20 VC FF 021 From TechCrunch to Founder to TechCrunch with the legend, Steve O'Hear



Harry Stebbings interviews Steve O'Hare, a seasoned technology journalist from TechCrunch, on the 20 minutes VC podcast. O'Hare shares his journey from starting as a journalist in 2004 to becoming a TechCrunch Europe editor, then taking a leap into entrepreneurship as the CEO of Beeple, and his eventual return to TechCrunch. The conversation delves into the nuances of startup journalism, the dynamics of European startup funding, and the evolution of TechCrunch's coverage from startups to major tech players. O'Hare discusses the challenges of fundraising, the impact of media on startups, and the future of journalism amidst changing platforms and content styles. He emphasizes the importance of brand identity for publications and the balance TechCrunch maintains between editorial freedom and business concerns.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Steve O'Hare and the 20 Minute VC Podcast

  • Harry Stebbings introduces Steve O'Hare, a technology journalist at TechCrunch.
  • Steve is known for his focus on European startups, companies, and products.
  • He joined TechCrunch in 2009, contributed to TechCrunch Europe, and later co-founded Beeple.
  • Beeple was acquired by Brand Embassy in November 2012.
  • Steve is also recognized for directing the documentary "In Search of the Valley."
  • The podcast promotes a competition giveaway of Bradfeld's book "Venture Deals."

"This is the 20 minutes VC. I am Harry Stebbings and you are listening to a very special episode of Founders Friday as our guest Today is Steve O'Hare, best known as a technology journalist, currently at TechCrunch, where he focuses on european startups, companies and products."

This quote introduces the episode and guest Steve O'Hare, highlighting his role at TechCrunch and his achievements, including his startup and filmmaking ventures.

Steve O'Hare's Career Journey

  • Steve O'Hare's career in journalism began in 2004 after various web design projects.
  • His project, akin to "YouTube for students," was noticed by The Guardian newspaper.
  • As a child, he aspired to be a journalist and seized the opportunity to write for The Guardian.
  • Steve received mentorship from the editor of Matwell magazine, which led to further opportunities.
  • He then worked with ReadWriteWeb and got a blogging gig with ZDNet, covering the social web.

"Journalism was about 2004. I'd done some various web design projects and stuff after graduating from uni, and one project I built was like a sort of YouTube for students. It got picked up by the Garden newspaper."

This quote explains how Steve O'Hare's early web design work led to his first major exposure in journalism, marking the start of his career in the field.

Transition from Journalist to Entrepreneur

  • Steve O'Hare transitioned from journalism to entrepreneurship after being approached to co-found Beeple.
  • His background in web design and development, along with the startup environment at TechCrunch Europe, influenced his decision.
  • Despite the potential risk to his journalism career, he was drawn to the opportunity to shape his own story and took on the CEO role at Beeple.
  • The transition was fueled by a combination of professional envy and the chance to partner with a talented computer scientist.

"So I was approached by a very talented computer scientist who had an idea, but didn't really have like a CEO type role. And he asked me to do some consultation on the product, which was called Beefle. And it just spiraled from there."

This quote describes the circumstances leading to Steve O'Hare's shift from journalism to entrepreneurship, highlighting the influence of a skilled partner and the evolution from consultation to co-founding a startup.

The Surprises of Entrepreneurship

  • Steve O'Hare anticipated the difficulties of entrepreneurship, including fundraising and the high failure rate of consumer startups.
  • He was surprised to find that his contacts in journalism remained supportive after his transition.
  • The entrepreneurial and PR communities were particularly supportive, contrary to his expectations.

"But what surprised me probably the most is as a journalist, everybody wants your help or wants coverage, so they're very nice to you. And I thought that when I went to the other side that my address book, my contacts would almost evaporate overnight. But the opposite happened."

This quote reveals Steve O'Hare's unexpected discovery that his network remained supportive even after he switched careers, which highlights the collaborative nature of the entrepreneurial community.

The Challenges of Consumer Startups in Europe vs. the US

  • Steve O'Hare believes consumer startups face greater challenges in Europe than in the US.
  • He attributes this to network effects, language barriers, and the amplification power of high-profile VCs and entrepreneurs in the US.
  • Europe has historically excelled in enterprise software, indicating different market strengths.

"I think it's like network effects. I think because America is a single market with one language and you've got a lot more high profile vcs on, like other entrepreneurs, that they can amplify your message a lot quicker in the consumer space."

This quote discusses the challenges faced by consumer startups in Europe compared to the US, focusing on market dynamics and the influence of industry figures in amplifying a startup's message.

European Tech Scene

  • European tech companies often focus on less consumer-facing and "less sexy" industries compared to US counterparts.
  • Europe has produced notable exceptions in the gaming sector and music streaming, with Spotify as an example.
  • The perception in 2010-2011 was that it was hard to imagine a company like Twitter or Facebook emerging from Europe.

ss consumer and less sexy, whereas it's hard to imagine a Twitter or a Facebook coming out of Europe. Certainly back then, this was sort of 2010 Eleven, and I guess the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is some of the gaming companies and something like Spotify.

The quote reflects the perception of the European tech scene as being less focused on consumer-facing businesses and the rarity of social media giants like Twitter or Facebook originating from Europe during the early 2010s. Spotify and gaming companies are noted as exceptions.

Fundraising Insights

  • The experience of covering funding rounds as a journalist differs significantly from personally raising funds.
  • The fundraising process is slow but can be enjoyable for those who like negotiating.
  • There exists a conflict of interest during fundraising, as entrepreneurs may tell VCs what they want to hear to close the round, but the relationship changes once the round is closed and the money is in the bank.

Before, it is very different covering the announcement of a funding round and raising one of your own.

This quote emphasizes the difference in perspective between reporting on funding rounds and actively participating in raising capital. It suggests a deeper understanding of the process once personally involved.

Yeah, absolutely. It's a slow process, but I loved it. I have to tell you, I really enjoyed the fundraising process because I like negotiating.

The speaker expresses enjoyment of the fundraising process, particularly the aspect of negotiation, indicating a personal affinity for the challenge it presents.

I remember sort of phoning my dad up and saying I felt like I'd stared capitalism in the eyes and I blinked first, do you know what I mean?

This quote conveys the speaker's initial experience of confronting the realities of the capitalist system during fundraising, suggesting a moment of realization about the intensity of the process.

And then the other thing that it taught me, which I don't really hear a lot of people talking about this, it struck me as a journalist that there's like an absolute conflict of interest in that stage when you're fundraising because essentially you're telling your vc in a way you're trying to tell them what they want to hear because you want to close around, but the minute you close around, they're your business partner.

The speaker highlights a conflict of interest where entrepreneurs might stretch the truth to meet VCs' expectations during fundraising, but must face reality once the partnership begins.

TechCrunch's Success and Influence

  • TechCrunch has experienced significant growth and influence in the tech community.
  • The publication's success is attributed to hard work and maintaining an obsessive profile of startups.
  • TechCrunch covers a diverse range of topics from early-stage startups to major tech companies like Apple.
  • The coverage by TechCrunch can lead to startups gaining interest from investors and mainstream media.
  • TechCrunch's role in the tech ecosystem is influential but not the sole determinant of a startup's success; product quality is paramount.

I think hard work, the tech crunch staff worked incredibly hard and we're quite mean if you think about Techrunch in the beginning when Mike Ariston started the.

This quote credits hard work as a key factor in TechCrunch's success and references the publication's commitment to covering startups from its inception.

So one of the strap lines was that TechCrunch obsessively profiles startups, right? And even though we've know a much bigger team now, we cover tech in the sense that tech is everywhere and is in everything.

TechCrunch's mission to obsessively profile startups is highlighted, along with its expansion to cover a wide range of technology-related topics.

Because we still do the startup bit really well, I would argue it means that in a way we win on both element ends.

The speaker argues that TechCrunch's continued excellence in covering startups contributes to its overall success and recognition in the industry.

I think that when you're sort of so early in the coverage cycle, then other media look to Techfront as a pointer to where they should go.

TechCrunch is recognized as a trendsetter in tech media, often guiding other publications on which startups to cover.

I think it was just today that Jan WhatsApp founder wrote something about how pr and coverage is a distraction, right? And you should focus on product.

The speaker references a comment from WhatsApp's founder, suggesting that while media coverage is important, the primary focus for startups should be on developing a great product.

Community Engagement and Online Discourse

  • The engagement with the community has shifted from publication websites to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
  • TechCrunch engages with its audience through conferences and meetups, as well as online platforms.
  • The decentralization of comments and discussions to social media is a common trend among publications.

But the conversation online has moved largely onto Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn.

This quote acknowledges the migration of community engagement from individual publication websites to major social media platforms.

I think that's an issue that all publications have, which is that they don't own the commenting so much as they used to. It's much more aggregated across these big platforms.

The speaker points out the challenge for publications in losing ownership of the comment section due to the centralization of discussions on large social media platforms.

Responsibility for Online Comments

  • Online platforms like Twitter and Facebook are not held to the same responsibility for user comments as a company's own website.
  • The quality of conversation can be degraded by poor moderation.
  • YouTube is known for having particularly bad comments.

"No one wants horrible comments, but you no longer hold responsibility if they're on Twitter or Facebook than you do if they're on your own TechCrunch website."

This quote highlights the distinction in responsibility between user comments on social media platforms and those on a company's own website, suggesting less accountability on social media.

Community Management and Tone

  • Inviting everyone into a community can lead to a loss of control over the conversation's tone.
  • Growth-focused strategies in social media startups can inadvertently cheapen conversation quality.
  • Moderation on platforms like Twitter is not possible, but these platforms help stories go viral.

"It's really interesting how if you're not careful, you do lose control over the tone of the conversation."

Steve O'Hare emphasizes the importance of careful community management to maintain the desired tone of conversation, warning of the risks of uncontrolled growth.

Monetization of Content

  • TechCrunch maintains a separation between business development and editorial content.
  • Revenue streams include conferences and other commercial activities.
  • Editorial freedom is a priority, with writers focusing on content rather than monetization concerns.

"TechCrunch, we have a very good rule between sort of business development and commercial side and editorial."

Steve O'Hare explains the division at TechCrunch between the editorial side and the commercial side, ensuring journalistic integrity and editorial freedom.

Editorial Freedom at TechCrunch

  • TechCrunch is unique in its level of editorial freedom for a publication of its size.
  • There is a balance between editorial support and freedom, allowing writers to pursue stories they are passionate about.

"The editorial hierarchy is there to support us and help us to produce the best content we can. But at times it's quite hands off and there's a lot of freedom."

This quote describes the editorial environment at TechCrunch, where there is support but also significant autonomy for writers, distinguishing it from other publications.

Future of Journalism

  • There is a place for both short-form and long-form journalism.
  • Brand identity and audience understanding are crucial for a publication's success.
  • The industry is still figuring out how to fund different types of journalism, with some content potentially subsidizing others.

"I think what I've noticed is the brands that do best of the publications are the ones that really have a strong sense of what they're there for."

Steve O'Hare discusses the importance of a strong brand identity for publications and suggests that a mix of content styles, like those seen at BuzzFeed, can coexist successfully.

Personal Preferences and Inspirations

  • Steve O'Hare's favorite book is "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler because of its classic crime fiction elements.
  • His tech inspirations are early pioneers of the personal computer industry, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, due to their contributions to making computing accessible.
  • A major red flag when being pitched a story is getting the journalist's name or publication wrong.

"Probably the big sleep. Raymond Chandler. I like crime fiction, a classic crime fiction novel."

Steve O'Hare shares his favorite book, giving insight into his personal interests and how it reflects on his view of journalism.

Red Flags in Pitching Stories

  • Misnaming the journalist or publication is a significant mistake when pitching stories.
  • Personalization and accuracy are key in successful pitches.

"When people get my name wrong, they... Or the publication I write for. That's a pretty no no."

Steve O'Hare points out the immediate red flags in story pitches, emphasizing the importance of getting personal details correct to establish a professional connection.

Importance of Being First in Coverage

  • Harry Stebbings expresses a preference for being the first to cover early-stage European startups.
  • Being first is seen as a significant part of his role and focus.
  • A mention of other publications covering a startup can be a red flag for him.

"And I particularly like to be first because I focus on early stage european startups. Right. So if I'm not first, then what am I doing?"

This quote emphasizes Harry Stebbings' dedication to being the initial point of coverage for new startups, highlighting the competitive nature of tech journalism.

  • Steve O'Hare observes a significant trend in the availability of pre-seed and seed capital.
  • This trend marks a change from the past, where early money was harder to come by.
  • Tax incentives in the UK are identified as a reason for this change.

"The biggest trend is just the availability of pre seed and seed capital."

Steve O'Hare notes the increased ease of acquiring early-stage funding, which is a notable shift from previous years in the European startup ecosystem.

Online Reading Habits and Influential Accounts

  • Steve O'Hare discusses his online reading habits, which include following various Twitter accounts.
  • He mentions Tech EU's newsletter as a valuable resource for aggregating funding and M&A activity in Europe.
  • Steve O'Hare draws inspiration from political journalism, aiming to ask harder questions and hold people accountable.

"I follow a lot know Twitter accounts, so I often go all over the place for my coverage."

Steve O'Hare indicates a diverse approach to staying informed, using Twitter as a primary source for information.

Future Plans and Improving Journalism

  • Steve O'Hare expresses a desire to continuously improve his journalism skills.
  • He has started doing more audio work, reminiscent of his university days.
  • The goal is to add another dimension to his writing and create more engaging content.

"So the short term plan is just to keep getting better at journalism."

This quote reflects Steve O'Hare's commitment to personal and professional growth in his journalistic career.

The Art of Audio Interviews

  • Steve O'Hare values the conversational style of audio interviews.
  • He believes that a good interview can reveal more genuine responses than standard PR lines.
  • The conversational approach can lead to content that, while not massively popular, is highly appreciated by its audience.

"But I feel like I do a lot of short news stories, startup profiles, funny around, just kind of the newsbeat. And what I like about doing audio is you can get a bit more of a conversation going."

Steve O'Hare explains the benefits of audio interviews, which allow for a more natural conversation and the opportunity to capture more authentic interactions.

Networking and Industry Connections

  • Steve O'Hare emphasizes the importance of regular communication with industry professionals.
  • He conducts Skype interviews and calls with no agenda to maintain industry connections.
  • This practice is likened to the networking culture in Silicon Valley.

"I believe as a journalist, you should be meeting and talking to people in the industry all the time."

The quote underscores the necessity of continuous engagement with industry figures to stay informed and connected, which Steve O'Hare incorporates into his journalistic routine.

Acknowledgments and Resources

  • Harry Stebbings and Steve O'Hare exchange thanks and express mutual appreciation for the interview.
  • Listeners are directed to a website for links to resources mentioned in the show.
  • An opportunity to win a signed book is mentioned as an incentive for newsletter sign-up.

"Well, Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show, really. As I said, it's been such a pleasure as such a fan of your writing, so real honor, and, yeah, thank you so much for giving up your time."

Harry Stebbings conveys gratitude towards Steve O'Hare for his participation, highlighting the value of the conversation and the respect for Steve's work.

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