Engadget's Founder on TechCrunch Under AOL


Michael Arrington, one of the most outspoken and wild tech bloggers, is about to get a corporate boss, following AOL's purchase of his site, TechCrunch.

Peter Rojas once found himself in a similar position. He founded Engadget in 2004. A year later, it was scooped up along with the rest of Weblogs, Inc by AOL. Rojas, who has since founded a new gadget site, stayed on at AOL for a couple of years before striking out on his own again.

We thought it'd be interesting to hear what Rojas had to say about integrating into what was then AOL-Time Warner -- and what Arrington might expect at today's AOL.

The Atlantic: In 2005, Engadget was purchased by AOL. How'd things change for you when that happened?

Peter Rojas: I was finally able to hire all my writers and give them real jobs with benefits and that paid them what they were really worth. We also finally had enough servers to keep the site from crashing, which was a huge relief to me. Otherwise AOL left us alone, no one ever tried to meddle with the editorial or tell us what to do or not do.

The Atlantic: How was it working with AOL's management and corporate culture? Anything easier or harder than you expected?

Rojas: I worked on a couple of projects inside of AOL (but outside of Engadget/Weblogs Inc.) and found it pretty difficult to get stuff done. I think it was partly that I simply didn't know all that well how the rest of the company worked, but also that at that time AOL was still saddled with way too many layers of management. The company is way more streamlined now and it shows.

The Atlantic: Do you have any advice for Arrington about continuing to run his site within the AOL corp?

Rojas:The company Mike is joining is a very different one than the one I left, and he's lucky to be working with AOL's (I guess Aol now) current management, but my advice would be to do what I did: just run things as you see fit.

The Atlantic: Why'd you end up leaving AOL?

Rojas: Engadget/Weblogs Inc was bought by Jon Miller and Jim Bankoff, who were running AOL at the time. I was close to those guys, and I wasn't happy when they were pushed out. The guys that replaced them (Ron Grant and Randy Falco) were incompetent and almost destroyed the company, and I couldn't see a future for myself there anymore. Bringing in Tim Armstrong was a brilliant move and if he had been CEO I probably would have thought twice about leaving, but I also know that I love doing startups and no matter who was in charge it would be hard for me to not want to take one of my ideas and see where it could go.

The Atlantic: After you left, you launched a new gadget site, GDGT. How's that going?

Rojas: The new site is going really well, we closed a second round of investment (from Spark, TrueVentures, betaworks, Ron Conway and Aol Ventures, among others) earlier this year and are just working hard to iterate and improve the product. I'm definitely having a lot more fun now!

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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