Critical Fans (or how Mixergy did the Impossible)

I’m a regular reader of Hacker News from the beginning. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a community site where people post, vote on, and comment on links that are of interest to hackers. A corollary of that is that people want to find new stuff. For instance, I don’t subscribe to TechCrunch or any of the general tech news sites, I just read the good stuff that makes onto the Hacker News homepage.

Every once in a while, some writer ends up having every thing they write posted to Hacker News for a while. (Well, there are lots of people who get everything they write posted to HN but the problem I’m about to describe only affects those that write frequently). Whether it’s a flurry of good writing, or exposure to new readers that get excited about their archives, they can end up with several links on the front page, or something of theirs posted every day of the week. The problem is that for the HN readers that already have an opinion about this writer, these links are noise. If you like the writer, you’ve already subscribed to their blog, and if you don’t like them, you don’t want to see them every day. So tension builds, snarky or negative comments get posted, and then there’s a backlash against links to that writer. After the backlash, the links from that person slow down and once again, only the best of their stuff gets posted rather than everything they write. I’ve seen it happen with Coding Horror, Seth Godin, 37signals, TechCrunch, and others.

This brings us to Mixergy. Mixergy is a site with daily interviews of successful entrepreneurs. The interviews are broadcast as live video, then available for download in audio or video format later. There are a couple things that make Mixergy special. First, Andrew Warner gets excellent guests. In addition to many big names in tech and enturepreneurship, he finds a constant stream of people with interesting and valuable experiences that you’ve never heard of. Second, it’s very well produced – interviews are at the same time every day, there’s a calendar of upcoming events so you can plan ahead to watch ones you’re interested in, the video and audio recordings are up later that day, and there’s a community-produced transcript for each episode. Third, there’s a strong community that participates in the interviews, suggests and connects new people, and pushes Andrew to continually get better. But the biggest strength by far is Andrew himself.

Most podcasts are somewhere between god-awful and tolerable. The “best” ones are still generally a couple of guys shooting the breeze with maybe something resembling a plan. But Andrew researches each person he’s going to talk to, prepares questions in advance, sends the questions to the interviewee, and has a pre-interview talk with them, including going over which questions won’t be answered (like finaicial figures). Despite all the preparation, Andrew probes for and chases down whatever interesting tidbits come up in conversation, then works his way back to the plan. Nothing gets past him or left out by him. For instance, when he was interviewing Rahul Sood of Voodoo PC, he was very meticulous about the timing of Rahul’s entrepreneurial activities as a teenager, including when he bought an old house in Calgary that he ended up selling later for $1M. If you listen to Andrew talk to someone for an hour, you’ll feel like you’ve known that person for years. And after 200+ interviews, he has his technique down pat.

Those are all great, but the thing that really makes Andrew special is how gracious he is. Listening to him talk makes you feel like he’s shaking your hand, but the really nice handshake where they put their left hand on top of your clasped rights. He’s extremely polite and thankful to all of his guests, his listeners, community, and sponsors. He seeks out, graciously accepts, and implements feedback he receives on his site and other forums. He’s truly a class act, one of those people you want to hate for being so good, but there so good that you can’t help but like them. I haven’t met him but I’m sure if I did, he’d make me feel like a million bucks and that he was the lucky one to get to meet me.

Back to Hacker News, there has been a Mixergy backlash building because his interviews have been posted every day for the last couple of weeks. People were starting to get agitated, but then something amazing happened. One person asked:

Serious question: is Mixergy considered a worthwhile site? Haven’t I seen it dissed on HN before?

I was worried that people were going to pile on, but then 10 people responsed, all positive, some extremely so. Here’s a sample:

I think it’s a life-changing site for sure and you get to hear from industry veterans first hand about a lot of relevant info. What more do you want?

They’re always really useful interviews. It’s like having several more long chapters in the “Founders at work” book.

If there was a Pulitzer for startup interviews, I’d expect Andrew Warner to be nominated.

I’m counting on Andrew’s insightful interview techniques so that he can “conjure” up from interviewees all the knowledge that they’ve build along their entrepreneurial experience so that we can learn from their successes and even failures.

Wow! Google could open source their search algorithms and I don’t think they would get as ringing praise as that from the HN crowd. Andrew, if you’re reading this, please know that you’re doing something very special as Mixergy and there are many, many people who appreciate it. Keep it up!

If you’re not Andrew and you’re interested in entrepreneurship at all, listen to a few of his interviews. While each person’s story is unique, hearing many of them helps you pick out common issues, pitfalls, characteristics, and opportunities. Mixergy lets you walk in the footsteps of giants, rather than fumbling in the dark.

UPDATE: Read the followup about how to Building Your Own Mentor here

Comments

  1. says

    When I slowed Rahul down so I could ask him for more details, I wondered if someone listening would thing, “Andrew, get on with it. You need to keep the interview moving. Be more like James Cramer and less like NPR already.”

    Glad you understood what I was doing.

    It feels so gratifying to know someone like you is listening.

  2. says

    Thanks Peter for adding my comment in the list: “I\’m counting on Andrew\’s insightful interview techniques so that he can “conjure” up from interviewees all the knowledge that they\’ve build along their entrepreneurial experience so that we can learn from their successes and even failures.”

    I truly believe Andrew is indirectly guiding me to the right path of entrepreneurship. His show is like having 10 experienced business coaches in one. I wish him success and prosperity.

  3. Olivia Khalili says

    Peter–great piece. I love how you set up the story about the response on HN. I’m a huge fan of Andrew!

  4. Gcam says

    Great writeup, I just discovered (2 weeks) Mixergy and as I’m writing this I’m listening to the interview with Jeffery Kalmikoff from Threadless. Andrew’s interview style reminds me of a couple of buds sitting around having a conversation. I love the format and have been taking notes and forming strategies for myself and clients. Let your haters be your motivator, keep the interviews coming.

  5. says

    I’ve been a consumer of mixergy for a while and have always been impressed at the access we have first to Andrew (he’s responded to every question I’ve asked him, either answering it himself or pointing me to the answer) and how we get what is essentially wide open access to the guests as he always invites the audience to feed some questions and does a great job working the good ones in. A pretty awesome resource. Good write up, props for sure.

  6. says

    How people can complain about sites like Mixergy always amazes me. But then again, there are always people who prefer to sit and bitch, rather than learn and take action.

    Mixergy is a goldmine for those looking to learn and take action. And Andrew himself is a gem. I truly believe that in all of his interviews, even the ones where he really pushes the interviewee, his motives are entirely honorable – to help us, the viewers.

    He genuinely wants to get past the ego filled boasting and the BS that many companies feed to the regular press and cut through to the real truth about starting and running companies.

    You will become a smarter entrepreneur by regularly watching Mixergy.

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