March 15, 2015
How big would the overlap be in a Venn diagram of IHE and GigaOm readers? Did you read GigaOm? Are you saddened by the news last week that GigaOm is closing down?
The news of GigaOm going out of business hit the technology / online media community with a similar force that the closing of Sweet Briar College hit the higher ed community.
Like Sweet Briar College, there was little indication that GigaOm was in any immediate danger.
The financial situation of GigaOm and Sweet Briar had not set off any alarm bells before both entities announced their closing. GigaOm had received $22.3 million in 6 rounds of VC funding, including most recently an $8 million round in February of 2014. (Interestingly, one of GigOm’s major investors was Reed Elsevier Ventures). Sweet Briar College has an endowment of $85 million and a debt of $26 million. Forbes had given SBC a Financial Grade of “A” in its most recent ranking.
GigaOm had a good reputation for its in-depth analysis of tech trends. I never felt in reading GigaOm that I was getting thinly veiled press releases or thoughtless cheerleading for hot tech companies.
Will Oremus, writing on the demise of GigaOm in Slate, comments that:
"GigaOm was not the only modern media organization that respected its readers’ intelligence, and I’d be hard-pressed to say it was the best. In traffic, it lagged behind its more breathless rivals, including TechCrunch, Mashable, and Business Insider. But it did good, honest work, and it cultivated skilled journalists who knew what they were talking about.”
Sweet Briar College has a good reputation amongst the liberal arts community. SBC was tied for a #116 ranking amongst National Liberal Arts Colleges in U.S. News rankings. The Princeton Review ranked SBC at #13 for “best career services”, #10 for “best college dorms”, #4 for “most beautiful campus”, and #18 for “most accessible professors”.
From the response of SBC alumnae to the news of the closing it seems clear that Sweet Briar College was doing many things well. Writing in the Opinion Pages of the NYT’s, Julia Patt - a 2009 graduate - remembered that: “Our professors were always on hand to answer questions or continue classroom conversations over coffee.”
Can thinking about GigaOm and SBC together provide any lessons? What external forces such as changing technologies, competitive forces, demographics relate both to the GigaOM and SBC stories? What internal strategic decisions and leadership choices might the GigaOM and SBC stories share?
At a very basic level, it feels as if the life of an organization now closely mirrors that of an individual career. All of us share a fundamental lack of economic security. Unless you have tenure at a wealthy institution (a very small fraction of the entire postsecondary labor market), there is little long-term job security. This unpredictability extends up to the level of the larger organization, and down to the level of the individual career. Doing many things reasonably well, as both GigaOm and SBC were doing, is no guarantee of a positive outcome. This is true for the company/institution that you work, and the job that you currently hold.
Volatility, not security or stability, is the watchword of today’s economy.
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