On a recent episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Gigaom founder and True Ventures partner Om Malik said his heart attack in 2007 was perhaps "the best thing that happened to me."
You can read some of the highlights from Peter’s interview with Om at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of the conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
Transcript by Celia Fogel.
Peter Kafka: There's so much we can talk about with you. You are the godfather of blogging. Can I call you that? The godfather of blogging?
Sure, why not.
We can go into your deep, deep long history in the internet and media, but let's go to the future. I want to talk about the fight you're having with John Gruber, who is another guest on this podcast.
I am having a disagreement with him about a few things.
Om, let's sell this. This is a very, very, very angry fight you're having, you guys are furious at each other on the internet about Apple.
You know being furious is not my game plan, and I don't do that. But I'm definitely in disagreement with him on a few issues. And the biggest issue I have — not with Gruber, but with the Apple — is, if they want to play the content game, then they should do it at Apple scale.
So let's frame it right. This stems out of some discussion you had on, what, another podcast, right? And basically you were saying Apple was screwing around on TV, and they shouldn't be. Or they're not doing it correctly.
Right. My view is if they want to make content, do television, get into production game, then do it seriously. Don't do it like one-off things here and there. And the best way to do it is actually they have so much stock evaluation and they have so much money that they could buy a player like Netflix and make a real go of it. Not only does it get them cross-platform understanding of what people want to do with content and how they want to watch it, but it also gives them a top-class engineering team which knows the modern internet infrastructure to scale the content business, not have iCloud go off for six hours, have a team which can put them on the same footing as their real competitors — which is Facebook, Google, Amazon — which are pure-play internet companies doing amazing and interesting things.
So you're saying a couple things. One, Apple is screwing around on content, they're not doing it right. Do you think they should actually buy Netflix?
Yeah, I think so.
You think it's actually a good idea.
Yeah, I actually wrote about that. If they want to get into content, it's two things that happen. They get into content in a really impactful way, across platform, on other devices which are not Apple. They can't do that otherwise right now. Look at their attempts to get Apple Music to other platforms. And those are like, you know, they look like, oh whatever.
Why should they be in the content business in that way? Aren't they in the business of selling iPhones?
They are. My view is, if they want to be in the business of content, then ...
Right, then go whole hog.
Then go whole hog-edly into it.
And then the second part of what you're saying is they get a world-class engineering team that knows how to do streaming, so what you're really saying is Apple can't do streaming and cloud.
No, I think Apple has issues around its internet services.
So that's your position. John Gruber …
That's been not just my position that Apple has a challenge in internet services. A lot of people, including a lot of Apple bloggers …
You wanted to say Apple fanboys.
No, Apple bloggers, they are devoted to one company, and there is a challenge around that for the company. I think we can all sit here and talk about it, but the reality is there are internet-native companies: Facebook, Google, Amazon. Versus Apple. They want to do services, they don't have the DNA that those three companies have. So if you're going to do it, just kind of go for it. Don't dance around the issue.
Right, the suggestion is that Apple was great at marrying software and hardware, but now we're really moving into software and cloud and AI-only. That stuff matters more than how the object works, we're sort of at parity with the object at this point. And Gruber says, "No you're wrong." And the reason all of this is interesting to people in the world is because John has a big megaphone, talks about Apple, and you do, too.
I think John has a bigger megaphone than I do.
So let's pull all the way back and explain to people who don't know you. I can't imagine they listen to this podcast at this point if they don't know who you are, but let's say they're still listening, and they don't know who you are. How did you get to have such a big megaphone, Om Malik?
I don't think I have a big megaphone.
Yeah, you do.
I have opinions and, you know, just like you, I don't know if you've already forgotten, we used to work together a long time ago.
In the very old days.
When Forbes was a real thing.
We worked at Forbes.com, which was the junior version of Forbes.
Yeah, and I worked at Forbes.com and I'm very proud of that, just not the new one which is one hell of a shit show.
Let's be honest, Om, we both worked at Forbes.com when that was also a shit show.
No, I took a lot of pride in the early days.
They did great stuff, but they also did "Top 10 Nude Beaches."
We never did that during my phase.
Maybe that was just during my phase.
Yeah, I think so.
So there's no way that anyone's listening at this point and still doesn't know who you are, but if they didn't, you have a long career in media. You've done a bunch of different things, including Forbes, like you talked about, and you were one of the early pioneers in blogging. I want to talk to you about how you got to that point. Let's start there. So at one point you were at Forbes.com, and you were typing away and writing stories about hardware.
Networks and optical ...
Super boring stuff, but you liked it. How did you get to that point? How did you get to Forbes.com?
I came to the U.S. almost 25 years ago, and basically found my way into journalism. I wanted to be a writer in the U.S.
Who was your role model? Who did you want to be?
I don't think I had a role model. I just was very inspired by an article which I read in Forbes magazine around the information superhighway and the Arpanet and stuff like that. To me that intuitively made sense, and when I decided to come to the U.S., I knew exactly what I wanted to go and write about.
Did you have training as a journalist before?
Nope. No, I was a journalist before that, never had formal training in anything.
This is in India.
In India. And I just worked my way up. Like learn from other people, learn by being on the job, doing low-level reporting jobs and doing a little bit of copy- boy status.
Yeah, and you get to Forbes.com in …
In ’97. Do you have a background in tech at that point?
I've had a decent enough background in tech by then. I worked at Nikkei. Quick Nikkei News was a division of Nikkei which published in English in Japan ,and I was there, first as their chief reporter, then their systems reporter and then network reporter. I followed and covered the launch of the Netscape IPO, and then I just decided to go and hound the guys from Forbes to hire me.
So 1997, writing for Forbes.com, you're really in sort of a tiny corner of the world. No one's really paying attention.
There was a very small, tiny corner of Forbes itself.
Yeah, Forbes itself. And the internet was a thing, people were sort of aware that Yahoo — I think Yahoo had probably IPOed, Netscape had IPOed — but the idea of writing full-time on the internet was a weird thing. Is that something you wanted to do?
You wanted to work on the internet.
I had started my own website at that time. It was called ac40.com, which is like a listing service for South Asian nightlife events — you know, the things you do as an immigrant to hustle and make a living. You know, journalism doesn't pay really well, so ...
Well now it's raining money, it's great.
Now it's a different story. I never got paid that well in my life.
I don't believe that.
No, as a journalist, no.
So you're working at Forbes.com, you're covering networking ...
Everything, actually. Like what Kara was to Yahoo, I was to Sun Microsystems.
So you're the Kara Swisher of Sun Microsystems. And then I remember going to a going-away party for you, because you were going to become a VC.
Yeah, that didn't last very long.
So what made you think, at age whatever — probably late 20s, right? — "I'm going to become a venture capitalist"?
This was in the middle of the bubble, what do you think?
Everyone else is doing it.
Everybody else is doing it, so you can be a VC.
"Look at these morons, I can do it, too."
But now it's kind of cliche that lots of journalists "leave to become VCs" — I'm doing air quotes — a lot of them actually aren't even becoming VCs. They're either becoming marketers of VCs, or something that's not an actual venture partner. But it was a pretty extraordinary thing back then, to think you were going to do that. There were only a handful of people who were doing that.
There's only two people who have done it before, right? One was Mike Moritz, and Stewart Alsop. And I was the third guy, and I was just like ... you know, hubris, youth, whatever you want to call it, I just felt that was the next obvious step to take, and then I went and I realized that was not for me.
How long did it take you to figure out "being a VC is not for me"?
Yeah. I literally decided this was the biggest mistake of my life.
What was the wake-up call?
No, I just didn't love it. I was looking at the world from a very narrow standpoint, whereas working as a journalist gives you like such a massive vantage point.
So it wasn't that you blew up, it wasn't that you did a bad deal, it wasn't that you didn't do any deals.
I didn't do any deals.
You showed up 15 days and left.
I left in five or six months.
But you didn't go back to Forbes, right? You went west?
I went to Red Herring.
So this is, again, doing old-timey journalism, but this is when it was a perfectly rational thing for people like you or me or people we work with to say, "I'm going to leave Forbes, I'm going to go to work at Red Herring, or Business.com, where I'm going to make a bunch of money with stock options."
Forbes probably — Forbes.com — was the only dot-com I know which made money and still couldn't go public because the Forbes family had big, tight control on everything. So whatever the reasons, Goldman and Solomon brothers were the family bankers, and they still couldn't make it happen. And I realized that, and when this offer to be a VC came along, I said, "Maybe I'll go and see what happens." And then I got there, and I was like, "Oh, this is just not what I want to do."
So then you go and do another …
No, then I stuck it out for another …
Right, but so after that you ...
So I called Jason Pontin at Red Herring and I said to him, "I need to be out." And he says, "Okay. Come on Monday, and we'll have everything ready for you." No discussion around salary or anything.
You just showed up?
Just showed up. No idea around like options — all those things were not even discussed. I just wanted out, and I was out, that's it.
And then I remember talking to one of my colleagues at Forbes a number of years later, and he said, "What do you think about blogging?" I said, "I don't know, it seems like a stupid thing and why would you type up stuff on the internet just on your own?" And they said, "Well, I was talking to Om, and he's doing it." I think at the time you were at Business 2.0, and he says, "It's a real thing." And I think maybe you were thinking about doing it on your own. So how did you get to blogging?
So the funny thing is that I used to be a blogger, but it wasn't known as "blogging" at that time. This was in the ’99/2000 time frame. I had a mailing list in which I would just write things I couldn't write about for Forbes. It was more like my off-the-cuff comments. It had about 1,000+ subscribers, and it was called DotComBala, and essentially it was like my snarky take on the ...
You were tweeting, pre-tweeting.
It was tweeting in like 500 words. So it was quite fun. And then I had my own website where I'd put all my links and everything. And that newsletter was how I actually — really, there's a lot of things I used to write.
And you were doing it to scratch an itch, right? You weren't trying to make money.
No, this was for people who were good sources, who were friends, and who became, you know, like super super friends with me. And so from that standpoint ...
You were doing it to entertain yourself and your friends.
It was pretty entertaining email. Before Red Herring, every day, I wrote every day. As an online journalist, newswire journalist, newspaper writer, I wrote every day. My whole thing was, "I have to write and report and write every day." That was my thing. I go to Red Herring, I don't report and write every day. The magazines take two-three months to come out.
It's a whole different way to think about it. I used to follow folks like Dave Winer, they had their own weird blogs. And by that time I had shifted my own blog, my own website was powered by Blogger, and I was using that to publish.
Which was created by ...
Exactly. Of Twitter.
Then I decided, in December 2001, Movable Type was in the market, and I installed it. Actually, Ben installed it for me — Ben was one of the co-founders of Movable Type. He installed it on a server for me, and I shifted everything to that, and then I basically blogged about what happened in my day. Like, sometimes I would meet some interesting founders, and those things would never really make it to the magazine ever, but I just started writing.
And why are you doing it? Because you're not getting paid by Red Herring to do it, right? Are you trying to make money?
No! Because I was a daily journalist, and if I don't write every day, I lose my mind.
You wanted to put stuff out because you had to get it out.
That is how my mind was wired. It's like if I don't put something out, I'm not going to think about the next thing and the next thing, and that was very important. So for me, stories are like Lego blocks. If I don't put one down I can't put the next one down. And I still think like that, even now. If there is one thing that I miss about my life in the past is the ability to build layers upon layers. Now, just to be honest, I had no idea that I was essentially doing blogging. I was just building layers for my own thinking. And then over a period of time, as the audience developed and I had a conversation with them with comments and everything else, I suddenly started to realize, this is not just me building layers, it's like my team, which is my readers, actually having me think better about things which I should be thinking about through osmosis and conversation.
It's great when it works, you get feedback. You write something, someone responds to it, either in comments or they send you an email, and your work gets better and they get more interesting and your audience gets bigger, and it goes and goes and goes. And at what point do you decide, "Holy cow, this is a thing I want to do full-time for a living"?
This is the story a lot of people don't know. Two people who encouraged me to leave aggressively: One was Michael Arrington and the other was Rafat Ali.
Michael Arrington the founder of TechCrunch.
The founder of TechCrunch.
Rafat Ali, who — I believe if you listen to this podcast you've heard Rafat, because we just taped an interview with him — is the founder of PaidContent. These are two of the early blog guys getting your ear and saying, "Om, you should join us, do your own blog."
No, they were all looking at me and just like, "Wait, you were doing this before us and you're still not doing it on your own?" That was like, "What are you waiting for?" Every single conversation they would just hound me, like, "What's wrong with you?" And then Tony Schneider, who was then coming out of Yahoo, he was running Yahoo's email-related stuff and now he's a partner at True, and he also pushed me. He said, "Why are you just sitting around in Business 2.0?" — which was another publication.
Owned by Time Inc. at the time.
Time Inc., yes. I joined them in March 2003, now that I'm counting. I moved back to San Francisco from New York after Red Herring shut down. And it was fun to go there. I love Josh Quittner, who was a great editor, he really really helped me figure out a lot of things, and I really had a good time, except everybody was saying, "Wait, why are you just ... We know you because of the blog, and not because what you're writing."
Not because you work at a Time Inc. publication. And you created your own brand, and you could say, "All right, I'm going to move out on my own." When you decided to do it, did you have someone back you?
No. At that time, the team was actually making money, believe it or not, because I was writing about boring stuff like networks and stuff like that. This is when AdSense was actually really effective.
And you were making money out on your own, right?
Yeah, I was like, I didn't do anything. Sometimes I would get a $15,000 check from Google.
It's like, "You, too, can do it at home with this easy kit." Nope.
No, I don't think so. [laughs] You can't do it at home.
So in the early days, what was a popular blog? How many readers did you have?
I think at that time I had, like, 200,000 monthly.
200,000 people visiting you, which is literally nothing today, unmonetizable. But then you were making thousands of dollars a month.
Some months, like sometimes when Vonage — remember Vonage? — they would want to acquire customers, like if everybody's reading about it on one blog ...
That's an IP phone company.
Then when they went away, sometimes it was like 50 bucks, sometimes it was like a a thousand bucks.
So you weren’t paying rent, but you could buy a meal.
No, it would pay for my cigars, let's just say that.
And at the time you liked nice cigars. And then, so you say, "All right, this is going to become a full-time business."
In April 2006.
And did you go out and find money, find people to back it?
Actually yeah. Tony said, "You should come and talk to True, and just see if he can do something." And when I go in there, the guys from True who know nothing required, he just gave me a check and just said, "All right, go figure it out." That was it. I didn't even do a full pitch.
Well done. So they give you some money, you create Gigaom, you call it Gigaom because ...
Because you know, the domain was called Gigaom, and the "giga" is the roundness in me, and Om is me [PK laughs]. Now it's like, you know, Giga-minus-Om.
And the idea was from the get-go that you were going to build a company around you? Or was it just going to be you for a while?
That was never the idea, that was the funny thing. The domain may have been Gigaom, but from Day 1, I always felt that we should build out a bigger platform for good, you know, kind of blend old-school journalism ethos with blogging.
Create a medium with other writers and editors.
So I hired two people. One was Katie Fehrenbacher, who was probably the first true believer in the company, and then Liz Gannes, who worked with you at ...
… before she went off on her amazing journey.
Yeah, she's doing well, it seems like. So I remember there's Rafat at PaidContent, there's Arrington at Techcrunch, there's you at Giga, and all of a sudden technology writing is sexy again, blogs are sexy again, there seems to be people making money. Arrington is photographed on the cover of Red Herring burning hundred-dollar bills.
Business 2.0, excuse me. Some defunct magazine. At some point did you think, "Oh, I should flip this thing, I should sell it, I should cash out," or did you think ... I remember getting in a Twitter fight with you or something stupid like that, where you were talking about how Time Inc is going to fail, it's going to be replaced by the likes of you and TechCrunch, etc. Did you really think that was going to happen or did you think, "I'm going to build to a certain size and then sell to the biggest"?
Well, I wanted to build a big company; that was the original plan. That's why we raised money, that's why we went on a path to hire people. [When] you're the first person walking down a street, there's a very good chance you're going to encounter something. And so that's what happened, literally for us, we had to figure things out a lot. Now it's easy to figure things out, like how to drive traffic.
A lot of stuff, yeah.
Yeah, it's just like now it's part of the process. And I still believe that somebody's going to replace Time Inc. Look at Vox. You guys seem to be doing well. Versus their fortunes are, you know, a little bit on the downside.
Yes, we're going up and to the right.
Right. And they have Janice saying, "You gotta figure shit out."
Did you like managing and running a company? You'd gone from being a writer, you played VC for a minute, then you're back being a writer, you're blogging. These are solitary things. Did you like managing people and running a company?
Yeah. I never really thought about it that way. There was a lot of sequence of events which happened. I was running, I was running hard, and then I fell sick. When that happened, the decision was made collectively by me and my family that I can't be doing all the things, I can't be running the business, I can't be writing, I can't be, you know, living 24 hours a day.
You said you fell sick. This was New York Times news, right? Did you have a heart attack?
I did have a heart attack in 2007. But remember, I was a smoker and I was super overweight, and I had bad eating habits. Plus it didn't help that I was like sleeping maybe two hours a night.
Right. I can't remember if these are separate stories or not, but there was this notion that you were the poster boy for the unhealthiness of digital media. You were up all night and producing, and you were slaving at the computer, and thus blogging or typing quickly was a bad idea.
But everyone conveniently forgot that I was smoking and I was drinking and I was eating unhealthy foods. And I was not exercising. Those four, plus the stress of the job, combined like a short circuit. It happens.
So that would have happened if you were selling hotdogs, or you're a bond trader or an architect.
There's so many engineers who go through the same thing. They have bad eating habits, bad diet and no exercise, and they work all day long and kaboom. You know, the body can only take so much. I look back and just say, "Maybe that was the best thing that happened to me." Because it forced me to take priorities on what was important.
So you think, "All right, I'm going to work less, I'm going to pull back from this company that I founded."
For about a year and a half, I was lost completely. It's pretty hard to have Code Blue on you and then come back and say, "Yeah, I need to fight for a story."
Code Blue meaning you didn't have a heartbeat.
Yeah. So it's kind of hard.
Yeah. I don't think breaking the news is that important. I think it puts everything in perspective. It put everything in perspective for me. I think there is a sequence of events which happened, and here we are.
We're going to keep talking about the sequences, that's what we do. So you pull out of the day-to-day running of Gigaom, and then you become a half-time VC or a full-time VC?
Yeah, half-time. It was like a venture partner, which is one or two days a week I would go to the True office, and then I would write mostly and I gave up managing, gave up that leadership, just the events and help nurture and mentor people more than anything else.
So once you get back on your feet, do you think, "I'm going to go back to the company I started, I'm going to run it again and manage it" or, "I'm going to move into VC full-time," or do you think a little bit of both?
No, my job became more of a training and nurturing young talent and helping them succeed. I didn't go back to managing.
And so over the years Gigaom raises more money, gets bigger ...
Yeah, we had a team, people were raising money, people were growing it. All I was doing was keeping the vision alive, keeping people focused.
This is what Shane Smith called being a brand artist. You were the face of the company, appeared at events, and you sort of represented what Gigaom should be.
And also, I took a lot of pride in finding newer talent in the team, like bringing on new people. I read a lot of college newspapers and figured out who was going to be good reporters in the future and all that kind of stuff.
Plucking people out and calling them to the big leagues.
I wanted to be a scout for talent. That's the part I really loved about Gigaom, was finding Stacy before she was Stacy and finding Liz before she was Liz. I think there is so much gratification which comes from that. Like I had great editors who helped me. The guy who hired me at Forbes, David Churbuck, if he hadn't hired me, I wouldn't have gone into Red Herring. SImilarly, if Pontin hadn't hired me, I wouldn't have gone on to Business 2.0. So all these people who take a special interest in somebody who they think is talented are helping the next generation come along. And I felt like right after I came back from the hospital ,that that was my role: To find people who could easily replace me, just like that.
So the business is growing, it's raising more money. And I remember I was in the Recode or AllThingsD office in San Francisco, and there was something on Twitter that said, "Gigaom is shutting down." Basically overnight. And I or Kara called you, and you said, "I can't talk, it's too emotional." At the time it seemed like this had happened out of the blue, the company just stopped existing. And I've tried reporting about what happened a little bit; other folks have, as well. Can you explain why the company had to shut down basically overnight?
I think we overexpanded into research, and there was that challenge.
So you overexpanded, you overshot.
Yeah. I can't talk about it for obvious legal reasons, but I'll just say it was too much expansion in research.
So this is your company, you founded it, you owned a bunch of it.
I left in January 2014 to be a full partner at True.
So did you have any responsibility over the company?
So you walked away, and then x number of months later, it had to fold. In retrospect, do you think, "Oh, I could have stepped in earlier, I could have managed this differently"?
No, no retrospect. I made decisions, I stand by those decisions. Some of them worked out, some of them didn’t.
At the time, people were trying to say, "Oh, this means something about the internet, this means something about digital media."
It means nothing about the internet. I think the biggest problem I have with the media is that everybody is focused on the headline, and not even accurately on the headline. So I look at what's happening to Vox right now or BuzzFeed or Vice, and it's like, I don't know, they seem to be growing really, really, really, really fast. I just think we came five years too soon.
So partly you're saying it's about timing, right? You were early.
And also you make decisions; sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't. That is being in a company, strategically we made some plays, and those didn't work out.
Now that you're a full-time venture capitalist and you're making bets on companies, is there stuff that you pull out of your experience growing that company?
Oh all the time. Yeah. All the time.
That you can bring to bear?
Yeah. I was just talking to a founder of one of the companies I'm on the board of, and I was telling him of the mistakes I made, you know, and decisions in how I mentored people, how I interacted with people. You make mistakes because no one gives you a playbook.
And you haven't done it before.
Yeah. The biggest mistake I made was I would just go out and try and fix everything.
Yeah. Because you think you're God. And I think that is the biggest problem as a founder is you have this desire to just take care of everything. I think that is the No. 1 mistake I made. I just think instead of empowering people for the next generation and letting them succeed and fail, that was a big mistake. However, when I came out of my sickness and I had to sit down and say, "Wait, what is my role going forward?" Because I can't work like a 25-year-old reporter who can stay up 20 hours a day. So I will have to make changes to my life. What do I do? And at that time it was a lot of, you know, self-reflection. Almost like, I was lost for a year man. Year, year and a half. And it made me realize there is a lot of things I can do. And you know, I tell the founders all the mistakes. I tell them about all the mistakes I've made. Not all the things I did right.
Do they listen?
Some of them do, some of them don't. But my job is to tell them, because I think mistakes teach us more than successes. Silicon Valley's biggest problem is that we celebrate success, but we never learn from mistakes.
You missed my panel I did at the Code Conference this spring. I had a whole thing on failure. We had Dalton Caldwell, who has failed a bunch of times, and he's now a Y Combinator partner. And I was really happy that I did that panel, because we don't ever talk about that. We never talk about what it's like to fail and not just, "I failed but then I succeeded," right? That we had that sort of false narrative, like the hero has a little bit of a problem that works out in the end. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and sometimes you fail.
I think failure is when you don't learn from your failure. I think that's failure, in my opinion, 100 percent. And I look back and I just say, "Wow, I've made so many bad decisions."
Do you feel like that failure gives you more credibility when you're making pronouncements about what Apple should be doing, or anyone else should be doing in media?
Oh man, I've always been doing that all my life.
You've been doing it regardless.
Right, like I don't care. It's like, that's how I feel. It doesn't mean I'm right 100 percent, I'm more wrong than I'm right. I was so wrong about Hulu.
Then you were eventually right. But it's fun to speak with certainty, right? It's more interesting, it's more entertaining.
I always put it out there. In hindsight, we are either geniuses or we are idiots. I have been an idiot more than I've been a genius. I'll go with that.
So you're an idiot genius now. You're investing, you're putting other people's money to work. I was just talking to somebody who said, "You know, I think things are going to heat up again this fall." And I said, "Oh, I thought everything was retracting, and people were selling companies because they had no choice." They said, "Yeah, it's great, it's opening up the M&A market, so we're going to start putting more money to work." What's your state? What's your sense of where the tech market is right now, the startup market is right now?
It's pretty difficult to predict on what the startup market is. True has been investing throughout the year. We have not changed our pace. We have not gone faster, we have not gone slower. The quality of our founders is pretty much the same, what we look for. Sometimes investments have higher valuation, sometimes they have slightly lower valuations. But nothing really has changed. There is a variation and an expectation at the very early stage where founders expect too much valuation.
And that's come back down a bit, right?
I think it hasn't. It feels like it has, but it hasn't. People still expect to do seed rounds at, like, eight million pre, and that's just a little bit insane.
And maybe this is too far in the weeds, but Kara Swisher and my colleague Lauren Goode are interviewing a guy from Juicero which raised $100 million for an internet-connected juicer. Maybe it's not even internet-connected, I can't remember. It's a juicer. There's an internet-connected toaster that's raised a bunch of money. We can pick at any time a bunch of things that seem pretty dumb and are well-funded. Are any of those signals to you that, all right, the market is still too frothy, or is there always dumb stuff like that?
Well, think about a macro trend, right? The macro trend is we are putting a digital heartbeat in everything that is inanimate. Your TVs didn't have connected devices, like, there was no connection there. Your phone was just a phone. So everything — I'm just talking about electronics right now, but the kitchen needs to be reinvented.
So you're pro-internet toaster.
I am pro.
Did you invest in the internet toaster? Did I make a big gaffe?
No, no. What I believe, formally believe, is that all the things which are around us will have some kind of silicon and some kind of connectivity. And that will have a much more profound effect on the world we live in. So does that mean a connected oven, connected car, connected toaster, connected coffee machine? There’s going to be a coffee machine in the future that will have to have a connection, because we will need for it to work.
Why do I need my coffee maker connected to the internet?
We don't know yet, this is the exploration part of it. That's what technology is about: 95 percent of the time it's exploring new opportunity, then 5 percent is solving existing problems. So we're exploring new frontiers, right? Is it the best idea? I don't know. Their investors think it seems to be a great idea. And so I can't argue with that. But what I can argue with is ... I can make a statement around the fact that we will have connectivity in pretty much everything around us. And that is a bigger macro trend. And so devices and vehicles and all those things are going to be all networked.
So you're not going to join me in making fun of the internet toaster.
Dude, go for it. Come on, that's your role on Twitter now.
Is to make fun of internet toasters?
And your job is to fund it, right?
Yeah, pretty much.
So you're not a young man anymore, you're in good shape, you look well. But you're not a twentysomething who can stay up 20 hours. When you're looking at stuff that's the next Snapchat or whatever it is and it's a 23-year-old telling you, "This is the next thing," and all of a sudden 18-year-olds are using it, do you feel like you're equipped to assess that, or do you need to find a 21-year-old to explain to you what's going on?
For me, every day on the internet is just fun. And I look at every crazy thing that comes my way. My core competency is still in the world I understand, which is infrastructure, data, networks, network optimization. A lot of the things which we need in order for this world of digital heartbeats to connect. And so I look at a lot of those companies. Those are areas of maximum interest for me. I love new ideas, I love new media, and Snapchat in my opinion is the next MTV. I wrote about that like five years, four years ago when they came out. Because people were spending their time on the screen.
So you got it five years ago, when everyone was saying ...
Well, I didn't understand why I would want ... I don't have that many friends who were on Snapchat, so I didn't really understand. It was like four years ago when I first saw that. It was like, "Yeah, this makes sense, this is where people are going." Because I'm a firm believer ... I was an investor in DailyBooth, which was Snapchat before Snapchat.
What was it called?
I had no idea.
Yeah, exactly. So DailyBooth was like a service that allowed you to use your webcam and post your pictures onto their website and share with your friends. I mean, it was Snapchat except on the desktop.
Like Sean Parker had one of those, too, right?
I don't know.
Remember the one? It was going to be — it was video chat.
Yeah, he did have one, too. But all these things, the ideas are out there that finally something comes along, and it becomes part of your life, "Oh, this makes sense, this is how ..." If the phones have front-facing cameras, guess what? This is the perfect application.
So even if you're not Snapchatting, you can assess, "Oh, that's Snapchat, that's going to be a thing." And you feel like when the Snapchat comes around you'll be able to identify it early in its cycle.
So I have a different approach on this. You worked at Forbes, right? Remember what Jim Michaels used to say?
"This story sucks, go back and do it again!"
No, he would make you say, "What if this happens, what happens then?" And then what happens, and then what happens. And so it's sort of like all prices go up, what do you do? What happens? Oh, well, car sales go down, any idiot can say that. Then next thing is like, "Oh, tire sales are going to go down because you're not driving as much because the oil is more expensive." But the Forbes way would be two years, two months down the line, I think McDonald’s is going to miss their numbers, because there's not as many cars on the freeway because oil prices ... That's the Forbes way. That's top-down looking into the weeds and finding what is the real story. From my pure tech-writing background — I started out covering silicon. Silicon and going up to the systems, to the network, to the services, which taught me that a new piece of silicon could have an impact 18 to 24 months down the line on the services.
Those two, when you combine, it is fairly easy to make sense of a lot of technology breakthroughs. So for instance, when the phones had the front-facing camera, my whole thing was what does the front-facing camera mean? Not what it can do. I wasn't interested in taking my selfie. I don't want anybody to be looking at my picture, but I was always interested in "what does this mean." And the DailyBooth experience meant that kids are going to do it. We were growing up in a world of people being more narcissistic. You know, every tool we have today is about narcissism. And so that was the whole thing. That's why I got Snapchat. It took me a long time to figure out who to use it with, because all my friends were not on it.
Who do you Snapchat with?
I Snapchat with a bunch of friends.
Yeah, a bunch of other 45-somethings.
No, they're like in their 30s.
Yeah, young people.
So my view is, I am ready for next-technology behavior change because my mind thinks about changes of behavior. How do they happen. I may not be able to tell you that Snapchat is going to be the next billion-dollar company, but I can understand when the camera came on the phone, I was like when are we going to start the Flickr for the phone? Right? It was not Instagram I was looking for, I was looking for Flickr for the phone. And then Instagram — boom, just like that.
You saw it.
They nailed it.
So you're sharing some of these insights at places, like NewYorker.com you'll write for occasionally. Tweet, and then you're still blogging, right?
I do blog. Very rarely, though.
Really? Don't you, like, tell people what shoes to buy?
Yeah, I like doing that.
So where do I get your shoe tips and other ...
Om.co. And I have a little newsletter.
And a newsletter.
It says, you know, "Om says." I mean, vanity is clearly not my problem. [PK laughs] But, no, I like writing for The New Yorker, it's teaching me a lot.
It's fun, right? You get to say you write for The New Yorker.
Yeah, those guys are at a whole different level.
Yeah, they're good editors. So that's all free? I can get it wherever I want, just like this podcast. Thank you, Om, for coming on.
Thank you, Peter.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.