Robert Scoble recruited by Davos money men, and other signs that the end times are upon us

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.

25 Responses to “Robert Scoble recruited by Davos money men, and other signs that the end times are upon us”

  1. Markos Giannopoulos

    Hi Dan,

    let me quote you what a great man once said

    “Dear Robert Scoble,
    If I’ve made a mistake about your interest in getting involved in angel investing, I apologize.”

    Yes, that was you…

    Reply
  2. Robert Scoble

    Sigh.

    I never attempted to raise a fund last year. Not a single word of that is true. Whoever your source is is not telling the truth. PERIOD.

    As for the Davos stuff. I laid it all out. A group of us got together and is talking about doing a fund. I met with them, said I’m interested in learning more, but I need to hear official plans before going on. I have not seen any official plans. Period. There is no fund that I’m involved in.

    There is no fund. Period. You are wrong. Your reporting is wrong. Your sources are wrong. You are wrong.

    It’s funny that you didn’t call or talk to me at all beyond your original emails. You do “gotcha” journalism that’s totally off the wall because you have your own agenda to push.

    What a joke.

    Reply
  3. onlineSports

    Wow Dan, after apologizing with an, “If I” statement you threw your credibility under the whole train.

    FYI- real “newspaper” journalists don’t swear in the newspaper like you did on your post yesterday. And yes, they get fired for messing up like this.

    What happened at the NY Times when people were making stories up? But this wasn’t about war right, just your own version of it.

    PS – On behalf of all Lost fans, remove the Namaste from your goofy header image. Seriously.

    Reply
  4. Andrew Baron

    I’m not impressed with this story at all. It reminds me of those articles you regularly see from entry-level journalists who are unfamiliar with the field and people they are writing about. IMO, it creates a look and feel of over acting due to the reliance on proper journalistic technique over a passion or interest for the story.

    I’ve heard about Fake Steve Jobs so I assume you are just trying to entertain & draw attention to yourself but I must admit, I have no real idea what your motivations are, I just found this post on a whim and felt compelled to leave a comment.

    With both the Fake Steve Jobs posts and this one, the style comes off as a bit selfish, as if you are writing this more to draw attention to yourself than out of any care for the world. Check out Andy Carvin or Dave Winer for example. You can tell by their writing styles that they are experts in their fields and when they are blogging about something they are just considering for the first time, they remain open and bring up compelling, relevant angles while leaving room for their readers to make the guesses.

    Too many guesses here. I’ll bet a lot of people who know Scoble would not draw the same conclusions, even if the facts were true.

    Reply
  5. Inkblot

    It all makes much more sense to me now, on the part of Robert and his explanation over this whole torrid affair. That being said, most bloggers, tech or otherwise, aren’t typically true journalists in any sense of the word, and as such should be able to do as they please (start a fund, make a buck, etc.), so long as they make their affiliations and possible conflicts-of-interest well known beforehand, or even after the fact. And if it is all just a great big sleazy cover-up in the end then the anus-stink will eventually win out and the world will know.

    Though if Robert were ever to take such an in depth in-the-pocket route as suggested above then I’d certainly have no choice but to relegate any and all of his future musings to the trash bin, and that would be a sad day for sure.

    I’ve always enjoyed Robert’s online voice and opinions, and I hope to keep doing so well into the future (so long as he stays out of big trouble like this that is).

    If this story does somehow turn out to be true though then, Robert, you and I are over, and you can return the spare key.

    Reply
  6. Robert Scoble

    It’s not true. Period. If it ever changes you’ll be the first to know. By the way, I have a contract with Rackspace that keeps me from working for other people/companies. So, for me to do something like a fund I would need to have that contract rewritten, which I haven’t had done. So there’s no way for me to do a fund at the moment. Also, if you check Angel List (the place EVERYONE is raising money now) you’ll see I’m listed as a Scout, not an investor. If I was raising a fund the first thing I’d do is switch my status there to investor to signal to other people that I’m doing that. I haven’t done that yet. Finally, to invest you need to be an accredited investor. I’m not one. So, if I was pressuring VCs to invest in a fund I would be breaking the law. All of this would be discoverable by a real journalist who did real work instead of going for “gotcha” journalism.

    Anyway, I’ve said my piece on this, thanks for the compliments!

    If anyone ever needs to talk my cell phone number is +1-425-205-1921 and my email is scobleizer@gmail.com.

    Reply
  7. Paul Mooney

    I don’t believe Dan make this story up, it’s being fed to him by people he trusts.

    Everything Dan wrote about the Pando’s is true, this is somebody’s bag of dirty ticks – making it look like all bloggers are p00n

    Reply
  8. Jim

    No one outside the world of tech bloggers gives a shit about this stuff. I miss FSJ. May he rest in peace. This insider tech blog bullshit is boring. I need a blog that brings a child-like sense of wonder to my life.

    Reply
  9. John Honovich

    Robert, why do you say, “I haven’t done that yet.” It seems to imply that you are working on it and may do so in the near future. This is line with the allegations that Dan is making. If you have no plans, I’d drop the word ‘yet’ so people do not get the wrong impression.

    Reply
  10. Vince

    Dan, you’re a joke. Everyone thinks you’re a joke. Quit trying to overcompensate for being an irrelevant has-been. Even when you meant something to the world, it was as a sideshow. Your current writing smacks of anger, resentment and sheer confusion. We’d all pity you if it weren’t for your toxic personality.

    Reply
  11. Kevin Kunreuther

    I wish I could figure out how to get people with boatloads of money to pay me rivers of cash to be scatological, snarky and vicious about their competition but loving, adoring, worshipful of them online, with nothing but the most downright bawdy, libelous, lose control of your bladder and sphincter type humor.
    I’m not suggesting anybody else does this, I just wanna get paid for doing that.

    Reply
  12. Robert Scoble

    Because I haven’t done that yet. I also haven’t jumped out of a plane or been to Alaska. I might do those someday, so my language is very clear. I haven’t done those things as of today. Tomorrow might be different and if it is, I’ll let you know.

    Reply
  13. Greg Knieriemen

    I think this topic is, in spirit, a good one. I think Silicon Valley Tech Bloggers have a ton of problems with conflicts of interest and disclosure and I’d like to read more articles by mainstream journalists that raise awareness about the subject.

    The problem here is you didn’t write about the obvious conflicts of interest (such as Sarah Lacey’s) you wrote about the guy who is known as being the most transparent of all tech bloggers… and with flimsy sources. At least with Sarah Lacey, there is no disputing the facts… no ‘friend of friend’ sources.

    In this post, you state:

    *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…”*

    I’m not a journalist but this sounds nuts on the surface… your source for +Robert Scoble ‘s involvement in this is literally a “friend of a friend”. Your entire story hinges on being at least 2 people removed from the source. Yes I know journalists use confidential sources all the time but using a confidential source of a confidential source?

    Again, I’m no journalist but you are going to have to start naming names if you keep pushing the story. These aren’t state secrets and the VC you talked to should have the balls to talk on the record… otherwise you’ve hung yourself out to dry.

    Reply
  14. eknirb

    Scoble, you are hands-down the biggest self-promoter. Well, MG is coming on strong.

    Anyway.

    No doubt this story is right on the money, and you got got with your, um, pants down. Calm down, it’s just the Interwebs.

    Reply
  15. warning

    I have worked with Scoble. He gets excited about all sorts of startups. This is great for a blogger, but would be terrible for a Angle investor.

    He is not an entrepreneur. He has no business sense. He could not advise startups. He had some celebrity, but that is almost gone.

    Reply
  16. Sash

    Whats innovative about putting money in your own pocket, which by the way doesn’t require any courage either. Blowing smoke up each others asses is how you feed the kids and keep the lights on as a tech “journalist” in Silicon Valley and on Sand Hill Road.

    Reply
  17. Robert Scoble

    If it’s right on the money where are the VCs coming out of the woodwork saying I shook them down for the money? Hint: they aren’t there. I don’t have a fund and it’s all pretty laughable!

    Reply
  18. faddah

    my question: dan, why do you even condescend to say you like this guy? he’s the most pandering, self-promoting b.s. artist in the biz. and the only bait-and-switch bigger rumor monger than scoble is arrington, by a (brown) nose.

    high-profile quasi-journo-bloggers like he who jump back and forth across the line from corp. & vc best-buddy to reporting on the scene sully the pool for everyone else trying to hold onto a shred of ethics.

    methinks le scoble doth protest too much due to the rackspace contract he’s mentioned — they’ll be none too happy now that it’s loud and clear where he’s pointing his future intentions, as in, not with them.

    Reply

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