A bestselling author and former Bloomberg Businessweek staffer, Sarah Lacy remembers the exact moment she became an entrepreneur. It was November 2011: She was a first-time new mom on maternity leave enjoying a meal with her husband, Geoff, and their 6-week-old son, Eli, inside a San Francisco taqueria. And that's when it happened—a few bites into her quesadilla, Lacy made the decision to quit her job as editor-at-large of TechCrunch, an online tech magazine, and launch a competitor in the same space.
Lacy grabbed her phone and texted her good friend, Marc Andreessen.
“I told him that I wasn’t going back to TechCrunch after my maternity leave, that I was going to start something new,” Lacy recalls. “He was supportive and texted me back that he would happily invest.” Over the next few months, she worked her longstanding connections in the tech industry and landed investments from the likes of Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos), Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) and others. By January 2012, she had $2.5 million to start what would become PandoDaily, a site that's living up to its tagline, “the site of record for Silicon Valley.”
Today PandoDaily reportedly attracts millions of page views per month. Based in San Francisco, the site has a staff of 15 full-timers and five contractors, and is well-respected for its news reporting and in-depth video interviews with visionaries including Elon Musk and Marc Pincus. Lacy raised more money for the site earlier this year right before her second child, daughter Evie, was born (“I swear, I’ve been either pregnant or nursing every minute since I launched Pando,” she says, laughing).
Looking back on the past 18 months as an entrepreneur, Lacy recently shared what influenced her pivotal decision that faithful November day, and her future plans for PandoDaily.
Let's go back to the day at the Mexican restaurant. Weren’t you afraid to launch a company just months after having a baby?
You’d think so, but for me, it was a crystallizing moment. I knew that no matter what, in journalism I would be working a ton of hours and it would be hard. I had to make the decision of whether to spend my time rehabbing something that had just been acquired or building my own thing.
Did you have negative feelings toward TechCrunch?
No. I really liked what Mike and Heather [Harde, former CEO of TechCrunch] had built. But I felt like there was a hole in the market after [it was acquired by AOL]. The hole was focused on writing and editing and analysis. As a magazine and book writer, that was my strength.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
In the beginning it was pretty much just me. It was hard. I was a new mom and my baby was always making a cameo in videos and even in fundraising meetings. I was able to hire people slowly, which made things a little easier on me, but we still didn’t have an office. There was a period when seven or eight people were working in my house, which was nuts.
We got an office space this spring, but it isn’t really a grown-up office. We have several desks inside a co-working space in the Twitter building [in downtown San Francisco]. I’m still going back and forth from home to the office because I’m still nursing. How are things going with the company?
Things are going really well. That said, it is still really hard. I’m learning that the more success you have, the more problems are created. I spent the first year focused on the editorial side of the company. Now I’m focused on the CEO side and trying to build a sales organization and figure out revenue streams. Speaking of revenue, how do you guys make money?
We make money through advertisements, events, event sponsorships and memberships [to live events].
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Make sure that whatever you are setting up to build is the most important thing in the world to you, because even if it seems from the outside that everything is going right, it is still brutally hard. And try to raise more money than you think you need. Thank God we didn’t raise only $1 million. Things can really add up when you are starting a business.
What does the future hold for PandoDaily?
We will be launching a big annual event next year. For the first year we will focus on Silicon Valley, New York and Los Angeles, but we will expand later on. We will continue our video offering. We are the only tech blog that has ever been nominated for two Emmys, so we are focused on continuing to do that well.
What about you? Are you thinking of your next venture?
Not all all. I’m not a serial entrepreneur. This is it for me.
Think about it: Media businesses take a long time to build to critical mass. Fortune, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have all been around for 100 to 150 years. You don’t build quickly, but once you built it, the publication has the ability to grow into something amazing. I intend to run this for the rest of my life.
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