People have grown so accustomed to online media, particularly newspapers and magazines, that they hardly give them a second thought. Pioneers like Mark Hyland and QuickPlay Media co-founders explored the world of online media before computers and the Internet were as commonplace as radio and television, which have also moved online.
Sramana Mitra: Hi, Mark. Let’s start with a bit of your beginning, and since you were an early founder/investor/CEO, I want you to bridge the story of the two founders as well.
Mark Hyland: Sure. I grew up in Toronto. There was a big moment, I’m sure, with a lot of people in my generation when one day at school, the science teacher delivered an Apple 2+ into the classroom. A bunch of us sat around, figured it out and got it going and started playing with it. For me, that was the beginning of a pretty big fascination with computing and technology. I was always interested in media. So, I went to journalism school. I liked writing. I liked newspapering and television and so on and so forth. Always for me, the themes have been technology and media together and how they influence each other. There’s been a massive set of changes and shifts in the last couple decades in those worlds.
My first summer job was teaching the art director of a magazine in Montreal how to use desktop publishing and Quark Express. He was, at the time, a fairly traditional art director with his loop, looking at the type that had been created by the traditional linotype press. He used to send out layouts to get done, and it would take three days. They would come back, he would make his changes, and he’d send it out, and it’d take three days and … of course, the first time I showed him how to move a photograph in Quark and get the text all re-flowed, he was amazed. That was a fun moment.
Shortly after university, I founded a magazine called Shift, which was all about media and technology.
SM: What year was that?
MH: That was in 1992.
SM: So, it was right before the Internet struck.
MH: Yes. It was right before the Internet struck, and I had a CompuServe account. It’s funny, my mom was pioneer in online media because for Canada’s biggest business and general newspaper, the Globe & Mail, she [worked on] the online version of it, which was called Info Globe. So, at home, we had the 300 baud modem with the acoustic coupler that you put the phone handset on and dialed up and got the screeching sound. But the cool thing was that you could put in your search terms, kind of like Google today, and you’d get all these articles from the past. It became a great research tool. For me, going online was probably more normal than it was for some people in those days.
Shift was great because it was a great excuse to call up anyone we knew and ask for an interview. So, I interviewed William Gibson. I interviewed Louis Rossetto, the founder of Wired, who we got to know a little bit. We hosted them in Toronto. They hosted us in San Francisco. That was fun. The other cool thing about Shift is that it was a small business. There are three of us who founded it. We each did everything. We got our first lease for a tiny office. We set up our network. We connected to the Internet and sold advertising. I remember coming down to the Valley to pitch ads for Sound Blaster cards. I remember being so shocked because I went through my pitch and I said, “So, what do you think? Do you want to go ahead and make the order?” And they said, “Yeah, yeah. We’ll do it. We’ll buy a year’s worth of ads.” For me, it was great moment and also a little bit of an illustration [of the difference] between the Valley culture here and in Canada where I grew up. In Canada, it would always take a little bit longer. Even if people would eventually come around, they’d never say yes right away.
For me and my career, I’m always interested in the pitch and getting pitches. And I try to remember to say yes if my instincts are there. I did an interview with a media mogul in Toronto called Moses Znaimer, who founded Much Music and is a big innovator in TV. He once said in an interview with Shift magazine that the greater deed is yes. Everyone gets lots of nos and lots of advice, but the greater deed is saying yes. I try to remember that.