Rise of the Tech Bandits: Pete Cashmore, the Cyborg

Editor's note: In the Summer 2012 issue of SAY Magazine, Dan Frommer chronicles the history of tech blogging. For the rest of this week, Richard MacManus, who founded ReadWriteWeb in 2003, will be looking back on the early days.

Mashable founder Pete Cashmore is described as "studly" in Dan Frommer's article Rise of the Tech Bandits. Pete is undoubtedly a very handsome man, but the funny thing is for a long time nobody knew what he looked like. He was jokingly referred to as the "Loch Ness Blogger," because he was from Scotland and hadn't been spotted in Silicon Valley. After Mashable started in July 2005, Pete and I swapped some emails. However, it wasn't until January 2008 that I finally put a face to the Mashable brand. That's when we met for coffee at the now-defunct Borders cafe on Post Street, San Francisco. Because he'd been so under the radar, I was expecting to meet a shy, awkward young man. He turned out to be a tall, skinny, overly caffeinated chatterbox.

An excerpt from Dan Frommer's Rise of the Tech Bandits:

But it took a while for these publications about computers and the Internet to actually publish meaningful websites. (CNET, now owned by CBS, is one of the rare Web 1.0 media survivors.) In many cases, it was because parent companies split off the Web divisions as separate teams or even different companies.

“When I started out at MacUser, there was an Internet but nobody cared about it,” says Jason Snell, senior vice president and editorial director in charge of IDG’s Macworld and PCWorld titles. “Not from a coverage standpoint or us publishing on it. Which I found crazy. I was actually told by someone, ‘Our future is on CompuServe.’ But even there, there was a completely separate online division, and the print magazine had almost nothing to do with the online presence.”

Both Pete Cashmore and I started out as outsiders; he is from Scotland and I'm from New Zealand. I remember that cold January evening at Borders in 2008, talking with Pete about our shared interest in moving to Silicon Valley. I had some practical issues doing that at the time, but Pete was a 22-year-old, single man and seemingly had little to stop him. So I advised him to do it. Sure enough, four months later he emailed to say he had taken my advice and shifted to San Francisco. Nowadays he lives in New York.

Going to America turned out to be a great move. With his almost airbrushed looks and the kind of work ethic that makes a person skinny, Pete became a social media star. He is - literally - the face of Mashable. His stubbled visage still graces the Twitter profile for Mashable. A lot of tech blogs started out with their founder's face on Twitter, but almost all of them switched to a branded logo by the end of 2010. But then, most of us don't have the chiseled features of Pete Cashmore.

Mashable is a very popular site now, but it employed some dubious tactics in the early days in order to get traction. Artificially boosting its Feedburner subscriber numbers and re-purposing the content of other blogs helped lift Mashable into popularity. However, once Mashable got that initial popularity, it went from strength to strength, and Pete Cashmore proved himself to be a smart, fast-moving businessman. For example, Mashable was the first tech blog to put the spotlight on social networking, which led to it becoming a go-to source for news about MySpace, YouTube and more.

The last time I caught up with Pete was in New York last year. I met him for a drink at a Park Avenue bar near his Manhattan apartment in June. With bleached blond, wavy hair and a stylish white linen shirt, Pete Cashmore looked every bit the social media success story. Still only 25 at the time, he'd come a long way from being the anonymous blogger from Scotland.