Alex

Alex Wilhelm

Editor in Chief at Mattermark, Previously at TechCrunch & TheNextWeb. Also likes whiskey and heavy music.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 08, 2016

Discussion

Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
Hi -- I'm Alex Wilhelm, Editor in Chief at Mattermark. Apart from Mattermark, I've also written for TechCrunch and TheNextWeb. In the past I founded a failed startup, and worked for several others. I am obsessed with technology, finance, media, and politics. Ask me anything. [Thanks everyone! I am going to go eat salad.]
Niv Dror
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
Hey @Alex! My first question is: are you going to SXSW? 🤔 Also, what was the most memorable thing while working at TechCrunch? (P.S. I used to love watching the Friday shows, you always had Major 🔑's around earning season)
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@nivo0o0 I am not going to SXSW. When SXSW was cool, I was in college and couldn't go due to finals and so forth. Now that I could go, it's not cool. Sometimes you just miss things. For example: I want to go back in time and play in the symphony that recorded the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but can't; this makes me sad to this day.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@nivo0o0 The most memorable thing at TechCrunch was and is the people. TechCrunch is as much a family as it is a publication. There is a large ex-Crunch mafia as well that I get to watch thrive. In fact, I am having lunch on Friday with one of my favorite TechCrunch denizens, Joey Hinson on Friday. This means I get to drop back by the office and see everyone. Mattermark has more office dogs, however, which is not to be discounted.
Niv Dror
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@alex office puppies should never be discounted.
Will you go back to the next web?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@drew Well, Martin Bryant is still there, as is Boris and the rest of the crew, so I will not say never. I have nothing but love for those guys. Remind me to tell you the cigarette in the coffee shop story some time. Amsterdam is an amazing place.
Diane Florescu
Diane Florescu@dianeflorescu · Marketing Assistant @ConnectiD Ltd
Hi Alex, Thanks for this AMA. An avid reader of TechCrunch and TheNextWeb, in fact I had the chance to attend both TechCrunch Disrupt in London in Dec 2015 and TNW in New York in November 2015. What would be your piece of advice for a new start-up to get press coverage before a conference like these two? What could possibly persuade you to write about a tech startup ?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@dianeflorescu In my experience, companies send out terrifying quantities of email to journalists that are attending, or helping to host events. It's so much that I honestly gave up trying to care about it. What normally caught my eye were day-of tweets from interesting sounding companies who wanted 5 minutes of my time. It didn't work every time, but it worked better than most anything else. To your second question, when I was covering startups -- I now cover the broader startup industry -- companies that were willing to share the most were the most interesting. If you are willing to actually answer questions about revenue, and margins, and so forth, you are far more interesting to speak to. Companies that over-media trained their executives were the worst, and least interesting. I can spot a canned messaging response about 94 miles away. And I walk the other direction.
Diane Florescu
Diane Florescu@dianeflorescu · Marketing Assistant @ConnectiD Ltd
@alex thanks Alex. Indeed, being transparent about your company and its corporate culture does help most of time. Nice to have you here!
Nik Sharma
Nik Sharma@mrsharma · Director of Performance Marketing, hint
Hey Alex, thanks for the time! Now that FB has just made Instant Articles available for all publishers to join in and try out, I wanted to know your thoughts behind it in terms of reach/engagement vs. ad revenue. Which do you value higher? Also, what does it mean to be an Editor in Chief at Mattermark? Thanks!
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@mrsharma Great question. The tradeoff of engagement and reach versus revenue is massive in certain circumstances. I think I philosophically lean towards the idea that more distribution will lead to more revenue over time, but that could be naive. Luckily at Mattermark our editorial work isn't accretive in terms of revenue, so I would certainly take wider distribution as there is essentially no cost.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@mrsharma Editor in Chief at Mattermark means that I am in charge of our editorial work. Mattermark has a history of journalism -- it's actually part of how the whole damn company got started -- and I intend to keep things rolling. We have a marketing team as any company of our scale does, but I am separate from that group. Editorial, if you will, is completely independent. And we have some cool things coming, so get ready.
Nik Sharma
Nik Sharma@mrsharma · Director of Performance Marketing, hint
@alex Very cool! And, super excited! Thanks for the insights!
what is your favorite alcoholic beverage and why?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@drew Well it depends on the day, setting, and so forth. Let's do this properly: The only drink you should have at brunch is whiskey, with a ginger back. Dinner may involve wine, but only an older red. White wine is for rooftops and sunshine. Margaritas are celebratory, and dangerous given their sugar content. Tequila itself should always be viewed with suspicion, really. Rum is only for Ken Yeung to consume. Mostly, you should have a drink that you depend on and can order anywhere. That or you can order a proper martini: Extra dry, vodka (Kettle One) shaken, with a twist, and no olives.
ALL DEATH METAL
ALL DEATH METAL@alldeathmetal · ALL DEATH METAL
@alex @drew ALL DEATH METAL WINE IS NOT DEATH METAL UNLESS WINE IS ACTUALLY BLOOD OF THE DAMNED
@alex thank you for your time *hiccup*
Harry Stebbings
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi Alex, obviously massive fan of @mattermark here @twentyminutevc I would love to hear what was the defining reason for you making the move from traditional publishers to Mattermark and @daniellemorrill recently stated on the @ProductHunt podcast that there is no WSJ for our industry, is that something you are looking to create at Mattermark?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@harrystebbings @mattermark @twentyminutevc @daniellemorrill @producthunt Two questions, so I'll do them in sequence. Why did I move to Mattermark? A new challenge, I suppose. I spent around 6 years at TNW and TechCrunch, from my second year in college through to the end of 2015. I loved the news grind until I realized I was tired. The news cycle is incredibly fun to chase, and try to lead, but can also lead to burnout. Mattermark wanted to build up its journalism work, and it sounded like an interesting challenge. So, I took it. What's lovely about being in the wider TechCrunch family is that I still get to see that crew on a regular basis. Much love to everyone there.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Alex thanks for being here today! What 3 qualities make a good writer?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ems_hodge What's terrible and lovely about being a writer is simply that you have to spend more time reading than writing. This seems unproductive to outsiders. If you are a journalist, this is doubly hard. You have to read so that you can write, and you have to read all the damn news so that you have context for what's going on. So you have a double workload. The upside is that you get to read lots and not feel too bad about the time you are investing. So that's one. Two would be spending as much time as you can with interesting people. In person, if you can manage it. They will teach you new words, phrases, jokes, references and so forth that are ammunition for your writing. No one is interesting in a vacuum. And thirdly, the normal response: You have to write very day. No exceptions.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Yo Alex - can you tell us a bit about your failed startup experience?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@eriktorenberg I should write about this sometime, I suppose. What do you want me to talk about?
Jordan Gonen
Jordan Gonen@jrdngonen · trying my best.
Hi Alex! Thanks for saving some time to do this. I've got two questions for you. What motivates you to get up in the morning ? What metrics do you use to decide your growth, both personally and for your role at Mattermark?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@jordan_gonen I feel you on these. Mostly what motivates me in the morning is that lots of interesting things have happened since I fell asleep, and I want to find out what happened. Markets, politics, business, tech, there's always something interesting going on. And I want to know what it is. Then I want to think about it, and write about some of it. Happily, my life allows me the chance to do just that. Journalism is more lifestyle than career, as the saying goes, and I agree with the sentiment. The day that I lose my curiosity is the day I'll have to go and get a real job.
Charles LaCalle
Charles LaCalle@charleslacalle · UrbanTech Investor @ Dreamit Ventures
Thanks for the AMA! I was just wondering if you have noticed any topics or verticals within tech or venture that are NOT getting enough attention or not being addressed at all? IE something you would like to see an article about. And what kind of topics are you tired of seeing addressed over and over again?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@charleslacalle This is a fun question. It's interesting to say that a few years ago, the answer would have been SaaS. That's very much not the case now. In fact, you can now drown under the sheer quantity of material out there on SaaS, SaaS metrics, SaaS conferences, and so forth. Now I think the most interesting spaces that aren't seeing enough attention would be the monetization of broadly popular consumer apps (Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc), and good metrics on VC returns to their LPs. The former because the numbers are bigger than you might expect, and the latter because as we head into the current corrective period, VCs have to go back to their own investors and explain what's going. It's not going to be that fun of a period for our local money kids.
Ewa Lalik
Ewa Lalik@ewqaewqa
Fav metal band and why? (You're welcome!)
Adam Marx
Adam Marx@adammarx13 · Freelance writer/editor and music addict
@ewqaewqa I'm upvoting this because I'm similarly curious. But one is too hard I think, how about favorite ten (at the moment)?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ewqaewqa Depends on the sub-genre: Thrash? '80s era Metallica and Slayer. Currently? Trivium and Machinehead are doing amazing things. Ne Oblivascarous (sic?) is simply incredible. Nightwish is still innovative. And the new Dream Theater is lovely.
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@ettinger · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What was the most valuable lesson you learned from (failed startup)?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@andrewmettinger Oh man, so many. My first startup Contenture taught me more than anything, but I've been part of startup media firms (Brass Magazine), a failed outsource shop in Chicago (midVentures), and so forth. Summing all of that is hard, but I would say it's people. I've been at places where the staff were amazing, and things worked without much if any management. I have also been at places where it was the opposite. You can feel it walking into the room.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@andrewmettinger One more thing. During my time as a journalist, I've visited a huge number of startups. I can't quite describe it, but there is a certain vibe in some offices that feels like something close to fear. That's to say, people are on edge, and you can tell. Don't work at those places, it means that management is bad. And, time and time again, I've seen those firms do poorly.
Adrian
Adrian@qi · Software Engineer, PayPal
Hi Alex, How can I become better at faking that I actually know anything about the financial industry. I know a ton of niche payment industry jargon because of where I work, but it turns people assume I know the financial industry as a whole because I work at a payments and technology company. Also what is your favourite drink and when are we going to drink said drink?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@qi We shall drink said drink drink at the drink spot this weekend, if you are free! Shoot me a DM. The financial industry is at once harder than people expect, and less hard. That's brilliant English, I know. What I have found is that if you can speak just a bit of its lingua franca you can fake like the best of them; the number of people who truly know finance (I am not one of them) in my life is few. Most people specialize. That said, I did read a dictionary of financial terms a few times, took some classes at business school, read endless quarterly reports, sit in on investor calls, talk to traders, and take finance kids out for drinks to stay fresh. It's like any other skillset.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
Hey. what are your favourite questions to ask founders?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@bentossell If you really want to have fun, ask them about their gross margins. It's a question that they nearly never expect, so you get to watch them sputter. If you quote the number without taking a beat, they are probably in the top 5% of founders.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@bentossell Other fun options: How many people have you let go in the last six months? Oh, and Are you behind on your ramp to profitability? You can actually watch the PR person in the room wince.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What industries would you place your bets on in the next 10-20 years?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@jacqvon I feel like whatever I say here will come back to bite me in the ass, so let's have fun: Low orbit flights for fast freight shipping; massive solar installs that power whole countries; functional fusion in some capacity; VR video games will be massive; holograms.
Adam Marx
Adam Marx@adammarx13 · Freelance writer/editor and music addict
Hey Alex, thanks for taking some time today! Though Mattermark is arguably best known for its spreadsheet analytics and data, its movement into publishing and journalism is intriguing, and I'm curious how you want to use that to help evolve the company. What is something you want to bring to @mattermark's publishing arm which might not have been there before?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@adammarx13 @mattermark Hey Adam, nice to see you off of Twitter. We spend too much time there. Mattermark has a long history of journalism, to use my normal phrase when answering this question. The company wants that to persist. However, our CEO, a prolific writer, has this silly day job called running a company. So, Mattermark hired me to tend to our editorial work. I can't quite tell you what we are working on internally, but I can say that we are going to invest more, not less in our writing work over the current year. I'm honestly very excited.
Adam Marx
Adam Marx@adammarx13 · Freelance writer/editor and music addict
@alex Haha yeah we do. This is something that I find equally exciting as I see journalism going through a Renaissance of sorts right now (as is all media). Numerous opportunities abound, and I think @mattermark has done a great job thus far of publishing thoughtful pieces from a variety of sources (founders as well as VC's). I've read a number of @DanielleMorrill's posts on her site, and agree, would recommend them to readers looking for good material to consume and think on. Certainly intrigued to see what the next journalism moves for MM will be!
ALL DEATH METAL
ALL DEATH METAL@alldeathmetal · ALL DEATH METAL
ALL DEATH METAL ALEX SAYS HE IS DEATH METAL BUT IS HE REALLY DEATH METAL? DEATH METAL CREDENTIALS?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@alldeathmetal ALL DEATH METAL ALEX ACTUALLY ENJOYS ALL SORTS OF METAL HAIL SATAN
Amy Widdowson Mains
Amy Widdowson Mains@amynw · Director, Vrge Strategies
Howdy sir - what, if any, role do you think the volatility in the public and private tech markets will play in the upcoming election?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@amynw Little, frankly. Unless large tech companies decide that the current crop of candidates contains a few persons who must be stopped, and mount a material effort. In short, if the big players go after Trump, it could get interesting. Recent media reports indicate that this could actually happen. To your point about market chop, that could scare some firms into being less bold. Happily, large tech companies are massively cash rich so the short-term can be just that.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@amynw Actually, to get on my soapbox for a moment, when is tech going to act its own size? I find it irksome that so many technology companies have an 'aw shucks' attitude towards politics. This stuff matters. Privacy matters. And it shouldn't have taken this long to stand up and tell the government to fuck off; that Congressional hearing was amazing. You know which one I'm talking about.
ALASKANJACKSON
ALASKANJACKSON@alaskanjackson · Nobody of Consequence
As an outsider Mattermark appears to be focused on the US market. Will Mattermark take advantage of growth opportunities outside of the US? Related, it would be interesting to see an exchange rate weighted international index of Newco's. Allow potential investors to see where their currency will get the most bang for their respective buck in real time? Oh, thank you for making time to chat.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@alaskanjackson I don't have much special insight into the Mattermark product roadmap, but I do agree that our current dataset is US-focused. I presume that we are moving to include more international data as time goes along; the data team here is pretty damn smart. If you want, I can ask them after this session.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@alaskanjackson Actually those are cool suggestions that I will pass along -- Thanks AJ, see you on Twitter!
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What has been the most surprising moment of your career to date?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ems_hodge I'd say the first time I was on stage at Disrupt. It was Disrupt New York 2013, if I recall. I interviewed an honestly lovely human, and went after him as hard as I could. It got lots of response, but in retrospect I think I was a bit too much of an asshole. I think that experience initially encouraged me to be even more grumpy than I normally am. That wasn't a good lesson. Happily I'm less stupid now.
Oliviax
Oliviax@oliviameng
HI Alex, you have a good combination of interests. if you have any suggestions to young people who focus on a variety of things. Would you suggest them to go broad or go deep? And any suggestions on articulate diverse interests? Thanks!
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@oliviameng Go broad when you are young. In college it was always the odd class -- Islamic Law, for example, was one of my favorites that I took -- that wasn't really party of my major that taught me the most. You always have time to go deep, and specialize. In fact, your career will likely demand it. So if you are still young, go do something new. Worst thing that happens is that you hate it and don't do it again. No shame in that. I think that most people are afraid that other people will judge them for trying new things. Not really. Most people don't care about you, and that's freedom. We don't really matter to that many people, so we can operate with impunity. So go broad and fail big and then when you have a mortgage you can at least tell interesting stories to your boring friends. That's my plan, at least.
Oliviax
Oliviax@oliviameng
@alex Thank you so much
Mehedi Hassan
Mehedi Hassan@mehedih_ · Lead Developer and Designer, Tweeten
Hi Alex! What are your future plans for Mattermark? :)
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@mehedih_ We are going to do really cool things with editorial that I will share in a few weeks. I know that's vague, but I don't want to over-promise and under-deliver.
Jackie Luo
Jackie Luo@jackiehluo · Engineer, Nylas
Any favorite people in tech you follow on Twitter? Like, people who post on-point news/observations or who are just really funny.
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@jackiehluo Oh man, that is a huge question. I'd say @thinker @ryanlawler @drew.... basically I could just list all my friends. Hmm. If you want to really get the proper pulse of tech, I would go to the Techmeme leaderboard and follow the top 100 journalists. Some of them are dry, humorless people, but you need at least some of those in your life.
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@ettinger · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What's the most intriguing offer you've received for your @alex handle?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@andrewmettinger Actually I have a recent story about this. Let's see if I can do it properly. Someone asked for my handle on Twitter. I said no. Standard enough, and happens about once a month. Then someone threatened to rape my kids if I didn't give it up. I don't even have kids! I took a screenshot and tweeted it out, but damn that was an interesting moment. Otherwise people offer some sort of money or access to a service. I decline. For better or worse Twitter is my happy place and I refuse to leave.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? What was you path up to now?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ems_hodge Looking back there were minor signs. But I initially wanted to be a fighter pilot, and then a pastor, if I recall. Then I got into finance, followed by tech. I started to blog in a serious sense after my startup failed and I was bored, and wanted to stay involved with the tech scene. Then TNW was looking for its first US hire, and now here we are.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
What are the biggest things you learnt from founding a failed startup and what would you do differently, if anything?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@bentossell That if it isn't clear who owns what part of the project, it's never going to get done. Clearly defined roles can be complex when your team is just a handful of people, but still matters. Yes, wear many hats, but make sure that there are no un-worn hats.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Have there been any stories that didn't get published, you wished had been?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ems_hodge Yes. I wrote a long post called 'The Bear Case On Uber' that I never finished. I'm sure there were others. Sometimes you get something half done, and then it gets lost in the mix of the news cycle. I've never had a story killed, to my memory, if that is what you are asking. TNW and TC and now Mattermark have always granted me editorial control. I don't have to answer to anyone, except the public. This is at once encouraging, and terrifying. Live by your good work, die by your bad work. Or, more simply, type quickly and don't be wrong.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What do you think the future of journalism is?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@ems_hodge That's a massive question. It's been edifying to see the Vox folks do so well, as it proves that there is still some future in the industry. But the implosion of Gigaom was terrifying. You wonder who is next, if that makes sense. The large papers will persist, mostly in digital format. Online media will continue to mutate, and companies like Mattermark will make investments into journalism when they see them as prudent. Onward, I guess is my answer to that question. I doubt we'll ever get back to the glory days when there was money sloshing around in the industry, but I don't see near-term death.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
How'd you get the gig at TC? Tell us the story of how it unfolded
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@eriktorenberg I forget if I was in Russia at the time or not, but I sent one of the co-editors a DM asking if he wanted to meet up. That's pretty simple code for saying that I was interested. I interviewed with both editors, and they made me an offer. I think that negotiation took place over about 3 DMs on Twitter. Simple as that. The tech writer community is surprisingly small, as it turns out, and most people know each other. So, if you want to change teams, the person you want to hire you probably already reads you, or knows you personally.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
if you had 500 million dollars what would you do with the money
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@eriktorenberg Honestly today I would go home and take a long bath, and then a nap, and then take Ivy out to Farina and buy the whole menu. Then I would drink a martini, order the most expensive bottle of wine, and then sleep for two days straight. I am tired, frankly. Then I would go back to Mattermark, dock myself two days off, and get back to writing.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
what's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Alex
Alex @alex · Writer, TechCrunch
@eriktorenberg Well, my cliche answer is religion. I suppose there's no need to retread that. Other things: That people are happy. Most aren't. Nearly everyone is a bit sad and needs a hug. Hug them. Support them. Take them to lunch and listen. They need you. Oh, and that people with money are smart. I know some amazingly dumb wealthy people.