Alex Wilhelm: A Story of How Scotch and a Shitty Blog Will Help You Go Green
When I first started getting serious about blogging, I stumbled across Alex Wilhelm’s blog. Before he found a long term home at The Next Web, or our venture together with TechGeist, Alex was a solo blogger using Typepad featuring horrendous grammar. Yet, he was intriguing. I followed him on Twitter (of which we were both addicts), and found ourselves bashing the tech blogosphere together. We shared a particular distaste for TechCrunch, and a no fucks attitude toward writing.
At this time, I was 16 still in high school, and Alex was in his second year of college. Making age one of the few things we didn’t have in common. After a few months of blogging on our own domains, we decided to start writing together. At first, we simply guest posted on each others blog, and made sure to spam the hell out of every social network imaginable. This was back in the days when Plurk was still considered a viable contender to Twitter.
This simply wasn’t enough. While traffic grew on our respective blogs, the growth did nothing to satisfy our urge to become actual voices of influence. Instead of horsing around on our own properties, we teamed up with Alex’s roommate Michael Klurfeld, and teen coder Tyler “ChaCha” to start TechGeist.
Our goal for TechGeist was simple: be better than TechCrunch. While our goal was bluntly stated, nothing about being better than TechCrunch was simple in practice. At 16, I was still in high school, and lacked the time to produce posts during the peak hours of the day, leaving me to cover the evenings. Tyler was very much in the same boat, and while Michael covered the daily news well, it was clearly Alex who held it all together.
After four months of blogging with TechGeist, traffic was growing significantly. By that time, we had been linked to by nearly ever major tech blog, featured on Techmeme, and landed on the front page of Digg/Reddit a number of times. We had gotten big enough that when I wrote about Robert Scoble being wrong, he called me an idiot and blocked me on FriendFeed.
Yet, as our blog grew, our bank accounts dwindled. Getting sponsors to simply cover hosting was next to impossible, and the time we put in was starting to take its toll. As we discussed this issue in our daily Skype chats, Zee from The Next Web had begun to look for more tech bloggers to hire. It was here that a true test of our friendship had begun, as Alex and I both applied for the position.
Truthfully, we both knew it was a long shot that either of us would get hired. TechGeist was still insignificant, and our writing was cringe worthy. We told Michael and Tyler of the job opening, and we all agreed that if either Alex or I got hired, that it would be handled amicably. Still, we weren’t overly concerned that it would come to such a point.
But as most assumptions tend to be, we were very mistaken. Zee expressed interest in hiring Alex to The Next Web, almost immediately. Shortly after, Alex called the team to inform us of the news. At first, Alex assured us that he was still invested in TechGeist, even saying he’d write using a pseudonym. He even contemplated turning down the offer, at which point I put on the brakes. We all agreed he should take the job, and that we were very happy that he got it.
It was at this moment I knew I had made a true friend. As competitive as I was, there was no insincerity when I told Alex that he deserved the job that Zee offered. If anything, I was immensely proud that something that I had been innately apart of lead to someone else’s personal success, even if it had cost me my own.
Upon Alex accepting the job at TNW, the fate of TechGeist hung in the air. It was clear Alex was the foundation of the blog, and there was no way in hell the rest of us could make up for the loss of work. TechGeist was crippled, and we had no means to fix it. With no money to pay writers, we decided to close TechGeist down.
Instead of simply shutting down TechGeist though, we decided to keep it live for just a bit longer. Since we had never truly meet each other, it was time to fix that issue before we closed that chapter of our lives. After a day of convincing my parents that I could make it to Chicago in one piece, I drove eight hours to see some of my closest friends and colleagues for the first time.
When I arrived on the University of Chicago campus, a loud and beer tinted Alex appeared. After settling in, and reminiscing over what we had accomplished, Michael Klurfeld whipped out a bottle of scotch. It was expensive (or so I was told), and as Alex poured me a glass while waxing poetic about the “earthy” flavors of the drink, we shut down TechGeist with a buzz.
From then on, Alex began seeing great success in his blogging career. Meanwhile, Michael Klurfeld moved to D.C., and Tyler continued on his nerdy expeditions. I began writing for many publications, eventually working for a web startup for a year.
During all this, Alex and I managed to keep in contact. We discussed our ambitions, and reiterated our desires to work together again, even as he moved up the The Next Web chain of command. I once promised him drunkenly that the day I start my own blogging property, he would be the first writer I would hire, even if I had to steal him from TechCrunch. We both laughed, and moved on.
Hilariously enough, that joke was no laughing matter.
As of today, I will have to follow through on that statement. Alex Wilhelm is now a writer for TechCrunch, and I couldn’t be any happier for the man. I have yet to meet any blogger that deserves it more, and I can’t wait to see how he interacts with the community. I am sure alcohol will be involved, and I am positive that the concoction will make for epic comment gold.
For those that get the opportunity to work with Alex at TechCrunch, please enjoy it. It will be time truly well spent, and hopefully short-lived. I have every intention of following through with my drunken promise.
Until that day though, Alex, this glass of wine is for you. Keep fucking rocking, because I have no doubt you will.