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Podcast with Ethan Strauss
Plus, one tiny piece of advice for founders
If you’re a fan of what I’ve written in this newsletter so far — a little bit of sports, a little bit of politics, a little bit of poker, and a little bit of media criticism — you’ll like the podcast I taped with Ethan Strauss this week, where we talked about all of that and more. I’m not doing a ton of media these days, but he and I just have so many interests in common that it made sense to make an exception. I’d also recommend his newsletter, House of Strauss.
We also talked in more detail about my tenure at Disney, first at ESPN and then at ABC News. (Strauss is also a former employee of The Mouse.) It’s nothing particularly spicy. But one theme we hit upon that’s been a bit neglected in coverage of the major layoffs at FiveThirtyEight and my departure from it is the extent to which FiveThirtyEight was a “peacetime” acquisition by ESPN at a time when its business looked very, very good. Nobody was really charged with trying to make a viable business out of FiveThirtyEight, even though I think it could potentially have been a good one (most likely via subscriptions). And once that muscle memory is in place, it’s hard to pivot later on.
I guess the general lesson here is that, if you’re some sort of small business founder, be wary of a situation where you’re being acquired by some larger business for “strategic” reasons and there isn’t really a plan in place for your business unit to make money. That makes you very dependent on the macroeconomic situation of the larger business, as well as its internal politics (the regime that acquired you might like you, but leadership changes all the time). That’s not necessarily to say I regretted the decision to go with ESPN/Disney. I sort of knew what I was getting into and I appreciate what they did for us.. We produced a lot of great work there, and we survived mostly intact for longer than you might given the increasing headwinds their business faced.
Apart from that, it’s likely to be a little slow here over the next week or so. I’m finishing a book chapter that — oops! — actually turned into two chapters. (The first one is done, fortunately. Congratulations to all of you who took the over. on the word count.) But do hit the subscribe button below — it’s free — so you’ll get new posts right into your inbox.