An Interview with Robin Wauters of The Next Web on Blogging, Pitching, and Predicting the Future

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By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)

It has been over 6 years since I picked up my virtual pen to start my first blog post. Throughout those years, there has been a small group of elite journalists who have served as a role model and inspired me to keep writing. This group includes names like David Pogue, MG Siegler, Joshua Topolsky, and Robin Wauters. I have been following Robin for years and I believe I first encountered his work when he was just getting started at TechCrunch.

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I have pitched Robin more than a few times, some successful, some a little less, but never, not even once, was Robin rude, something you might expect from a blogger on his level. Sorry, it sounds harsh, but if you have pitched big bloggers, you know what I’m talking about…

Anyway, Robin’s writing is always professional and the few times we met in person at a tech event or anywhere else, were always a pleasure. Robin was kind enough to answer some of my questions below and I, for one, learned a heck of a lot from his answers. Enjoy!

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1. Who is Robin Wauters? Give me some background, both personal and professional.

I’m your average white male in his early thirties who was fortunate enough to be born in a prosperous part of the world. In my case, that would be Belgium, and more precisely in a town next to capital Brussels, although I’m temporarily residing in Barcelona for now, together with my lovely wife and 2-year old son.

My days pretty much revolve around blending fun with work in a continuous effort to make sure the ‘fun’ part gets the prevailing taste of the proverbial milkshake that is life.

I thought I wanted to be a journalist when I went to university (where I lasted about three months) and later college, but changed my mind when I actually started the studies. It’s rather ironic that I became a full-time reporter after deciding that this wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life back when I was studying.

I got a degree in ‘corporate communication and marketing’ and started my professional career as an online marketer in a Belgian technology company. I started blogging (poorly) during that time, and became fascinated with tech blogs and some of the personalities in the small world they operate in.

I moved on from my first job to become the online media manager of an IT publication and started blogging more intensively, which ultimately led me to become a blogger for Blognation, an early global technology news site that blew up spectacularly.

I then contributed to The Next Web as an occasional blogger for a bit, started a startup conference called Plugg and did some social media consulting and writing on the side, before getting noticed by TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington (in a good way!).

Blogged for TechCrunch for about 3.5 years and re-joined The Next Web as a full-time writer in February last year.

2: How and when did you start blogging?

I guess I answered that question in my far too long response to the previous one, but I seem to remember starting my first blog in late 2004. It was mostly about simple links to and sharing short opinions about marketing and advertising campaigns, because that was my job at the time.

I remember getting a nice linkback from Seth Godin on his blog at some point, which was a rather exhilarating experience at the time!

3: How is The Next Web different than TechCrunch in its day to day operations?

There isn’t that much difference to be honest, which shouldn’t be all that surprising because both publications have specialized in mixing fast news-breaking with poignant commentary on the tech industry.

I believe everyone will agree that The Next Web has a more ‘global’ perspective on the ever-changing technology market though, so I would say the writers work closer together across geographies, and think and operate as a team more than a group of individuals. But again, the differences between the day-to-day operations are negligible, if anything.

4: What are three tips you would give a startup when it comes to pitching? I know there are more, what are the top three?

It really depends if you mean pitching in real life (and then on a stage to a group or just to me in a coffee shop), or in an email or another form of communication, but I’ll share some general tips:

1) Cut the crap.

This means using words like ‘leading’, ‘next-generation’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘world-class’, ‘innovative’ or other hopelessly meaningless terms, talking extensively about your professional background and the awards you or your company have picked up along the way, and other clutter that tends to get in the way of what you’re actually trying to communicate.

Just tell us what you do, how it’s different from everything else, and preferably in a way that shows you’re passionate about it. We’ll take it from there.

Your job is to tell us a good story that we think is worth sharing with our readers. The fact that your company or product exists doesn’t typically make for a good story, so make it interesting for us by providing an angle, something truly unique and worth noting for a broader audience.

2) Do your homework.

The same way you would research a supplier before you place a big order, or evaluate an investor before you take funding, get to know the people you’re pitching to. Understand what drives and interests them, and it’ll be that much easier for you to connect to them and their audiences, and select what and how to most effectively communicate your message.

3) Don’t look at press as a tool.

Try to build relationships with journalists before you ‘need’ them, by interacting with them in real life, making yourself available as a good sounding board or source for stories within your space, or by any other means. It won’t guarantee you coverage, but it will definitely make things easier.

If you look at pitching to press simply as a way for you to get ‘free’ publicity for your startup, and by extension as a tool for you to get more users, to close that one sales deal, to finally get a ‘yes’ from that investor, or for whatever other reason, you’ve already lost. Invest time in building a genuine relationship that can last for years or even decades and quit looking at PR as a means that gets you to an end.

5: In terms of tech, what kind of mobile phone do you use and why?

I’m currently using an iPhone 5, but I’m open for change. I’ve used a variety of Android and Windows Phone handsets in the past, and I’m game to start trying out other flavours such as Firefox OS and BlackBerry. I think you can’t be seriously passionate about technology in all its forms and shapes without being open to trying things that are new or somehow different.

I’ve never quite understood these irrational “I use this phone and you use that phone, ergo I’m better or smarter than you”-style debates and thus I don’t get why it should matter to anyone what phone anyone is using, or why. Otherwise, great question. 🙂

6: Do you think it is too late for BlackBerry and Windows Phone? Please explain.

Too late for what? If I were Microsoft, I’d give it a shot. If I were BlackBerry, I’d give it a shot.

What’s the alternative? Sitting at the sidelines without even trying? If either company comes up with something truly innovative, other mobile operating system makers will take notice and copy it and build upon it in some way, and we’ll all be off better as consumers. If not, we’ll probably still be better off as consumers anyway.

Anyone cheering for having less competition in the mobile space in the future (on the field, not in courtrooms), is looking at the market from the wrong side of history if you ask me.

7: What are some of the hottest tech trends we will see in the next two years in your opinion?

Contrary to popular belief, tech bloggers aren’t usually the best predictors of trends, and I personally pride myself in being among the worst futurists in the world.

I have absolutely no clue what the tech trends in the next two years will be, other than the plainly obvious ones like wearable computing and the ongoing and accelerating digitization of entire industries such as education and healthcare.

I’m tremendously excited about what’s possible today thanks to the wonders of technology, let alone tomorrow. I have no opinion about it, I’m just curious.

8: How does social affect your line of work besides the traffic it sends? How do you leverage social platforms?

I use it all the time, to communicate privately and publicly with a variety of individuals in the global technology industry and many of my peers, so it’s immensely important in that regard.

Other than that, I guess it’s also a bit of personal brand building if you want to call it that – I think almost everyone who uses social media does it to paint a picture of themselves or at least how they want to be perceived, and I’m no different. Often, in our line of work, it helps to have that.

9: What does the future hold for journalism? Blogging, traditional, micro blogging, etc. Where do you see journalism in five years?

I have absolutely no idea, and I’m happy not knowing.

I’d wager that not too much will change, for better or worse, but I’ve been wrong about the ‘future of anything’ so many times that I don’t even like to think about it too much.

10: Please share five tips for beginning entrepreneurs.

I’m not really in any position to share tips for beginning entrepreneurs, because I’m not really much of an entrepreneur myself. I’ve started a few companies but I’m no startup founder.

What I will say is that there’s such an extraordinary amount of valuable information out there, available for all to see and consume with often no or little charges involved, that it’s almost criminal not to take full advantage of it.

Read books, blogs, newspapers, talk to as many people as you possibly can (including your perceived ‘competitors’), watch videos, attend conferences and fill your brain with as much information as humanly possible. Then decide what bits and pieces of it, and how, to apply to the building of a great company.

Also this, from my experience talking to thousands of entrepreneurs around the world: if you have an itch, don’t just scratch it. Try and figure out what’s causing the itch, and how to fix that.

Also, hustle. And hustle. And hustle. I hear it’s totally worth it. 🙂

Just a quick thank you to Robin for taking the time and enlightening me with these answers!


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hilzfuld

Hillel is Co Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at ZCast, a company taking on the pain of modern audio broadcasting. Hillel also blogs for many influential sites including TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat, and others. Additionally, Hillel mentors startups across Israel in different accelerators including The Google Launchpad, the Microsoft Ventures accelerator, Techstars, The Junction, and more. Hillel has been named Israel's top marketer, has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, and many others and was recently added by Google to its marketing experts program. You can find and talk to Hillel on Twitter. He is @Hilzfuld.