Adrian Holovaty Talks about EveryBlock Sale to MSNBC.com

    by Mark Glaser
    August 25, 2009

    The big news last week was that Knight-funded startup EveryBlock was bought by MSNBC.com for an undisclosed sum. EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty is one of the Idea Lab bloggers, and has been a pioneering programmer/journalist at the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan., and at the Washington Post.

    There had been some online scuttlebutt around the way EveryBlock released its open source code, and then was bought by MSNBC.com, so I thought it would be a good idea to go straight to the source, with a Q&A with Holovaty himself. The following interview took place over email, and included a couple questions from folks via Twitter.

    What was the toughest part of doing the acquisition?


    Adrian Holovaty: I had never dealt with term sheets, purchase agreements and all that
    deal-related stuff previously, so that was probably the toughest part. Fortunately, we had great lawyers, a number of friends kindly helped at various points along the way, and many entrepreneur-focused resources are available online these days. I’m happy with how the process went, and I learned a ton.

    i-234ec55d5b709fe94d7c66cd2c80b9cc-adrian holovaty.jpg
    Adrian Holovaty

    Did you have a backup plan for EveryBlock in case the acquisition didn’t go through? What was it?

    Holovaty: Yes, we were lucky to have several options for EveryBlock, but I’d rather not discuss them, out of respect for confidentiality. My ultimate personal backup plan was to try to make a living as a professional musician, selling recordings and online guitar lessons
    and things like that.


    I know NBC has plans to launch various local sites. Did they talk to you about how EveryBlock might be included in those?

    Holovaty: We’ve been focused on getting the deal done and haven’t dived too deep into specifics on strategy and tactics.

    Tell me three things that the deal will help you expand on EveryBlock.

    Holovaty: Three areas of expansion are:

    • Expanding our coverage to include new cities.
    • Expanding the amount of news we publish in the cities we already cover.
    • Adding features that give EveryBlock a richer user experience.

    Any downsides in making the deal with MSNBC?

    Holovaty: They’re not based in Chicago, which makes some things trickier but other things better (like the fact that our team will remain pretty autonomous). Other than that, I can’t think of any huge downsides; if there were any, we wouldn’t have done the deal.

    What wisdom can you share with other Knight grantees about the process of moving from grant-funded project to one that’s owned by a media company?

    Holovaty: I haven’t seen much difference so far, which is a credit to the folks at the Knight Foundation, who were incredibly hands-off during our two-year grant. We’re essentially autonomous now with MSNBC.com, and we’ve been essentially autonomous for the past two years with Knight. I suspect the transition would be much less smooth with other
    foundations or with other acquiring companies.

    I’d like to know whether EveryBlock will continue to update the code and whether they plan to release more (as open source). (Question from Daniel Bachhuber via Twitter.)

    Holovaty: We’re going to play it by ear and see whether it makes sense to release updates to the code we released on June 30. We’re under absolutely no obligation to release any, but, at the same time, we might do so if it makes sense to do so.

    Did you get interest in a buyout from newspaper companies? If so, why didn’t they fit? (Question from Jeff Sonderman via Twitter.)

    Holovaty: This topic was a mini-meme around the time of the acquisition announcement, and it amused me to no end, because the question makes very little sense.

    It’s like asking me, after I put together a band of musicians, why I didn’t choose the musician who spoke Portuguese. What difference does it make if a musician speaks Portuguese? I’m going to pick the band member based on how good of a musician he is, not which languages he speaks. That’s completely unrelated. Of course, if our band planned to tour in Portugal, it might be a different story, but let’s put it this way: the band is not planning to tour in Portugal.

    Tagged: adrian holovaty buyout everyblock msnbc
    • Bryan

      Does anyone have an idea of how much MSNBC paid for Everyblock? We had a pretty good idea how much Google paid for YouTube, NewsCorp. paid for MySpace, etc.

      Any numbers available on this purchase?

    • Haven’t seen any numbers put on this deal. I know Knight paid $1.1 million to fund it, so I would guess a buyout would be for more than that. Not sure that they had any revenues so you couldn’t base it on that. If MSNBC.com was a public company, maybe there would be a way to see how the buyout affected their finances. Otherwise, we’d have to get the information leaked from someone involved.

    • From all of the articles I saw linked, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD was the only one that mentioned a more specific number: “several million.”

    • Another thing I’d be interested in, and this may have been covered before, is why only some and not all of the code was released as open source? My understanding of the News Challenge is that all of the code developed with the funding must be released as open source at the end of the funding period.

    • Bryan

      If MSNBC.com was a public company, maybe there would be a way to see how the buyout affected their finances.

      Isn’t MSNBC owned by GE? That would make them a public company, right?

      It would be interesting to know the total amount they spent to buy it. $1.1 million is a rounding error in the GE/NBC budget, I’m sure. But I’d imagine the technology would be worth much more to them than that. Also, why MSNBC and not NBC proper?

      Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it expands, modifies and succeeds in the future.

    • Daniel: Absolutely all of the code that powers the Web site has been open-sourced.

    • Mike

      Daniel, here’s whatthey released:


    • Adrian, as a newspaper guy who’s been interested in Everyblock for a while, I have to ask for clarification on your last bit, if you’re still reading this. In your analogy, what exactly is “speaking Portuguese”? And what is “touring in Portugal”? Thanks.

    • @Bryan

      Just to respond to the public company issue, such deals are so tiny relative to the size of a corporation like GE, that that they’d never be under any obligation to disclose the amount they pad. It’s possible, but unlikely, that they might volunteer it. Given that the amount paid is small, and that EB has no revenue, there’d be no material impact on the company. Just to be clear: that’s not a critique of EB one way or the other, just standard procedure in deals like these.

    • Actually, MSNBC.com is part of MSNBC Interactive News LLC, a private joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal. More info here: http://www.hoovers.com/msnbc.com/–ID__104147–/free-co-factsheet.xhtml

      MSNBC TV is now fully owned by NBC Universal and Microsoft bowed out of that venture. Anyhow, as a private joint venture I don’t think they have to release details on the buyout.

    • @Adrian I stand corrected. Thanks for the clarification

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