Yesterday I wrote an article about Robert Scoble trying to follow in the footsteps of Michael Arrington and go from blogging to angel investing. Scoble is crying foul and calling this a “drive-by shooting.” He’s ranting about the horrible old “mainstream media,” of which I am a member, and he now refers to me as a “journalist,” in quotes, which I’m guessing is meant to be derogatory. He’s also rushing around, blasting out sound and fury everywhere, posting stuff on his blog, on other blogs, on Google+. He’s an impressive one-man band, and it’s a clever strategy: you fill the air with smoke and noise and loads of anti-aircraft flak, and maybe you can distract people, or make this into a story about me rather than a story about him.
First off, this is not some fight between me and Scoble. I like Scoble, and if he can find a way to get rich off his blog, good for him. The great opportunity of blogging has always been that, for the lucky few, a big payday awaits. Furthermore, while Scoble may be one of the world’s most relentless and shameless self-promoters, he is also, by all accounts, a genuinely nice guy.
Nor is this some argument between mainstream journalists and independent bloggers, at least not on my part. I’ve been on both sides, and I don’t think one is better than the other.
The story that I find interesting and worth reporting is that some popular tech bloggers are finding new ways to make money, and these ways usually involve becoming entwined with the same venture capitalists whose portfolio companies they write about, which raises some interesting issues.
Now on to the matter of hand, which is what, if anything, Scoble has been up to.
Last week I was talking to a top partner at a venture capital firm. We were talking about other things, but in the course of the conversation this partner mentioned that last year his firm got a call from a guy at another VC firm asking if they’d like to invest in a Scoble project.
My guy says: “I didn’t talk to Scoble directly, but rather someone who said they talked to Scoble and they were seriously considering investing, and wanted to know if we were too. We weren’t.”
My source is a credible guy, well-known and with a good reputation. I don’t think he would just make this stuff up.
I also spoke to a principal at his firm who was on the same call. The principal backs up the account and says it wasn’t clear whether Scoble was trying to raise money for an angel fund, like Arrington did with CrunchFund, or raise money for a blog, as Sarah Lacy did with PandoDaily, or some hybrid of the two.
“But the idea was he was going to raise some money and spin out of Rackspace. He’d carry the Scoble brand forward out of Rackspace,” the principal says. “We backed away because it didn’t feel right. This idea of venture capitalists putting money into journalists, it just feels like there’s a line being crossed.”
So let’s assume this VC firm really did get a call asking if they wanted to invest in a Scoble project. Is it possible (or likely) that someone was going around soliciting money on Scoble’s behalf without Scoble’s knowledge or consent?
This, apparently, is what Scoble would have us believe.
But the principal who received the pitch says, “There was way too much detail for Scoble not to know about it. There were terms. I don’t see how he could have not known. My guess is he either put it on hold after the shit hit the fan on Arrington’s CrunchFund project, or he couldn’t raise the money, or maybe he just changed his mind.”
But wait, there’s more.
In addition to whatever happened last year, just last month Scoble participated in talks at Davos, at the World Economic Forum, with people who are trying to organize a global angel group.
The group is led by Rich Stromback, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur from Michigan. The working name is Piano Bar Partners. (There’s a famous piano bar at Davos where people schmooze.)
I talked to Rich Stromback yesterday and again today. He confirmed that Scoble expressed interest in joining the group, and says he’d love to have Scoble on board.
“There is kind of a trend where Michael Arrington and other people who cover the industry and are knowledgeable about the space, it’s almost a natural progression that they would go into angel investing,” Stromback says. “I would imagine that ever since Arrington did CrunchFund a lot of tech bloggers in the space have been looking at doing the same thing.”
Stromback says tech bloggers like Scoble see a lot of of early-stage companies and have a grasp of the industry. He says Scoble could add value to the Piano Bar angel group because he has a wide network of contacts, sees a lot of early stage companies — “deal flow,” it’s called — and some of the big name investors who are interested in joining Piano Bar would trust Scoble to help them evaluate new tech companies. “There’s a lot of knowledge there” he said, meaning in Scoble’s head.
Stromback says Piano Bar Partners is still in the very early stages and “there’s nothing formal at this point.” But he expects it will come together, and says some big names are involved.
After talking to Stromback, I got a call from someone who saw Scoble meeting with Stromback and a bunch of VCs at Davos. They were huddled together in a meeting room, engaged in what looked like a serious conversation. “Scoble was taking notes, and he was not doing so as a reporter,” my source says, adding that later he talked to some of the people in the room and learned about the plans for Piano Bar Partners. He specifically asked about Scoble, and was told that Scoble had been included as a potential member.
This apparently is what Scoble was referring to when I asked him (via email) about angel investing and he replied this way: “Hah. There is some bar talk about this but nothing official yet. I am interested but not anywhere close and certainly I wouldn’t be managing it.”
When I asked Scoble who would manage the fund, he responded, “I have no idea. It never got to that point. I doubt I would be more than a pretty face on any such fund.”
Call me crazy, but I read those email messages to mean that Scoble had talked to people about doing this, is interested in doing this, and while there’s “nothing official yet,” he has already envisioned a role for himself as a “pretty face” on a fund.
Scoble, however, characterizes his comments as a denial. Which is weird, because it seems to me that a denial would be something like, “No, I never met with anyone to talk about joining an angel group,” or “Yes, I got an offer to join an angel group, but I turned it down.”
But Scoble didn’t say that. Nor did he say, at Davos, what a journalist from the New York Times or any other publication would have to say when offered a chance to get involved with an investment group while continuing to write about tech companies: “Thanks, I’m flattered, but I can’t do that.”
And that’s fine. Scoble is an independent blogger and he’s not bound by the rules that apply to newspaper reporters. As I wrote in my post yesterday, Godspeed to you, Robert Scoble. You’ve built an audience with your blog, you’ve built a wide network among Valley entrepreneurs, so why not go make money with that?
But at the same time, why not cop to it? Why pretend that last summer people weren’t getting hit up for money for a Scoble project that apparently sputtered out? Why downplay the fact that last month you were hooking up at Davos with guys who are trying to start an angel group?
Why go blustering and huffing and puffing and making loads of noise and hurling accusations and playing the victim? Why cry foul and paint me as a liar or a drive-by shooter for reporting what I’ve heard — which turns out, in fact, to be true?
People did get those phone calls last summer. You did sit in those meetings at Davos.
Maybe you haven’t succeeded at cashing in, but can’t say you haven’t tried.
So calm down, Robert Scoble. Take a deep breath.
Whatever you end up doing, whether it’s angel investing, or raising venture money to start a blog, or staying at Rackspace, or just erecting huge billboards with pictures of yourself all over Silicon Valley and then driving around looking at them, with Rocky Barbanica videotaping — whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be great at it, and you’ll deserve every bit of your success. I wish you the best. Seriously.