliate links.

Andrew: It was also for Google. I didn’t know that until I read one of the early books about them. They were trying to figure out whether links with search results would work. How do you get a lot of links fast? They went to Amazon and they got a bunch of affiliate links. How many blogs did they have at the time when you joined up?

Peter: Did who?

Andrew: Weblogs Inc. Sorry.

Peter: Not that many. Engadget was the first that had its own domain. Everything else was like Apple.WeblogsInc.com.

Andrew: Wikipedia says they had 50 subdomains for different blogs they were running at the time.

Peter: Yeah, not at the time I joined it. There were maybe ten or so. I remember Apple.WeblogsInc.com was one that Sean Bonner ran and then there was like a handful of others. Originally Jason was opposed to the individual domain strategy. I was like, “I’m not going to do it any other way.

Andrew: Really? Why?

Peter: I really believed in having a brand that I could build and having the ability to kind of build something that has its own unique relationship with the audience.

Andrew: it made sense. In retrospect, you were right. I do still get his point of view. What’s the point of having a network if people don’t see that it’s a network?

Peter: Yeah. I think they kind of did both for a while and then ended up splitting things up. All the blogs worked off of a common platform. So, it actually made it really easy to spin up Joystiq. Joystiq was originally just the videogame section of Engadget. And then we were cross-posting the videogame stuff to both sites for a while. Once we found a full-time editor for Joystiq, they started to branch off and do their own.

Andrew: Here’s a thing that I heard people say about Jason, that he sold too soon.

Peter: I think if there had been a lot of successful blog business exits, maybe that would be the case. There haven’t really been that many when you think about it. Huffington Post was many years later and was at a much larger scale. Jason and I talked about it a lot when we sold. Obviously, right? We had both gone through the first dotcom boom and bust.

Especially as a journalist at Red Herring, I met with so many people that they had a business. They’d raised tens of millions of VC dollars and they were on their way to the billion-dollar IPO. You could IPO back then with no revenue, which was something you can’t do now. So many of those people walked away with nothing. We felt like there was obviously a risk to selling too early and not realizing the full potential of the business, but then there is the other risk that maybe things change.

The web was on less firm footing, I guess, in a lot of ways. We forget how tenuous things were. In 2002, people felt like the web was done, like that it’s just not going to be a place where you can build really successful businesses. That obviously was hugely wrong. But if you look at the stocks of Amazon and eBay and other companies from then, they were in the toilet.

So, hindsight is always 20/20. But in the long run, I kind of felt like we ran the risk of walking away with nothing and having there be some incident–9/11 was not too far in the rearview mirror. If there was another big terrorist attack, who knows what would have happened to a business like ours? So, maybe we sold too soon, but I know other people that missed their chance to sell their business entirely.

Andrew: You’re right. I forget how much people just felt like the internet was done, that it wasn’t going to be the place where you do your shopping. It was going to be a place where a few weirdos did their shopping and occasionally the average person would do it. Maybe you’d go read the news on there, but frankly it’s easier to do it in the newspaper.

It kind of reminds me–I’ve been reading about this woman, Hetty Green, who became the richest woman in the world in the late 1800s, early 1900s. You know her?

Peter: She was a miser.

Andrew: Right. But here’s the thing. Nobody talked about her really in school. They only talked about the men from that period. She’s so fascinating because she would see these cycles in the U.S. economy where people would kind of give up on the country and she would go buy assets at that point and then start selling them when everyone felt like this was the greatest time to buy and everyone has to buy and that’s when she would sell.

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: It’s amazing that you actually knew about her.

Peter: Oh yeah. I heard a great story about how her son broke his leg and she was too cheap to pay for the medical treatment and he ended up having to have it amputated.

Andrew: That’s the way I heard the story too. It’s the one story that stuck with me to represent how miserly she was. It turns out that she took them to all kinds of doctors and did everything she could for him and couldn’t let go of it, but because she was a miser in a other ways, this little rumor came about. I read this book called–I got kind of obsessed with her for a bit–what was it called? “The Richest Woman in America” or something was the title of the book.

Anyway, then you sell the business. Do you remember the day when you got the check from AOL?

Peter: I don’t remember the exact day. You don’t get a check. You get money wired. But it would have been some time in November of 2005, so just over ten years ago now.

Andrew: Do you remember looking at your bank account and seeing, “I’m not the $8,000 man anymore?

Peter: I must have. It was a very surreal experience for me, especially because Brian, Jason and I, none of us took a salary the whole time that we were running the business.

Andrew: How did you live?

Peter: I lived off of the money I’d saved doing freelance work before I started doing Engadget. I actually was at a point where I remember having a conversation with Jason. I think the deal closed in, I guess, November and I think we announced the deal in October. But I remember in September when we were negotiating, I remember telling Jason, I hope if we don’t sell soon, I’m going to have to start taking some sort of salary because I literally am not going to have enough money.

I’m looking at my bank account and I’m like, “I’m not going to have enough money to pay my rent in December,” or something like that. He was like, “Okay. We’ll figure it out.” We had raised some money from Mark Cuban which we had in reserve. We were very cautious running the business. We ran it very capital–it was a very capital-efficient business. None of us took salaries to keep the burn rate down. We kept all the money we raised from Mark Cuban in reserve.

Andrew: You didn’t touch it?

Peter: We didn’t touch it.

Andrew: Oh wow. How much money did you guys raise?

Peter: $300,000.

Andrew: That’s it?

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: Wow, back then that was even impressive because no one was getting funding.

Peter: I know. Like I said, we had all gone through a really bad period. You know how they say about people who grow up with the depression, they never lost that feeling of scarcity around food or scarcity around wealth. That’s kind of how we were. I’m still that way.

Andrew: I heard Mark Andreessen tell Kara Swisher in an interview with her that it’s one of the challenges for him to not be limited by the thought of this depression in the internet, that it’s all going to collapse.

Peter: Yeah. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s going to collapse, but I definitely having seen now a couple cycles and maybe now a third of things starting to deflate, it’s always in the back of your head that the stuff is a very real possibility.

Andrew: You became a millionaire because of that sale. You personally?

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: You didn’t feel like, “All right, now I don’t have to worry about money as much?”

Peter: No. I felt like I don’t have to worry about money as much. I still worry about money now.

Andrew: You do?

Peter: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: What kind of place? You’re in New York right now?

Peter: I’m in San Francisco.

Andrew: San Francisco. Okay. What part of San Francisco are you in? What city?

Peter: In Glen Park.

Andrew: Glen Park. That’s more expensive, isn’t it? It’s more of a family place.

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: Do you have a family yet?

Peter: It’s not more expensive than like Noe Valley or anything like that.

Andrew: Okay. You own?

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: How many bedrooms?

Peter: It’s a three-bedroom.

Andrew: Okay. You’re living within your means, I imagine, but you still have this fear. I do too.

Peter: I absolutely am. I live within my means. I try to keep–I’m the kind of person who tries to live within my monthly cash flow, if that makes sense.

Andrew: Totally. I am too.

Peter: I think about, “How much money are we spending on groceries this month?” and stuff like that. Could I take some time off and not work for a while and be fine? Yeah. I’m sure I could. But like I said, I think maybe it’s partly maybe like a Gen-X thing, where a lot of us saw a really bad recession or at least a couple of them when we were in the ’90s.

So, I definitely–let’s put it this way, after we sold Weblogs Inc., I didn’t buy anything. I waited three years two buy an apartment in New York. The only extravagance that I allowed myself is I spent $175 on a Jack Spade messenger bag. That’s it. I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t buy a car. I went on a nice trip to Europe about a year and a half later. But that was it. I never… I don’t know. It’s not my style. I don’t care about that stuff.

Andrew: Let me ask you about your next act in a moment. Also, you wrote this great blog post about why entrepreneurs should not fall in love with the product and what they should fall in love with instead. I want to dig into that.

First, I have to tell people about my second sponsor. It’s called HostGator. It’s a hosting company. Today you do have WordPress. You do have other platforms. If you want to host a website, I urge you to go to HostGator. Let me ask you this, Peter–if you had to start any blog right now, you have nothing except I give you a HostGator account, you could easily install WordPress, what topic would you start or would you even start a blog right now?

Peter: I’m not sure I would start a blog right now. I think if somebody came to me and said, “I want to start a blog about something…” it’s funny. I got those emails about once a week for years. They’ve kind of stopped. I think starting a blog is something that young people don’t aspire to do anymore, for the most part.

I would probably do something maybe around VR, which is an area that I’m really excited about as an investor and frankly as a user. There are some really great–like Road to VR is a really great VR blog and there are others out there. That’s an area where I think there’s a lot of exciting stuff. So, I’d maybe do something like that.

The other idea I had was–this is something my buddy Om Malik and I have talked–Om was my mentor at Red Herring and someone that I looked up to. There’s a really funny story about the tech site that Om and I didn’t start in 2001.

Andrew: What do you guys talk about now and then we’ll get back to what site you guys were thinking about?

Peter: So, the thing I had was to do kind of like a take no prisoners tech site, like tech news site. I think there’s too much access journalism. I think there’s too much–one of the great things about when I was doing Gizmodo and Engadget is I had no access. People didn’t want to send me stuff to review. A bunch of big companies banned me.

Andrew: So, what’s a take no prisoners type of blog look like today?

Peter: I think that it’s just about trying to take a more critical approach to the stuff that’s going on right now. I don’t mean in a player hater kind of way, but more you’re not worried about losing your access or losing your–I’ve tried to be an insider with access and relationships.

Andrew: I know what you’re talking about. I forget his name, but there was a venture capitalist who wrote a post about how he couldn’t get to see the Tesla X when he–

Peter: Oh, Stewart Alsop.

Andrew: Yes, right. He wrote I guess write after the event he couldn’t get to see it. He was really upset that that’s the way they treated him and by the way, he was really excited to get the car at the bottom. He lost his car, did you know that? He came to buy that Tesla. That’s what you’re talking about. You can’t be critical without losing something in this community.

Peter: I think that an adversarial press is a good thing. Now, I don’t think that everybody has to be adversarial. I think that one of the great things that’s happening right now is there are a lot of voices contributing a lot of great thinking, a lot of great information, a lot of great ideas. But I think that one of the things that feels like it’s missing right now–a good example is this new startup called Starry that just was launched last week. It’s like a wireless broadband startup.

Ryan Block and I talked about on our podcast the other day–actually we recorded it yesterday and it’s not out yet–we were kind of puzzling over a bunch of details about the business. We realized we couldn’t really find any articles where anybody challenged or really pressed the company for more details or specifics about what they’re trying to do.

It would be great to have somebody that does that. It would be great to have somebody that does that. I think it’s hard to build a profitable business doing it. One, you kind of piss off potential advertisers and things like that. But I think that the market, by which I mean readers, don’t necessarily reward you for that in terms of audience size.

Andrew: Really? I feel like anyone who’s really combative draws more of an audience.

Peter: Give me one example of a tech blog that’s super combative.

Andrew: There aren’t any. I feel like the reason is that everybody’s hoping to eventually get in on the angel round or be friends with somebody and it’s really hard to be insulting. Also, I feel that a lot of people are afraid of not knowing, that if they’re combative a little bit, they might be revealing what they don’t know about the future.

Peter: Yeah. I think part of it is to be adversarial, you have to know what it is you’re going to press on. I think there isn’t a reward for being really in depth about a lot of this stuff. Digging into the minutiae of wireless broadband and spectrum and all that stuff, millimeter wave and the things that this company is trying to do, you get probably just as much traffic for writing the basic surface regurgitation of the press release story than you get for really digging in and spending the time. Most of the time you might not get very much.

You might spend all this time and dig and try to figure out what’s going on and then there’s not that much there or there’s nothing there to be adversarial about. There’s nothing you needed. You don’t get anything out of the challenge. So, if I were to do it, I would just do it just to do it, not as a business.

Andrew: Okay. It would definitely raise your profile. All right. If anyone wants to create that site or create any site, I really recommend you check out HostGator.com/Mixergy. When you attach that /Mixergy to the end of the URL, I get credit for referring you, which is fantastic for me, but more important for you, you get 30% off of HostGator’s packages.

Frankly, it’s also nice that if you ever have an issue with any one of my sponsors, if they tagged you as a Mixergy person, they always will take you of guys, special good care because they know that you can always email me. I’m Andrew@Mixergy.com and I will take care of you.

So, if you need a website or if you hate your current hosting company, go check out HostGator.com/Mixergy. They have 45 days, guarantee that you’ll love it or else you can leave. Frankly, you can leave any time but they have a 45-day money back guarantee. There’s no roach motel there.

So, you launched gdgt. The reason that I wanted to spend time on this is because I kind of felt like you were invincible after Engadget, that here you were two-time success, well-known in the space, had access to so many people and you launched your own site, you got The New York Times to write about it and then all the others who didn’t get the exclusive still started writing about.

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: You didn’t turn out to be super invincible. You still had to fight like crazy. You still had to figure things out and get it wrong at times.

Peter: Yeah. I didn’t feel invincible. That’s for sure.

Andrew: Why not?

Peter: Because if anything, I felt like understanding the nature of kind of how things work on the web is that you can lose your I don’t want to say cache or juice. It’s like people rise and fall really quickly. Brands rise and fall really quickly. I think that it’s why you see–this is why like Donald Trump is always trying to outdo himself every week. If you want to stay top of mind, you either have to be consistently amazing with the stuff you do, which is really hard, or you have to be consistently outrageous, right?

So, for me, I never took anything–I still don’t. I don’t take anything for granted. The fact that people would pay attention to anything that I would do, I know that I was very fortunate in that respect with launching Engadget. But I also knew that it would only get us so far. I have a lot of–I don’t want to say a lot of regrets. We got acquired. I think we had a good outcome, made money. That’s always a great thing.

Andrew: Did the investors get money out of it?

Peter: The investors saw a small return. The mistake that we made is that I think we should have done a public beta with the product before we launched it. I think we felt a lot of pressure to do it as a stealth mode. We also felt like we were only going to get this chance to launch once. Because it was a social product, we felt like we needed to get momentum right out the gate and build the audience.

Andrew: Yeah. The New York Times in the announcement article that I read about it said that it was a gadget-oriented social network. I’m not sure that’s the way I would describe it, but you needed a lot of people on the site to write reviews, to say what they owned, right?

Peter: Ideally, yeah.

Andrew: Why doesn’t that make sense at that point to forego what Eric Ries says about stealth mode being bad and just launch all at once and get as many users as possible and get them talking?

Peter: I know. It was a mistake on our part. Looking back, I probably would have done it differently.

Andrew: Why? I feel like I understand your logic for everyone in at once. I read your article where I said, “Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have done it this way where we were quiet and the boom, launch.” I’m not sure why that didn’t make sense.

Peter: I think that we would have had a better product when we did launch. I think that we would have been able to iron out some of the inks around the design and user experience, which we then had to do sort of on the fly.

Andrew: What was a kink that came out because you didn’t do it that way?

Peter: So, there were some assumptions we made about what things would be popular and what things we would struggle with. One of the things we felt would be really difficult would be getting people to create their gadget list. So, we put a ton of effort into trying to figure out how to get people to do that and we thought, “This is going to be really, really hard. People aren’t going to do it and we’ve got to all these things to get people to do it.”

I guess we were successful with that because that turned out to be a hugely popular thing, like most people that create an account created a list, which was great. The things that we were not as good at were getting people to–we’d try to have a thing where people would share news and other kinds of content within the platform and that wasn’t as successful. We thought that would have been a more successful part of the product. So, we spend as much time thinking about it.

Andrew: Okay.

Peter: So, we kind of found–we weren’t as good at identifying our blind spots in the product and I think that’s what a beta would have done for us, given us an opportunity to have identified those. I think we felt a lot of pressure because we felt like anything we do was going to get written up. It’s true.

Even when we just left AOL, that got written up by TechCrunch. It kind of put us in a position where we didn’t feel like we could do a public beta. We didn’t feel like we had the luxury of experimenting in public. Because of who we were, we wouldn’t get cut any slack for that kind of fumbling around, if that makes sense.

Andrew: It totally makes sense. How do you launch it on a small scale and still get the network effects that you want for that kind of business?

Peter: How do you what?

Andrew: How do you launch it on a small scale and still get the network effects?

Peter: Well, I think that’s a good question. It’s one of the things where when you’re starting out, nobody knows who you are, the obscurity is sort of an ally.

Andrew: Would you have focused on one thing, just cell phones or just Apple and really saturated it in beta and expanded it to the others?

Peter: That might have been one way to do it, like to narrow the focus a little bit. I think that we maybe overestimated the value of–we overestimated the public value of the database, so to speak. We thought that creating these canonical product pages would maybe replace like Wikipedia, the equivalent Wikipedia pages. That never turned out to be the case.

Andrew: Why not? That makes so much sense. Wikipedia doesn’t do such a good job of having product pages.

Peter: Yeah. Ours were structured and we felt like–they were user-editable. We launched with, I think, 3,000 products in the database and when we were acquired, we had 36,000.

Andrew: Why didn’t it at least get the Wikipedia attention for this?

Peter: I’ll tell you why. The SEO game was a lot more complex in 2009 than it was in 2005, right?

Andrew: I see.

Peter: Or 2004 when we launched it.

Andrew: I see. Just having a page that had all the data on a particular camera wasn’t enough.

Peter: Yeah. I think the one thing we didn’t want to do is we didn’t want to go down the path of being a demand media type, like content mill. Maybe we should have. I think if that was the thing that we wanted to do, we should have–if you want to play that game, you’ve kind of got to play it to win. We thought just making good pages would be enough. I think in 2009-2010, that clearly was not the case anymore.

Andrew: So, here’s a thing that you wrote that I’ve got to spend some time talking to you about. You said don’t fall in love with the product. Fall in love with the problem. Do you remember this article?

Peter: Yeah. I just posted it last week.

Andrew: Really? It was that recently. Okay. Talk to me about that. What do you mean by that?

Peter: It’s something that I found myself telling founders a lot over the last few years, even when I stepped into an investing role. People come to me and ask for advice and stuff like that. The idea was what I’d often see was somebody who built something, like a really cool product or a cool app and they put a lot of time into it but it didn’t quite solve anybody’s problem. So, they keep trying to find a problem for it to solve.

Now, when we were doing Engadget, our goal was always, “Can we make the process of buying and owning a gadget better?” So, everything we did, everything we built was kind of in service of that goal. So, if you looked at every feature of the site, every tool, it was always, “How can we make the buying process better and the owning process better. Those two things we cared about a lot because we felt like that was something that there was a big gap there.

I still think the owning part is still nobody’s really fixed that. I think The Wirecutter has done a much better job of helping improve the buying process with what they’re doing. But I think the actual process of owning a product and being able to get the most out of it, whether that’s getting help with a problem that you’re having of figuring out some trick or tip or whatever, there’s still really nothing great there.

Andrew: So, you recognized that problem. Were you too focused on the product instead?

Peter: Us? No.

Andrew: No?

Peter: No. I’m giving this as an example of us being focused on the problem.

Andrew: So, that was a good thing?

Peter: Yeah. We had no sacred cows about the product, which I think was ultimately a good thing. I see founders often that will have this product. It doesn’t solve a problem and they keep trying to find a problem for it to solve.

Andrew: Do you have an example of someone who closed because of that, had to shut down the business because they were so focused on that, on their product?

Peter: I’m sure it’s not very nice to call people out like that. That’s why I didn’t name anybody specific in the piece, just because I don’t think it’s nice to do it.

Andrew: How about someone that’s so focused on the product that you’ve had personal connection with, that you gave some advice and they were willing to get rid of the product because the problem was going to be solved some other way. Can you think of an example of that?

Peter: Well, I have an example of a company–I was very close to the founder. It was an app. I don’t want to say what it was in case he happens to hear this. It just did not connect with the market. It was kind of cool, but at the end of the day, when it would say who exactly is for, you couldn’t really answer that question or what kind of problem does it solve. It would be a technology that on the face of it sounds really cool and you’d be like, “Oh, I want that.”

Then you realize, “It doesn’t actually address something that people genuinely care about. Then you went through this long process of trying to, “It’s going to be like this and then now I’m going to find the enterprise application for this. Then I’m going to do this other version of it that indexes this other content of it.”

Andrew: I have a specific example. There was someone in my audience how created an easy way to create web pages. So, he’d email me and say, “Andrew, do you want to create web pages?” I’d say, “Yeah, that’s why I’ve got a WordPress site here for Mixergy.” He said, “No, no, this could be for something else,” and then he’d start looking for problems in my life that would require me to create a whole webpage with all the features that he’s got, like the ability to add video, the ability to request email addresses and all that. I said, “I don’t have anything like that.”

He said, “How about landing pages?” I said, “All right, I would like to create landing pages.”
“Well, this isn’t exactly going to create landing pages, not the way you’re looking for. So, let’s look for another problem that you might need this for.” That site is not around anymore.

Peter: Yeah.

Andrew: What about the opposite? Is there someone who’s willing to sacrifice a sacred cow because they’re so focused on the problem and as a result they were able to build something that you admire?

Peter: Actually, I think as much as Foursquare is not a darling right now, I actually have a lot of respect for Dennis Crowley and the focus he’s had around trying to solve this problem around location and data. I think at the end of the day, he’s always been about how can we surface useful information about places that people go?

If you look at the history of him as an entrepreneur, basically everything he’s done, everything he’s built has been around that problem. I think that he’s shown that he’s been willing to make major changes to Foursquare as a product, to split it up into two apps and focus on the data service and API and things like that in order to address that.

I think it’s an open question as to what the long-term success of Foursquare is going to be. I do respect that Dennis has never said, “This is about the check-in,” or something like that, which would have been really easy. It would have been really easy to kind of fall in love with this idea of an app where you check in and then constantly try to find more new applications for that as checking into places plateaued.

Andrew: Right.

Peter: I think for him it ultimately was about location data and information and being able to figure out better ways to collect it and surface it for people.

Andrew: Why are you now investing? Why are you doing seed investment?

Peter: Well, there are a bunch of reasons. One is it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve been interested in the investing side for a long time. A lot of my favorite people are on the investing side. I have tons of founders and entrepreneurs that I’m friends with. But I just know so many great VCs and angel investors and kind of vibed with a lot of those people.

I think there are a few things. I think one is I don’t have a company that I want to start myself right now. I’ve done four startups and I don’t have a fifth that I feel passionately I want to do. I think that you have to take your own advice around this stuff and not start something just to start something and not to start something for cynical reasons, which is really dangerous.

I think I could raise money off of a bad idea. I think once you’ve had a couple of successful exits and have the right connections, you can raise money, even in a bad climate, I could probably raise money. It’s not a bad, but I’m just saying like being able to raise money would not be a validation of my idea. I think that’s a dangerous place to be. The more successful people get, the harder it is for people to say no to them and they often end up doing really dumb things. So, there’s that.

I think the other thing is when I was doing the strategy role at AOL, I was kind of working across a lot of the different brands. I found I liked the role of being able to come in, help on a specific problem or help kind of craft a strategy but not necessarily have to be completely focused on that one company or that one product, brand or product at AOL.

I think one of the things I love about being an investor is being able to work with a lot of different people, smart people and kind of being able to help them with their challenges.

I think the third thing–and this is probably the biggest reason that I like being an investor–I’ve always had this really deep curiosity and interest in what’s coming next in technology. Being an investor is one of those areas where you have to really constantly be scanning, looking out over the horizon trying to figure out what’s next. What’s the next wave of technologies? And then trying to understand them and figure out where the opportunities are.

Andrew: Like virtual reality at this point.

Peter: That’s why right now I’m focused on virtual reality, augmented reality and looking at AI, chat bots, conversational interfaces, stuff like that. So, for me, I would be checking those things out and trying to understand them no matter what. Now that’s what I do as part of my job. In fact, I try to spend a lot of time every day–I probably spend a couple hours every day just reading and trying to follow the news.

Andrew: How does this work? Are you a scout for them and so you get a piece of the business that you help them find?

Peter: I am part of the investing team and I’m actively investing capital for them.

Andrew: Do you invest your own capital too?

Peter: I’ve been doing angel investing on the side for things that are outside Betaworks.

Andrew: Oh, outside Betaworks. I didn’t realize Betaworks–

Peter: Just so there’s no conflict of interest.

Andrew: I see. I didn’t realize they were outside of New York too, that their whole focus was there.

Peter: I’m the first person outside of New York. But historically about 30% of the investments have been in the Bay Area.

Andrew: All right. I hear kids screaming in the background. So, you do have a family. As soon as you said Glen Park, I figured you were either going to have one or you have one right now.

Peter: Yeah, I have a couple kids.

Andrew: One thing, just because you brought it up earlier, the Om Malik idea that you guys were talking about. Do you remember what that was?

Peter: So, a long time ago in 2001, we had this idea to start a site called Taza, which is like a Hindi world. The idea behind it was–do you remember Slashdot?

Andrew: Yes.

Peter: So, Slashdot open sourced their code, their CMS at one point. It was only one other site of note that used it, the site called Plastic, which was some ex-dotcom guys. So, we were going to take the Slashdot code and we’re going to create a new tech site, like a tech lifestyle site called Taza. We had this whole plan. I think we bought he domain. Then I ended up moving to New York. It didn’t work out. I was getting coffee with Om a couple weeks ago and we were joking that 15 years later, maybe it’s time to bring that back.

Andrew: You guys have definitely moved on to bigger and better things that Slashdot’s CMS.

Peter: Yeah. I would be scared to use that now.

Andrew: I remember when I was doing some interviews. Still to this day, if I want to research someone from the first part of the internet, chances are good that Om’s article on them will come up and it will still be solid.

Peter: Yeah, He’s my hero. He’s someone I look up to and respect so much. We did the first deal I led for Betaworks, first investment I led for Betaworks was a deal with Om with a company called Howdy that we both invested in, which was kind of mind-blowing for me that I’d ever get to do that with him.

He’s somebody that I owe so much of my career to him in so many ways. We’ve stayed very good friends over the years, which is something that I really value.

Andrew: And that’s another thing that I’ve noticed. A lot of venture capitalists, more than you’d expect, started out as journalists, the way that you did, the way that Om did, going back to what you said about the blog that’s like a little edgier and not willing to hold back on its evaluation of the industry, that’s one of the big upsides for it. You write well, people respect your opinion, you start to understand businesses better because you’re understanding them honestly and you’re reporting about them honestly.

Peter: Yeah. I think also there’s something about–to my earlier point, I think having that same curiosity is really helpful. Having that same level of interest and passion and excitement about this stuff, I will say that sometimes when I meet investors that are not intellectually engaged by technology or are not passionate or not nerding out about the stuff. I sometimes kind of wonder why do it, like why not invest in other–why invest in tech? There’s so much… That’s why relatively few people, investors I meet are generally kind of–

Andrew: The good ones really are into it, which is what makes them annoying to talk to. They always have the better app, the better thing to try out. They can’t just settle down, which in a way is kind of your life story. You always want to see what the next phone is. You always want to see what the next device is, the next gadget. It totally makes sense you’d be in this.

Peter: I have kind of a wanderlust when it comes to tech. I think it’s also that I just enjoy–when I moved here–I moved about six months ago. One of the things I was looking forward to was setting up a new wireless network. I bought like enterprise-grade gear.

Andrew: What are you going to get? I can’t get Wi-Fi in the back of my house.

Peter: What I did was–most people are not going to do this–I wired up the house with Cat-6. Then Ubiquiti has a line of unified wireless access point. This is enterprise-grade stuff, but it’s actually pretty affordable. Really easy to use. I have a router connected to my modem and then I have access points that I’ll feed back into the router. And then with the three access points, I cover the whole house and the I have zero handoffs, so you can go from around the house, from access point to access point with a completely seamless handoff.

Andrew: Always being on the same network.

Peter: Yes, one network, one SSID, one password for both 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz. You can create multiple networks, guest networks and all that stuff. But for me, I can walk around the whole house without losing my connection.

Andrew: You’re right. You lost me at–I’m not going to do this. As much as I really want to solve this problem, you lost me at wiring up my place. I can’t do that.

Peter: You don’t have to. You could do powerline networking.

Andrew: Does that actually work well?

Peter: It works well. That’s what I used before I setup all this stuff.

Andrew: Do you have a brand you recommend?

Peter: I actually like the Netgear stuff.

Andrew: The Netgear power line.

Peter: Yeah. It’s pretty cheap. The trick is buy the fastest one you can get because you’re going to lose a lot of that speed because of the interference from the electrical current. It will be good enough. You can even buy two routers by the same exact model and put one in access point mode and connect it back to the other one. And that’s sort of like the cheap way to do it. There’s also a company called Eero.

Andrew: Okay.

Peter: They have a new system coming out. It’s kind of like Sonos for routers.

Andrew: Yeah. Somebody needs to do that. Give me the whole package. I just want to pay the money and have it work everywhere. I’m on their website right now, Eero.com. Blanket your home in fast, reliable Wi-Fi. I hate that it says, “Keep me posted,” instead of take your money.

Peter: I preordered and then I canceled my preorder because it kept getting delayed. There’s that. I know some of the investors there and they promised me they will be out later this year.

Andrew: All right. I’ll add my name to their mailing list. Dude, thank you so much for being on here.

Peter: No problem. My pleasure.

Andrew: What’s the name of your podcast?

Peter: MVP. So, it’s MVPTheShow.com.

Andrew: All right. My two sponsors are Toptal–if you want to hire a developer, go to Toptal.com. If you finally want to get a website up and running or move your site to a better hosting company, go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful to you, Peter for doing this interview.

Peter: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye everyone.


2 thoughts on “How Gizmodo creator Peter Rojas left to launch Engadget with Jason Calacanis

  1. Noah says:

    love the interview. The lessons will be useful for my own blog http://www.androidtipster.com

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