Well, my work here is just about done.
By last Thursday, I had developed a sense there was panic in the air and blood in the water, but frankly I thought Roger was made of sterner stuff. This may all be High School, but he’s the CEO of the company that going to revolutionize journalism and the blogosphere. He can’t afford to be playing High School games, irrespective of whether I can. And if Roger knew what he was doing, he’d know that. Once again, he’s gotten it all wrong. OSM™ is a train wreck of a web site, he and the company have committed a number of very public gaffes, and instead of coming up with a strategy to improve the site, tighten operations and restore some confidence in the venture, he’s over at his web site getting all huffy about me... crazy little old me.
I have my pound of flesh.
My last act in this farce? Give you the story in some detail:
It must have been some time back in mid-2003 that I started visiting Roger’s blog. I liked what I saw, and liked even more the fact that he chose to write a post praising the first comment I made there. Flattery can get you somewhere with me. Anyway, I became a regular at Roger’s site and ended up, in rather short order, as a regular commenter. And, as I am less than completely shy and retiring, I also ended up, and also in rather short order, as one of the site’s more fearsome Fool Killers (Iowahawk described me as a “comment section samurai”, which is probably as accurate as anything I could think of). Over the course of time Roger and ended up passing a few private emails back and forth, but we never had any meaningful contact with each other.
Some time in July or early August of 2004, Roger wrote a post lamenting the fact that he was getting all sorts of traffic at his site, but that it wasn’t making him any money. Well, that aroused the businessman’s curiosity in me, and I sent him a private email asking if he would mind telling me what his expenses and revenues where. He responded quite graciously by sending me the details what his site cost to start and run, and what he was making from BlogAds. After seeing the numbers, I emailed him my condolences and the rather offhand comment that there should be some better way of transforming his site traffic into advertising revenues. For me, that was that. I wasn’t blogging, so it was all an academic exercise to me.
I had basically forgotten all about it when about a week later (I’m working from memory here...all the documents relating to this are archived and at my attorney’s office) I received an email from Roger with the heading of “A Modest Proposal”. In a nutshell, Roger was offering to pay me a direct commission for any advertising or sponsorships I could rustle up for his site. It was an interesting proposal, but not a particularly practical one: I’m a C.P.A. working in public accounting as a sole practitioner, and therefore am less than completely well versed in the ways of the advertising industry. I informed Roger of my complete lack of qualifications for such a task, and then offered a proposal of my own: Let’s see if we can develop a business model that would allow us to bring advertising (and advertising revenues) to bloggers in a manner more sophisticated than BlogAds. Then he could have his cake and eat it, too.
Roger jumped at the proposal and soon we were doing research; I was trying to figure out the advertising industry and Roger was canvassing other prominent bloggers for information. Rather early in the game Roger came to me with the suggestion of bringing Charles Johnson (Little Green Footballs) into the fold. Given Charles’ formidable skills in site design, programming and all things technical, not to mention being one of the true 800 pound gorillas of the blogosphere, I readily agreed. By September it was clear we needed to add someone else to our team...that being someone who really did know the advertising industry. At Roger’s suggestion, I began attempting to recruit an ad pro in Central Ohio who would be willing to join our venture.
Well, that wasn’t easy. I talked to a variety of folks at various agencies both large and small and could not find anyone interested in joining us. Finally, I talked to a gentleman I had done business with, who I’ll call Rocco, who had an extremely successful business in small business marketing. Rocco wasn’t a perfect fit, in that he wasn’t a marketing professional working with ad agencies and the like, but he was a very successful businessman in his own right, serious about making money, and willing to take the risk with the rest of us. Remember this one thing: I gave Roger final say on Rocco. He could have said ‘no’ and that would have been that. What Roger said, however, was ‘yes’.
By October we had progressed far enough to feel the need for a face-to-face meeting. It made sense to all of us that I should fly to L.A. rather than to have Roger and Charles fly to Columbus. So I ended up spending one mid-October weekend in Hollywood with Roger and Charles. We met for dinner on Friday and got down to business at Roger’s house on Saturday. That day was passed brainstorming at the dining room table. The critical spark came from Sheryl Longin/Simon’s description of a clothing retailer’s web site that she found interesting. Within two hours, Roger, Sheryl and I had worked out, in only the broadest of senses, the idea that we would use to sell advertising on the internet. Charles showed up in the afternoon (evidently his bike rides wait for no man) and we began quizzing him over the technical aspects of what we wanted to do. Sometime that afternoon Roger came up with the name of our venture: Tulip Advertising.
We spent Sunday refining our ideas and figuring out how much it would cost us (the guess then was $25,000). To keep costs down, I was tasked with recruiting artistic and legal talent who would be willing to work on spec. Rocco and I were to start developing the system we would use to sell advertising firms and corporations on the concept of advertising through Tulip. Roger and Charles were going to develop contacts with various prominent bloggers, as well as explore the infrastructure requirements necessary to make Tulip work. I flew back to Columbus that evening.
The next two months, through mid-December, were very busy. Rocco and I were learning just how little we knew about the advertising industry and large-scale advertising in general. Roger and Charles continued to work the blogosphere, quizzing people and gathering ideas and feedback. In early December we all agreed it was time to incorporate, so I had my attorney draft incorporation papers. In them ownership was divided evenly between the four of us. Rocco and I signed them and sent them off to Roger. And that’s when everything started to Go South.
I didn’t really think much of the fact that the incorporation papers hadn’t arrived back by early January. They’d been sent out, if memory serves, sometime in the third week of December. That’s not the best time of year to try to get a lot of things done. When I finally did call Roger in mid-January, I was told that he was going to hold onto the incorporation papers because he thought they were going to be reworked. He said Glenn Reynolds was going to come in as a partner. I was surprised, but not unhappy. My thought was if we’re going to sell advertising, here’s Mr. Traffic himself. I told Roger that was fine, and that I’d pass the news on to Rocco. In the meantime, Rocco and I continued working on our tasks.
This set the pattern of much of what was to transpire throughout February and March. Communication, be it by telephone or email, became more infrequent and cryptic. Given that Roger had health issues in February, I really didn’t think much of it, but the change was apparent. Other trends were also becoming noticeable. The most troubling of these had to do with Rocco. Roger was having second thoughts about his participation. Why this was so, I am not sure, because Roger had virtually no communication with Rocco, and didn’t really expend any effort to find out from me what he was doing and how well he was doing it. All I knew was that, irrespective of the reason, Roger was having serious doubts.
A second trend, which in retrospect was actually much more serious, was that Roger’s focus was starting to shift away from advertising and towards media, by which I mean a combination of blogging, journalism and advertising. We had several conversations about what Tulip should be, and I was very clear that what I was interested in was building an internet advertising company for bloggers and web sites. Roger never came out and disagreed with me, what he did was say he was developing contacts with some Silicon Valley advertising firms and venture capitalists. It was all hush-hush, he said, and would give the details when he could. I was not entirely comfortable with this, but I knew I had to give Roger the latitude to follow up on different aspects of what we might end up doing. We were all making this up as we went along, who was I to tell another partner what he couldn’t do?
However, by mid-April it was clear to Rocco and I that something was up. Communication was at a minimum, and what came our way had little to do with advertising. Now my discussions with Roger centered around media and venture capitalists. I kept coming back to Roger about his commitment to building an advertising company, and he kept assuring me it was all part of the master plan. I chose to take his assurances at face value. Rocco, however, did not.
The two of us had a series of long talks in mid-April about Tulip Advertising. He was of the opinion that we should seriously consider going to Roger and offering to take the advertising portion of the business off his hands: Roger and Charles could concentrate on media and journalism, we could concentrate on advertising. And while I basically agreed with everything Rocco said, I asked him to be patient and see what it was that Roger and Charles would bring to us. I remember the exact words I used: I want to be patient about this. I want to ride this horse to the end.
And I did. On April 29th I spent most of my day at a client’s. By the time I got back to my office it was mid-afternoon. I fired up the computer and started in on emails. When I got to one from one of my DTP readers, I got a jolt: It was asking for my opinion on the Pajamas Media announcement on Roger’s site from the day before. That email was the first time I had ever heard of the name Pajamas Media. I re-read the email, went to Roger’s site and read the announcement post, then went in the bathroom and threw up.
On that day, via that internet announcement, I learned each of the following for the first time:
1. The name “Pajamas Media”,
2. That a Marc Danzinger was Roger and Charles’ partner in Pajamas Media.
3. Marc Danzinger himself. I had never heard Roger utter the name.
4. That there was to be an “Editorial Board”,
5. The subscription-based news portal,
6. The media web site,
7. And that Rocco and I weren’t worthy of mention
Then I called Rocco and told him what had happened. He asked what I was going to do. I said I didn’t know.
It took several hours for me to calm down enough to decide on what to do: I sent both Roger and Charles a short email announcing I was terminating my association with Tulip Advertising, Pajamas Media and with them. Within an hour I had a terse email from Roger stating that I was “overreacting”, and that he would call me Sunday, the 1st of May.
I remember that telephone conversation very well. It was tense. I was angry with him, and he wasn’t in the mood to put up with it. And the fact of the matter was, he didn’t have to put up with it. He held all the cards. The conversation was short and simple: Rocco was out completely and I was to be given a chance to “work” for an unstated percentage of Pajamas Media. And then we both lied to each other. Roger told me he wanted me on board, and I told him I was interested in being on board. That was the last communication I had with Roger until the first week of August.
May was not a good month. These were some of the things I got to do:
1. Tell my wife the business I’d spent half and year and thousands of dollars on had been cut out from under me by my “partners”...
2. Tell my father, a successful businessman and multimillionaire, of my great success when he asked how Tulip Advertising was going...
3. Tell Rocco, a business associate I like and respect, that the business venture I had invited him into had ended with him getting screwed out of 25% of the company that had been promised to him by myself, Roger and Charles...
4. Tell a lawyer and graphic designer, both personal friends, that I’d asked to do Tulip Advertising projects on spec so Roger and Charles could forego putting up cash, what had happened and offer to pay them out of my pocket for what they were due...
As it was clear to me within weeks that Roger had no intention of involving me in Pajamas Media, I gathered up the emails, letters, and documents and hauled them to my lawyer’s office and asked a simple question: Do I sue them? He came back this an answer and some advise: A successful lawsuit would be difficult and expensive, and the advise was to let it drop. It was wise council and I took it... for the time being.
It wasn’t until Roger’s little dust-up with Ann Althouse in late July/early August that I roused myself to comment on Dennis The Peasant about my experience with Pajamas Media. Given that my site traffic was around 200 page views a day, and that I didn’t really say all that much (it’s the first in the ‘Ragging on Roger Simon’ category, by the way), I promptly forgot about it. Well, somehow that post got to Roger L. Simon, because the following Sunday morning there he was on the telephone, asking me why I had done what I had and telling me how deeply hurt he was that I could do such a thing to him. He went on to state how much it hurt him that I had forsaken our friendship.
I was at first angry and then repulsed. He told me that Tulip never would have worked anyway because we were in Ohio and they were in California, and that he’d meant to tell me about Danzinger and the rest, but couldn’t because of confidentiality restrictions placed on him by his venture capitalists. When I asked about Rocco, he said Rocco hadn’t worked out and meant nothing to him. And when I asked him why he hadn’t come to us before the announcement, and why he wouldn’t honor our original agreement, he said “That’s business, Ken.” Indeed. There was only one question Roger would not answer, although I asked it several times: What do you want, Roger? That one he wouldn’t touch. He closed with an emotional plea for me to refrain from further criticism and attempt to renew our friendship. I told him I was upset, which I was, and needed some time to think it over. I told him I’d either call or write him.
Which I did. On August 10 I sent Roger a letter. In it I told him I considered him a liar and a cheat, that I resented the way he had treated Rocco and me, and that I had no interest in being his friend. I also told him that if I wished to post about Pajamas Media I would, and that any attempt on his part to answer my criticism would end up with me dumping everything about the venture on the internet. I gave him the name and telephone number of my attorney and told him that if he needed to communicate with me, to do so through him.
And that was that. I thought that was the end of it.
But then came that second weekend in October. It wasn’t even until sometime Saturday of that weekend when I realized that one year earlier I was in Hollywood being wined and dined by Roger L. Simon. Upon that realization, I became enraged. I have been in a 24 hour-a-day Red Rage since then.
I make no apologies for what I’ve done. If this ends up a Pyrric Victory, it still counts, in the final analysis, as a victory. My only other choice was to simply admit defeat and slink away. I could not do that. This isn’t about money or Pajamas Media. This is about my self-respect. This is about getting rid of the nagging feeling that the first time Roger L. Simon saw me, he said to himself, Jethro Bodine, and sized me up as someone he could use and throw away at his leisure. Without consequences. For my own sake, I need to know that Roger L. Simon will regret that judgment for the rest of his life. Now I think he will.
I have been very conflicted about just how far to take this, but instinctively I knew I had to get Roger to respond before I could put this post up. When he posted “Words”, I knew I had him. With “High School”, I feel I have what I need; a post of his that others could compare and contrast to this post. And I knew he’d be as manipulative of others when he did respond as he was with me throughout this affair. I think it shines through.
My contention is simple: The appropriate time for Roger L. Simon to end our business association was when he first realized he no longer wanted to work with me, and the appropriate way to tell me that was by picking up the telephone and calling me. The only thing required in that is basic human decency.
Had I received that telephone call in February, March, or anytime before April 28 I would have been upset and angry, but I would have let it go. But in my opinion Roger L. Simon thought so little of me that he felt he could do with me as he pleased, and then fast-talk his way out of any possible problems. After all, I was Jethro Bodine and nothing more.
I am closing comments on this post. I want it to stand on its own, without distraction. And I will probably not be posting for several days at the very least. I am no longer enraged. I am tired.
Kenton E. Kelly
November 20, 2005