If you’ve been following the events around the Le Web conference and TechCrunch UK, this might be of interest to you. If not, it won’t. I’m not filling in all the background material to keep this as short as possible.
I’ve thought about the TechCrunch UK issue for a week now, and have come to some conclusions. A lot of public and private anger has been directed at me over putting the blog on hold. For the record I am going to put down the facts as I know them, and then put this thing to bed.
I talk a lot about ethics on our site and how important it is to me to surround myself with “good” people. I certainly make mistakes, but I try to learn from them and I strive to always do what I consider to be the right thing, and treat others fairly. Particularly when they are down.
The situation last week, surrounding the Le Web conference, was in my opinion an example of what can happen when mobs smell blood. People go crazy. I have no personal opinion on the event itself because I wasn’t there. Loic is a personal friend, but frankly I was pretty pissed off at him at the beginning of the conference because he cancelled my trip at the last minute. There’s two sides to that story, but I want to be clear that during the conference I was not very happy with Loic, or the event.
I had no issue with Sam’s first post on the event. He presented why he thought it wasn’t perfect in a balanced way. Since I wasn’t at the event I couldn’t agree or disagree, and regardless I trust our writers to communicate their honest opinions. TechCrunch France Editor Ouriel Ohayon wrote to me saying that the post wasn’t accurate and reflected poorly on us, but my response to him was “I don’t have a problem with that post.”
However, Loic started taking a lot of heat over the event, and he lashed out at Sam, calling him an asshole in the comments. That wasn’t a shining moment for Loic, but these kinds of things happen. Frankly, I far prefer someone who loses their cool every once in a while to people who are always under control and calculating. Being human isn’t a bad thing.
People leave comments like these on TechCrunch all the time. And if I know them personally, I usually email them and ask them if they’d like for me to remove the comment for them. Invariably they say yes after they’ve had a day to cool down, and I delete them. People use blogs to communicate freely, and I want people to know they can speak their mind in our comments section. And if they change their mind later, I’m usually ok with amending those comments.
Loic did two things. He apologized on the blog for the comment, and he emailed back saying if we were willing to remove the original asshole comment, that was great.
I wrote back just to Sam, and said “Please delete his comment and any comments referring to it. Ok with that?”
If Sam had written that we wasn’t ok with that, I would have respected his decision and probably would have forgotten about the whole event by now.
But Sam wrote back saying that he refused to delete the “post.” It was clear that all I asked was that he remove the comment, not the post. This is when things started to get ugly and I realized what Sam’s true intentions might be. He also wrote:
“Sorry Mike unless you respond back to this email telling me to remove the post I will not. I have been asked by several people to run the European event to replace Le Web. Loic has sold out and I don’t think TechCrunch should do the same.”
Now one thing Sam is good at is making money, and events can be profitable. If I went along with this, I’d stand to make a lot of money on a European event.
And frankly I’m absolutely fine competing with Loic. But I’m not fine trashing his conference while promoting our own.
Sam then took another step, highlighting the Loic “asshole” comment and in the same post writing about upcoming events that he would be announcing. That is not ethical.
At this time I was in a blogger meeting at Microsoft, sitting in a room with Bill Gates in a Q&A session. I didn’t have a lot of time to deal with the situation and it seemed to be getting out of control.
I wrote sam an email saying “you realize you just fired yourself, right?” and linked to his new post where he trashed Loic and Le Web while simultaneously promoting his own events.
His immediate response was “Are you asking me to leave? Please confirm”
I responded “Sam, I can’t work with someone who is intentionally cruel. You were, and you did it to gain attention for your own efforts. So, unless you fix this, I won’t be able to work with you any more. The post yesterday was fine. The one today was over the top, particularly after we had discussed removing the comment.”
At that time I assumed that Sam and I would still find a way to work this out. I certainly didn’t expect what came next.
That was the last time we spoke. The next thing Sam did was post on TechCrunch UK that he’d been fired. Based on me saying “fix this or I won’t be able to work with you any more.”
Everything that happened after that is public knowledge. Sam has launched a new site covering European startups. He has a well designed site, and sponsors. After one week.
That tells me that this was all planned long ago, and Sam took this opportunity to create incredible buzz for himself. At my expense. At Loic’s expense.
When I first started working with Sam a number of people emailed me telling me that he was a dishonest person and that I’d regret it. I ignored these emails. Lots of people say lots of horrible things about me all the time, and most of them aren’t true. Perhaps I should have listened.
There is one other matter. Against our policies Sam took direct payment from a number of sponsors for an event he held earlier this year. Despite repeated requests he has never sent the portion of that payment, about $17,000, owed to us. We are never going to see that money.
Could we hire an attorney over all of this? Sure. But even though I’m an attorney, that’s not my style. And frankly, we have better things to do with our time.
So in the end I had the choice between continuing to work with Sam, and possibly making a lot of money on a European event, or being able to sleep well at night. I chose sleeping well.
On a side note, I’m sorry to see writer Mike Butcher caught up in all of this, particularly when his wife is very ill. As far as I know he had no knowledge of the back story: that Sam was trashing Loic to promote his own event, and that I actually never fired him. I hope things work out well with him at Sam’s new startup. And if in the end, Sam screws him over like everyone else he seems to come in contact with, I’ll hire him back at TechCrunch.