“We wanted our own company,” says Swisher. Now she has it.
Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg are still in their first 24 hours of launching Recode.net, the venture replacing their long-time perch at AllThingsD. In an exclusive interview with TheWrap, they discuss what led to becoming entrepreneurs, the bidding war won by NBCU and Terry Semel’s Windsor Media and the fate of the red chairs.
Sharon Waxman: Congratulations on a successful launch. What is the difference between Re/code and AllThingsD?
Walt Mossberg: The truth is that at the very beginning, other than an utterly new design, there won’t be an enormous difference. We are in the process of hiring a half dozen new editorial people, editors, reporters, we have a managing editor, Ken Li from Reuters.
The truth is it’s built off the base of standards and styles that we had at AllThingsD, and it will read like that, but you can already see subtle differences. This morning I wrote a commentary instead of a review. A tiny thing, but at the Journal it was not what they wanted.
SW: How big is the editorial staff?
Kara Swisher: It’s 18 to 20 now, and we’re adding a couple now. We’re hiring more business people, and a reporter to cover tech policy. We just hired James Temple from the San Francisco Chronicle to write about beat we didn’t have: biotech and health.
Has everyone from the D editorial staff joined Recode?
WM: One hundred percent of D people came to work for us… Everybody came. The developers, the admin, the editorial, the business people. Our conference production folks are contractors and remaining so.
Do you have a central office?
KS: We may co-locate with NBC in New York, in Washington, D.C., and here. Right now we’re where we are. Walt has small office. We’re not immediately relocating.
How did the NBCU investment come about?
WM: We told Dow Jones more than 12 months that we would not sign up for the same contract, it was time for us to go off on our own… We said we wanted our own company. We were very transparent with them. They said, ‘We can’t stop you.’ They were trying to make up their minds. We had said, ‘If you want to remain associated with us, the only way would be to become a minority investor in our company.’ By the end we had over 30 serious inquiries.
Like who? Russian oligarchs?
WM: Seriously, we had some of that. I got stopped in an airport by someone who vaguely knew me and said, ‘Can I invest in your company?”
We had Silicon Valley VCs who said, ‘We'll just write you the check.’ We had to explain politely that there was too much potential for conflict. NBCU was one of companies that reached out to us, they were early, and very serious, and did it at high level. It was NBC news.
KS: We didn’t want to talk to the venture side. We didn’t talk to Amy Banse at Comcast Ventures.
WM: We wanted a media company and the news part of a media company. Terry (Semel) is a media investor.
KS: It started when Pat Fili (Krushel) asked me to come over to talk about how to innovate. I knew her not very well from my AOL book. We started to talk about how to disrupt the news business.
WM: You realize how important chemistry is to your comfort level. Pat took personal ownership of this. Terry was in. In the end we had a bidding war between NBC and another media company. We made the decision we felt most comfortable with.
How much of the company does NBCU own?
KS: We own the right amount. They’re minority shareholders. Even with NBCU and Terry combined we are still majority (stakeholders).
I don’t know why Dow Jones let you go after so many successful years.
WM: Media companies, not just Dow Jones, generally want to control smaller companies they buy. Frankly I think it’s why when they buy smaller outfits it doesn’t work out very well. If Dow Jones wanted a deal with controlling interest, that would not be unusual.
KS: We did very well with AllThingsD over the years, professionally and financially, but we wanted to have equity in what we were building.
Most of your business is around the conferences, correct?
WM: We think we have interesting ideas, without resorting to a paywall, to make the website a good source of revenue. We are hiring a CRO and a sales staff.
You haven’t hired them yet?
WM: First we’re hiring a chief revenue officer.
And your first conference?
KS: It’s the exact same time as the other ones. It’s the same time, and the same place. There’s an event in March. We’ll do a shorter, smaller media conference. First in Santa Monica on March 27, and then in New York. And a mobile conference in the fall.
In the first year the conference is similar to AllThings D but we have plans to expand the conference and the web business.
Will you be in Asia?
KS: We are definitely considering this. But I’m not going to have a stroke this time. (laughs.)
WM: We definitely have plans to do another international conference. We made a lot more than we were budgeted to make.
And what about the red chairs?
KS: I’m sitting in one right now. We each have one in our office.
WM: We have a good relationship with Steelcase. We’re keeping the red chairs.