Casey Newton

Silicon Valley editor, The Verge

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 22, 2017

Discussion

Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
Hi — I'm Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge. I've spent the past six years living and working and Silicon Valley, picking apart tech companies to see what makes them succeed or fail. I'm here to answer questions you have about Silicon Valley, tech journalism, and what Ryan Hoover is really like. AND NOW OUR TIME MUST COME TO AN END. Thank you all very much for your questions and for following along. I apologize to those of you whom I did not get to. Ask me @CaseyNewton on Twitter and maybe I can help more there!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Casey! As tempted as I am to ask you a joke question, I'm more interested to hear your thoughts on this: There's a lot of interest and talk about the next big platform shift, most notably VR/AR and voice-based technologies. What are you most excited about and why?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@rrhoover Hello Ryan! I have next to zero credibility on the subject of next platforms, because I thought the next platform was going to be bots! Do you remember bots?? We were so innocent then, in the halcyon days of January 2016. It was so obvious to me then that apps were dead and people would want intelligent agents running in the background performing tasks of their behalf. And instead the bots arrived and they were all terrible and the world shrugged, and people had to start writing about Alexa like a $200 speaker that tells you the weather is the future of computing. And maybe it is! But after having one for a year I don't use it nearly as much as I had hoped. As far as AR and VR, I'm still relatively optimistic about those — the PlayStation VR sales numbers were better than anyone suggested, Snapchat Spectacles are a very good 1.0 product, and the best experiences I've had in VR rival anything else I've seen in tech. So I suspect we'll have to wait a while, but eventually AR and VR will become major sources of consumer interest. (Also let's maybe check back in with bots in a year or two.)
Zoli@zolihonig · CoFounder @waivecar
When is your HBO comedy special going to be confirmed?
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
Who did you sit next to at the Crunchies and would you ever willingly do it again?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@nivo0o0 I sat to some guy at Product Hunt who was like hey you should do a Q&A. And I said, how much does it pay. And he changed the subject, and then the next thing I knew I was doing this and I am still waiting for the answer to my question!!
Soph 🤓@sophmoji · Emoji Queen 🐱💵🍃.ws
Soph 🤓@sophmoji · Emoji Queen 🐱💵🍃.ws
Hi Casey! Huge fan of your writing and Twitter virtuosity, as you already know. Quick questions for you: 1) What is your favorite part of being friends with Kara Swisher? 👫 📰 2) Who would you invite to your dream brunch? 🍳🥓 3) Will the cucumber emoji ever catch up to eggplant, and should it be the new heartbreak emoji of choice seeing as it's sliced on Apple platforms? 🥒💬📲 Love you 💖
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@sophmoji Hello Soph! You are one of my most delightful Twitter followers, and I always appreciate your perspective. Answers: 1. Kara knows more about Silicon Valley than she will ever have time to write about, but being around her, you hear the most amazing things about this town's seamy underbelly. I particularly love hearing stories about the early days of AOL and Google and Yahoo, which she of course covered ferociously from the beginning. 2. I would love to have brunch with Tim Cook. I collect stories about sightings of Tim Cook in Palo Alto, and in every story I have ever heard he is alone. Alone at the gym! Alone at the restaurant! I'm sure that he enjoys getting away from it all from time to time, but at the same time don't you think he would enjoy having a fun brunch with me???? 3) Eggplant has first-mover advantage and is frankly one of the most powerful incumbents in the space I have ever seen.
Soph 🤓@sophmoji · Emoji Queen 🐱💵🍃.ws
@caseynewton You just made my year 😂 I hope Kara writes about the early days and her unique experiences in tech in a future memoir. Steven Levy's getting a bit tired! As for Tim Cook, he may be woke on immigration & LGBTQ but he's certainly oblivious to how much happier he would be with an exuberant writer at his side. We need to make it happen! Finally, eggplant analysis is spot-on, but I remain hopeful that poor cucumber will become a little more mainstream 😊
Chad Whitaker@chadwhitaker · Product Designer at Product Hunt 👋
What, in your experience, is the number 1 reason tech companies fail?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@chadwhitaker So products can fail for almost any reason, which is why I write so many startup obits. The variety is fascinating. But one through-line that I see in almost all of them is that they under-invest in marketing. I understand why this happens: people don't want to invest in marketing until they find product-market fit, because marketing is expensive. Also, I think venture capitalists probably do not get very excited about their millions going to marketing and not, say, a third Android engineer. But the truth is that most startups' problem, to paraphrase Justin Kan, is that nobody gives a shit. Without marketing, no one is going to see your thing or try it. So hire some damn marketers.
Matthew Straub@matthewmagellan · Digital Engagement @singularityu
@caseynewton @chadwhitaker In a new startup, what number hire do you think a marketing person should be? I've always said your 3rd or 4th hire, but would trust your idea more than my own.
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@matthewmagellan @chadwhitaker I think it depends on the company. You would know better!
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What is the most surprising story you’ve covered in the last 6 years in Silicon Valley?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@ayrton It has to be this one: http://www.theverge.com/a/luka-a.... Over six months, I reported the story of a remarkable young entrepreneur who lost her best friend — and then took his text messages, and the text messages he had sent his friends and family, and used it to recreate its voice. Everything about this story was a surprise: the people, the technology, and they way they all wound up feeling about it in the end. The most amazing thing to me in the end was how much the bot had taught Roman's friends and family about who he was, even though he was died. Our digital afterlives are going to be WILD, and I'm looking forward to writing a lot more about this in the years to come.
Matthew Straub@matthewmagellan · Digital Engagement @singularityu
@caseynewton @ayrton This is one of the best tech stories I think I've ever read. It made a lot of rounds on our company Slack that day.
Zoli@zolihonig · CoFounder @waivecar
@caseynewton pretty sure there's an episode of black mirror like that, but way creepier
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@zolihonig yes it's mentioned extensively in the story :)
Ana Wolsztajn@anaulilah · Comm Strategist | Social @SaaStock
@zolihonig @caseynewton my thoughts exactly
Festlove@thefestlove · Apprenuer, Festlove
Hi Casey, Hope you are well, Big fan of your stuff for The Verge, my name is Nakayi an App entrepreneur from London. I have just released a Music/Social App called Festlove, like for most start-ups getting press/journalists/bloggers to feature or write about my app is integral. What would be your advice to attract the press to write about your app? Thanks in advance Nakayi
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@thefestlove Hello Festlove! If you're in the social space, you can get my attention in one of two ways. The first is to bring something genuinely novel to the table. Most social apps are simply remixes of old ideas; I want to see something that suggests new possibilities for communication. The last such app I wrote about was Houseparty — it took the idea of kids talking on the phone after school and refreshed it for the mobile era, letting kids talk through live group video. It's a big idea, of huge potential interest to Verge readers, and when I wrote about it our audience was into it. The second way you can get attention is to be popular. This is a super underrated way of getting press! If your app is interesting enough, people will be beating down your door to write about it. Speaking of the Houseparty team, I never would have written about their previous app, Meerkat, before launch — live video had been done so many times before! But then suddenly everyone I knew was talking about it, and my editors were asking me why I hadn't written about Meerkat yet, since it was obviously a phenomenon. So bring me something fascinating and new, or get super popular doing something old and enduring. I'll be listening!
Peter Mantas@pamantas · Startup mentor, adviser and evangelist
Thanks for the nudge;-) What is Ryan Hoover really like? Also... What does it take to get one's message to stand out over all the noise?
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Don't answer that question, Casey. 😁
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@pamantas Ryan is insanely nice, and it drives me crazy. He built a whole website about judging things and after looking at all of it he took a step back and said, I love it. I fucking love all of it. I wish I could love everything that much! I would probably be much happier!
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What is your morning routine?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@jakecrump Jake, I wish I had a better morning routine. I really do. You read these stories about executives' morning routines and it's always like oh, well, I wake up at 4 a.m., have a bowl of plain oats, hit the gym for 90 minutes, and I'm at my desk by 8 a.m., which gives me an hour to read three foreign-language newspapers before my first meeting. Once a year, at New Year's, I tell myself that this is going to be my routine. Instead it's more like this: I wake up between 7:30 and 8 and grab the iPad that sleeps next to me because I don't have a boyfriend. I scan TechMeme and Twitter to see what big stories broke overnight. I go into Slack and tell my editor what I am going to be working on that day. Then I read my emails, including THREE daily newsletters, which is more than anyone should ever read: Ben Thompson's Stratechery, which is the fucking best; Matt Levine's Money Stuff, which is like 80 percent unrelated to my beat but hilarious and a daily revelation; and the NY Times' California Today, which is superb and tells me what's going on in this state. And then I delete 40 pitches and take a shower and come to work.
Peter Mantas@pamantas · Startup mentor, adviser and evangelist
@caseynewton So why are those 40 pitches deleted? @jakecrump
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@pamantas @jakecrump for the most part it's because they are enterprise SAAS startups, or requests that we publish an infographic (???), or a press release from the International Woodworking Foundation about an upcoming webinar
Marawan@marawan_1997 · Cofounder @ Burst
What's the one thing you hate seeing in a pitch?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@marawan_1997 An unsubscribe link. So many pitches come with unsubscribe links these days. Why are you pitching so many people that you feel the need to let them unsubscribe? Why is a pitch part of a subscription .... that I never subscribed to??? Startups would be so much better off just pitching the eight or nine reporters that they think could really make a difference for them than they would doing the spray-and-pray thing with 4,000 email addresses they bought from Cision or whoever.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hey Casey, what's your advice on reaching out and creating relationships with important people in tech?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@theo_dimarhos Reach out to them before you need something from them. Silicon Valley is uncomfortably transactional, and reporters know this more than anyone. Take a genuine interest in a person and invite them to coffee way before you ever need a favor from them. And see whether there's something you might be able to help them with.
Ace Wang • 王心田 💪@acewacewacew · ▲ Health with ❤︎ - WeChat @ xtw1009
What would you share with us about the Chinese element in Silicon Valley? Chinese money, people, tech?
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
Hi Casey! What was the most interesting experience you had at SXSW this year? Thanks in advance!
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@kunalslab So nothing really broke out at SXSW this year — it was the least eventful of the four that I covered. (The one where Meerkat went viral was AMAZING, incidentally. To be present at the birth of a phenomenon, even if it only lasted three months.) Anyway one of my favorite bands for the past 15 years is the Shins — I have listened to them almost daily since 2001, seen them in concert a bunch, etc. And I get a random email from a PR firm saying that the Shins are playing at SXSW and do I want to come. The answer was "of course," but the thing about SXSW is that often you RSVP for things and then stand in a long line and never get in because they let literally anyone RSVP. So I follow up asking if I can please please please really see the show, and the PR person responds and says not only that, but how would you like to meet Shins frontman James Mercer???? And I was like yes!!! And so I went to this tiny house in Austin the other day and they led me upstairs into a bedroom where I sat ALONE with James Mercer for 20 minutes, and he told me about this new app he is working on called Pasted — it's a photo collage thing coming out next month. And so I just had this totally surreal experience of meeting one of my favorite artists and talking with him about something I actually knew something about, and it was lovely. And then afterward he went downstairs and played "New Slang" on an acoustic guitar and I recorded the whole thing on my iPhone and sang along and cried.
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@caseynewton and this was your least eventful experience?! Thanks for the music tip. I'd love to hear the acoustic version from James Mercer accompanied by you. 😉 Did you post that anywhere?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
Michelle Suconick@suconick · Comms @getroman
@caseynewton @kunalslab Oh man! As one of the random PR people who helped put on this party – knowing this was your fave SXSW thing makes me so happy!
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@suconick @caseynewton well then I owe you a debt of gratitude. 🙏 That video was awesome, and I'm listening to The Shins on Spotify right now!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hi Casey thanks for being here today. How has Silicon Valley changed in the last 6 years?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@ems_hodge The rent has gone up by like 8,000 percent!!! Also all my favorite startups died or were acquired because Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are basically the most powerful incumbents the world has ever seen.
Justin Fowler@somewhatjustin · Business Analyst, Upswing.io
So chatbots were really hot for a minute, and now we're seeing that cool down. Where do you see that interaction model going in the next few years?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@somewhatjustin I think there's going to be a lot of work behind the scenes to improve the interaction model. Companies have good incentives to make bots work, so I think they eventually will, but right now when you ask a bot to do almost anything, the odds that it fulfills your request the first time around are still less than 50 percent. So I expect we'll see continuous steady improvement, and then one day bots will work OK, and then one of them will become a mainstream hit in the US. This already happened in China with a bot called Xiaoice that Microsoft made; I expect it will happen here eventually.
Bradley Slavin@bradslavin · Digital Ad Strategist
Hi Casey, thanks for answering questions! It seems to me that most new companies build a product to attract users and try to figure out the business (& revenue) later. In your experience, how do successful companies balance priorities between user-base and solid revenue streams?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@bradslavin Oh man, this is a good question and I wish I had a better answer. I think this is one reason that venture capitalists say that market size is destiny — that if you're building a company in health care, you know you could theoretically eventually profit from it, because giant torrents of money are sloshing through health care. Whereas if you wanted to build, like, an ant farm monitoring app, VCs would probably not be super interested in that. So you have to build an amazing product, but it has to be in some vertical with giant sloshing torrents of money, or your path is going to become exponentially more difficult.
Bradley Slavin@bradslavin · Digital Ad Strategist
@caseynewton Really appreciate the answer. Seems like the inverse could be true as well, no? You can build a killer business, but without enough potential users in the vertical you're DOA. Ultimately you have to balance both - do you think it's easier to attract users to a smart business or create a good business to fit if you have lots of users? I lean towards the former...
Rahul Srivastava@rahulistic
As a person who closely follows the happenings in Silicon Valley, What do you think will be next the product that will rip off Snapchat Stories? Or do you think that it is just Facebook's strategy to become what they couldn't acquire (Snapchat)?
Brayson@braysonware
@rahulistic Facebooks approach and idea on this is to create what could potentially kill them. Even if that means cloning or copying. It's even mentioned in their employee handbook.
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
ishwarya srinivas@ishwaryas · Product manager
Hi Casey...! Interested to know your thoughts on what you think is the most over-hyped tech in silicon valley right now?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@ishwaryas Wearables. Technologically they don't do almost anything ... they're devices we buy to signal one another that we take care of ourselves. "I wear a Fitbit, so it's safe to fuck me." Never mind that they don't seem to drive any meaningful health outcomes over an extended period of time. They're basically sex jewelry.
Giacomo Lawrance@giacomolaw · Author of thenerdystudent.com
What's the best tech company you've ever looked at?
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@giacomolaw I'm not necessarily in a position to evaluate the tech ... I should have mentioned this earlier, but I was an English major!! But some companies that have consistently impressed me with their product execution between 2010, when I started writing about tech, and today: Apple, Facebook, Rdio, Spotify, Snapchat, Tinder, Venmo, Netflix. Some of those companies have huge problems today, but in terms of successfully building and shipping good products they've all excelled.
Giacomo Lawrance@giacomolaw · Author of thenerdystudent.com
@caseynewton Awesome, thank you so much!