Intro: Kara Swisher is a top technology media influencer, and a female founder of not one, but two very successful media ventures – AllThingsD, and Recode. With Walt Mossberg, over the last 11 years, Kara co-produced D: All Things Digital, a high tech conference. The gathering was considered one of the leading conferences focused on the convergence of tech and media industries. Kara and Walt also were co-executive editors of the AllThingsD.com Web site from 2007 until the end of 2013. The pair founded Recode in January of 2014 and subsequently launched The Code Conference Series in the same mode as D: All Things Digital. UP Global was lucky enough to steal a few minutes of Kara’s time to discuss entrepreneurship.
1. When did you first self-identify as an entrepreneur?
I’ve actually never self identified myself as an entrepreneur. I think I’m entrepreneurial, which is different. There’s a horrible term out there right now called ‘reportrepreneur’, which I refuse to use. I think I’m just entrepreneurial, and in comparison to other journalists, a lot more entrepreneurial. I don’t think I’m exactly like the entrepreneur that created Instagram or Snapchat – I have qualities that are like theirs.
2. Please share a bit about launching All Things D and now Recode. What were some of the highs and lows associated with your entrepreneurial journey?
We (Walter Mossberg and I) initially wanted to start a blog 12 years ago, but the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t let us. What they did let us do was start a conference, which was probably the best way to begin, because it was successful financially. The D Conference was a can’t lose proposition right away, because the first year I think we had Bill Gates and Steve Jobs appear. It was hard not to sell a conference where they were appearing. So we started off with a business that was very successful financially, which is always a good thing when you are trying to run a business.
We were trying to do a number of difficult, but important things – one was to create live journalism from the conference, but also change how technology news was delivered. We thought a lot of the blogs [at the time] were terrible – badly done and full of errors. And we thought old media was rather slow. AllThingsD was an attempt to create a new delivery system for journalism, using multiple revenue streams to do so, one of which was very lucrative, the other of which is still a challenge. And by all measures I think we succeeded.
We wanted to make an entrepreneurial play out of it where our employees got equity, but the Journal wanted to own the whole thing. So, we simply decided to find another investor who agreed with us on how to run the business. During the time we were at the Journal we had a huge amount of independence in terms of the product, which is why it was successful, but we didn’t have independence in terms of getting investment, nor did we have independence in terms of offering our employees a piece of the pie. That is what we wanted and that is ultimately what we did. It wasn’t acrimonious; we just didn’t agree how to proceed with Dow Jones. And so now, we are Recode and supported by NBC.
3. What are the biggest issues facing women as entrepreneurs?
I think the deck is stacked against women in technology and everywhere else. It is weirdly benign in that the people who are doing it [creating problems] feel bad about what’s happening to women, and at the same time don’t think they are doing contributing to the problem. I think this is a difficult situation to resolve.
Here’s the thing – words do count. They really do. I was called bossy all the time. I didn’t mind it, but there were a lot of girls who were as, or more confident than I was, who were definitely affected by these words. It takes a certain kind of woman to not let that kind of talk bother her. We have to create an environment where it is okay for girls to be bossy, or change the way we talk. There’s ways to create [educational] programming that doesn’t turn off girls, or certain men too.
4. If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger self, or other young women, what would it be?
I think girls should do what they are interested in. There’s never been a better time for making education choices in countries where there is opportunity. Don’t focus on those things that are frivolous. Focus on the really deep things that are available to you. I want my sons to focus on all the amazing opportunities that technology brings, especially with them being surrounded by it – to see that it is an opportunity for anybody to take advantage of. I want to encourage my kids to do a lot of things so they can make good choices, and at the same time encourage them to really master something. In mastery there is joy. And in effort there is joy. As parents I think we should insist that they stick with something that is a little harder, regardless of gender.
5. What is your perspective on the worldwide entrepreneur community?
Entrepreneurs around the world have always been there. They just didn’t have the tools to succeed, which are really terrific today. The goal shouldn’t be, “let’s provide aid to Africa”; it should be, “Africa creates jobs,” you know? The entrepreneurs are there and they are talented and they are wanting; yet they are stuck on islands where there is no broadband or wireless Internet. Then people ask, ‘what’s wrong with Africa?’ And I’m like, ‘they’re not connected!’ And as a result the smart people that would naturally uplift those societies don’t have the opportunity to do so. It’s not that they can’t. It reminds me of the MLK quote, ‘It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.
Some innovation is kind of stupid. Like, who needs another photo app? But some of it is very significant, such as solutions built to address energy and transportation and poverty and fascism, and the things that we’ve been fighting against since the beginning of time. There are amazing people all over the world. Any sensible person would understand its better when there is more diversity. What if someone in Afghanistan comes up with the cure for cancer?
I’m hoping we can get past this pettiness between men and women to reach that new age of collaboration.
6. What are you reading right now?
I also read Twitter! I love Twitter. It’s a lot like life.
7. Hard copy books, or Kindle Fire?
I tend not to pick up hard copy books anymore, or newspapers, or magazines. I read everything online, or on a Kindle Fire. In fact, I read the NYTimes every day on my iPhone.