Episodes

Jason Calacanis

Jason Calacanis

Jason Calacanis is an American Internet entrepreneur,angel investor, author and podcaster.

His first company was part of the dot-com era in New York. His second venture, Weblogs, Inc., a publishing company that he co-founded together with Brian Alvey, capitalized on the growth of blogs before being sold to AOL. Calacanis is also an angel investor in various technology startups, and co-host of the All-In Podcast & This Week in Startups Podcast.

He teaches us why dependence on a single traffic source is bad, and why building a direct relationship with customers through email, social, and mobile, is the most effective way to grow a startup.

TOPIC JASON COVERS

  • The importance of building a strong brand for an Internet company
  • The role of branding in the early days of a company and its ability to set it up for success
  • The need for both branding and value in a successful Internet company
  • The process of building a strong brand, including choosing a memorable and evocative name and creating a powerful visual identity
  • The importance of storytelling and content marketing in building a brand
  • The value of a strong brand in attracting top talent and investors
  • The shift to remote work and the increasing importance of e-commerce in the current business environment
  • The challenges and opportunities presented by these changes
  • And a whole lot more

LINKS & RESOURCES

WATCH THE INTERVIEW

READ THE TRANSCRIPTION

Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Jason Calacanis with us. Jason, thanks for coming on the program.

Jason: My pleasure. Growth, hacking and growth in general is a topic I’m getting very absorbed with.

Bronson: It should be. Yeah. Jason, since you’ve been involved in so much in the Star of Space and you’ve done so much, it’s hard to.

Jason: You know.

Bronson: I’m 20 years.

Jason: You said over 20 years as an entrepreneur. You know, I started in my early twenties. So yeah, 20 years now I’m 40 to 20 years actually as an entrepreneur.

Bronson: Yeah. And it makes it hard to know where to even begin because you have so much knowledge, so much to share. So what I decided to do was I want to walk through some of the highlights in your career that really relate specifically to growth. I know you have a lot of stuff to share about all the other aspects of startups, but let’s focus on growth. Let’s start with Weblogs Inc. For the people that don’t know. What were some of the huge blogs within weblogs?

Jason: Clearly, Engadget, Autoblog and Joystick were the three biggest, but right behind those were things like TV, Squat and Cinematical and Joystick also wound up having maybe 20 offshoots. And then Engadget also had offshoots as well. So we did China, Japan and a bunch of other countries, and we also did Engadget, you know, just about televisions and HD and for a for a period. So we did the brand extensions, but the three that are still rocking over at AOL are Engadget, Autoblog and Joystick.

Bronson: Yeah. And how much did you ultimately sell weblogs things for?

Jason: I’m not allowed to say, but the reports are 30 million bucks. And, you know, I would feel pretty fine with people saying that number and quoting, what.

Bronson: Do you want? Yeah, it’s out there on the Internet. So I didn’t know it was still under India.

Jason: And I don’t know what the statute of limitations is I’m talking about. But, you know, but the whisper number, as it were, was 30 million bucks, which not bad for an 18, 20 month old business.

Bronson: Absolutely. So let’s talk about that a little bit.

Jason: And thousand dollars left in my bank account and just proposed to my wife and was living in a really crummy two bedroom in Santa monica. Mm hmm. It was. It was a godsend. It was great. Great manna from heaven.

Bronson: Yeah. And those are the best stories. But let’s talk about part of the success of that. One of the things you did exceptionally well was you were good at building brands. Some of those blogs you just mentioned, Engadget. I mean, those are not just blogs. They’re brands. Yeah. How important is a brand to an Internet company? And I ask because we all know brands are important in the old economy. We know Coca-Cola needs a brand. We know Mercedes needs a brand. Do Internet companies need brands or do they just need value? What do you think?

Jason: You need both. Clearly, there are plenty of companies that have provided massive value and had not great branding or you know, and then they did okay. I kind of think branding is paramount in the early days and it can start you off on first or second base. It doesn’t solve the whole problem. Listen, you can have a beautiful brand that absolutely is gorgeous. Like color scheme was just what a great name. I mean, apple.com color dot com square e-comm, inside.com. You know, these are great like, you know, Mahal. These are five or six character evocative, suggestive names that really are very powerful. But color didn’t work out because there was no brand value there. Right. And if you called square merchant services info systems, nobody would know what it was. Right? So it used a very literal name, merchant services, info systems. It might be more accurate, you know, but. It wouldn’t have been as evocative and beautiful and memorable. Right. So there’s a lot of work that you can do with a brand to again start your company at first or second base where, you know, Gawker was a great example of that, gawking at something. People knew what that was, but nobody ever said, Well, what would a person who Gox often be called and a gawker, right. And, you know, once people did sort of make that connection, it was great. Mahalo had a great brand, too, because maybe 25% of people I would meet had been to Hawaii and knew what it meant. Others just thought, mahalo, mahalo. They couldn’t pronounce it, whatever, but they like the ring to it is that Hawaiian? And then their friends are like, Yeah, you’re an idiot. You know, that means Thank you in Hawaiian. So I love names that have a discoverability to them. Like, I didn’t know what it was, but then when I found out I got a pay off, right? So I would constantly, to this day get people who take pictures of garbage cans or, you know, signs in Hawaii and say, look, mahalo, a trash can, and they’re thanking you for throwing your trash out. And I actually on another Hawaiian named Kokua and that means to help. And so many on the domain name Tor.com and annotated Tor.com. So I’ve collected names over the years that I like to put to work, and inside was the latest. But branding is absolutely paramount. Your brand needs to stand for something or it stands for nothing is what I tend to tell people. And so you have to decide early on, what is your brand stand for? Yeah. And Engadget was inside every no bias. And you know, the credit goes to Peter Rojas, not me, because he named it. I was just part of that process of building the brand. But yeah, the brand needs to speak to people. It needs to be evocative, all that kind of stuff.

Bronson: Yeah. And you’ve talked a lot about the naming conventions. What else is kind of on that subconscious checklist that’s going through your mind as you think about a brand? Because it’s a name, but it’s more than that. Is there anything that you’re thinking about there?

Jason: There’s lots of different strategies for branding. I mean, you can be literal and you can tell people, you know, you know, this brand stands for this very simple. Then Cars.com, you know, it’s about cars, right? And you can do things like Square that are evocative of something like the Square, a little device that goes on the top of it. Right. So there was, you know, interesting kind of, you know, discover when you have it. I think faking it to make it is probably the best advice. So people get caught up in not having the domain name but delicious had deal dot I.O.U., dot U.S. or whatever and then they eventually buy delicious dot com for a million bucks or a half million bucks or something so you can fake it to you make it a lot of people are doing like oh well my app is you know sunrise but I couldn’t get sunrise dot com so it’s sunrise app.com or it’s get sunrise or go sunrise. So there’s this sort of freeing thing that’s happened with apps in that naming sort of reboot and you can, you know, reboot all your naming conventions. But I think simplicity, ability to spell it, ability to say it. I mean, I’m constantly meeting with entrepreneurs from outside the United States and it’s amazing. Like, you know, the whole concept of branding in other countries is terrible. So I meet these Israeli startups every year at a Yossi Vardi breakfast, and it’s sort of funny because they have incredible execution, have incredible technology, great ideas, driven founders and terrible names. Then I meet folks who have incredible names in the United States and I’m like, Wow, where did you get that domain name or how did you you know, that’s a great brand name. And then they just don’t have great execution or technology. So it’s not just one thing, but it’s an important thing.

Bronson: Yeah. Now let’s go to. Mahalo, talk about that a little bit. Yeah. Hello. Your human powered search engine eventually faltered because of Google’s changing the algorithm. Sure, you couldn’t get the Google juice, you weren’t getting the traffic. Is the lesson learned there that SEO has to be supplemental to the business and not at the core? Is that what you walk away thinking, or is that the wrong lesson to learn from Mahalo?

Jason: Just got a little change. Right? And look, I’ll pick up, be the brand. Yeah, yeah. The big lesson we got to 17 million uniques and $10 million in run rate at the peak and had 100 employees building content. That content, some of it was absolutely extraordinary and still ranked number one on on Google. But Google at a certain point decided they wanted to be in the content business and you see they’re doing YouTube music awards or they bought Zagat and they started putting one boxes on top. So any time you have a dependency from a traffic source, it’s a risk. And a bunch of people like associate content sold right before the Panda update. They timed it perfectly. We didn’t sell, we were still growing and eHow went public. And so a lot of people rode that wave. EHow is still a very large business, but it’s has no growth potential. So, yes, you can be too dependent on a traffic source. Absolutely. I think SEO, if you if you listened and believed Google and Matt Cutts when you said listen we’re partners were net I sent traffic to you’re laughing now I know.

Bronson: I’m glad.

Jason: You’re. When he was saying, listen, and Larry and Sergey were saying, we are sending more traffic to people. We are not in competition with. You put our ads on your site and we’re going to win together. And, you know, behave yourselves and you will be fine and we’ll give you guidance. But don’t don’t go over the top. So two things happened. It worked really well for a long time. And then people started getting very big. And then people, you know, everybody always cut corners. They did a little gray hat stuff on the edges. You know, I’m going to do seven different ways on how to make up a pie. And but content was being invested in very heavily. And then Google decided, you know what, we want to be in the content business. So while they claim they never changed organic search, they did say none of these sites can get too much traffic. So they basically it was like saying, hey, here’s a city and there’s 100 foot 100 story buildings like Mahalo or our Associated Content or HubSpot. Let’s say the new city limit is 50 stories high. Well, then they just cut the buildings in half, which was a very brutal thing to do. Their part is, which is why I will partner with that company anymore and I’m very cautious about Google. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the products. I mean, I’m sitting here with an Android phone. I love Google’s products. I love their you know, I love a lot of people there. I have a lot of friends there, but I would be very careful about partnering with them again because what they did is they studied all the content out there. They figured out which content monetizes best, and then they went on a systematic program to take over those verticals. So they said, Oh, sports, a comparison shopping engine is important. Let’s take the comparison shopping engines out of the search engines. This penalize them. So they punitive forces to move them down in the search rankings and then put their own content above them.

Bronson: Yeah.

Jason: Now Matt Cutts goes out and lies through his teeth and says Organic search has not changed. Search has changed. It’s moved 400 pixels down the page and taken over all the space above it, which is 90% of the clicks. So he’s lying, but he’s truthful in saying that the organic search down at the bottom edge pixels hasn’t changed. And some governments, like the US government, have fallen for that argument. Other governments like in the EU have not for that. Now, I’m not a government interventionist. I think the free market will sort this all out over time. But it took the shopping vertical, then they travel vertical, then they move Yelp down the page and took the local vertical. Then they took the content vertical and the design. Now where you see content from the Wikipedia next search results is the exact photocopy of Marlowe’s innovations of years earlier. So listen, I’m into competition. If they beat us fair and square, that’s fine. But I do think that they lie to us and to everybody involved with them. And then you see it happening all over again with YouTube where they said, Oh, we want the McCanns, the multi-channel networks to be our partners. They wrote these things. And the McCanns a great we’ll work really hard for you and here’s our innovation. So Maker Machinima came up with great innovations. We’ll put artists together, we’ll package them to advertisers, we’ll create tentpole events and we’ll get them to crosslink to each other. And this will create this network effect and grow the audience. And everybody will make more money and grow. And then Google said, Wow, that’s a great idea. And YouTube stole it and they did week and they did Geek Week and now they just did the Music Awards. What are they doing? Each one of those tentpole events, they got a group of stars together. They packed them to to exchange traffic and build subscribers and whip them around, and they packaged it to advertisers. So the machines are going to be the next mallows and in-house they’ll be the next group of people who Google partnered with and then killed.

Bronson: Yeah.

Jason: And the rest on the wall. Yeah. So the overall thing for me is don’t be dependent on one source and nobody could have predicted, I think that Google would flip their entire position and say, we want to be your biggest supporters. Use our ad network, we’ll send you traffic. It’s all good and Mac but you know friend for a decade just told me everything’s okay, everything’s okay and that absolutely cut the rug out from under you and I had to lay off 90 people, 93 jobs because that’s so I’m not pulling like, you know, America jobs thing. But there is something to be said for how you treat your partners speaks volumes for yourself. And in my essay, Google wins everything. I think Google has to think instead of how do I X winning everything, you know, this moonshot goal, maybe. What’s a ten x way to build sustainable partnerships? Mm hmm. Unless they think that the best strategy and there may, there’s a chance this could be true. Maybe their best strategy is to take over everything. And when everything I did was eventually by The Washington Post, from Jeff Bezos or whatever. It’s a master plan that’s even more onerous than what I’m saying. But, you know, I’m building Inside.com right now, and I’ve built it on the three the three pillars that Google does not have to roll over or those. So those are email, mobile and social. And if you look at the sites that are doing well today, they’re the ones that route around Google. So we follow suite one on one. All these sites, you know, are having a really hard time because Google’s got their, you know, heel throats. But but Gawker, Huffington Post, they’re growing I think growing mobile and social. Those are. Mobile. They have incredible mobile apps and they’re very sticky and designed well for mobile. Like BuzzFeed’s mobile app is incredible and they use social. And interestingly, those people will not like Google’s ads on their site. So the savvy publisher is saying, not only will we not rely on Google for our traffic, we’re not going to rely on Google for our money. So Nick Denton really was way ahead of his time at Gawker where he told me, Jason, I’ll never get them. Now, the fox in that he was right. I was wrong. So the less being of mahalo or any of the SEO businesses is don’t focus on that. Every every hour you spend on that is an hour you’re not working on your core vision. So a SEO is dead set that five years ago get away from SEO and focus just on the core product and making really valuable stuff and the channels direct relationships with customers because YouTube when you get a subscribers, won’t have their email. So I was meeting with somebody who had a top 100 channel yesterday and I said, How many e-mails said, No, none. I said, Great, get a MailChimp account. And for your next video, say I’m doing a ten part video series on this topic, which is incredible, and I’m going to give it to my superfans sign up at you know Jason nation dot com and you know you’ll get emails you can only get there and you’ll grow your email list. We did that with some of our YouTube channels and we started seeing two or 3% of our total number of subscribers convert over. So over a year, you might be able to move over 25% or 50%. Who knows? And then if you do that, you don’t even need YouTube anymore, which have a direct relationship with customers. Direct relationship with customers as represented by email addresses is the height of growth.

Bronson: Okay. Is there any better direct relationship than an email address? Is that the pinnacle of 1 to 1 communication?

Jason: Credit card relationship. What in it is more powerful? What Amazon has is more powerful. So when you have the credit card on file and you can one click bell or one or two click bell, credit card on file is a even higher version of that. So credit card, number one.

Bronson: Email number two.

Jason: Yeah. I mean, if you look at somebody like Amazon, you know, or Apple, you can see their amazing power. I mean, if Apple or Amazon wanted to make a PayPal killer, they could do it tomorrow. I don’t know why they haven’t. I speculated a couple of years ago that would be the perfect thing for Apple to do. Payments. Yeah. So? So a slower timeline than I would have been.

Bronson: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the launch festival. You’ve probably seen more demos than any two humans combined. You’ve seen your share of demos. Has this exposure allowed you to pattern match?

Jason: Yeah, it has. I’m at a program from Y Combinator and David coming from Texas, probably seen something similar, which is 500 or so a year. Yeah, I have pattern matching down. I mean, I see the good, I see the bad, I see the mistakes, I see the promise, and I think my signaling is getting better. Of course, like many things like growth hacking itself and marketing, it’s not a static industry or discipline, it’s dynamic. So what worked two years ago does not work now. And so, you know, you have to be very careful if your signal processing is based on what you learned two or three years ago versus what’s changed in the marketplace now. So you brought up SEO before. Listen, six, seven, eight years ago, ten years ago. Having a great SEO strategy is what built weblogs into prominence. I mean, half of our traffic, two thirds of our traffic on some of the blogs came from excuse me, SEO, and some percentage of those converted into subscribers and into RSS subscribers. Back then. I wish we had their email addresses instead of their RSS. Powerful, right. So at the end point, collect email addresses. So anyway, I do think your signal processing does get refined over time. Yes. But it is a very dynamic industry. Things change quickly and the nature of marketing is it has a shelf life, so there is a half to any marketing technique. If SEO is a marketing technique, every year it becomes half as valuable after people have discovered and that’s hit peak SEO with eHow and then it got cut in half and cut in half and cut in half. We might be at peak social right now. Maybe there’s just too many and listicles and nonsense and people will burn out to that. Right. And you see, somebody came out yesterday with a Chrome extension that removes any mention of Snowden or any mention of Justin Bieber from your Twitter feed and puts in something else. Right. So there’s, there’s that might be a sign of peak social, right? So that things change. You have to be able to find new things. And that’s what growth hacking to me is about, is finding the new marketing technique and hammering it and hammering it and hammering it and wringing every ounce of value of it before other people figure it out.

Bronson: Yeah. What signals are you taking advantage of now when you hear them in demos? Are they the email, mobile, social, or are there other signals? Now when you hear them on stage, you get excited?

Jason: Yeah, I would say techniques and tactics get me excited with the start up techniques and tactics change what gets. And so, you know, that’s not really important in select where you’re going to invest in what’s important selecting where you’re going invest what do you want to spend the next five and ten years building a company with who is got the resiliency, the grit and the hotspot to take on a huge problem and not give up. So for me, I’m looking for that. I’m like a person who will never say die in traps, you know, from Uber. It’s a perfect example. I when he did Scout, which was a P2P search engine like Napster, except it was much more innovative and he did Red Swoosh and then he did Uber. Those first two companies absolutely got their asses handed to them on multiple occasions, and he spent ten years fighting in the jungle. And now he’s a genius, right? Elon Musk is a friend. And, you know, he had a rough go with PayPal. The company almost went out of business. He was ousted from PayPal by his teammates. And, you know, his big difference is their test went out of business and he spent his ten years in the jungle, you know, fighting for survival like P.O.W. behind enemy lines, not making light of the experience of P.O.W.s, but, you know, all respect to them. But, you know, the the the hardship of failure in entrepreneurship and getting beat up and the tenacity to keep going is what I optimize for, that’s for. And so I’ve got investments where the person’s like, Yeah, we’re running out of money. Or We ran out of money, we didn’t tell you and we’re giving up. And I’m just like, Wow, the mistake I made there was I was too focused on the product or the tactics and not focused enough on the person, right? Yeah. The market and the problem.

Bronson: Yeah.

Jason: With Uber, you know, people could say like the problem of getting a taxi is not important and that might be true. But really the product has become so much more than that. And the entrepreneur and the astronauts, Gary Kemp co-founded it with Travis are so resilient, brilliant, hard working, never say die individuals. I’m so proud to be associated with that. You know, I can take absolutely zero credit for it other than just being friends with Travis, but and him being nice enough to let me invest. But, boy, what a ride and what a privilege and honor it is to watch those those teams crush it like they are. Yeah. And so optimizing angel investing for me and I listen, I’m new at it. I may be wrong. It’s really about the individual and the size of the problem, their tackling and their grit and resolve to stick with it. Because there will be an opportunity they will figure it out and unless they give up, right. And so I think my investors in Mahalo which is now inside. Com malice will exist as a products that makes a decent amount of money. But I stopped investing. I don’t think this kind of future with, you know, with Google sort of anti-competitive anti partnership kind of problems. So but my, my investors, I hope, will be very rewarded for picking me because of my resilience, not because of the original idea.

Bronson: Gotcha. Now, this next question you may not answer, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Growth and influence are deeply connected, and you’re a very influential person. And I’m wondering on your podcast this week in Startups, one time you talked about Michael Arrington and you said that you taught him a lot about influence, about building a platform and really affecting the masses. What did you tell him? What is it? Or the CliffsNotes version of what you told him to have influence at that level?

Jason: Well, I told him, you know, once you have the power, when you have the status. Using it and abusing it is not a great idea. Being the elder statesman, you know, having class and, you know, being deaf, how you deploy it is of critical importance. So when we were partners on TechCrunch 50, I was always because I was already successful and very notable and know. And at that time I said to him, Listen, you’re in the time 100, you’ve done very well for yourself. Now is the time to switch gears. You don’t have to fight everybody. You don’t have to attack constantly and you don’t have to do this backdoor dealing kind of stuff. Just be the elder statesman and be highly ethical and treat people extremely well. He didn’t treat people very well. And, you know, over time, seen as he’s even his very close associates, you know, whether it’s Sara and or Daley or Paul Carr from Not Save for Work or myself, you know, just the whole lot very close to him. And we’re friends with him. He’s just absolutely, you know, fought with and demolished and whatever the issues are in his personal life. We’ll see how those lawsuits, you know, wind up. You know, it’s it’s pretty horrible stuff. I mean, and he when we were in partnership with TechCrunch, I was constantly trying to rein him in from doing fake and corrupting the process of selecting a winner he favors for people. He always wanted to say, like, I know this person, therefore they should get in for should, they should win. And if you look at TechCrunch Disrupt, right, he went off to do TechCrunch Disrupt. I went up to launch TechCrunch Disrupt your joke. It’s considered fixed, it’s considered rigged. And every year he invests companies and then he has them win and then pretends like they didn’t happen and got was written about and everybody’s written about it and the people. And he’s also gone back to charging startups $10,000 to present there and be you know in the in the demo area which was specifically why we started TechCrunch Review. The idea was to get rid of payola. So they’ve gone right back to LA and it’s a rigged game whose are exact type of things. I told them he does not need to do anymore and he didn’t never need to do that to begin with. I never did those things. Try to mentor him and tell him, Listen, there’s a higher road you can take and you’ll be happier in life. But the you know, if you take the low road and abuse your power, you want owned and you want it. And I think that’s what’s playing out for Mike. And then if you take the high road and you try to help people, which is what I’ve tried to do, and it was I’m not a perfect person either. You know, I’ve got in fights with people. I’ve said things about people, including Mike, but I tried to take the higher road and try to be a better person and I think have a child and a beautiful wife who is just loves me more than anybody and is, you know, incredibly beautiful person inside and out. You know, when you have that sway in your life, it’s very hard for you to be bitter. I’m from Brooklyn who made a bunch of money, and people like you and I get to host a radio show every week. I’m on cloud. I can’t believe that I own a brand new car. When I was a kid, we didn’t have, you know, we always bought used cars. A car was always broken down. My dad was always banging the goddamn dashboard, you know, frustrated because his car was always broken. And I owned three. I bought three new cars in my life for parts of my life, I consider myself successful cause I was able to buy a car. My benchmark is very low and the fact that I have so many friends and deep relationships with people over decades, I mean, that’s what’s valuable in life. Right? And I tracked that through to that guy and it didn’t happen. Now he’s alone living in the, you know, on an island up in Seattle or whatever. And I think that’s the that’s the sad part. And, you know, Mike and I were very good friends for a while. And I think, you know, he he whatever. Whatever is troubling him at some deep level. I wish for him that I was in talks to somebody about it and concourses demons. I truly do. You know, it’s one thing, you know, there was a period of time when I was very upset that he stole the conference out from under me and treated me so badly because that shocked me on a loyalty basis. But now I look at it and now that I have a couple of years distance and launch has become so successful, I actually don’t have any anger about it. I actually just felt very sad for the individual and I feel like he’s very lonely and I wish he would be a better friend to people and could have more joy in his life. Because my life is I mean, all the people I work with, I respect so much, they, you know, love working for me. I love working with them. And the launch conference is so successful, there’s nine full time people working on it. And I don’t have Mike as a partner constantly trying to compromise the integrity of it. And I’ve tried to build more and more integrity into the products I build. And, you know, I just hope for that individual. He goes and gets counseling and talks to somebody and if he hasn’t already and just works out core issues are because nobody’s perfect in my life, right? I would be like I was a very driven individual in my early years and I fought hard and I felt like winning meant I had the other person that I felt like winning meant I had to destroy the other person. So it was a little bit of. Mike Arrington I think in me, you know, in terms of we and that’s probably why we were friends is because we both had this competitive spirit of not wanting to win but to destroy the demo conference, right? Like we would laugh over cigars and steaks with Steve and you know, and I think of those times as, as, as good memories. We laughed out. Our plans to destroy demo were the enemy. They were charging companies $20,000. And then, you know, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, an attic and Skywalker, you know, like I was not a good teacher. You know, I was flawed in how I taught the guy and he off to the dark side. And, you know, I went back to the Jedi eyes and it’s a long, hard and I hope that that arc happens for him. I really, truly do. I hope that Mike realizes, you know, that the people who he had some of the best experiences in his life with, like, you know, Sarah and or Dahlia or Paul car, just all he’s alienated or tried to destroy and really hurt. And not to mention whatever’s gone in his personal life, which I don’t, you know, want to talk about that because it’s a whole legal issue and I don’t want to be dragged into court and deal with and have to have it in my life. But he’s got to start looking at all of those things and systematically trying to repair them because life is very short. You have such a short period of time and this type of anger. I’ve seen it and I’ve had things that I’ve been angry about in my life, even the breakup with him that eat you up inside and it really is no benefit to it. There’s so much opportunity in the world to do good and to build great products and have great relationships and have a family and joy in your life. You know, like I wish he could find a a nice person to settle down with, reconnect with his old friends, and just start repairing all the damage caused in the world.

Bronson: Yeah, well, let’s talk about something more positive. Let’s talk about Inside.com, your newest venture. I know it’s good because every time you bring it up, you get visually excited. So give us something. What is it going to be? When’s it going to launch? Give us something.

Jason: Well, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll pick it up on my phone. And I’ll look at it right now. And as you can see, I’m flipping through it and I’ve got a huge smile on my face. It’s listen, it’s elegantly simple. It will be the one product I am known more for. So in ten years, if we do this interview again and I hope we do, this will be what we’re talking about is, hey, remember that time, you know, eight weeks before you launched, you were on my right, six weeks before your launch. You are on my show and will have a good laugh about it and hopefully it will be very successful. I’ve got two full time great growth people, Alison and Stephen working on it on the growth side and it’s definitely the best product I’ve ever made and it has shades of Mahalla weblogs and Silicon Valley reporter in it and launch. And it’s the culmination of a career I think. And it’s, it’s as a platform. It’s just a great place for me to start and really be able to do anything I want as a brand in. So I look at it as my, you know, to say, see, an ad wouldn’t give it enough credit. So I think it’s, it’s, it’s a platform that will be able to I’ll be able to grow for many decades.

Bronson: Yeah. And, you know, it seems like one of the themes of this interview is that failure can lead to some great things. Disrupt didn’t work. The launch festival does doesn’t work. Inside is going to be your biggest thing.

Jason: Yeah. I mean, listen, get knocked down nine times. Get up ten. The launch festival right now just on a comparison, we had 6000 people there last year. And, you know, Disrupt gets 1500 TechCrunch drifting off 5000, maybe 2000. So it’s three or four times bigger. But more importantly, in terms of impact, we gave 5000 scholarships to entrepreneurs who came and the 50 companies who launched on stage had their lives changed forever. And I invested in the top two or three and helped them get investments. So we’ve got this huge legacy going now and it doesn’t make as much money. You know, the TechCrunch 50 conference is Disrupt, used to make, you know, $1,000,000, half million dollars, $2 million in profit probably makes each disrupt two or $3 million, at least in profits, I would say for AOL especially, I think of charging $10,000 to entrepreneurs to come and have a table and that kind of stuff. So since they moved back to a payola model, you know, that probably we don’t make any break even. But I think they probably have lost their way, their sole and the entrepreneurs are not being helped by it. Right. I don’t think it’s actually helpful to the entrepreneurs. I think it’s actually a not time. So given all that, you know, the success of even a bigger magnitude. Mahalo. Listen, we got to 70 million uniques. You know, it did very well economically for a period of time, but it didn’t have a lasting value that had that direct relationship with customers at this well inside. Well, so you are exactly correct. You know, we were optimizing for world dominance in TechCrunch 50 and you can see that that went to the dark side with Disrupt and Launch, went to the light side and optimized for helping entrepreneurs and that are mahalo we’re optimizing for SEO and on inside we’re optimizing for something I would say what exactly I speak for, but let’s just say we’re optimizing for something that is, you know, on the on the light side of the force as well.

Bronson: Well, Jason, this has been a great interview. I have one last question for you. What’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow?

Jason: Yeah. On a tactical basis, I will say, you know, what I’ve learned is that if you don’t plan for growth, you’re probably not going to have it. So you have to plan and strategize. And that creates the second thing, which is if somebody if nobody is primarily responsible for something. Solely responsible for something that nobody’s responsible for it. So if you say, listen, we’re all responsible for growing the product in a way nobody is. So really and if you say like, hey, we’re all responsible for sales and nobody’s responsible for sales. So there’s this sort of teamwork approach can lead to, especially in a small group, a diffusion of responsibility. And what you need to do is design your organization to some person or persons specifically responsible for specific types of growth and being the truth seekers in the organization. And that’s where the growth hacking position, the hacking part of it, because I don’t think it’s strictly technical just being the growth person at a company, just being the person responsible for growth. So outlook work acting we do in our company, but the two growth hackers we have, they’re responsible for taking all the ideas that grow, compiling them, testing them, studying the results of those tests, and being the voice of truth in the organization to say, I know the got CEO says we should do this, but that was a magazine publisher formerly in a blog. Sure, he doesn’t understand this and his techniques no longer work, but these techniques did. And so when I did that in my organization, it freed me up and it frees up everybody’s ego. You take ego out of you. People stop looking at the God King CEO and saying, Well, oh, great CEO, what should we do? And then they just start looking at the numbers and they take it to be spam. Go, will that work? And this worked. We should do more of that as of this and just move on and be successful. And everybody feels empowered doing things based on statistics. So it’s it’s fine for the CEO or the founder to be saying, like, here’s what I want to try first. But eventually, if you really want to scale the organization, I feel you need to say let’s just have an objective way of measuring how money on growth and what is the output of that growth. And I think Y Combinator, Techstars and a lot of these accelerators deserve credit for it because they really did focus on this issue because they realized, hey, now that everybody can build a great product. Building a great product is table stakes. What really matters is your ability to grow. So when I came up with the industry, the fact that we’re able to build any product, that you were a successful entrepreneur because it was so hard to just get a company started and build the product that became, Hey, are you able to make a good product, right? Like Twitter’s a good product. Weblogs is a good product. Blogger’s a good product, Gawker is a good product. Whatever. Flickr is a good product. But then it became, Hey, can you make a great product? Like a really refined, awesome product? And now since everybody can start a company, build a good product, build a great product, build an exceptional product, it’s getting easier and easier to do those things. All that’s left is growth. So I think that’s the final piece of the puzzle for start. I don’t know where it goes after that, but I do think we’re sort of reaching that moment where growth is the key.

Bronson: Yeah. Well, Jason, that’s great advice to end on. Again, thank you so much for coming on Growth Hacker TV.

Jason: My pleasure. Peace.

 

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