Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.
Chris Pirillo: Celebrated Founder and Publisher of LockerGnome.com
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the internationally celebrated technologist, television host, columnist, blogger, author, and entrepreneurial visionary, Chris Pirillo.
Chris is the legendary founder and publisher of LockerGnome.com, a technology website and content publishing company with over 1,000,000 subscribers worldwide. He is one of the Internet's best-known and respected speakers on technology topics ranging from desktop software to e-business. Every month, his columns can be read in Computer Power User and PC Today Magazine. His recently authored book, “Online! The Book” with John C. Dvorak, is garnering considerable attention for its insights. Chris' annual tech convention, Gnomedex, continues to draw record crowds, and he has recently launched “The Chris Pirillo Show” online audio broadcast for tech enthusiasts from around the world. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen: Chris, as a pioneer in many Internet mediums, we appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.
Q: You are a past English education major from the University of Northern Iowa who started your first newsletter in 1993 sending jokes to friends. This expanded into shareware news and now, you have 20 newsletters covering most current topics in technology. People rarely use most of their URL favorite bookmarks but they check email every few minutes so newsletters became part of your core business model—now even advertising within your syndication process. You have updated due to Spam and filtering and make available several channels (email/RSS-Atom syndication/Web) and now audio with the Chris Pirillo show. You have past roots with TechTV. Can you comment on this history and where do you go from here?
A: My background, obviously, is rooted in using and sharing technology. I’m not a programmer, and probably never will be. However, I have a tendency to pick up on trends and further apply them to my own universe. I’ll also share certain parts of these insights with others at a moment’s notice.
TechTV discovered me much like Columbus “discovered” America. I was doing things long before I was on cable television, although being recognized by network executives certainly did boost my visibility. For that, I’m thankful. I spent two years working with folks at TechTV and I had a blast doing the show every weekday. It was definitely a challenge, but I gained so much experience by doing it.
Where do I go from here? Into the future, and nobody knows what that holds.
Q: It is an interesting brand, “Lockergnome”-- a combination of your nickname as a writing class, high school senior, and your tendency to be standing by lockers. As an early weather enthusiast [even winning a contest where you explain weather], you had a surreal moment when Mike Lozano [a weatherman you admired] contacted you through Lockergnome admiring the work you were doing. Describe other remarkable or eventful times in your career. How do you plan to further develop or evolve the brand?
A: There are times when I’ll email someone who I consider “untouchable”, and they’ll turn around with a “mutual admiration society” response. That’s a killer – and it shows me that I’ve accomplished a lot in these past ten years online.
I’m always looking for smart opportunities to extend Lockergnome’s reach. There are certain tools which make this easier to do, but I couldn’t do anything at all if I was locked into the ideas that made me a success in the ‘90s. Sure, I survived the dot-com boom and subsequent bust, but that was only because I had a profitable business model without necessarily knowing it (or getting too far ahead of myself).
Q: You have engaged in some interesting experiments such as rentmychest.com to see what people would pay for online. Can you share a humorous story or two?
A: Sometimes I’ll get introduced at parties as “that chest guy.” That always cracks me up, but it’s also a killer ice-breaker in new situations. The ultimate punch line is that I’ve scored about $2000 with that resource so far. I’ve actually got another chest to rent sitting in my Inbox right now.
At one point, soon after I launched, I did about 10 chests in a single evening. You’ll notice, in my early chests, I’d make heavy use of the nipples. That all ended when I rubbed those things raw. These days, I don’t really employ nipplage in my chest rentals.
Q: Gnomedex started in 2001 from an idea in a chat room. It’s for the enthusiast and the non-technical and provides an opportunity to network, make connections, give the average person access to leaders, and all without spending a fortune. Your speakers’ list has grown, including Steve Wozniak last year. It is being held in Seattle this year, June 23-25, at the Bell Harbor Conference Center. Tell us more about it and what speakers will be featured. What is your vision for its future?
A: Everybody dreams of meeting industry influencers face to face, and we’re bringing a few of them to Seattle for the fifth annual Gnomedex – which has become a conference for entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts. This year's theme: Producing, Consuming, & Monetizing Technology. Even at $399, it’s still one of the most affordable tech conferences of its kind in the world today.
Consider that both Wi-Fi and power strips will be provided to attendees this year; two items that are essential for the success of any technology conference. I’m surprised at just how many tech conferences do one without the other – with many of them not even doing Wi-Fi all that well. Plus, we’re giving folks unlimited food and beverage throughout the day’s scheduled events. $399 should be sounding like a bargain now.
Past speakers have included John C. Dvorak, Tim O'Reilly, cmdrtaco of Slashdot, Dan Gillmor, Evan Williams, Pud Kaplan, Doc Searls, Robert Scoble, Wil Wheaton, Jim Louderback, Steve Gillmor, and Jason Calacanis.
Every year, however, the landscape changes; different topics gain and lose popularity even over a month’s time. Conversation, itself, remains constant – which is what Gnomedex has quickly become a part of.
Q: Warner Brothers Music gets it. Apple is way ahead. Amazon understands. Atom is a standard and you have interesting views on RSS. You want “it” part of operating systems. As one of the earliest proponents of syndication, give us your views of its history, where it is heading, how it will make a difference? When will it reach that critical mass?
A: RSS was always easy to use, provided you had the right server-side software. There were only a handful of desktop aggregators a few years ago, but the power of RSS was still there – largely untapped. As more and more CMS’ were publishing feeds automatically, there became an increasing need for a more usable news aggregator.
Right now, we’re still in a chasm. It’s not easy for everybody to use and it’s certainly not scalable. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used, though. Eventually, support for it will be included in every mainstream browser. We’ve got Firefox handling it in a rudimentary way, and OS X’s Safari will soon make feeds more usable. I predict that Internet Explorer will help push feed management into the mainstream – which is what it’ll take to reach critical mass. If IE does it, it’s game over (in a good way).
Q: You were blogging before it became popular; even as far back as 94/95. Provide us your commentary and insights today and into the future?
A: Personal voice is everything. Always has been, always will be. ‘Nuff said.
Q: Your many varied experiences have taught you valuable lessons along the way such as in 1998 when you had a situation backfire. Can you share your top ten tips for Internet business success?
A: 1) Be open, be honest, be real.
2) Ignoring one problem creates another.
3) Remember who pays your bills.
4) The only person you can trust is yourself.
5) Instead of fighting with a competitor, try working with them.
6) If you don’t know what’s wrong, don’t try to fix it until you do.
7) Afternoon vacations make for great brainstorms.
8) Don’t be afraid of change, despite the possible outcomes.
9) Work to build bridges for people, not burn them.
10) Good salespeople cost a lot, but bad salespeople cost even more
Q: Who are the principle members of your team and what lessons can they share with the audience?
A: At this point, it’s just a few of us – including my Operations Manager / CEO / Fashion Consultant / Fiancée, Latthanapon Indharasophang. Don’t even try to pronounce the name. We just call her Ponzi. She’s learning how to: run an Internet-based business, keep her Inbox at a manageable size, and deal with an entrepreneurial geek. We’re a different breed with special needs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what they are, because I’m blind to a lot of my own shortcomings.
Then, there’s our editor, Robert “Bob” Fogarty. He’s been a godsend. I never have to worry about the work he does because he does it so well, without question, without fail. He’s the kind of guy every company hopes to find! He can think independently, and doesn’t need someone checking in on him every five minutes. I wish he lived in Seattle with Ponzi and myself, but he’s currently living in LA. At least there’s no commute time.
Q: What is worse, getting pirated or not getting pirated? You have some pretty interesting ideas on sharing freely and people’s fear of piracy. Can you expound more?
A: If you’re not getting pirated, you’re not worth stealing. That’s worse than having something that everybody wants. Well, if they want it, give it to them – on your terms, of course. Many companies get lost in the idea of control, but when they realize that there’s little to control, it’s likely too late. The Internet changed the way we access information… and it’s only getting further decentralized.
Q: Chris, as the Keystone or Hub in an information ecosystem, you are in an ideal position to make predictions. So make your top ten predictions in any areas of your choosing? Who are the winners and losers? What are the solutions?
Winners? The Hatfields. Losers? The McCoys. Solution? Punch the Monkey.
Q: What are your favorite information links, tools, and other resources? Why?
A: 1) http://www.newsgator.com/ - I can’t live without my Aggregator, but I wish I had more time to use it more often
2) http://maps.google.com/ - I use the service at least once a week, whether I need to or not
3) http://www.pspad.com/ - It’s the best free Windows-based text editor around
4) http://www.maxthon.com/ - The only browser I’d consider using right now
5) http://trillian.cc/ - Because I don’t want to load more than one IM client at a time
Q: Give one example of a major challenge in the last six months and how it was resolved?
A: Gnomedex 4. It started with good intentions, but quickly became my nightmare. The person who helped launched the conference, its location, etc. left the project shortly thereafter, followed soon by the parting of another staff member – and then by yet another staff member. There is no “I” in team, but “I” no longer had a team (for various reasons). Then, we started to work with a production company that wasn’t quite painting a complete picture – while I’m certain their intentions were good. We started working with a coordinator who had other conferences going on at the same time. Again, I’m sure the intentions of this person were good.
I pulled out all the stops and made Gnomedex 4 the best it could be – and it turned out to be the best Gnomedex to date. Had Ponzi not been there, I don’t know what I would have done. She’s amazing. My old friend, Eric Myszka, also helped me through this stressful time in Lockergnome’s history.
Q: How about commentary about your Darth Vader collection starting with your 1977 figure?
A: Heh. Ponzi picked up an original Kenner figurine for Christmas a couple of years ago. It was sitting there on its lonesome and I decided to fill out the shelf with more Vaders. Why not? They’re cheap on eBay because Lucas puked all over his brand.
Q: Chris, it has been fun. You are making a real impact on Internet history and we are looking forward to your future innovations.
A: I wish I had more time to provide more extensive answers to your questions! I’m busy preparing for Gnomedex 5.0 in Seattle right now. Will I see you there in June?
Stephen: Great question considering my schedule…I will try quietly having a quick go of it.