The Founder Pledge: How big companies can build trust with founders


AOL killed two more of my babies today: Joystiq and TAUW.

These two blogs had massively loyal followings, millions to tens of millions of readers in their primes, and were easily profitable (although perhaps not inside of AOL).

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Closing them down makes no sense, since they could easily continue publishing and be profitable for another company.

I’d rather them be orphans for a bit than be sent to slaughter — yet that’s what Tim did today.

I get it, Tim’s under a ton of pressure to simplify AOL and make some sense out of the dozens of brands they still maintain. AOL has been a long hard road for Tim, and he’s made a ton of progress  — and taken a lot of risk. I actually respect Tim.

Now, Tim’s a sales guy at heart — not a content person. Running a large number of brands is really hard, even for folks who are “content people” like me or Nick Denton. For Tim to have managed all these content folks and brands is just hard and, I’m certain to him, illogical.

“Let’s make all our money from three brands!” is a fine approach (although it’s not the one Disney, Conde Nast, Facebook, or Google have taken — all are “houses of brands”).

Even Denton shut down, sold off, and reopened brands like Valleywag, Sploid, Defamer, and his long-forgotten porn site. However, Denton has spun out and sold a large number of sites that have kept thriving under new ownership.

Many founders are reticent to sell their brands because they’re afraid of them being killed, and watching AOL kill TVSquad, Cinematical, Joystiq and TAUW has just been brutal for me and Brian Alvey. Sure, the check cleared and my life was changed forever, but to put your heart and soul into projects and then have people just turn them off, without seeing first if you want them back, sucks.

If I ever sell to someone, and the doors have been knocking the last 60 days, interestingly (some savvy publishers, tech companies, and Asian powerhouses have been keeping tabs on the curation thing, it turns out), I will ask that if the acquirer decides to turn it off, they will work with me in good faith to sell it back to me (at least offer it back).

“The Founder Pledge” – As the acquirer of your efforts, we realize that you are forever tied to this brand. In recognition of this, if we decide the brand you created is no longer strategic to us, we will work in good faith to sell it back to you.

As for AOL, well, hey, Tim give me a call or have your folks shoot me an email … I sure would love to have my babies back before you bury them.


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