An Oral History of TechCrunch: Part 1

In 2005, a boy was born named Kyle Russell, and former lawyer Michael Arrington and entrepreneur Keith Teare created TechCrunch. Over ten years later, it would grow to become the pre-eminent online technology publication with an audience of millions and a wildly successful technology startup conference “TechCrunch Disrupt.” Many have attempted to re-tell the story of TechCrunch, but few have gotten into the nitty gritty of the real story.

Arrington: When I began TechCrunch, I wrote a post on Technorati, a website that would categorize something called blogs, which I still do not recognize as legitimate news sources. I categorize blogs as one thing [Arrington makes a vulgar gesture, grabbing his crotch.]

Teare: Mike-

Arrington: Michael.

Teare: Sorry. Michael’s vulgar gestures became a very quick problem in the original TechCrunch office. He would use them even when they were inappropriate. Fedex would bring us a new laptop and they’d say “sign here,” and he’s say “SIGN HERE!” and make that hand-shaking sign that means to masturbate. It didn’t even make sense. I am from Kent, in England, and we will never make such vulgar gestures.

Arrington: I wanted to show the world that I was the boss. It would be four years until someone would distill how I felt into one beautiful piece of music — Andy Samberg’s “Like A Boss” — and I had to assert my dominance quickly.

Teare: I was at TechCrunch for five years. But was I really there? Did I really exist? What is life? What is reality? I did not know until Michael Arrington invented startups.

Arrington: I was in bed, and I thought, “what if normal companies could be small companies, doing big company things, with less people and less money, like I was doing?” A few months later I had already seen this starting to happen — I had invented the startup. The small company that takes the money of rich people and puts it to use somehow, in a way we don’t understand but it is beautiful, glorious, illustrious. I was most excited when I heard “Sequoia” put money into “Meebo.” I didn’t know what Meebo was, and was fascinated by the idea of a tree that created money.

Teare: Michael became obsessed with the theory of a tree that grew money. I tried desperately to tell him what Sequoia Capital was, what they did, but he refused to listen to me. He would be out at 5AM, cutting down trees in national parks, screaming “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” and cackling, despite Jerry McGuire being nearly ten years old.

Arrington: I know that tree is out there.

Teare: On his third arrest from a national park, I just called the Sequoia guys and they came in and sat down with Michael. This made things only a little bit better.

Donald T. Valentine, Founder of Sequoia Capital: I sat down with this guy, this guy Arrington, see? I chewed my cigar and I looked him up and down and I said “boy, this boy, he’s got moxy. He’s boffo. I liked him. And I leaned in and said “boy, I know you got a lot of moxy. You’re boffo. But there ain’t no money tree. We’re a venture capital firm. We put money into companies, then we’ll own part of them, then they get sold and we get money.”

Teare: I sighed briefly. Until he whispered something in his ear.

Valentine: I said, “Michael, there ain’t no money tree,” then leaned in real close and said “…that I’ve found. And I ain’t gonna stop looking.” Then I tapped my nose all secretive like.

Teare: Michael’s eyes lit up. He sat there, his flannel shirt dirty and his hands cut from tearing up bark, searching for dollar bills. But for now his hunger was sated and we began our real work.

Arrington: Nobody had written about money before on the internet, and I was the first to do it. Nobody had written about small companies getting big money. I was onto something.

Teare: I watched as Michael would write eighty blog posts a day. It was horrifying. He had learned how to get “insider access” to VC firms, which mostly meant that he would dress up as a janitor, or an FBI agent — he had about fifty disguises — and he’d find a way to get in on board meetings somehow. One time he put a lampshade on and stood in the corner of a conference room and heard about a huge deal and wrote about it, from the conference room. Under the shade. Touch-typed the entire thing.

Michael: One time I dressed as a bear and smashed through the doors of Kleiner-Perkins. I grabbed someone and just shook them shouting “GIMME THE SCOOP” and they did. I got a great blog post out of that.

New Hires, New Ventures

Teare: Eventually we knew we had to grow, because we had too much traffic and Michael was getting tired. A lawyer sleeps in around fifty-five second power naps spread across the day, so it wasn’t too bad for him, but eventually we decided we needed to hire some help. We were growing fast, and we had made some hires, but we needed a heavy hitter — a change to the norm, something that made us more than just Michael breaking into offices for scoops. On a trip to New York Michael-

Michael: Mike.

Teare: Apologies. Mike was watching a pro-wrestling tournament. One man took his fancy. Clad in pleather, John Biggs enraptured Mike. Biggs was a terrible wrestler, but the crowd loved watching him hit men in the face and scream “I’M THE BIGG MAN.”

Biggs: I’m the Bigg Man. I juice up, I knock ‘em down. You want a fuckin’ blog post, asshole?

Teare: Biggs lived in an area of Brooklyn that you cannot drive to, over four hours from Manhattan. He made Mike visit him.

Arrington: He had a beautiful house and several beautiful children. He spoke fluent polish. He insisted I stayed overnight and played violin for hours while singing in an amazing falsetto. The only issue was the heat — his heat was constantly, even in a really humid New York summer — cranked up to 95 degrees.

Biggs: I’m the Bigg Man. I like to keep it hot and sweaty up in here. Ready for the ring. You wanna step in little man? You want some of this?

Arrington: It was sweltering, but I loved his work. His entire wall was covered in clocks. He had written hundreds of whatever a blog is about timepieces.

Biggs: I’m the Bigg Man. Bigg man LOVES Horology. Started out thinking it was Whoreology, got real confused, but then some shitstain I put through a glass window was like “Bigg Man! It’s about clocks and shit!” and I was like, “shit, I love the time.”

Arrington: I hired him on the spot and asked him to help me found CrunchGear, our gadget site.

Biggs: I’m the Bigg Man. I knew all about gadgets. Used that shit all the time. Got a damn iPhone and beat a man to death with it. Fuck that guy. Looked at me funny. Got his ass in a headlock and hit him with it and just yelled “IT’S FOR YOU, IT’S FOR YOU,” [raucous laughter] “…man, good times.”

Teare: Traffic was growing steadily. We’d staffed up. Biggs had grown into a mentoring role and CrunchGear was growing rapidly. Though Biggs would commonly pile-drive founders through desks as a “way of welcoming them to the “Bigg Leagues” as he called them, we kept getting readers, scoops, staff and making money. People wrote about Arrington as a Kingmaker, a man who could make or break your startup.

Arrington: I’d created these startups, and they were beautiful. These beautiful creatures. But I began to see a problem. There were too many of them. They were growing like bacteria. They were these little creatures that got big money, got bigger, took up more space, took up more time, took up more oxygen. And I’d helped them grow. I felt this incredible guilt. But I was proud, watching my beautiful children, my pups, my goatlings, my spawn, become marvelous entities. Soon, though I’d see there needed to be a solution.

End of Part 1.