The big news last week was that Knight-funded startup EveryBlock was bought by MSNBC.com for an undisclosed sum. EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty is one of the Idea Lab bloggers, and has been a pioneering programmer/journalist at the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan., and at the Washington Post.
There had been some online scuttlebutt around the way EveryBlock released its open source code, and then was bought by MSNBC.com, so I thought it would be a good idea to go straight to the source, with a Q&A with Holovaty himself. The following interview took place over email, and included a couple questions from folks via Twitter.
What was the toughest part of doing the acquisition?
Adrian Holovaty: I had never dealt with term sheets, purchase agreements and all that
deal-related stuff previously, so that was probably the toughest part. Fortunately, we had great lawyers, a number of friends kindly helped at various points along the way, and many entrepreneur-focused resources are available online these days. I’m happy with how the process went, and I learned a ton.
Did you have a backup plan for EveryBlock in case the acquisition didn’t go through? What was it?
Holovaty: Yes, we were lucky to have several options for EveryBlock, but I’d rather not discuss them, out of respect for confidentiality. My ultimate personal backup plan was to try to make a living as a professional musician, selling recordings and online guitar lessons
and things like that.
I know NBC has plans to launch various local sites. Did they talk to you about how EveryBlock might be included in those?
Holovaty: We’ve been focused on getting the deal done and haven’t dived too deep into specifics on strategy and tactics.
Tell me three things that the deal will help you expand on EveryBlock.
Holovaty: Three areas of expansion are:
- Expanding our coverage to include new cities.
- Expanding the amount of news we publish in the cities we already cover.
- Adding features that give EveryBlock a richer user experience.
Any downsides in making the deal with MSNBC?
Holovaty: They’re not based in Chicago, which makes some things trickier but other things better (like the fact that our team will remain pretty autonomous). Other than that, I can’t think of any huge downsides; if there were any, we wouldn’t have done the deal.
What wisdom can you share with other Knight grantees about the process of moving from grant-funded project to one that’s owned by a media company?
Holovaty: I haven’t seen much difference so far, which is a credit to the folks at the Knight Foundation, who were incredibly hands-off during our two-year grant. We’re essentially autonomous now with MSNBC.com, and we’ve been essentially autonomous for the past two years with Knight. I suspect the transition would be much less smooth with other
foundations or with other acquiring companies.
I’d like to know whether EveryBlock will continue to update the code and whether they plan to release more (as open source). (Question from Daniel Bachhuber via Twitter.)
Holovaty: We’re going to play it by ear and see whether it makes sense to release updates to the code we released on June 30. We’re under absolutely no obligation to release any, but, at the same time, we might do so if it makes sense to do so.
Did you get interest in a buyout from newspaper companies? If so, why didn’t they fit? (Question from Jeff Sonderman via Twitter.)
Holovaty: This topic was a mini-meme around the time of the acquisition announcement, and it amused me to no end, because the question makes very little sense.
It’s like asking me, after I put together a band of musicians, why I didn’t choose the musician who spoke Portuguese. What difference does it make if a musician speaks Portuguese? I’m going to pick the band member based on how good of a musician he is, not which languages he speaks. That’s completely unrelated. Of course, if our band planned to tour in Portugal, it might be a different story, but let’s put it this way: the band is not planning to tour in Portugal.