Editor’s note: ‘Trep Talk is a column on personal insights from the people behind the big ideas.
Pete Cashmore carries a quiet sense of urgency wherever he goes, despite his easygoing demeanor. As founder of the influential technology blog Mashable, the 25-year-old has been labelled everything from a tech wunderkind to one of the U.K.’s “Britons of the Year” in 2010. But the accolades do not impress him. Cashmore sees success as an ever-moving target, which drives his compulsion to be “on top of everything all the time.”
Growing up in the rural village of Aberdeen, Scotland, the self-described geek was a sickly child who befriended the Internet as a bedside companion. Missing too much high school to graduate with his peers, he earned his diploma two years later– an early example, he says, of his tendency to be “ridiculously persistent.”
Intrigued by the Web and its democratizing power, Cashmore opted out of college and launched Mashable at 19. He started the blog in an effort to decipher technology for a mainstream audience in 2005. Today the 44-employee company, with offices in New York and San Francisco, draws more than 12.5 million unique visitors to its site every month.
As Cashmore sits down for this interview with ‘Trep Talk, his relaxed tone is mostly grounded in seriousness. Still, a rare chuckle emerges when it’s clear he’s about to own up to something. Edited interview excerpts follow.
On discovering a passion: The Internet was appealing partly because it was something I could do in bed and feel like I was achieving something. I had an operation when I was 13 and ended up with complications, so I was in and out of the hospital. The bottom line is you can get through health challenges. It’s part of why I was so driven.
Biggest startup challenge: Not only did I not have connections, I wasn’t in [Silicon] Valley. But I did have an outsider perspective, and as it turned out that was an advantage because there’s a mass market that wants to know what the coolest gadgets are and how to use Facebook, Twitter and other [technology] to get ahead.
How my parents learned about Mashable: I always had the sense I’m not really where I need to be, so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll tell them, if it takes off.’ I never did. About a year into it, they found out when a Daily Mail reporter knocked on the door, wanting the story of who was I and where did I come from.
A single obsession: If it doesn’t come through the Internet, it’s not really compelling to me. I don’t have a TV or watch movies. I don’t like to be broadcast to, I want to participate. The Internet is an engaging experience. If I can’t engage with it, it’s frustrating and I don’t feel like I have any influence over it, so what’s the point.
Justified play: I like gaming on my iPad and iPhone. But I’m thinking this is the next wave, so it’s kind of justified.
Biggest lesson learned: Execution really shapes whether your company takes off or not. I’m very much a creative person, but you’ve got to do the follow-through. A lot of people start out with an exciting thing and they want to take over the world, but really the people who do take over the world have a good plan of how to get there and the steps along the way.
On being the boss: The talent that has to be learned is finding out what someone’s passion is and setting them up to realise that. You don’t get the best work from people if you’re guiding them versus them guiding themselves.
Loyalty… is incredibly important. There’s a base of stability in [our] organisation that [feels] like we can weather anything because we have these relationships with key people and they’re going to be with us whatever we do.
On creative space: It takes a long time to recalibrate if you let people pull at you all the time. A lot of stress comes from reacting to stuff. You have to keep a certain guard [on your availability], if you’re a creative person. You need space to try things and create.
favourite niche news source: Trendwatching.com. Every month there’s a big article on what’s changing and what should businesses be focusing on, if they want to benefit from it. I read every word a hundred times. I like that big-picture thinking.
Three people I wish I could invite for dinner: Richard Branson. Albert Einstein, who was a little zany — I think eccentricity is good. And Bono [lead singer of U2] because of the awareness he brings to charitable causes and there’s a lot we could do together. He’d be great for our Social Good channel.
On starting young: I kept my age quiet for a good few years. I didn’t see it as a positive. I worked remotely, so I just didn’t tell people. I tried to look older as well. I keep as much facial hair as it takes to do that. (Laughs.) You just want to be judged against everyone fairly.
What’s a Competitive Advantage for a Young Entrepreneur?
Tip for young ‘treps: There’s an advantage to having a certain degree of naivete about the challenges and the way things were before, so you can build something in a completely different way.The opposite of me: My parents told me not to take risks. They’re still like, ‘Well, I don’t know if you should do that, it sounds risky.’ It’s also somewhat of a British thing to be anti-risk.
What I learned from dad: My dad is good at sticking with stuff and he has a strong work ethic, which is imbued in me. Growing up, he would constantly ask what I was doing and was I achieving anything. Now, he’s the opposite. (Laughs) He’s like, ‘Oh, you should work less. It seems like you work the whole time.’ I say, ‘I do. Well, you told me!’
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