When you write about whizbang tech startups and their million-dollar valuations, why wouldn’t you dream about giving up the keyboard to go where the action is?
Well, an increasing number of journalists have stopped fantasizing and are becoming a part of the stories they used to cover.
Saul Hansell, a former New York Times tech reporter who left the paper in 2009 to help create AOL’s content farm, Seed, and then became Big News editor for HuffPo, blogged earlier this month about plans to join Betaworks as entrepreneur-in-residence.
A few days later, Marshall Kirkpatrick, a lead writer for tech blog ReadWriteWeb, announced that he’ll be taking a leave from full-time writing to work on Plexus Engine, his data-mining startup.
Other recent defectors include TechCrunch blogger MG Siegler, who joined his former boss Michael Arrington’s venture firm CrunchFund in October, and paidContent founder Rafat Ali, a former tech reporter who’s now working on what he calls a travel intelligence startup.
“The startup culture and the opportunity to do new things from scratch are so powerful,” Hansell says. “It’s so easy to do things these days.” Tools for building and promoting startups are more available than ever, especially for reporters and media insiders who can leverage their expertise and visibility on social media.
Hansell adds that “there’s a venerable tradition of this.” He points to Michael Moritz, who covered technology for Time before becoming a billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist. And, of course, on the news side, there are former reporters Nick Denton, who founded Gawker Media, and Sharon Waxman, who launched thewrap.com, among others.
But standout examples aside, not all journalists are the business brainiacs they think they are. Curiosity, good contacts, and a keen understanding of the industry certainly help would-be entrepreneurs and investors, but reporting doesn’t necessarily give them some of the knowledge they need to truly succeed.
Those without a business experience might want to tread carefully and/or find an experienced co-founder, Ali says. “Some of it is bubble mentality...You saw that the first time around in the first Internet bubble. Some of it is slightly wishful thinking.”
Still, Kirkpatrick thinks it’s not about money but an appetite for innovation.
“There’s so much exuberance about new technology that many of us journalists want to participate,” he says. “Even knowing full well that in most cases, as with most businesses, it won’t work out.”