Startup Profile: Xconomy Part 2
You meet a lot of people and do a lot of talking when you’re setting out to launch a company. In the course of creating Xconomy, between seeking investors and raising underwriting funds, I took an estimated 17 trips to the Bay Colony Corporate Center in Waltham, home to what’s probably the greatest concentration of venture capitalists outside Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park.
Fourteen of those pilgrimages were to one particular building on the sprawling campus, 1000 Winter Street. I figure I made eight forays through the middle entrance, four via the north, and a pair through the south. My other three trips were up the hill to 1050 Winter (not to mention two calls on the office park next door at 890 Winter). Most of my meetings were with VCs, but I made a few audit- and law-firm stops for good measure.
Then came a dozen sorties to downtown Boston, with a horrifying amount of time spent tracing the same circles looking for metered parking spaces, and a score of additional visits in Cambridge, Lexington, Brookline, Newton, and other towns. Throw in hundreds of phone solicitations and e-mails, and that’s a lot of communicating. My laptop contains 121 versions (that I can find) of my PowerPoint presentation, most tailored to particular potential investors and underwriters. I have a good pitch, but I can barely stand to give it anymore.
That’s pretty much what it takes to build a business these days, and with the possible exception of writing my first book, I’ve never had a better time in my professional life.
Initially, I naively thought I would raise venture capital. But you won’t find many venture-backed journalism businesses, and there’s a reason. Unless you are shooting to become a mogul along the lines of Rupert Murdoch, a media company isn’t a big enough deal to move a venture firm’s needle. The first three VCs I saw issued near-identical proclamations: It’s not a venture business. I think they utter this line subconsciously, the way a dentist says, You might feel a little discomfort. But it’s cool, so long as they can tear their eyes off their BlackBerries long enough to look at you when they say it.
Before I accepted my fate and switched to pitching venture firms on underwriting packages, I flew out to California, in part to see Mike Moritz, the Sequoia Capital superstar who backed Yahoo and Google early on. Would Xconomy be added to his list? I’ve known MM since the early ’80s, going back to when I was a stringer in Time’s San Francisco office, where he was bureau chief. If any VC would support a journalism venture, I figured it would be Mike. It’s not a venture business, he told me. But still, he liked the idea and wanted to help. He made two core suggestions about improving the business plan that proved very important. More to the point, he stressed that for a project like this I needed angel investors from my local area. He even banged out an e-mail on the spot to help me get going.
So the hunt for angels began in earnest, in parallel with efforts to add editorial advisors and pitch underwriters—hence all the PowerPoint files on my laptop. All this outreach helped give the company a great base of support and awareness—and I bet that few journalism ventures have gotten a better feel for what’s on the minds of their local constituents. But our close ties to the community we cover raise the potential for conflicts of interest. I think it’s worth sharing our take on this from the start, because it’s integral to what we are.
Xconomy is a professional blog. Too often today, biz-tech bloggers tout companies in which they have invested, make deals with advertisers to provide speakers at events, or otherwise work to advance their vested interests. One of our core premises is that business blogs will naturally evolve toward adopting the principles of professional journalism—and we want to help spur that evolution. Our editorial staff is not allowed any investments in the businesses or business sectors we cover. Everything written by our advisors or outside guests who might not be able to abide by these standards will appear in the Xconomist Forum, just as guest writers in newspapers appear on op-ed pages. We make absolutely no deals that give outside interests any control over the editorial content presented on our site or at our events. We base our content solely on what’s relevant to our audience. We aim to have the timeliness, the intimacy, and the edge of blogs—and we believe that that’s compatible with the high ethical standards of traditional journalism.
So enough said. We’re excited to get going. We hope you’ll give us lots of feedback, so that we can make Xconomy better. We’re tired of writing about ourselves. It’s time to write about what’s happening out there where you are.