Axes To Grind

Having and "axe to grind" is a phrase that means you’ve got a dispute to take up with someone or possibly an ulterior motive. I’ve seen and/or participated in several such axes in the past 24 hours and it’s gotten me thinking that the Internet, email, blogging, etc is a particularly great way to grind such axes.

Alley Insider and Valleywag have posts up today addressing the WSJ story about Insight Venture’s individual partner’s making a $3mm investment in Photobucket that turned into $40mm for them personally instead of their LPs. This is a tricky part of the venture capital business, full of conflicts, and one that I have had to be very careful about myself. When I read the story, my first reaction was why this story and why now? Photobucket was sold almost two years ago. It turns out that both Peter kafka of Alley Insider and Owen Thomas of Valleywag were pitched this story and didn’t bite. And Owen Thomas wonders outloud on Valleywag:

I was fascinated by the question of who wanted to get Insight, and
why. I’m still at a loss. Insight has a low profile in the industry; as
a late-stage investor, based in New York, it rarely dabbles in Silicon
Valley’s splashy younger startups. (Its sexiest investment is
SkinnyCorp, the New York-based parent company of Threadless, a website
which sells T-shirts.)

So: A spurned entrepreneur? A rival venture capitalist who lost a
deal to Insight? It’s useful to keep in mind that venture capitalists
can make a lot of money on side deals — deals they heard about in the
course of doing their day jobs. ‘Twas ever thus. The person who thinks
he ratted out Insight, though? He’d like you to believe that some
venture capitalists are so venal and so foolish as to torpedo
their entire careers over a tiny deal that happened to turn out well.
Insight’s opponent, whoever he is, underestimated the firm’s
intelligence — and some reporters’ intelligence, too.

Yesterday I got an email from a person who is unhappy with TypePad‘s data portability offerings. He is "trying to get the word out that TypePad’s users are truly locked in". He asked me to blog about it. Others have blogged about this issue, but I didn’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable so I forwarded the email to a friend at Six Apart. My friend wrote back that:

Since day one TypePad’s provided an easy way to get your content out of the
tool, with the well-documented MT import/export format, and for
years has supported domain mapping so that users can own their own URL
and keep that with them if they choose to move their blog to another
platform or service.

[He] rightly points out that the MT import/export
format doesn’t include the permalink of the entry. Our efforts now around data portability are focused on the IETF standard
AtomPub, which is fully supported in TypePad.

I then passed that back to the guy who emailed me. I guess I am now weighing in on and highlighting this debate, but I still don’t know where I come out on it. I am all for data portability within reason. But it’s also clear to me that the people who are taking on Six Apart have some sort of axe to grind and I don’t know what the motives are and that bothers me.

I’ve also had several email exchanges and one blog comment in the past day with people who have complained about one or more of our portfolio companies. This happens to me a lot, at least a few times a month, but it happened several times yesterday. I always refer these people to right people in our companies and take mental note of the complaint. Most of the time, these complaints are totally legit and I am well aware of the deficiency and trying to help our companies address it.  But sometimes the tone of the complaints, the level of anger and tone of the conversation, leads me to wonder what’s up with the people who are making them. Do they have an axe to grind?

I guess journalists deal with this all day long and have developed tools, tricks, and techniques to deal with this issue. I could use some advice as an investor and blogger to help me deal with it. I think it’s only going to grow as an issue for me.

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