Arguing with journalists is “like the Catholic Church debating with Martin Luther” – CrunchFund’s Michael Arrington talks tech, truth and media detractors

Michael Arrington at LeWeb London 2012
Michael Arrington at LeWeb London 2012

Michael Arrington at LeWeb London 2012

After listening to Michael Arrington grill tech entrepreneurs Niklas Zennström, Chad Hurley and Kevin Rose on stage yesterday at LeWeb London, we managed to catch him for a few questions of our own.

Arrington, an ex-lawyer, is best known as founder and former co-editor of influential blog TechCrunch, which sold to AOL in 2010. He’s now investing in the likes of Bitcasa, Snapguide, Codecademy, Pair, Milk and a recent “hard-core science fiction” hardware investment still under wraps through CrunchFund, a $20 million investment fund co-founded by Arrington last year. The fund’s backers include AOL and a Who’s Who list of Silicon Valley VCs.

Which tech hubs are you paying the most attention to?

Silicon Valley is important. Most of our deals come out of Silicon Valley – about half. New York is probably second most important to us. I personally live in Seattle, although that’s only one or two companies – maybe three or four per cent of our portfolio is in Seattle. Then would come London and then, really, all over the place after that…

You see people starting companies anywhere in the world. They can be in Moscow or they can be in Berlin or they can be in Sofia in Bulgaria – they can be anywhere they want. If they have an internet connection, they can probably work with people who are on the other side of the world. So to answer your question, I think tech hubs are probably less important now than they used to be.

We just had a bunch of entrepreneurs turned investors on stage, I’d say you are one of the few journalists turned investors. When did you decide to jump sides?

Not only have I never called myself a journalist, I’ve actually denied being a journalist because journalists spent a lot of time criticising the way I worked and I just didn’t want to be part of that club. TechCrunch was a business that sold… I think of myself as an entrepreneur turned investor too. That’s a very natural progression because it takes a lot of energy to build a company. It takes everything you have. Everything. And you can’t do that your whole life. You die of a heart attack and get a divorce and all that. So it’s a natural progression to become an investor where you can stay involved, help others, but you don’t have to work quite as killer hours.

As an investor then, what deal are you most proud of? What’s your biggest regret?

We’ve only been doing this for eight months… None of our companies have failed yet but some will, many will, most will. If not, we’re investing too conservatively.

What about missed deals?

The two deals that we missed were Fab and Pinterest and they were closing their last rounds right when we closed our fund… the timing was off. Since then, we’ve managed to get into every deal we’ve wanted to get into.

What can you tell us about your new hardware investment?

Nothing. It’s super secret… The company is trying to go dark now and they need to go dark. So it’s not appropriate for anyone to guess that we’re investing in them. They’ll be dark for about two years… they’re doing hard-core science fiction stuff.

How much do you tend to invest?

We generally invest $100,000. We’ve invested as much as $500,000 but that’s where we range.

Are you keeping an eye out for investments in the media industry?

Not particularly. If I saw something it’d be great, but it’s a hard business… We like tech, right? TechCrunch was not a tech company. We wrote about tech but it wasn’t a tech company… You want a tech advantage and that’s what we’re looking for and we rarely see that in media. There are companies we like. TechMeme, for example, is a news aggregator that everyone in the tech news space reads and it’s really good. I’m not an investor but I would like to be an investor in things that automate and help people get to the information they need.

What are your thoughts on journalism versus blogging?

…I’ve always said the same thing: I’m biased, I’m transparent, I’m truthful – and that to me is all that matters. When journalists talk about pulling the bias out of their writing, I call them liars. I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to do that. By what you choose to write about, there’s bias. With the adjectives you use, there’s bias. There have been arguments going on with me and journalists for years. I’ve become more educated in the argument but I’m still not really willing to have it. I don’t care. To me, it’s like the Catholic Church debating with Martin Luther and I just want to believe in God.

Are you bringing anything to the table that other investors don’t have because of your TechCrunch background?

When it comes to media, how you present yourself to the world, there’s something we add. I don’t know what it is. We don’t add “we’re going to write about you” because I’m not at TechCrunch anymore… It’s more just strategic thoughts around who to approach and how, because we know the space. We’re like PR consultants in a way. We understand the space enough to give them advice. But I don’t think that’s a big value add. I think the best companies shine through no matter what, and the worst companies, no matter how good your PR is, it’s not going to work. So, really, we try to add value in other ways. Recruiting is a big one – that’s where people need the most help. That’s probably the single biggest area, because we have a good network. It has nothing to do with blogging. It has to do with the fact that I’ve been in Silicon Valley a long time and I know people.

What are your thoughts on Berlin?

There’s a vibrant tech community there. I’ve never been to Berlin. I’ve lived in Europe twice and I’ve been to Germany a billion times… it’s not like I’ve just been flying through Munich or Frankfurt – I’ve been in Germany. We drove from the Alps all the way to the tip of Denmark with friends. I love Germany, I’ve just never been to Berlin. I need to go…

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Image credit: Flickr user LeWEB2012