I just went over to see the beginning of the Hackathon presentations and got chills when I saw the TechCrunch green Disrupt logos behind the stage in the ballroom of the China National Convention Center. I can't believe this is really happening! It's so exciting!
Of course, most of the staff is so neck-deep in problem solving mode, they're not stopping to gush quite as much. We've had legendary wifi issues-- the tech conference curse no matter where you are in the world. Flights from Shanghai to Beijing got cancelled today stranding at least one of our Battlefield companies until tomorrow. The Beijing pollution is the worst I've ever seen it. It is totally grey out of my hotel window. And -- the worst weather news for me-- Peter Goodman, executive business editor of the Huffington Post who was supposed to co-emcee the event with me is trapped in New York thanks to a blizzard! What the hell is a snow storm doing in New York this early??
So it looks like there's going to be a lot more me on stage the next few days...
Speaking of me and microphones, I took some of the speakers out karaoking last night, while the rest of the staff worked on the hackathon. There were huge five liter glass vases filled with beer, the regular whiskey and green tea concoctions and a lot of baaaaad singing. Sometimes my job is just awesome. I'm trying to get photos from Ben Huh to post on TC later today.
Someone Tweeted the other day that the secret to me being able to balance a conference in China with a newborn baby was my husband. True. While I'm gone, he's taking off work to do double-parent duty.
There's a lot of this going on:
His father came in town to help too, so there's a reality show version of Two and a Half Men going on in the Mission for the next week. Just in case Chuck Lorre and Mark Burnett are interested in a collaboration.
Sorry for posting yet another baby photo, but my husband sent this last night to cheer me up. It's adorable.
The TechCrunch editorial team is off to shoot several episodes of Cribs today, while Tanya nails down conference logistics, Susan and Greg greet incoming speakers, guests, and staff, Vineet makes sure we have WORKING WIFI for the Hackathon and Heather works with the competing startups on their demos.
Unfortunately Jason Kincaid couldn't join us at the last minute for personal reasons, so I'm a last minute Cribs host sub. Hope I do him proud!
...but this is also pretty cool.
I met Gang Lu of TechNode on my very first trip to China years ago and he's been one of many God-sends who has gone over and above to make Disrupt Beijing a success. Like a lot of people who've helped us out, his biggest motivation has simply been believing TechCrunch's presence here could help some startups and wanting to do anything he can to support that. He's an awesome guy.
Including me, eight members of the TC staff landed in Beijing last night to join our events wizard Tanya Porquez here on the ground. You could spot us on the plane because we were all reading the Jobs biography. (NERDS!) I should note, everyone flew coach except the woman who's supposed to be on maternity leave and had to pump milk every three hours. (I still had major business class guilt.)
When we arrived, everyone checked into the hotel, threw their bags down and hit the ground running, working late into the night-- exhaustion and jetlag not withstanding. I went to bed around 1 am local time, and I think the rest of the team was still hard at work. At times like this, we still work very much like a scrappy startup without big corporate backing and with everything to lose.
Sitting around at dinner last night listening to our amazing team of eight tick through their to-do list and action items, I was incredibly humbled at the talented folks who jumped in and have made this conference something so much larger than my original vision. Our internal drama not withstanding, this staff is just phenomenal. The writers tend to get the attention, but there are so many people at TC -- like Jon Orlin, Heather Harde, Tanya Porquez and Jeanne Logozzo-- who are the best people I've ever worked with at the core thing they do.
I've definitely been swamped with editorial and agenda concerns, but it's amazing to know I don't ever even have to think or worry about things like sponsorships, live streaming, or logisitics and can know it'll just get done. I'm so grateful to the team for ignoring all the distractions, focusing and executing on such a challenging event. I hope everyone can take a moment in the next five days and be proud of what we're pulling off here.
PS: I'm here, so pay up on our bet, Andreessen!
The other day I got an innocuous email in my inbox from United Airlines making sure if I was prepared for my upcoming flight to China. Wait, what? That's still weeks away right? Why am I getting this email now?
As it turns out I leave for China on WEDNESDAY. That's right: Disrupt Beijing is almost here. It's as tantalizingly close as a warm Jian Bing from a Beijing street vendor. (My first stop, btw.) I spent years arguing we should do a Disrupt event in China, and honestly, I never really thought it would happen. I mean, for Mike Arrington, Seattle is an emerging market.
Even after it was greenlit-- sometime late last year-- there were still a million times it almost failed. There were many times Mike shook his head and said to me, "You don't have a conference." And indeed, I didn't for a while other than in my head. We had epic problems with the venue and dates. An unexpected pregnancy boxed us in on dates and meant I had to plan the agenda totally remotely. I had a devil of a time getting many US names to commit to coming, and a harder time working amid the schedules of the ones who wanted to come. Our first choice of venue was cruelly snatched away by a Ferragamo fashion show and I've boycotted everything Italian since. The astronomical costs weighed against the limited sponsorship and ticket revenues ensured this thing would never make money.
As I frantically tried to finish an agenda before my due date, I was gnawed by guilt that I'd talked our very fiscally responsible CEO Heather Harde into a money pit of a conference and wrecked the health and wellfare of our amazing conference coordinator Tanya Porquez, who has worked US and China hours for most of the last few months. (Tanya has probably invested even more sweat and tears into this event than I have. I hope her husband forgives me one day....) Worse was the fear that I'd have to write a post saying we weren't bringing Disrupt to Beijing after all. I discovered every reason more blogs don't launch major conferences in mainland China-- even with amazing help and local partners, it is just not easy.
But somehow it has not only come together; it has come together more beautifully than I could have hoped. I've gushed about all of our speakers here, but the Battlefield companies are just as impressive. If you live in Asia and you aren't coming to this conference, you'll be sorry. If you're in the US and have always wanted to learn about China's startup scene and aren't coming, you'll be sorry. And if I asked you to speak and you said no, you'll really be sorry when you hear about how much fun the US speakers are going to have between karaoke nights, picnics on The Great Wall, and a potential evening with a mechanical bull in a Chinese Honky Tonk. I mean....a night of Chinese Urban Cowboy? That is just awesome.
My future at TechCrunch has been a little uncertain since the drama went down last month, but even if I wind up moving on, this conference will be one hell of a final swan song.
Of course, the conference is somewhat bittersweet for me, as I have to leave my six-week old baby for a week. Nearly every mother I know has spent the last ten months telling me how impossible this will be. Even Marc Andreessen bet me $100 I wouldn't wind up getting on the plane. I GET IT. it's biologically hard for any mom to leave a new baby. I'm not a robot. I feel a surge of sadness everytime I hand my baby off to the night nurse-- even on days when I'm exhausted and have been counting the minutes until she arrives. It's going to be tough. Pandora finding excuses to play "Cats in the Cradle" over and over again doesn't help.
I mean, look at this smile:
No one wants to leave that. But this is life as a working mom. I've spent most of my maternity leave working on final details, dragging Eli from meeting-to-meeting, vetting Battlefield companies while I burp him and feed him. At least the time zones have been less of a problem, since I'm awake in the middle of the night anyway. It's not ideal, but having a baby didn't change who I am. The insane love for my son didn't eclipse every other passion, it just added another huge one to the top of the list.
Hopefully he'll forgive me. I'm leaving him in good hands with his daddy and granddad (#twoandahalfmen) and I've left him a freezer full of milk and a bunch of mommy-smelling clothes in ziplock bags. Having fully Disrupted my work and homelife, we're officially ready to Disrupt Beijing.
(Yes, Tickets are still available.)
It's a rare moment of calm in my house.
The house is clean, and dinner is chopped, prepped and marinating in the fridge. My husband is asleep in the livingroom. My new baby is fed and changed and sleeping in his car seat on the table next to my laptop. My cats -- who have been in lockdown because they lunge at the baby whenever he cries-- are peacefully coiled at my feet. They are miraculously angst-free for the first time in weeks. And also for the first time in weeks, no one has called or emailed to ask me whether I'm staying at TechCrunch or to tell me whether I should stay or go. And in China, it's well into the weekend, so the endless flood of urgent emails about Disrupt Beijing has slowed too.
People really don't believe I'm taking time off with the baby. I get several emails a day that start out, "Congrats on the baby...." and continue with a story pitch. You guys aren't helping my work-a-holic tendencies.
It's probably no surprise that the last few weeks have been a bit of a rollercoaster for me between work and home: The Crunchfund was announced on my baby's due date, and the day before he was born I was walking around the mall trying to induce labor, texting with Mike as decisions that would forever change TechCrunch were going down in real time.
I've made a point of not getting into the public debate of everything, and I don't plan to now either. Except to say the two biggest things I miss being on maternity leave are breaking stories with Mike and laughing in my office with Paul. It's sad-- for me-- that neither of those will resume when I go back to work in January. But I'm happy to see good news for each of them today: Paul is starting a new company and Mike has finally launched his new personal blog.
As for me, I really am taking the rest of the year off to bond with my baby. How could I ignore this face?
...There are a few caveats to that, of course. Disrupt Beijing is in a matter of weeks. It's something I spent two years convincing Mike and Heather TechCrunch should do, and I've spent the last six months begging, bartering and pleading to put together an amazing lineup of Western and Eastern entrepreneurs and VCs as speakers and judges. Even though I raced to get the agenda locked before the baby came, there's still a million details floating around. And, yes, I am going to China to emcee the conference in late October, despite one VC who bet me $100 I would throw it all away once the baby came.
I also have a single coming out on the Byliner imprint in the next month or so. I wrote it in my spare time during the last few months of my pregnancy. You know, when I wasn't working a full time job, flying between four continents to promote my last book, planning a conference in China and hiring an editorial team there, and growing a human being. The due date for the single was the same as my due date for the baby. I filed it the morning after, as early labor was already starting.
The single is an extended thought-piece about one of the more popular TechCrunch posts I've written since I've been on staff. The first person to guess which post I'm referring to will get a free copy once it comes out.
I'm excited to see how it does. I've written before about how bullish I am about what Byliner is doing for longform journalism. And since the baby has likely put off my writing a third book for another year or so, I'm hoping an imprint like Byliner will be a good way for me to scratch the constant itch to do projects longer and more in-depth than a blog allows.
(Note: Shortly after writing that paragraph, baby started crying, cats freaked, all hell broke loose...)
I try not to blog much about baby stuff. But this week was insane.
A few months ago when my baby was just getting active, I asked via Twitter whether it was possible for him to break a rib. The answer from my followers was yes, with several links to accounts of it and personal stories. Lucky me: I've also gotten to learn the answer the excrutiatingly painful way.
Last Friday I heard a crack, felt a pop and for the next five days the pain got worse and worse and worse. After surviving 8.25 months of the world's easiest pregnancy, the little guy finally got me good. We actually don't know if the rib is broken, cracked or merely kicked out of place (probably the latter).
But we do know what Western medicine does in all cases: NOTHING. There's pretty much no treatment for it. I wasn't even put on bedrest. There's not really a point, because with an ever-crowded torso and a constantly wiggling, kicking and hiccuping baby inside, there's no way to stabilize anything.
I've had a broken rib before, and it was nowhere near this painful. The doctor estimates I've got an eight-pound kid in there, and I can still feel him growing.
So far two things have made a massive difference: Yoga and acupuncture. Two things I never did before pregnancy. In fact, it's amazing how much of a difference they've made. On Thursday there was so much inflammation that the pain had wrapped around my back. I couldn't take a deep breath, and it felt like a knife was stuck clear through my left side. I felt absolutely hopeless. So hopeless I actually cancelled meetings and took a sick day. This was a solid eight on the one-to-ten pain scale. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and I just couldn't do anything. Even typing on my laptop was causing spasms in my ribcage and back.
That night I did five minutes of yoga everytime I woke up for a bathroom break. (That's a lot these days.) I felt demonstrably better by the morning. And after 25 minutes of acupuncture Friday, I still felt the stabbing pain at the rib in question, but my back felt almost 100% better. Today, I got a massage, and it's better still. In just a few days it's gone from an I-will-not-make-it-two-more-weeks amount of pain to a totally-doable-for-the-rest-of-the-pregnancy amount of pain.
If I weren't pregnant I would be spending the week doped up on pain meds and muscle relaxers. It's amazing how much relief I've gotten without it.
So, I have to give huge shout-outs to the places and people that helped in case anyone else goes through this awfulness:
Yoga: I religiously attend Jane Austin's prenatal yoga class at Bernal Yoga and try to make another one during the week at Yoga Tree on Valencia. It is easily the highlight of my week. Jane is revered in prenatal circles in San Francisco, and her classes are packed with pregnant women. Believe all the hype. I credit the bulk of my easy pregnancy to her, and I'm so not a yoga person. I even bought her DVD and did it while I was traveling.
Acupuncture: I went to East-West Integrative Medicine Clinic and saw Holly. I've only been there once, but it made a huge difference, and I plan on going back at least through the rest of the pregnancy. They worked me in quickly and were super nice too.
International Orange Spa: I've been getting a prenatal massage every Saturday morning here for the last few weeks. International Orange offers some nice prenatal packages, and my therapist, Chloe, has done a better job each week as she's gotten to know my aches and pains more. The staff is also super nice. When I had a cat emergency and had to cancel at the last second a few weeks ago, they rescheduled me without charging for the missed appointment.
A few weeks ago someone asked me if I could go back in time and give my 12 year old self advice, what it would be. The only thing I could come up with is: "Stop worrying. It'll all turn out OK."
And I keep thinking how true that actually is. Like most kids, I used to agonize in those (very) awkward years (and later) over whether I'd ever find someone to marry and what on earth I'd do for a living. And somehow, it did all turn out OK. Better than OK.
This is the happiest I've ever been in a full time job, I've been lucky enough to spend two years traveling the world, I've written two books, I'm married to the best person I've ever met, expecting a healthy baby boy in eleven weeks and somehow on a writer's salary we've managed to buy a house in San Francisco. I can't really imagine what more I could want. I even get along great with my in-laws.
I owe a lot of people for that. My parents, of course. A bunch of teachers. And my awesome husband for marrying me and solving that whole soul mate dilemma.
When it comes to my career-- the unbelievable fact that I get paid to write about some of the most fascinating people in the world-- there are also a lot of people to thank. But chief among them is a man named Barney DuBois. A lot of people have been hugely pivotal during my reporting career, but without Barney it may never have even begun.
Barney was the founder and publisher of the Memphis Business Journal, but I knew him first as the father of a girl I went to high school with. My senior year I was the editor of the high school paper. I know in retrospect that sounds like I always knew I'd do this, but believe it or not, I had no interest in going into journalism. In fact, it didn't even occur to me. Back then I associated being a journalist with daily newspapers and writing stilted AP style pieces about school board meetings. That didn't sound too enticing. (Probably didn't help that Memphis didn't have the world's greatest daily paper.)
At any rate, as editor I inherited a huge deficit. We were still publishing the paper by moving print and it was expensive. We only had enough money to produce six four-page issues for the year. Lame. I decided to get someone in the community to "underwrite" the paper, and picked Barney as my target. He was the only person remotely in the journalism world I knew.
So I nervously went to his office downtown and pitched him on an offer he couldn't possibly refuse: Help us move our paper over to computers, send your staff to train my team how to use the programs, let us use your scanners, and let us piggyback on your print run. And throw in a redesign. In exchange I offered our paltry budget and a line in the staff box that said we were underwritten by the Memphis Business Journal. He accepted, clearly out of a mix of pity, amusement and obligation since his daughter went to my school. The Business Journal underwrote my highschool paper until they were sold to American City Business Journals years later, totally changing what the students were able to produce.
Over that summer and my senior year of high school, we put out more papers than the school ever had, with longer page counts, vastly improved photos and graphics and still ended with a surplus. Every month around midnight, I'd finish wrapping up each issue in the school's computer lab. (My family didn't have a computer.) I'd go drop off the floppy disks and the photos at Barney's house. He'd open the door-- sometimes in a bathrobe, usually holding a glass of scotch, still working late on his own paper. And every month he'd say the same thing: "You're going to be a reporter. It's in your blood."
Every month I told him he was wrong.
Fast-forward three years and I was taking a semester off college and utterly disillusioned with other careers I thought I'd go into. A summer working for Memphis City Council convinced me politics wasn't for me and an internship at a law firm dissuaded me against law school. My parents were teachers, but I didn't think that was quite for me either. Someone suggested I go into PR. Or pharmaceutical sales. You know, the vague careers for outgoing girls with liberal arts degrees. Yeah….I didn't have to do an internship to know neither of those were for me.
Then I ran into Barney's wife, who edited two of the MBJ's smaller publications. She asked what I was up to, and I asked if I could have an internship. I remembered what he'd said and how much I'd enjoyed editing my paper in highschool. I still didn't think I'd go into journalism, but thought it could look nice on a resume and could be fun. She said sure. And within the summer, I fell in love with the paper the two had created and began an all-consuming life-long career of business reporting. A few years later, the editor of the Business Journal came to my desk and asked me if Memphis had any venture capitalists-- a chance conversation that ended with me moving to Silicon Valley in 1999. You know the rest.
For the Memphis Business community, Barney and his wife Debbie created something that was every bit as powerful as TechCrunch is for the Silicon Valley business community. It dug out fascinating stories of very private business moguls the world might not have ever read about, covered the large public companies based in Memphis better than anyone else, and championed the small business man.
It was the place where I learned the basics of how to report, where I learned never to be intimidated by any CEO, where I learned to camp out in someone's office until they gave me an interview, where I first felt the rush of knowing something that no one else knew and splashing it across the front page.
Playing on the Memphis Business Journal softball team also gave my husband-- who played on an opposing team-- the opportunity to court me. Never mind my boss heckled him for taking too many pitches. It's never embarrassing when you are 22 and your Ed Asner-like boss yells at the guy you like, "SWING AT THE BALL, BOY!"
Mr. Lacy and I were driving around last Saturday talking about all of this. How weird it was that we'd fallen into such a great life, just by following a chance path that so easily could have not happened at all. Specifically how crazy it was that except for one person telling me I'd definitely be a reporter every month of my senior year of highschool, I might have never have even gone into an industry that has been such a perfect fit for me and consumed most of my waking thoughts since then. Not thirty minutes later we got an email from Memphis with the news that Barney DuBois had died. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
I read all the tributes to him in the Memphis area papers about what a great journalist he was, about the paper he created, about the wealth he amassed when he sold the paper and everything he'd been doing in recent years for Memphis businesses. But what was missing in that coverage were tiny stories like mine of people whose lives Barney changed just by intersecting with them for a year or so and giving them a little bit of his time for no ROI-driven reason.
I'm going back to Memphis in a week. I'm doing a book event organized by the Memphis Leadership Academy that's semi-ridiculous. FedEx CIO Rob Carter-- who really I should be the one interviewing-- is interviewing me about entrepreneurship and the Mayor is introducing the whole thing. It's all a big honor for me, and I'm happy my parents who are celebrating their 50th anniversary that weekend will be there.
But I can't help but think fondly of the last book event I did in Memphis, which was much more casual and low-frills. The one where the Barney introduced me, told embarrassing stories about what a freak I was in highschool and reluctantly took credit for unleashing me on the business world. I'm glad I got the chance to tell him how much he'd changed my life before it was too late.
I just got home from TechCrunch's second New York Disrupt Conference, and as detailed on this blog already, I was pretty exhausted from the travel and the pace. But it wasn't hard getting the adrenaline pumping each day. The conference was one of the best ones we've produced to date.
It occurred to me the other day that this is the happiest I've ever been working full-time for someone else. No one is more surprised at this than I am. I put off joining TechCrunch full time for years, in part because of my book, but also because I wasn't sure the massive egos of Arrington and me could fit under the same roof. And when AOL bought TechCrunch, I didn't think I'd last a month.
But Disrupt reminded me of every reason why TechCrunch is such a great fit for me. In short, it's all about the entrepreneurs. There was so much positivity and support around the companies launching, and everyone got so emotionally wrapped up in who they wanted to win. And doing backstage interviews with the finalists, just before we found out the winner, it was clear how much the platform had already helped their companies. That's an amazing and humbling thing to be a part of.
That sense of community and really rooting for great entrepreneurs is always what I've argued has made TechCrunch so succesful. In my previous jobs for traditional media companies, I hated the cynicism, the desire to shoot down anything just because it was new or differnet. Until of course, it hits a clear tipping point and then everyone pretends they believed in it all along. That doesn't serve readers in any way, and TechCrunch is the opposite of that.
But the other reason I love working there is they give me a big platform, pay me a nice salary, but let me do pretty much anything I want, whether that's flying to Nigeria or blogging from home in pajamas. I don't know another job like that in the media world. There's almost always a trade off with one of the three: Platform, pay or autonomy. It feels too good to be true. Hopefully, it lasts for a while. (At least until I give into that itch to write another book.)
The vareity also allows me to do a lot of different jobs in one. For Disrupt, I got to do three days of live television hosting the livestream backstage. I wouldn't want to do TV all the time, but for three days it was a lot of fun. Our head of TechCrunchTV, Jon Orlin, was in his element, building out an insane backstage studio and basically producing more than 24 hours of live programming. I'll be posting some of the interviews people may have missed on TechCrunch this week. You can watch most of them here.
I'm bummed I won't be able to do it again for a year: I'll be giving birth (or preparing to or recovering from giving birth) during San Francisco Disrupt and on stage during Beijing Disrupt.
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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