It isn’t easy to feel sad when you’re standing in front of a 14-foot ape who’s wearing a polo shirt, a backwards baseball cap, and, for reasons only its designer could explain — no pants. And yet, there I was.
Actually, “sad” would be an understatement. I was downright gloomy. Even the pants-less (and apparently genderless) simian giant wasn’t doing anything to raise my spirits. If anything, it was making things significantly worse.
The knowledge that the evening’s Crunchies ceremony would likely be my last as a full-time writer for TechCrunch was weighing heavy on my spirits. Heavier still was the void left by some of my former colleagues — and the resulting dearth of chutzpah. I resigned myself to thinking wistfully about TechCrunch-that-was for the remainder of the evening and began wandering the corridors.
And then, thankfully, an entrepreneur was there to snap me out my navel-gazing funk and remind me — as they have so many times before — why I was being profoundly foolish.
“You probably don’t remember me”, he said, pulling me aside as I walked into the Crunchies after party — “but we spoke over three years ago.” I gave him my default affirmative grunt, leaving it ambiguous as to whether I was affirming the fact that I didn’t remember him, or that I was recalling our conversation three years ago. That grunt sounds vaguely like, “Ung-uhh!”
He went on. “You called that day, out of the blue, and you said you wanted to write about our app, Taxi Magic. I just wanted to tell you…”
I stopped him there. Of course I remembered. Taxi Magic was one of the first iPhone applications that made me take a step back and say, “Woah, neato”. Tap the button, the app sends a message to the local Taxi company’s dispatch system, and a taxi (usually) comes to pick you up. Put in Valley terms, it was Uber before Uber was Uber.
He continued. “Well I just wanted to tell you that since you called that day and wrote that post, everything changed for us. It was an amazing boost, and it’s lasted for over three years. So… thank you. Really. It meant a lot to us.”
And, just like that, everything snapped back into perspective. It was exactly what I need to hear. The 1 AM karaoke session with the Dropbox team later that evening also helped, but it was that 2-minute conversation that stands out most in my mind. Because it reminded me how incredibly lucky I’ve been.
Four years ago, fresh out of college, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had a degree in biology, an aversion to blood and needles (which means no M.D. for me), and it was looking increasingly likely that I was going to apply to law school — a decision that, in hindsight, would have been driven largely by my desire to wear a suit to work (I clean up nice).
Instead, Mike and Heather took a chance on a 22-year old, mangy-haired, usually-disheveled kid and welcomed him into the TechCrunch family. And what a fantastic ride it’s been. Thanks to them, I’ve gotten to spend the last four years cold-calling entrepreneurs any time I thought they were doing something nifty, and, more often than not, I was met with exclamations of “Awesome!” — often followed by a breathless blur of words: “can-ya-please-wait-an-hour-we-need-to-prep-servers-we-would-really-appreciate-it”?
That conversation never gets old. And, better yet, I always got to ask them questions about everything ranging from data mining to real estate to the optimal times to plant vegetables — all of which, somehow, fall under the wide-sweeping umbrella of ‘tech’, provided they have a website or smartphone app. And when I wasn’t meeting with startups, I was often tasked with things that made the lifelong tech geek inside of me gleeful.
I met with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and Senator Al Franken. I wandered through the offices of some of the most incredible technology companies on Earth. I attended a press conference celebrating the momentous (and, sadly — fraudulent) discovery of Bigfoot. And I’m fairly certain I’m the only reporter who has ever been punked by Facebook.
And then there was the more serious, often thrilling business of breaking news. Of making dozens of (unwanted) phone calls and connecting dots late into the night. Of putting multi-billion dollar companies on the defensive, and building the confidence to very publicly call out when bullshit — even when it is hand polished by fine-tuned PR machines — is still bullshit.
All of which is my way of saying, in many ways working at TechCrunch has been a dream come true.
Sure, there have been some rough times — and the last six months have been dreary — but to tinge this farewell post with an overwhelming sense of sadness or anger wouldn’t do justice to wealth of experience, memories, and friends I’ve racked up during my time here. And besides, my Professional Blogger instincts are telling me I should save up my criticisms toward the AOL regime for a future post.
So thank you. To Mark Hendrickson for getting me into this mess. To all of my current and former colleagues for being such fun, smart people, and for putting up with my constantly-cluttered desk.
To Heather Harde for being such a fantastic CEO during her tenure at TechCrunch. Heather constantly manages to project poise and confidence and intelligence in everything she does — there were many times of uncertainty at TechCrunch, but so long as Heather was in charge, we always knew things would work out okay.
And to Michael Arrington, for being an incredible boss and mentor. People write a lot of things about Mike, and most of the time it just seems like they’re regurgitating the thesaurus entry for the word ‘loud’. But the reality is that he’s far more nuanced than that. He’s an extremely smart guy who genuinely cares about the people around him — and he’s more passionate about startups and entrepreneurs than most reporters, or VCs for that matter, could ever hope to be.
I can’t begin to recount how much Mike has taught me in the last four years — I’d often stick my head into his office to run a potential headline by him or ask for advice on how to approach a source, and he always took the time to hear me out. Provided, of course, he wasn’t in the middle of breaking a massive scoop, in which case he would simply say, “Dude.” Which just meant I should ask again in an hour.
And say what you will about journalism and bias: if I’m ever accused of being a good tech reporter, a lot of the credit belongs to him.
Finally, and above all, to the people who ultimately make TechCrunch what it is: the community. The readers and the event attendees and everyone who is involved with startups, who read and leave comments and get every bit as excited about technology as any of us writers do. TechCrunch is nothing without you folks. And, despite what some of the TC comments might lead you to believe, the vast majority of TechCrunch readers are genuinely friendly, wonderfully intelligent people.
You’ll note that this post doesn’t have any coy allusions as to what I’ll be doing next. The truth is, I’m not really sure —I’m fortunate in that I have several options, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t make any decisions until after I’ve redeemed the dancing classes I purchased on Google Offers, which will take a few weeks.
So keep watching this space, should you be so inclined. With any luck, I should be busting some moves soon enough.
Update: Some of my former colleagues have written very nice things about me. Thanks so much to each of them:
Top image by Ken Yueng
Check out Google’s tribute to Mark Twain. Awesome.
Incidentally, I hold Mark Twain personally responsible for my untimely elimination in Mrs. Smith’s 4th Grade Spelling Bee. I’d been engrossed in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at the time, and was thrilled when the word I was asked to spell was, “Reckon”.
Aha! A trick question that would surely have eliminated my less precocious classmates.
And so I proceeded to gaze across the room and triumphantly spell out: “R… E.. C… K… Apostrophe… N”
Needless to say, this was not the answer the teachers had in front of them. And despite my best efforts to contest their decision (I was convinced that since it had appeared that way in a printed book, it should be a valid response), I was forced to bow out.
I am still bitter about this.