Stunning Anecdotal Data from NYU Class

NYU Media Class:  All Facebook, No Myspace, Twitter?  sort of.

NYU Media Class: All Facebook, No Myspace, Twitter? sort of.

I had a great conversation at NYU today with 50 Media Studies undergrads.  Here are things we found out:

1.  Not one of them had been on Myspace in 2009.  Not one.  When I reminded them about Myspace Music a few hands went up

2.  All of them used Facebook in the same period

3.  Only 20%ish had a twitter account

4.  For the most part they did not know what an API was, but they all knew what apps were.

5.  None of them had heard of Tweetdeck

6.  All of them remembered Xanga, but none of them use it.

7.  35% of them had bought some music on Itunes.  66% admitted to pirating music.

Brands come and go.  Twitter is so rare.  But the decline of Myspace will probably happen faster than we realize.

Finally, they stayed 15 minutes after the allotted time on a Friday and laughed at The AaronCohens trailer 7 times out loud.  How does this movie not get financed?

Getting Ahead in Digital Media

Like most new CEOs at the beginning of a new assignment, I spend significant time evaluating my current team  and looking for ways to improve it.   At this particular moment in the economic cycle, I have been innundated with requests for informational interviews, resumes, and LinkedIn invitations.  Several years ago, people would demand a signing bonus when they joined Bolt and once somebody left for another job after arriving only two months earlier.

The market has changed.

But it will get better, and then worse, and then better.   Like the stock market itself, you can’t really time it.  So people whether they are 22, 32, or 42 need to really spend time thinking about themselves and what they want in life.  It sounds simple, and may even sound self-absorbed, but I really recommend it because it might help some of you start to see your career as a journey and not a paycheck.   It’s good to dream, but it’s just important to assess what it will take to get there.

Let’s specifically discuss the 20-something employee.  Some of you have little to no work experience and some of you have a couple years.  Either way, if companies are doing their job right you should not be paid very much.  Entry level people now are getting hired for less than 30k all over the industry and the broader media landscape of television, advertising etc.  Substantial Raises are hard to come by.   Yet, some of these very same people will be making 100k or more within the next few years.  Why will this happen?

In two  words ,hardcore commitment.   When you are in your 20s you generally don’t have children, aren’t married, and don’t have a ton of other commitments.  This means you can focus on your career and much more importantly the education that you can get to make yourself more valuable.  This is simple stuff, but the fact is some of you will choose to put in minimal time for a paycheck that finances your life as an artist or  your social life.  That’s totally cool, but don’t kid yourself.  You will not get ahead as a professional doing that.  If you want your career to move forward with velocity you need to be all in.  You need to be thinking about how to make your company better all the time.  You might even wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea.  That’s a good thing.  It show’s you’re all in.

Good entrepreneurs or Digital Media CEOs use simple litmus tests to evaluate employees.  Do they use the service that they are working for?  How about competitors?  I wonder if  Facebook has a culture of evaluating employees’ use of Facebook and others.    How many times a day does a Twitter employee twitter?  So make sure you use the web service you are desinging or coding.

And make sure you spend some of your hectic nightlife getting educated.  There are countless meetups where good people educate the general public on techniques from everything to ad sales to user interface design.  You could go to school for free with what’s out there.  Of course, it will mean you have to meet your friends a little later or go the gym in the morning.  If you want your career to grow you have to make choices.

Here’s a more controversial suggestion.  Sleep less.  Push yourself to do more. And catch up on the weekends.  If you sleep less you can have much more of “it all.”

Right now there are 500 people who want your job.  That’s not say they would be better, but it is to say the market is competitive.  But hiring is time consuming, unpredictable, and new people have a learning curve.  No managers want to manage personnel change,  but they also don’t want to lead people who don’t share their passion and commitment.

So if you want to be a star and get more responsibility and compensation, you have to work to become one.  You decide what’s important.  Your boss can’t make that decision for you.  Only you can.  But trust me, when I sit around with other executives, recuriters, investors or whoever — we talk about stars.  Nobody else even comes up.  Unless they need to go.

Speaking at TechAviv

Hey thanks for all the warm wishes on PopTok.  I appreciate it.  If you want to know what my first two weeks have been like and here me evolve my thinking in front of a pull no punches  New York/Israeli see if you can attend Yaron Samid’s TechAviv meetup tonight.

My epic last month

During the past 30 days,  I spent three weeks abroad in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, and London. Many people are wondering why and now I can tell you.

I turned 41 last year and realized that my Internet career was getting stale. I was a little bored.  This shocked me. For most of the previous 10 years, I was remarkably engaged by the sea change going on around those of us in the Internet industry.  Life has been a roller coaster. I’ve sold three companies, parts of two others, and witnessed two bankruptcies. I’ve had unbelievable highs and terrible lows.  Often, I would tell people that the Internet roller coaster was not necessarily month to month, or week to week, but day to day and sometimes hour by hour. Exhilirating? Yes. Anxiety-provoking? You bet. Boring? Never.

Aaron before Cafe Grumpy stop this morning

Aaron before Cafe Grumpy stop this morning

So as MenuPages was sold to New York Magazine last summer, I wondered what I would do next and I struggled to envision that work. Yaron Samid and I spent some significant time trying to form an Israeli Y-Combinator. We started the day Lehman collapsed so our timing was less than ideal. Having lived through a q4 like the one we just experienced (panic, closed capital markets, doom and gloom) in the aftermath of 9/11 I was prepared this time and I decided to shut down my Internet work and pursue a dream.

That dream is now well underway at TheAaronCohens.com a film about 100 Aaron Cohens and their mothers. Some people understandably doubt my commitment to the project –“Aaron, everybody wants to make a movie.”  Fair enough, but I’m really doing it and you will see new content throughout the Spring on our site.

Still, when January rolled around, I got a few phone calls from recruiters and realized that I wanted to explore companies again,  but I knew that things would have to change for me to stay reinvigorated.   I did not want to run  a business that would be solely dependent on advertising for its revenue.  This ad-only business model did not excite me and, candidly, felt a bit soulless. At the same time, I needed to be close to the consumer. I love people and I love to design products/services or places that make them happy.  The world is a big place and I had spent most of my Internet career focused on American projects. I wanted that to change. I wanted to run a company with markets/employees elsewhere . Perhaps Israel, India, or somewhere in Europe.

So when a few companies with incredibly cool software designed to enhance the video that plays on the web came calling, it was hard for me to muster enthusiasm during the interview process. I don’t really want to sell software to Fox or NBC. I know how to, but couldn’t get excited. To their credit, they detected this and nothing materialized.

Then one of the grandest, oldest brands of Silicon Alley called me – Nerve.com. I have known Nerve’s founder Rufus Griscom for 10 years. I really wanted to work with Nerve, a small, but nevertheless committed creative company with diverse revenue (subscriptions, advertising, book sales, singles ads) and a big international audience. So I had breakfast with Nate Westheimer to discuss Nerve among other things. Nate is a highly connected man-about-Silicon Alley. He had never heard of Nerve.   I thought this was both very bad news, but also a great opportunity.

Rufus kept telling me that the fastest way to grow the business was to sell more advertising and I just couldn’t bring myself to fight for the job. Rufus wanted me to like it more and I wanted to, but in the end he decided I was the wrong guy. And he was right.  BTW, I think this is a great job, but I would warn whoever takes it that he or she will face bias against the company simply because it is old. One of the dumbest things about our Internet culture is that we do not value the old, slow growth companies. We think it’s cooler to be , say Outside.In instead of  Nerve.    Nerve may not be revolutionary  but it could be a very solid company. Rufus and Nerve have survived two economic downturns with only a couple million in capital ever. It’s an impressive story.

I ended up interviewing in a real way with a half dozen companies and spending probably 100 hours trying to understand a few of them that focused on making money from consumers. I have always loved retail. After all, my Mother (it’s always about mothers!) founded and owns one of the best bookstores in the world Politics and Prose.

I focused in on a handful of Israeli startups and one fascinating New York startup.  I got close to a couple, before settling on a company called PopTok.  My friends at betaworks invest in companies that structure unstructured data as an investing theme.    Poptok has a chance to be a major player in the entertainment business.  The company serves consumers who wish to remember and share great moments in entertainment and sports.  We are talking about clips, scenes, plays — the micro moments etched in our brains.  They are emotional, visceral memories.    Founded by Erel Margalit, Mickey Schulhof, and Illy Edry, PopTok has three core values.

1.  Provide us with iconic moments in entertainment and sports history.

2.  Enable us to watch and share these moments with anybody, anywhere on any platform

3.  Ensure that the owners of these moment are appropriately and fairly compensated for the creation of these moments.

The people-driven, consumer-centric, transparent Internet revolution clashes with the centuries old tradition of intellectual property ownership and an even longer history of patronage and cultivation of arts and culture.  The Internet industry was and continues to be the vehicle for my own creative and intellectual revolution.  It has sustained and nourished my development as a professional and a person.  It has given me so much more than I could ever hope to give back.

However much I bleed net neutrality and social media, I care equally for our creative class.  These are my values and the mesh with  our mandate at PT:   Connect audiences to the iconic entertainment moments of their lives and ensure that the people who have created everything from Apocalyspe Now to The Wire get paid for what they gave us.

I have gotten so much out of my travels through Europe and Israel. I have rediscovered my creativity and my passion for startups. And if you don’t have that, I think you have no chance. It’s hard enough when you’re gung ho about your business. If you are just punching the clock, your company is dead and you’re dying inside.

It feels good to be alive.

Umair Crushes Gurley

Wow.  Umair  Haque really called out a TechMemed piece by Bill Gurley.  Both pieces were well worth reading.  One of the reasons, I love reading Umair is that I had a different take on Gurley’s article.  I’ve been fascinated by digital goods for some time, but Umair hits home it up when he says.

We can’t reinvent the economy without, well, investing in reinventing the economy. So here’s a distinction you might want to draw. VC 1.0: “monetizing”, aka selling the same old mass-produced junk to tuned-out “consumers”. VC 2.0: seeding better economies, industries, and markets for a 21st century bereft of value creation, aka radical structural transformation.