Lessons from an Entrepreneurial Editor
Former Fortune editor David Kirkpatrick on launching Techonomy.
In 2010, former Fortune editor David Kirkpatrick teamed up with other ex-Fortune colleagues to form Techonomy, a new media business aimed at convincing leaders from all sectors that technological and social invention is critical.
“I’ve been a wage slave at larger media companies and the journalists who don’t have one of the very few high-paying editorial jobs have to be entrepreneurs,” he says. “For people in journalism today, it shouldn’t be, ‘how do I get a job,’ it’s ‘how do I create a business.’”
Kirkpatrick actually owned the Techonomy URL for 15 years before launch (he acquired it from an acquaintance whose business folded). The original vision for Techonomy was a hybrid of original reporting, opinion, aggregated content and contributed long form journalism, as well as a combination of publishing, teaching, consulting and partnerships. The startup’s debut conference took place in August 2010 featuring speakers such as Bill Gates and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Live Events Key To Profitable launch A successful live event can be the building block for an editorial venture. “Look at some of the startups out there—Technorati, paidContent, GigaOM—all started as blogs and became very successful but they initially weren’t highly profitable because it’s hard to support quality digital journalism with digital advertising,” says Kirkpatrick. “It wasn’t until they added a conference component that they became profitable. Conferences are a good business. They can be profitable from the start with minimal capital investment.” The second Techonomy conference will take place Nov. 13-15.
While the initial show was a success, Kirkpatrick had to reassess the model going forward. “We had five equal partners and the decision-making process was structured on a consensus basis,” he says. “The democratic model doesn’t really work.”
Kirkpatrick said he’s been approached by number of media companies seeking partnerships (and one interested in acquiring Techonomy). Last month, Forbes Media struck a strategic partnership with Techonomy, taking a minority investment in the venture. The partnership with Forbes includes media sponsorship of the Techonomy 2011 conference. Other partners in Techonomy Media today include former Fortune publisher Mike Federle, and Simone Ross, former program director for Fortune’s conference division.
Going forward, Kirkpatrick wants to create more conferences for additional verticals and bolster the content side of the business (with help from Forbes), with a mix of blogs, video and other channels. For Kirkpatrick, one of the most impressive tech content models out there is IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, which offers articles, rich media, data reports and more across a variety of sectors.
“For content to be successful it has to be well-created (if it’s video, it has to be well-produced),” says Kirkpatrick. “You need to think about what’s useful, what’s most likely to be picked up. It’s not just about producing the best content anymore but producing things that will be repurposed.”