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BizReport : Internet : May 03, 2001

Exclusive Interview with Jason Calacanis - Silicon Alley Reporter

He is known under many names - a human search engine, one of the most influential persons in the dotcom univers, indifferent as well as serious, even dangerous - bottom line is whether you love or hate him, you are bound to bump into Jason McCabe Calacanis if you are looking for the alley companies and venture capital. The 30-year-old editor, CEO, and founder of the New Yorker magazine Silicon Alley Reporter took a few minutes of his hectic 18 hours workday to give BizReport his take on the post-dotcom-crash situation and his guru-like status.

by Katja Moeller

Jason Calacanis is not untouched by the shakeout in the New York alleys. A whole lot of dotcoms have crashed, leaving dozens of employees restless and empty handed. And after all, keeping in touch with the companies on a daily basis has given the editor very close relationships with people coping with the turbulence. However, he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm and is more than optimistic about the next decade in the digital sphere:

"The attitude right now is that there has been a shakeout and a lot of people have lost their jobs but that we are through the worst of it. It’s still difficult to get people to stay in business. In spite of that, most people don’t fear a recession. Nasdaq is slowly climbing back, and there’s a strong belief that the good business models will survive. The market is certainly charactized by optimism, but cautious optimism", Calacanis sums up.

He rejects the attitude that the market has not yet hit bottom. "We have the general indicators and reality. The situation right now is positive in the way that good business models have even better chances of surviving because of less competition. And then there are companies that shouldn’t have been in business at all. That’s reality - we’ll always see companies leaving the arena due to bad business models", Calacanis explains.

The shakeout effect on the news business

Even though Jason Calacanis turns down the accusation that he is getting too close to his sources - a wide circle of dotcom CEOs - and compromising his integrity as a reporter/editor, he can’t deny the fact that Silicon Alley Reporter is a very integrated part of the business it wants to observe from a distance. The news industry is more than ready to cover the down term, but can’t escape the economic meltdown and finds itself suffering from shrinking advertising budgets.

According to the past year has been tough for the business magazines Business 2.0 and Industry Standard. The number of ad pages have dropped 75-80 percent. Calacanis claims that he has nothing to complain about compared to the competitors.

"The Silicon Alley Reporter has not remained totally untouched from the ad pull back but fortunately we never got big, so now we don’t have to get small. A lot of our competitors have been forced to cut back on staff, and with little chance of getting new fundings some of them just go out of business. The market had to level out", Calacanis says and lists the surviving magazines: Red Herring, Fast Company, Industry Standard, Business 2.0 and Silicon Alley Reporter.

"Even though our number of ad pages have dropped we can manage because our revenue model is diversified. Yes, print is off, but online advertising is doing phenomenal. 40.000 people subscribe to, and they have accepted online ads in order to get the service for free", he says and refers to the four revenue channels: Press releases, banners, classified ads (jobs, rental space etc.), and dedicated emails (as mentioned above).

The loop

Confronting Mr. Silicon Alley who was there in the very beginning of the technology quantum leap, it’s interesting to look back and see how far we’ve gotten in the first five years on the Internet. Not far, Calacanis states. For some it might even be deja-vu. To some extent we are back where we started:

"The present situation resembles the beginning very much. Today the attitude is, that you can’t get rich in the Internet industry and you can’t get any money. What makes the loop incomplete - fortunately - is, that we now have what we could only dream about in the beginning: a whole lot of users, spending a lot of time and quite a bit of money online. The low expectations right now are a great opportunity to increase market share for the surviving as well as the new companies. It takes a strong stomach though for new companies, and that makes it easier on the rest of us. It’s about faith and religion and about being able to see the power of the Internet", Calacanis explains.

The first five years have been very interesting, but the best is yet to come, he adds. Until now we were just trying to figure out what the Internet was. The next six to fifteen years we will find out what’s really important.

The magnetism of Calacanis

No doubt the SiliconAlleyReporter has become one of the most influential magazines about the Internet industry. Some say not as much as the man behind it. Calacanis seems to have transformed himself from a curious and debate-seeking reporter to a key figure people turn to in order to get connected or get advice. He finds it flattering and doesn’t downplay his enthusiasm for being listed at the Top 20 of Internet technology pendants.

"It turned out to be an influential magazine - but that’s not why I made it. Some people are concerned about whether I like them or not, and some might believe, that I have the power to help them get capital by introducing them to a venture capitalist. However, I am very aware that my connections don’t compromise my integrity as an editor. Our magazine and newsletters are critical and objective. The products speak for themselves - if it wasn’t so I wouldn’t have such a strong editorial team", Calacanis says.

He negates the fact that he has the power to decide the fate of a company by profiling it on the front page.

"I think it’s overblown. The idea that ‘the powerful publisher can make a company go up or down’ is exaggerated. I can’t make a bad company successful or a good company go bankrupt. We have covered companies early in their life cycle - companies who later became a success. We just happened to realize it quickly, but we didn’t make it for them", Calacanis states and adds, that he finds the notion of a magazine with such power silly but also funny.

In spite of criticism he is still a point of navigation for some people - a position that ironically resembles the title of the movie, Jason Calacanis recently played a part in: ‘The Center of The World’.

Tags: Jason Calacanis, Silicon Alley Reporter

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