Barry Diller with CNN's Poppy Harlow at South by Southwest, March 14, 2011 (Photo: Sandira Calviac)
"Everybody here stays out so late," IAC's Chairman Barry Diller said at the beginning of his talk during South by Southwest on Monday. His interviewer, CNN's Poppy Harlow replied, "I went home at 11 p.m. because I thought I couldn't be hung over for this."
Diller wasn't complaining: no stranger to innovation, the former head of Fox Broadcasting and Paramount Studios -- and current boss of Tina Brown -- seemed to find the atmosphere invigorating. "People here follow their curiosity," he said. "The environment is dominated by nobody."
His enthusiasm for the direct-to-consumer aspect of today's publishing and broadcasting worlds seemed genuine (unless it the adrenaline from his 90-minute Segway ride, in which he said he'd nearly injured some people). Invited to comment on the bubble that seems to benefit a few companies such as Groupon, Diller focused on the entrepreneurial spirit and "how much sheer invention is going on."
As for the financial perils of such deals, he said, "it's money lost by people who can lose money, so… who cares?" While some of the current valuations are "mathematically insane … if there's a willing dumb buyer" then why not?"
Still, Diller doesn't count himself in that category, and said that he's not interested in buying "over-overpriced" startups right now.
The discussion quickly transitioned from entrepreneurship to net neutrality, one of Diller's favorite topics.
He called the Internet a "miracle" and pointed out that "it shouldn't have happened," but then reminded the audience that "all communication has always been controlled" and "there is nothing between you and that consumer, wherever they are -- except in China.
"Not having neutrality is the only threat for the Internet," he said. He also called out everyone in the room for not getting involved earlier in the net neutrality debacle. ¨Nobody should "step between the consumer and the publisher," he said.
Not surprisingly, Diller also addressed the recent media marriage of Tina Brown's Daily Beast website and "Newsweek" magazine, over which he presided. "We're going to try," he said, noting that he'll know in six to eight months whether the experiment was a success. "In the end, if you don't have business, you can't do anything interesting."
Diller also had several bits of advice for entrepreneurs:
1) Get enough money to get your idea started, and start
2) Give as little equity as possible
3) Keep you head down and don't talk to anybody
4) Listen to your audience, but only if it makes sense
5) Worst-case scenario, your idea will be a failure and you'll get to do it again
6) Get the noise out of your idea.
After the discussion ended and the crowd began filing out of the room, Pink Floyd's "Money" played and Diller went back to what he'd described as his wife's Angry Birds addiction ...