hackNY Summer Series: Jonah Peretti

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Samuel Stern describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed.

Last week the HackNY fellows got to hear from Johan Peretti, founding member of The Huffington Post and current CEO of BuzzFeed.  I thought this was an awesome talk, so I decided I’d write this week’s HackNY blog post and talk about what I took away from the experience.

First of all, the most interesting part about Jonah was that he is not a hacker in the traditional sense.  He never (to my knowledge) built any world-changing software or took down a famous website.  Instead, he is a social hacker with an incredible understanding of how to properly utilize technology.   Jonah led off with a story about how a snarky email exchange he had with a Nike representative went viral, and how this lead to his fascination with internet epidemics and the power of social media.   He proved that these events are not random, but rather predictable given the right set of conditions.  After his accidental Nike fame he successfully experimented in engineering viral stories and was even able to teach others (graduate students) how to do the same.

This is how Jonah became a vital part of the Huffington Post.  He understood how to prioritize the articles and photos that would have the largest impact on the web, and how to do so with empirical testing rather than the guess-and-check methods employed by most media websites at the time.   While everyone and their sister wants to make a social experience now, Jonah understood the potential of social over a decade ago (that’s a long time in tech years).

After from his incredible ability to bend the web to his will, the second most interesting thing discussed at the talk was his advice about raising capital.   I have no experience raising money for a startup, but I always thought that it’s all about getting meetings with the right people and making a convincing pitch.  Jonah posited that an even more important factor in meeting with investors is concurrency.  Investors will be more likely to buy into your idea if they know that you are simultaneously in talks with their peers due to the competitive nature of the industry.  He said that as an entrepreneur looking to raise money the goal is not only to get many investor meetings but also to get them all at once.

Overall this was a great tech talk, and it got me thinking about my future in startups.  Jonah’s advice for an idea was to find something that can be done right now that couldn’t be done without modern technology (social or otherwise) and take it to the next level.  That’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about going forward.