Q&A: How the guys from GeekWire became Seattle’s top techsters
When anything happens in the tech world these days, you can count on Seattle’s GeekWire to be on top of it.
Co-founders Todd Bishop and John Cook have become the preeminent local experts on all things tech, breaking news on the technology website and their radio show (airing weekly on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM,) and getting called on as expert voices for just about every other media outlet in town.
But GeekWire has grown into far more than just a news site. Its events like this week’s GeekWire Summit that draw thousands, and attract the biggest names in the industry.
So how did two veteran business reporters become their own successful startup?
MyNorthwest.com chatted with Cook and Bishop about their past, present and the future of technology.
MyNW: How did you guys get started in technology?
Cook: I kind of fell into it frankly. I was moved out to Seattle and I got a job as a general assignment business reporter at the Eastside Journal, which is no longer in existence, but had a great editor there by the name of Clayton Park who thrust me into the tech beat. I kind of went in a bit kicking and screaming because I didn’t know much about technology and was somewhat fearful of it really.
I wouldn’t quite call myself a Luddite but quite close. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how I was going to cover this beat. There was so much going on in the Seattle area at that time and Microsoft was certainly on the rise. I was like, you know as a little reporter here in this little Bellevue paper, I’m not going to make any headway and get any scoops and get any good juicy stories on Microsoft. So I’m going to focus on this other stuff going on, all these startups and emerging companies and venture capital. I really got the bug of covering entrepreneurs and people that were building the next generation of businesses and that really became my specific niche.
Bishop: I was a general business reporter and went to the Seattle PI, and that’s where I first met John and an opening came up to cover the Microsoft beat. I remember specifically going out to lunch with John and he told me do not do it, do not take that job […] to the point of what he just said. You’re never going to make inroads on that. I was like, yeah, whatever dude, I’m doing it anyway. That’s sort of how I got into tech.
Cook: I’m glad he ignored me because this is where I really gained so much respect for Todd. He’s always been a great reporter and great writer. But how he was able to master and grow a command of that beat was truly impressive. It was truly something I certainly didn’t think I was capable of doing. He’s really been able to establish himself as the preeminent reporter on Microsoft.
Bishop: Oh that’s totally not true.
Cook: One of, let’s say one of […] in the top 5.
Bishop: The cool thing about what we are doing at GeekWire now is we’ve both been able to broaden what we do a lot. I still get to write about Microsoft, but I get to write about Apple and Google and Amazon, especially.
Cook: The other thing with GeekWire that’s really interesting, I’ve also been able to expand my beat where we get really interested about stories where there’s the intersection of technology and culture or technology and sports, technology and politics. All these sorts of things are where we see GeekWire headed. I mean technology is penetrating all sorts and all parts of our lives really at this point.
MyNW: What prompted you to start GeekWire? Was it because the PI shut down and you got fired?
Cook: Todd and I actually quit six months before the announcement of the closure.
Bishop: The funny back story is, everybody says, ‘Oh you guys must have known that something was coming. How smart of you to jump out of the PI and go do this other thing before it closed.’ The truth of the matter is we were really dumb, in hindsight, because it was a guild (union) shop. So (there was a) giant severance that John left on the table […] there would have been enough for us to totally bootstrap our own company. You know we took a little detour along the way but I think we’re happy with where we are now.
Cook: We just couldn’t take working at these big media companies any more. We were working at newspapers, and Todd and I were covering the digital age. We were very much trying to push the envelope about what we could do journalistically online, and that’s where we saw the opportunity. That’s where we saw the news business headed. Yet, we were dealing with organizations that were still interested in pursuing this concept of delivering a newspaper to you with news that was 24 hours late to your doorstep. Those two just didn’t mesh well for us.
Bishop: We are both of the belief that the Seattle region deserves a national technology news site, and that’s really our vision for GeekWire. We cover the world, we’re rooted in Seattle. But the content that we produce resonates everywhere.
MyNW: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Bishop: You want us to be honest?
Cook: I’ll tell one here. Not doing it soon enough. Not making the leap soon enough. The thing that’s hard for us now – Todd and I both have young kids under the age of five – is trying to do an entrepreneurial startup project when you have a family. That’s hard to do. I wish I would have done everything in my life five years earlier.
I guess the advice out there for people that are considering jumping off and doing a startup for themselves is to go out and do it. Make the leap and you’re going to learn so much more.
The conclusion that Todd and I came to when we were leaving the PI was it was so much riskier for us to stay in the status quo than it was to go out and do it on our own. That’s an interesting perspective to put yourself in because everybody typically says, gosh, going out and doing something on your own is so hard to do.
It is hard, but boy, I think even if you fail you’re going to learn so much more and you’re going to be so much better positioned than if you stayed in the status quo.
MyNW: Do you guys consider yourselves geeks?
Bishop: I do, and I think it’s because I define that to mean anybody who’s really, really into something to the point of an almost unhealthy obsession. That is really where I am. I mean, I’ll tell you some of my greatest joys are figuring out that I have been synching my Dropbox account incorrectly, and if I just figure out this one setting I can free up gigs on my hard drive. So yes, I am a geek.
Cook: Todd is certainly the geekier of the two on that front. I don’t take as much pleasure on the Dropbox setting.
Bishop: Let me say this, though. I think John has very few pleasures in life greater than uncovering a form b financial filing that reveals a massive scoop. So there are some very wonky things that you appreciate, at least.
Cook: I still get energized and thrilled when I uncover something that no one has uncovered. It’s something that drives both Todd and me.
MyNW: How important is Seattle in the global economy and global technology field?
Cook: It’s hugely important. I would say it’s certainly one of the top epicenters of technology. If you look at the number of important companies that are based here it’s really off the charts. There’s really no place like it other than Silicon Valley.
Seattle has two of the top six companies by market value across the globe, Amazon and Microsoft.
Bishop: You’ve got this great confluence of business and technology in Seattle based on its heritage. If you think back to Boeing, which gives us a toehold in aerospace and space, and Microsoft with software, and then even some health science and bio-science if you look a lot of the cancer research and everything else that goes on here, and if you mix those things together, you end up with an economy and a culture that’s positioned to capitalize on some really important things looking ahead.
MyNW: Mac or Windows?
Cook: I’m a Mac and I’m an iPhone user.
Bishop: I’m a Mac user as well. I used a Windows PC for many, many years. For us, with all of the media editing that we have to do as a standalone shop, it just makes sense to have a Mac. I still have a Surface. My daughter knows the Surface better than the iPad. She could fit right in at the LA Clippers.
MyNW: What are we going to be talking about five years from now?
Cook: Five seems like a stretch. I could maybe think about two or three.
Bishop: It’s funny, because I ask this question all the time, and everybody is always stumped. Now the tables are turned.
Seattle is becoming under everybody’s radar, a real hub for virtual reality.
My eyes recently have been opened to the way that virtual reality is going to play out. I recently got to try an Oculus VR prototype that was not tethered to a computer. It was basically a backpack that you wore with goggles on your head. I have to tell you it was the Holodeck, right there in front of my eyes. I was on a platform and my brain was telling me, in this virtual world, do not take a step because you are going to plummet to your death. It was that real so for me that kind of stuff is just fascinating.
Cook: Transportation in general. That’s an industry where there’s total upheaval going on. I think the way we move around and conduct commerce and conduct business is going to be radically different in five years.