As of this week I’m no longer at Aol, and I’m unbelievably excited to be starting something new with some people I really adore. But more on that soon.
For now, there are a few folks I’d like to thank.
The startup world moves insanely fast, but in some ways far slower for founders. Departing Aol marks the end of a seven year chapter for me (four and a half years building gdgt, and two and a half more after we sold it to Aol).
As you might expect no acquisition story (or startup story for that matter) is without its share of lows, but Aol proved to be a place I do work I’m pretty proud of. A few personal highlights include:
- Leading product for Aol’s technology media group, and running a complete relaunch of Engadget, including integrating everything we built at gdgt (almost all of which lives on to this day)
- Leading a major new content platform initiative built to power the next generation of mobile and service-driven content experiences
- Leading design for Aol’s Brands division
- Finally, creating and leading Aol’s consumer product lab, Alpha
Getting to work on all these projects means I had an opportunity to work with some great people.
First and foremost, I have to thank Jay Kirsch and Tim Armstrong for bringing gdgt into Aol in the first place and for creating an environment where I could make things happen. Peter and I bet on Aol being the kind of place that had the right receptors for our DNA, and we were right — and that’s due to Jay and Tim.
Not too long after we were acquired, just as I was running into walls of tech debt, Susan Lyne stepped in and backed me on a huge, audacious idea I had for reinventing a modern publishing platform. I have enormous admiration for Susan, and my only true regret is that, being based on the opposite coast, I wasn’t able to learn even more from her.
Eventually the guard changed, as it often does at big companies, and my project was scuttled. Luke Beatty gave me renewed focus, by putting me in charge of design for his division. Later, he spent a significant amount of political (and actual) capital to do something pretty audacious — even a little crazy — at a small market cap public company: launch a products lab, which we named Alpha.
Alpha reunited me with Peter (whom you may have heard recently departed for Betaworks), as well as some familiar faces from gdgt (like Mike Cosentino and Evan Fribourg), and some great new folks (like Drew Lesicko). I consider working on Alpha a real highlight of my career, and I haven’t been shy about calling it the best team, and the best job at Aol, hands down.
Which brings me to how I got here in the first place.
There was a moment in 2007, after Peter had stepped back to work on RCRD LBL, that we’d been tinkering on the side with some ideas for a new company.
I was still at Engadget, and after killing myself for years building the ship (and then learning to steer it), things were starting to pay off. We’d been acquired a couple years before, but the team was still growing, and we’d pulled out in front of our competitors. Our influence was enormous, our metrics soared, and magazines were calling to write profiles or lavish awards.
But I also wasn’t learning as much anymore, and I felt my personal momentum slowing. It’d been a while since I’d taken on an entirely new challenge, and my passion for the work was waning. I wasn’t ready to think about becoming a lifetime caretaker.
Still, I might have coasted for a while longer, but Peter gave me the extra kick in the ass that only true friend and partner can¹: “Look, I’m doing this thing with or without you. So are you coming, or what?” To this day I’m pretty sure it was a bluff, but it was a good one, and it worked.
I still think about that conversation sometimes.
Things have been really good lately. Luke helped settle my environment at Aol, and the Alpha team has gotten down to doing great, ambitious work; our second batch of products will start to launch this fall and winter. After its acquisition by Verizon this summer, Aol has been generous with retention incentives, which aren’t even necessary since I easily have the best job at the company (with surprisingly minimal stress to bring home at the end of the day).
It’d be so easy to coast. But as they say: “Smooth seas do not make skilled sailors.”
I’m ready to learn new things and work with friends old and new on something outside my comfort zone. I can’t wait to tell you more about it soon.
¹ Oh, and did I mention that Peter is now an EIR at Betaworks, focusing on funding west coast-based Startups? You’d be seriously lucky to have him involved in what you’re doing. Trust me on this!