We’re joining the Daily Dot family

This morning, I published the following update on The Kernel’s website.

Since The Kernel returned to your computer screens last year, reimagined as a tabloid magazine that would treat the web as a cultural phenomenon, rather than simply a technological or economic marvel, we’ve broken some of the most important news and told some of the best stories it’s possible to read anywhere on the internet.

Our stories have appeared everywhere, from the BBC to Time; from Gawker to ABC News. On a modest budget and with a small but ferociously dedicated team, we educated and entertained some 500,000 people a month.

During that time, we watched and admired another, similar publication flourish. The Daily Dot describes itself as the internet’s paper of record, and the team over there are doing extraordinarily brilliant work in approaching the communities and stories from and about the internet as people-centric news, instead of the same old boring and hopeless tech coverage you get everywhere else.

Sooner or later, it was inevitable that the two companies would discuss pooling their resources, sharing what they had learned with one another and becoming, through the combination of their expertise, more than the sum of their parts.

To realise that vision, as reported by the London Evening Standard this morning, we have sold The Kernel to Daily Dot Media. From 1 February 2014, our team will report to Austin, Texas, while The Kernel’s brand and assets will be rolled gradually into the Daily Dot’s core product. Shortly after that, I will step down as Editor-in-Chief of The Kernel to pursue other projects.

None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary hard work and loyalty of my team, the generosity and hospitality of the Daily Dot and, most importantly, you, the reader. You voted with your feet to demonstrate that quality journalism – important news, great stories and sharply-written commentary – can still excite people in the age of Buzzfeed.

Together, The Daily Dot and The Kernel will offer a compelling blend of deep-dive investigative reporting, entertaining features and gripping human interest stories. I look forward to tracking their successes and I hope you’ll join me.

Ich bin ein Berliner

As friends will know already, Berlin is rapidly becoming my home from home. Part of the reason is the extraordinary friends I have made there, particularly in hy! founders Hans Raffauf and Aydo Schosswald.

I’m thrilled that Hans & Aydo have this week given me an excuse to spend even more time in the city I love by asking me to come on board as Editorial Director of their terrific invitation-only event series.

I’ll be helping to put the programme together for an event I already know and love. Axel Springer-backed hy! is by far and away the most credible and inspiring gathering of entrepreneurs and creatives in Europe. I look forward to contributing to its ongoing success.

I’m moving to Berlin full-time, with immediate effect. I’ll still be writing regularly for the usual complement of European & US newspapers, magazines and websites – but a bit less often.

Tech City has spent £1million on admin in one year. Where will it end?

It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.

But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.

I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.

These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)

I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?

When criticism turns to hate: the case for unfollowing @TechShitty

Who am I to talk, right? I mean, who’s been more of a thorn in UKTI’s side than me, with the embarrassing Freedom of Information requests, the patronising “how it could have looked” pieces and the cattiness on Twitter? While my colleagues and friends got invited to swanky dos at the palace, I stayed home, uninvited and unloved because – as I imagined – I was the only one with the platform and temerity to say: hang on a minute. Is this really what Silicon Roundabout needs? It’s a shame UKTI don’t deal well with criticism, but given the awful circle-jerkery of European technology journalism, I can’t say I blame them for being a bit shocked.

But here’s the thing. While few have been more vocally critical of the Government’s Tech City Investment Organisation, its Tech City-branded website and events, the people, economics and philosophies behind it and the amount of money it spends, I have at least done so in articles published under my own name – even though it has not served my interests to do so. I don’t point this out to be self-congratulatory (as if!), but to make a point.

Yeah, I’ve been tough. I’ve been bitchy and sarcastic, too, because I think some of the claims made by UKTI are risible. That 600 figure is a joke, and it deserved to be mocked. But the bile streaming out of this new, pseudonymous @TechShitty account, set up last night, of which I am but one of many victims, is neither constructive nor even entertaining. It’s just trolling, from someone with neither the wit and wisdom to make devastating critiques, nor the courage to identify themselves. The tweets from this account are sufficiently wide of the mark that you can tell this person doesn’t really know any of the people or businesses he’s sniping at. Thus, while some valid points might be made about the Tech City initiative, gratuitously vicious remarks like the one above render the whole account impotent.

So, if you give a damn about making things better, about reducing unnecessary Government expenditure and dialing down the media spin, overblown rhetoric and outright lies through constructive – even if sometimes harsh – criticism and dialogue, do what I just did, and unfollow @TechShitty. Then log in to your own blog, or Tumblr, or whatever, and write something that expresses what you really feel. Because only when we’re more honest about what the Government is really achieving with our money in east London, and have the courage to put our own names underneath what we write, is there any hope of change.

Ballou PR Sells US Operations To MWW Group

My favourite technology PR firm, Ballou PR, which focuses on high-growth technology and health IT clients, has sold its US operations to MWW Group. Founder Colette Ballou told me that the firm’s focus will now be on Europe, and that expansion into other countries, either organic or by acquisition, is on the cards for 2012. I guess she’ll be using the cash from this sale. Ballou will continue to offer services in the US through its new partner MWW Group.

Colette’s firm has added several prestigious clients to its roster lately, including Twilio, Eventbrite, Evernote, Seatwave, Ostrovok, Marin Software, Care.com and goBalto, rapidly establishing itself as one of the leading emerging tech PR firms in Europe. Recently the company’s focus has shifted from start-ups to higher-growth businesses.

Silicon Alley Insider, which broke the news, quoted Colette as saying the acquisition was “a nice liquidity event”. (But no, she wouldn’t tell me what the deal was worth either.) What she neglected, out of modesty, to say to SAI is that this was the second exit in two weeks for the European technology power couple she is one half of – Colette’s boyfriend Max Niederhofer sold his company, Qwerly, to Fliptop three weeks ago.

So lovely news all round in the Ballou-Niederhofer household. I can’t wait to see what they get us all for Christmas!

Disclosure: Colette and Max are friends of mine. Her firm has represented me in the past and I once briefly consulted for them.

Skimlinks closes $4.5m funding round led by Bertelsmann

I don’t normally bother with funding stories, but since the chief exec of Skimlinks is my best friend I don’t think she’d forgive me if I didn’t point out some happy news. VentureBeat reports that Alicia Navarro’s affilate marketing company, which has offices in London, San Francisco and New York, has closed a $4.5m funding round, let by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments.

This comes hot off the heels of Skimlinks’s acquisition of Atma Links in October. I couldn’t be prouder of my Leithy and her awesome co-founder Joe.

It’s time to fix European technology journalism

Because the emerging technology industry is small, there’s a shortage of brilliant, opinionated writers with the wit and intelligence to make people smile, and, more importantly, think. The ones who are out there, for whatever reason, are not getting jobs. Instead, we have a glut of rather embarrassingly illiterate bloggers who, in their competitiveness for pageviews, feel pressurised into churning out rewrites of press releases and other people’s posts, occasionally over-reaching themselves to pen opinion pieces.

Start-ups have become conditioned to this cult of the mediocre, but it’s time to snap them out of it. Entrepreneurs who aspire to refashion the world around them deserve writing just as audacious and thought-provoking as their own ambitions. Unfortunately, as the technology sector in Europe has expanded, the quality of commentary around it has failed to keep up.

Depressing, isn’t it. Where are the columnists, the brave iconoclasts? The people who can make insightful links between technology and other disciplines, draw distinctions, see revealing connections? Why aren’t they being given platforms? And who is providing founders and venture capitalists themselves with a platform to share their expertise in pieces whose appeal reaches beyond the tech blogosphere? (Such an endeavour admittedly requires a patient editor. I’ve tried to do it once before, and it went down exceedingly well, but it was for a one-off project.)

Where, too, are the sketch-writers, the gossip columnists, the people writing about the people, places and events that shape the headlines? Fundamentally, people are interested in people, and we don’t hear nearly enough about the faces behind the technology that is so rapidly changing our world.

Read more

Blubbing and blackmail: g2i’s intriguing new approach to meeting start-ups

Violet Elizabeth Bott’s got nothing on the g2i executive who just visited a start-up CEO friend of mine in Shoreditch. I’ll leave both her and the friend unnamed, for the sake of kindness. Here’s what my friend had to say afterwards:

Today I had a visit from a g2i representative. In her introductory speech, she claimed that g2i had raised £18 million since the programme began. I immediately pulled her up on this, saying that I don’t think the companies who have spent months of meetings, presentation writing and contract negotiating would agree to that claim. I also pointed out that 50% of that money probably relates to Huddle. The Huddle guys are friends of mine and I really couldn’t imagine them handing over credit for their funding to g2i.

Seconds later, the woman pulled out a tissue and began to cry. The crying continued for the rest of the meeting. I apologised and pointed out that I was merely providing feedback, and that I value initiatives like g2i and Tech City. Who wouldn’t want help with presentations and the funding process if they were new to this type of thing? I just didn’t like the way they positioned themselves or the claims they made.

She replied: “Who are Tech City?”

I realised I was giving feedback to the wrong person and apologised again. But the crying didn’t stop.

She then pulled out a form asking for my wage bill and funding amounts. She said she also required “proof”. My funding was undisclosed at the request of the investors, although, as their anonymity is now out of the bag, I did tell her their names. But I now have to write a letter confirming the company’s wage bill with supporting evidence. I don’t want to, but, since she was crying, I promised I would.

I don’t want to largely because I am sceptical about how this information will be used. We’re currently planning a series A round which will ultimately go public. I’m interested to see how much credit they’ll want to take for that.

Like I said, I think g2i is a valuable programme and has great alumni events (for which I’m almost certainly off the invite list now!). But I think that if g2i want to make bold claims they need to use stats from people who really believe g2i was the main contributor to gaining funding.

There’s also a presentation problem. When I joined the programme, I was told it would include mentoring from the likes of Brent Hoberman and Melanie Hayes (then of 4iP). That was the main factor for me signing up, in fact.

The sessions ended up being run by companies earning a commission on finding you funding. This was still not a major issue until I got to my first mentoring session and was told that there wasn’t really much they could do to help me and that I had it all in hand.

The session lasted around 10 minutes and a week or so later I received a ‘subsidised’ mentoring invoice for £352.50. (To give some credit, the lady did point out that the consortium of companies running the programme – Quotec, Pembridge, E-synergy – have done so at a loss.)

With that, the publicly-funded princess wailed, “I’ve got a sick husband! I didn’t come here to be attacked!” and fled back to her office.

With stories like this circulating, is it any wonder curmudgeons like me are so vocally sceptical of Government-subsidised programmes?

Wall Street Journal gets it hopelessly wrong about Silicon Valley Comes to the UK

I admire the Wall Street Journal Europe‘s tech blogger, Ben Rooney, for his initiative and enthusiasm, but in his naïveté and inexperience about the European technology industry he made a hopelessly and hilariously misjudged snipe about my friend Sherry Coutu’s legendary annual Silicon Valley comes to the UK in his gushing review of the F.ounders conference in Dublin.

Ben has never been invited to SVC2UK, which is perhaps why he doesn’t realise that it is, by a considerable margin, the heaviest-hitting and most impressive initiative currently operating in Europe to connect Silicon Valley elites to European founders. So I worry that Ben, whose journalistic pedigree is better than most of his peers, might be feeling pressured into sucking up to the new kid on the block at the expense of accuracy. Read more

The state of tech PR in Europe

Regular readers will know that I leave serious reporting to the likes of Tim Bradshaw at the FT and the inimitable Mike Butcher. Love those guys. But frankly, for me, slavishly reporting on funding rounds and acquisitions and paying obeisance to the cult of UKTI is just too fucking tedious.

So I like to write about what’s going on around the edges of the technology scene in Europe: the people, places, events and ideas that are behind the dry reportage and which silently shape the headlines. Read more

I’m coming out

I have something I need to share with my readers. Even my mother is not aware of this, and I’m sorry she had to find out this way. You see, I’ve been holding it in for way too long and I desperately need to let it out. So here it is. This year, I was not on the press list for F.ounders in Dublin.

I was going to write a post about how unhelpful it is to be drawing a velvet rope around some of the most influential people in the industry. But, truthfully, it isn’t: it’s brilliant, and the inaugural F.ounders was one of the best events I’d been to all year. Indeed, I said so on the three occasions I wrote about it in the Telegraph.

Wait, sorry, no. Four times.

And I was tempted to write an outraged piece about how classless and ungrateful it was for a conference I’d put together a UK guest list for, made numerous introductions on behalf of, spent two and a half days of valuable consulting time giving strategic advice to and endlessly plugging, to cut me off because I’d decided to go freelance and they couldn’t boast about a specific publication next to my name on their guest list. (At least I know not to waste my New York Times commission this month on a conference review.)

But I won’t do that. I’ll simply say this. It was a shame they knowingly misled me, failing to correct my excitement and anticipation after they knew I’d booked my flights to Dublin and stringing me along for months discussing with me whom I might interview on stage, before abruptly sending me a generic email explaining that “demand had been extremely high”. Guys, I know: I’m part of the reason.

While I wish them all the best for the future, I don’t much feel like attending another F.ounders or Dublin Web Summit event right now, and I won’t for the time being feel able to vouch for those events or any of the people behind them.

I’m sure Paddy and the team will pull off another great weekend. Though, having seen this year’s guest list, which is a mixture of impressive Americans and… well, Europe’s quite small isn’t it? I hope they find someone new to help them separate the European wheat from the chaff. Because the real character of this conference is still very much in flux, and you have to wonder what the value is for the Silicon Valley guests.

For a drink-soaked hack, it’s a brilliant boondoggle, but what, besides a hangover, are people really getting for the three days away from their companies that we don’t already from DLD and Founders’ Forum? My concern is that unless F.ounders filters more effectively and consistently, this event will become just another utterly missable European schmoozefest for US CEOs with something to flog over here.

Then again, maybe not inviting me was their first step on that process…

London’s most eligible startup CEOs

Regular readers will know that for the last few years I’ve been on a one-man mission to inject some tabloid values into tech reporting. So, after the extraordinary reception to my Gold-digger’s Guide to London VCs from the investor community last week (and by ‘extraordinary reception’, I mean they bitched about it on Twitter while secretly forwarding it around furiously – no use denying it guys, your colleagues told me!), Real Business asked if I’d repeat the exercise for the real stars of the tech scene: the entrepreneurs. As it’s a picture feature, there’s not much point reproducing it here, but if you’re in the market for a well-heeled and hard-working spouse, check out the list on the magazine’s website.

The hypocrisy of Lady Gaga

This column originally appeared in Real Business.

When Lady Gaga rips off someone else, it’s high art; a loving homage in the finest tradition of pastiche – even when the results look more like theft than mimicry. But it appears that Gaga takes a somewhat dimmer view of her own admirers’ attempts to celebrate her all-consuming narcissism. She can dish it out, it seems, but she can’t take it.

This remarkable, almost comical lack of self-awareness deserves a fresh mention today, in light of her High Court triumph over London technology start-up Mind Candy, the company behind Moshi Monsters.

Mind Candy’s Lady Goo Goo, a parody character of the singer, has been banned from YouTube. Mind Candy isn’t now allowed to sell Goo Goo’s single, The Moshi Dance, either.

The parallels, though incidental, between Moshi Monsters and Gaga are admittedly striking: Gaga even calls her fans “little monsters”. But there is no suggestion that Mind Candy has sought to gain commercial advantage from these coincidences. Read more

London VC: a gold-digger’s guide

I’ve done a feature for Real Business on the most eligible investors in the London technology industry. Since it’s pretty picture-heavy, there’s little point in reproducing it here. Read it at Real Business instead.

An interview with Adam Street owner James Minter

This interview originally appeared in Real Business.

When James Minter spotted a 500-capacity auditorium in the middle of Notting Hill – one that came with a beautiful 2,000 square foot garden and had once played host to Pink Floyd, The Clash and The Specials, but which had since become sadly dormant – there was just one thing on his mind: resurrecting this iconic venue.

But his mission to reinvigorate the Tabernacle, while successful in its ultimate goal, came at a heavy price – not least to his investors, who lost £500,000 in the process. Last week, in his first interview since the company behind the Tabernacle’s revivification went into receivership, its former director bravely, and with good humour, shared with me some of the things he has learned.

James Minter is quietly charismatic and, though outspoken, impeccably well mannered. We sit down to lunch at Adam Street, the private members’ club he founded ten years ago next month, and he begins the conversation abruptly, with a sentence I’ve heard from a lot of serial entrepreneurs. Read more