Leaving AOL (again)

by Peter Rojas

Yesterday was my last day at AOL. Today I'm joining betaworks as an entrepreneur-in-residence, focusing on seed stage investing, as well as working with portfolio companies here in SF and just generally serving as their ambassador to the West Coast. It's a big change for me and I'll write more about it in a later post.

The last time I left AOL I never made an announcement or posted anything to my blog. I've always felt uncomfortable saying goodbye -- I have a bad habit of trying to sneak out of parties -- but looking back I really regret disappearing like I did. I was already working on a couple of new projects (RCRD LBL which went nowhere, and gdgt, which brought me back to AOL in 2013) and at the time I only wanted to focus on what was ahead of me, not behind me. Of course, I realize now that I left without thanking a lot of people at AOL or acknowledging the hard work of the team that I was leaving and I won't make that mistake this time.

First, I have to say thank you to my team at AOL Alpha, who are without a doubt the most talented and capable people at the entire company and who I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with. They've all done amazing work and I look forward to seeing what comes next out of Alpha. I especially want to thank Evan Fribourg, Michael Cosentino, and Drew Lesicko, who ran Alpha alongside Ryan and me. Their dedication to Alpha has been inspiring and I am going to miss working closely with each of them.

I owe a debt of gratitude Jay Kirsch, who helped spearhead gdgt's acquisition by AOL. Anyone who has ever sold their startup knows that you need someone who believes in you championing your deal internally if you're ever going to get something done and we were lucky to have Jay be that person for us (plus he was awesome to work for after the deal closed).

I also want to thank Susan Lyne, who made me her VP of Strategy after she took over the Brand Group a couple of years ago. I learned a tremendous amount from her, and I suspect that everyone who has ever had the chance to work for Susan feels as I fortunate as I do to have had someone as thoughtful and considerate as their boss.

During my first few months back at AOL I pestered Susan (and anyone else who'd listen to me) about the need to shake up the way the company did product development. It was Luke Beatty who actually stuck his neck out to make this happen. He worked to bring Alpha, our experimental product group, to life, and then gave us the organizational cover to do our thing with a minimal amount of corporate interference. Luke is the real deal and I appreciate everything he's done both me for me and for Alpha. 

Leaving AOL also means that for the first time in many years I won't be working alongside Ryan Block, my long-time collaborator, gdgt co-founder, and Alpha co-director. Ryan was instrumental in Engadget's success, and helping to build first that site, and then later gdgt, was a real privilege. I'm honored to call him my best friend and I'm going to miss building new things with him. The good news is that we are going to continue doing MVP, our podcast, so we will be able to continue our collaboration in one small way. And now that I'm in San Francisco we'll be able to record that in person. 

AOL has been good to me. There were a lot of insanely frustrating moments, I'm not going to lie, but it says a lot that they actually gave Ryan and me the resources to go build stuff and then pretty much left us alone. I met a ton of great people over these past few years and I'll say that the AOL I rejoined in 2013 felt like a completely different -- and better -- place than the AOL I left in 2008. Altogether I've spent a good chunk of my career here and it's hard to be anything but grateful.