Jon Rettinger | TechnoBuffalo Founder

Over the past few years, the world of tech news and reviews has expanded exponentially. With sites like Mashable and Engadget holding top spots on internet rankings, owning a tech website is becoming a brutally competitive business. Jon Rettinger, CEO and founder of TechnoBuffalo, is in the center of the battle for tech site supremacy, and it looks like he is winning. Originating as a one-man YouTube channel, TechnoBuffalo has evolved into one of the most visited sources for reviews and tech updates. Using a content-creation model that revolves around quality over rapidness, TechnoBuffalo has set itself apart from sites that race to break news first. I sat down with Jon to talk about the rapidly changing tech game, review expectations, and why being first isn’t always best.

Fun Facts:
  • What takes up most of your time? Managing people has taken up 80% of my day. I used to do content generation–which is what I love to do–but it sort of turned into a real business. Managing people has been the biggest struggle.
  • When it comes to running a business, your pet peeves? My background was marketing and advertising. I was an assistant to a marketing agency in LA. I was junior marketing for a while down here. It was a transition trying to be the boss for a while. I went back to school and got an MBA to learn how to manage. People don’t give me an honest answer anymore; they just say what I want to hear. 
  • Employees? All the employees; no one ever tells me honestly. That’s been the biggest struggle–trying to get honest answers out of people.
  • Any guilty pleasures? I love poker. One of my dreams was playing professional poker.
  • So you’re obviously sent tech stuff to review. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever received? Strangest thing we’ve received that we didn’t know about … Yeah, we had sex toys show up at the office. We didn’t know what it was. We get FedEx boxes coming in all the time. This was before we even opened the office; it came to my house. It was a new company, and they had an iPhone app for their sex toys. You could control it from your iPhone instead of having to go down in the business and tweet stuff. So that just showed up, I opened the box, and it was just a box of dildos – “Um, I think you have the wrong number.” I contacted the PR agency, and they’re like, “Yeah, we generally don’t tell people we’re sending it, or else no one would take it.

Take us through a typical day for you.

Jon Rettinger: Generally, I’m up at 6:30 or 7. I’ll go through emails and Twitter messages and check stats on the iPad in bed. Get up, have some breakfast, head to the office around 7:30. We have staff on the East Coast, so they’ve already started their day. I’ll sync up with them, see what they’ve got going on for the day. I’ll go through tech news, eat some breakfast, try to sketch out what videos need to be done for the day. Generally, I’ve got press briefings and PR–that sounds so boring–PR stuff to do. I’ll film, hopefully, and send the footage to our postproduction guy. We’ve been doing a lot of contract negotiations; all of our contracts are due, so do a ton of contract negotiations, and film some more. The guys at the office, we have a “Mario Kart” tournament going on, so every lunch we’ll play some “Mario Kart.” It gets heated. It’s built up the bonds. That damn blue shell that always comes in and kills you! We’ll do that when things get especially stressful. We have Nerf guns; we’ll blast each other with Nerf guns. Do a little bit more filming, staff phone calls, play “Mario Kart” to end the day. Try to head home around 6. That’s pretty typical, average.

Walk us through how you got TechnoBuffalo off the ground.

I’ve always had a problem with authority. I never did well with the boss. I hated working for people–I just hated working for idiots–and I didn’t like making money for other people while I was getting paid $20,000 a year and working 80 hours a week, but I never knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved technology; I used to walk around Best Buy to de-stress myself after a long day. I started off in advertising for a company that does ad work for Honda and Acura, and I was an assistant to that whole place, and I got a chance to see how marketing works. My major in college was religion and classics, so I was prepared for nothing. I was literally prepared for nothing. I’ve always been fascinated by what motivated people, and that seemed like a great way to go, so I went into advertising. I’m 31 now, and my wife is two years younger, and she was just wrapping up school at UCLA–that was 2005, I graduated from college 2003. We both wanted to come back to Orange County–we’re from here–so I found a job doing marketing for a software development company right here, and it got really boring. It got awful to the point where I hoped I would get into a car accident everyday so I wouldn’t have to go; not a big one, just I’d hope I’d run into a stop sign where no one got hurt so I wouldn’t have to go. I kept getting promoted, so I got stuck in a job. It was awful. I was miserable. I ended up running the marketing department and just hating it. I was looking to get a new laptop; I didn’t know what to get. I wanted a Mac–I never had one–so I started looking for reviews and tutorials on how to use the Mac operating system. It was totally new to me, so I went to YouTube, because I’d always watch videos of guys getting hit in the balls and cats playing pianos, but there wasn’t anything on YouTube. So it wasn’t a grand plan where I was like, “There’s a niche I can fill.” I just figured it was an excuse to justify me buying a new camera and fancier laptop, because I could say I was going to edit video on it. I did, and I started documenting my experiences switching to Mac. It’s how it all started. I had the advantage of being one of the first to market just by dumb luck; it wasn’t a giant master plan or anything, and the audience really responded to it.

When you say “first to market,” what do you mean?

There weren’t anybody doing tech reviews out there. YouTube was at that point growing as a search engine–I think its now the second most used search engine–people were starting to search for technology. It was becoming more mainstream, and there wasn’t anybody there that was filling that need, so mine started to fill that gap. I loved the chance to interact with the audience; I couldn’t believe people were actually watching what I was saying, and I would respond to every comment and every email. It was a cool way to interact and talk to people who were just like me. I still am a consumer, and I love technology; these are people that were in the same boat. They were all over the world. I talked to people in the first six months that were from Uganda; they were from places in the globe that didn’t even register in my daily thought. It was cool to see the global tech community start to take shape. And the videos grew and grew until a couple 100,000 were watching them, and I figured, “There’s gotta be some way to monetize that.” I had no experience running a business or anything. The partner program had just started to come about, and they weren’t really accepting that many people. I remember I had less than 5,000 subscribers at the time, and I wrote a letter to–I forgot the gentleman’s name–it was a page and a half letter about why I should be accepted. And I actually got a personal letter back from him saying, “We don’t ever usually say things like this: Thank you, and congratulations on being accepted to the partner program.” I couldn’t—I still can’t believe that I was able to make money from talking about things I love. It’s still shocking to me. It started to grow, and it started to make money, and very soon I was at parity with what I was making at my job making videos, so I figured if I could spend more time devoted to growing  it. I didn’t know how to run a business though, or how to grow a business or monetize a website or anything, so I wrote a business plan just on how to create a tech website and identify some stuff that was being done, and I got laughed at–laughed at so badly that it still scars me. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know what a balance sheet was. They asked me one of those questions, and I was like, “Uuuh, stuff!” So I went back to business school; I went to UCI while I worked and while I revised TechnoBuffalo’s business plan. During my first year at business school, we launched TechnoBuffalo from a small capital base from friends and family mostly. People could buy a percent for–I think the way I started off, people could buy a percent for x amount of money. I was able to raise $45,000. We started building it–we spent almost a year building it–and in September, I left my job, and we tried to launch TechnoBuffalo. I leveraged every social media angle I had to hype this up – “This is gonna be the new big thing,” and we crashed. The site crashed in 42 seconds. It didn’t crash because we had too much traffic; we crashed because we had super, super bad code, and I didn’t know enough to know at the time how to detect it. Everything killed us. We had to burn through all of our reserve capital within the next three months. I had already left my job to get it up off the ground, and we were able to launch it. TechnoBuffalo has found its voice having had the reverse of most sites; we started from video, and video has been a real big part of our site. Instead of using video to augment text, we did it the other way around. I’m a consumer; I love technology just like our readers and viewers, and I think that that’s resonated and come through and sort of helped position us for growth. We had 400% growth last year, and we’re expecting similar numbers this year. Long-winded answer. [laughs]

So basically, you started as a YouTube channel and then used text to augment video, which is kind of an unheard concept. How did you see that process of going from a YouTube channel to a blog?

It seemed natural to me. I had the YouTube channel–which if I had any inkling this was going to be a career or job, I would’ve picked a better YouTube channel name. The YouTube channel name is jon4lakers; it was my old AIM screen name from high school. I created it just to comment on people’s videos. It just goes to show that I had no master plan for this; I just love technology. For me, going from video to blog made sense. I watch a video, and I could immerse myself in it. All the videos that existed at that time were bland – “Here’s the phone; here’s the screen size.” That was it. No one put their personality into it. No one talked about their life while reviewing a phone. There was no fun in it. I thought it seemed like a natural transition. “Oh, I like the video; let me read more about it.” It didn’t hit as big as I had hoped originally. We had a real big couple days, a couple of weeks, when we first launched, and then we petered out. So we had to find ways to get folks to re-establish and look at TechnoBuffalo as a tech site and less as video, which is sort of weird because all I knew was video. That took about eight months for people to think of TechnoBuffalo and not jon4lakers.

What kind of techniques did you use to drive people to the site from your videos? How did you get people to be like, “TechnoBuffalo is the source I need to go to for my tech”?

I tried to do everything. Initially, we tried incentivized giveaways, like giving away a phone; “If you want to enter, you’ve got to enter on TechnoBuffalo,” and I put that in the video so people had to go. We had a series our first year of TechnoBuffalo–“Console Wars.” We had a professional video guy come in and make videos comparing the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and it hit huge–I mean millions of views on these videos. What we did was put trailers on YouTube; it was a 30 second trailer for the full episode, and we hosted the full episode on TechnoBuffalo.  And that got people to start going over there and look. We brought in an SEO expert to try and get organic search. I knew nothing about SEO, but we tried to get people to start going to TechnoBuffalo organically. That hit really big, and mentioning it in every video and having a consistent brand identity; “For more, check out TechnoBuffalo” was really helpful. I think it was the social media sites too and pushing really heavily on Twitter and pushing heavily on Facebook to get folks to start to go. It was very grassroots. Once it started to hit, we started to see that tipping point, but it was really a struggle to get to that tipping point.

Companies are sending you cameras, phones, games, and other stuff to review. How do you decide what kind of stuff you want to have on the YouTube channel or the site? What do you want your writers writing about? Obviously, you can’t do everything.

So the general rule for the video site is: “If it’s interesting to me, I’ll make a video out of it.” We have a lot of startup mentality. We’ll try it, and if it works, we’ll throw it up against the wall, and if the audience doesn’t respond, then they don’t respond to it. I’ve always loved tech, cars, and sports, so we just branched out into cars. We hired a guy who’s starting the automotive department, so we’ll see how the audience responds to it. It totally came out of nowhere. But we’ll try it and see how people respond to it, and we can always branch off to a separate site. We have an editor in chief that sort of goes through and dictates what content–everything gets filtered up to me eventually. The rule that I always go by–and I always tell the staff—is, “If it’s interesting to you, it’ll be interesting to somebody else.” And if the audience doesn’t respond to it, then we know, and that’s steered us very well.

You guys recently started doing games. I noticed you’ve been doing Xbox Live stuff. How’s the reception to that been?

We just started that. We’ve been covering games, news, and rumors and stuff for about a year. We just started the video side of it. It’s been fun, but it hasn’t been me doing it. A lot of people when they come to the channel expect to hear my voice, but we have people on the staff who are way better at video than I am. So trying to get the audience to accept them has been tricky. My whole thing has always been trying to find people who are more talented than me.

I just watched the Trials Evolution one. That guy did a great job. After watching it, I wished I had an Xbox because he did such a great job.

And that was only his fifth video that’s he’s done. He had no video experience at all. He’s been in the video game industry for years; his name is Joey Davidson. The audience is now expecting him to do games and to grow. YouTube negativity is really hard to manage; the audience commenters get meaner and meaner every year.

How do you deal with that? It is such an open forum where anyone can say anything.

It’s awful. People get more mean and racist and anti-everything year over year. I have a pretty thick skin now, so it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. But I know when my wife goes through and reads comments she gets infuriated, and I have to tell guys making videos, “Do not read the comments.” But obviously they’re going to go back and read it, and it’s really discouraging to folks that are new to the video world. It’s awful things ranging from, “You’re wrong; it’s an 8 megapixel camera. Go kill yourself,” to the worst hate words imaginable.

We’ve done articles where we just mentioned Instagram going to Android and how everyone here at our office uses it on iPhone, and people flipped out, and they were like, “You guys are pretentious.” Hold on, we’re just writing an article here!

If we even mention Android or iOS in an article or video, it incites wars that–you can’t imagine how people associate so strongly with a mobile operating system. It’d be like me hating you because you have a Snickers, and I like Milky Way. It makes no sense.

If Canon sends you cameras, are you pretty much going to review every single thing they send you because they’re such a huge name, or are there things where you’re like, “Hey, there’s too much Canon stuff.”

There’s some stuff where we’re like, “It’s not going to be interesting.” Canon’s big name stuff we’ll cover, but if it’s one of their low budget point-and-shoots, it’s the same as everything else. There’s no need to have it. In our industry, companies will send you stuff and expect something in return; never on the record, and always implied but never explicit. We just started buying a lot of our products instead of having companies send them to us.

Companies expect certain levels of reviews from you. “Hey, we’re sending you these Rebels or whatever. We send you these free items, and maybe you can give us a good review.” How do you deal with that?

So it’s never that direct, but it’s always implied. We’re sending you a $3000 camera at our own expense; we’d like you to give all the consideration it deserves. It’s very, very implied, and if we don’t give it a good review, we get feedback from them, or they might not send us another device. I’ve always been under the mindset that I’d rather not have a product and be honest to the audience, because the audience knows when we’re not being genuine. They know, and if you do it once then you get this reputation, and your site is doomed. So it’s been a very tough line to walk between trying to be honest and trying to give a more thorough review and sort of playing that PR game. Videos games are notorious for that; we don’t accept video games from PR. We buy our own games even if our reviews come out a week later. And with phones too. We’ll put out our reviews later if we need to so that we can go out and get the device ourselves so we’re not beholden. We might be second to Engadget or whatever site, but at least ours are honest. The dirty secret is a lot of sites don’t test as thoroughly as they say they do; we know when everyone gets their devices, and we know when they put out their reviews. We get phones on a Thursday, and half the sites have their reviews up on Friday talking about 48 hours of battery testing.

You think it’s whatever company sent the phone is saying, “Give us this consideration,” and the sites, companies, magazines are giving them consideration?

A lot of those sites are giving them that consideration, or they’re just making up a lot of information in their reviews to get it out on time and be first so that they’re the first ones everyone searches for. It’s a traffic game. And that’s been difficult too–to be honest with the audience and still get that growth. Our reviews don’t come out as quickly as everybody else’s, because we really do the tests that we say we do.

Have you found the audience responds better to that honesty, or is quick turnaround more important?

Half the audience says, “I already read this. Why didn’t you post it first? Why didn’t you post it last week?” It’s sort of split. I think people don’t know how the industry works, and I would always rather get less traffic and put out an honest product.

How do you communicate that with your viewers? Do you explicitly say, “It’s is a week later, but this is why we’re doing it,” to your viewers?

I try to say it almost exactly like what you just said. Listen, we run our tests–I don’t mention any other sites by name–we run our tests, we do what we say, and you know our review will be an actual use case. You can’t know a phone after using it for  a day. You don’t know the nuances, you don’t know how it works, you just don’t know. A lot of the sites that do that are run by larger companies, and they’re held by large media where they need that traffic. We don’t have to have that, which has been a very nice luxury for us being a private company. We’re not beholden to anyone, and I think our audience is starting to understand how we do things.

How do you balance between content versus quality? The rule for blogs is to continually update; you don’t want your site to become stagnant, but at the same time you don’t want your site to recycle the same crap or do glorified press releases.

You’re dead on. And that’s tough becoming a news site that just combines information from other sites, so we struggle. Every Monday, we have a conference call, and I always say that I want original content. I want ideas. When you look at a new press release or a new tablet coming out, what do you think? How is it going to affect your life? We have a whole department dedicated just to lifestyle and how this device is going to affect you. Yeah, you can get the specs from any site, but when you come to TechnoBuffalo, you should actually be able to see how it affects you. As a side note–and talking about the blog side—we’re involved right now in a pretty significant lawsuit in how new media is perceived. Back in August of last year, we ran a story about a new phone that was coming out called the Droid Bionic, and someone at a printing house had gotten a hold of the quick tips guide that’s included in the box and took pictures of it on the phone and sent it to us. So we ran through our certain journalistic steps: we verified the images, ran through the whole procedures, went to the editor in chief to verify them, went to me for final go-ahead, and we published it. They were dead-on; it ended up being exactly what the phone had. The printing house–this is a matter of public record–JohnsByrne and Company wasn’t too happy with their information being leaked. This is speculation, but I assume they had some pressure from whoever their client was and decided to sue us to reveal the source. We obviously decided to not do that. We claimed that we didn’t have to reveal the source, because we were protected by state shield laws. They were in Chicago, and Illinois has pretty strong state shield laws and also federal shield laws, and of course, the first amendment. Their response was that we didn’t qualify as press because we were a blog. Therefore, we weren’t entitled to the same protection. And this is where things got tricky, because this had never been–one other time this had been determined by a judge—now, we’re talking about something that could set precedent. So we hired counsel in Chicago and we fought. And the judge wouldn’t hear oral argument; he only read the statements, and the judge sided with the printing house. We’re going through the appeal process right now. The district court can’t establish precedent, but the appeals court can establish precedent. The appeals court will hear arguments, so we’re going through that process of appeals to fight this. We’ve already seen instances where the verdict that the first judge gave has been used for other companies trying to get colleagues to reveal sources. That’s been one of the struggles that we’ve had; how are blogs perceived by old media, and how is new media usurping that throne that traditional media used to have and that fine line that we walk. So if a company sends us a phone to review, we have to disclose per FTC guidelines that we got this from AT&T. So we get all the negative sides by being press by revealing information, but we get none of the positive press protection, and that’s a big struggle that a lot of new media folks have.

Weird, because even Mashable is a blog.

And that’s why this is scary. What happens then? Huffington Post just won a Pulitzer Prize, and they did the same thing. David Pogue writes for USA Today, and he writes about the same stuff we did. Im on CNBC twice a month; we’re on Fox News once a week; we’re syndicated in these giant national video and text publications; yet somehow a judge didn’t think we qualified as press. I mean, it’s asinine that it’s come to that, and I think it shows the slow adoption of new media. I really consider us one of the trailblazers for the industry.

That rolls into my next question. How have individuals reviewing tech on blogs and YouTube changed the industry for you guys?

When TechnoBuffalo first launched, we had three parts to it: We had the blog; we had a brand new social media platform where folks could talk and share social media; we also had a side of it where people could create their own blogs. They could create technobuffalo.com/whatever, and we gave them forward press management, and we gave them the ability to put in their own Adsense code, and we had one of the ads on their own site so they would promote it. The idea was to have that self-perpetuating content, so it’s something we’ve embraced since day one. And I think what you mentioned is a lot of the great things we do and also the trouble. Everyone now considers themselves press. “I have a blog, yet I publish on blogspot.com, so I’m a member of the press and I’m entitled to everything.” So it’s increased the barrier to entry now because people can’t distinguish themselves. It’s really hard to get noticed now until you have a ton of money, or you have big names coming with you. In a case like The Verge, they had all Engadget guys and a lot of financial backing, but if you don’t have that, it’s next to impossible to get your name out there.

You have a pretty big staff now. How do you distinguish everyone’s writing style versus what you want? How do you work with all of your writers to kind of appeal to TechnoBuffalo’s voice but also their own individual voice?

We encourage all the staff to write in their own voice. I want the staff to be personalities. I want when someone reads an article by me or by Todd or by Brendan that they know that style, and they know what they like and what they don’t like. In an impartial way, it makes it more interesting to brand everybody’s personalities instead of just automaton robot author. We have certain things we want everyone to adhere to; we try to keep bias out of it unless it’s stated like, “I admittedly like ‘x’” and that kind of thing. We try and keep everybody impartial, but we do encourage dialogue and opinion. One of the ways we accomplish that is I encourage the staff to be really active in the comments, and I want people to respond, and I want folks that are leaving comments to know that someone’s reading it; they have a voice. Our audience is getting so big that people feel like their voice doesn’t matter, and they don’t have a say in anything. So having the authors respond to comments have helped brand them and let the audience have a say in the site. And they do; I run the company, but I’m still a commenter. I still read every text that I did before I started this, and this is one of the ways we’re helping to differentiate ourselves.

In regard to giving them TechnoBuffalo.com/johnsblog or whatever, have you seen that that kind of user interaction has promoted the site, that people want the chance to be heard?

I actually didn’t finish the story; we actually got rid of that. We got rid of that and the social network. It became too resource intensive to maintain. And that’s unfortunate. We have a thing on the site now where they can submit an article to get features. That’s how we’ve transitioned over. People want their voices to be heard, and there are people out there that have incredible voices that are really well-written, thought-out, and we’ll publish them. We actually hired someone because they submitted user-generated content to us, they were so good.

Are you finding that companies are taking the voice of that collective tech community, or do you think that they are only listening to the professionals?

I can say unequivocally that companies are changing what they are doing because of what the big tech sites are saying about it and what the commenters are saying about it. Last week, I was in Seattle, and I had a meeting with HTC where all they wanted to know was what we thought about their products, and how they could improve, and how they can change. It didn’t appear just to be a PR stunt. It seems like they were really generally interested. We get stuff where I’ll mention a fault with a product, and we’ll get a response from company ‘x’ addressing it. Whether it was planned or not, usually we would get a firmware update. So the commenters do get a chance to get their voice heard. Individual blogs that say something–if it’s not getting a lot of traffic–unfortunately, whether they are right or wrong it doesn’t have the clout to move the wheel.

What do you think in terms of a company having an obligation to its users versus they know what they’re doing? The most recent case is the video game “Mass Effect 3,” where so many people complained about the ending. It bothers me personally–not the ending–but the fact that Bioware is actually saying, “OK, we’re changing it because enough people complained about it.” Where do you draw the line on where a company like Sony or Verizon or whoever can say, “OK, enough people don’t like this feature; we should change it,” or “Hey guys, we know what we are doing; we are a billion dollar corporation”?

It’s such a tough line to walk. If you ask enough people for opinions on your writing, you’re going to get enough opinions. You ask for them, and you get it. And not all opinions are right; people don’t understand the business side of things. “Apple should give away every tablet for free, and they’ll make their money back in apps.” OK, people would love that, and there’s an outcry for that, but it’s not a good business decision. The “Mass Effect 3” thing is a great example. Should the audience be able to dictate that kind of content? In one way, I think it’s awesome that this crowdsourcing can influence products’ road maps. In one way, companies do know what they’re doing, and it’s their product. They have a right to have a crappy ending to their game. So it’s a real fine line between whether companies want to listen, or I think what companies are really trying to do is having the perception that they listen. “We hear what you’re saying, and in the next game we’ll do our best.” And that’s when the PR really starts to put a spin on it, like be really active in the comments, and they’ll set up a forum where you can discuss it. It falls on deaf ears a lot of times.

It really is a tricky line. For “Mass Effect,” they put 70 dollars down for this. Do they have a 70 dollar worth of share to say something?

Everyone’s got a right to say their voice or opinion, but the company has a right to choose to listen to it or not.

Going up against massive sites like Engadget and Mashable, at the end of the day these sites are going to get the jump hot off the press. How do you compete when you’re the second or third source to get it?

Probably, most business owners are the same way: I am insanely competitive to the point to where it can border on being unhealthy competitive. The way I’ve tried to grow TechnoBuffalo was to look at a site that I perceive to be above us traffic-wise and say, “What do I have to do to get that level? What do I have to do to beat them?” We’re at a point right now where we’re only looking at a handful of sites that are above us. When you combine our texts and our video, the only site that pushes more views is CNET, which is sort of an interesting model. So I absolutely feel competition with those sites, and in a lot of ways, maybe it’s the small business model – I always feel like I’m fighting against the machine. When you look at a site like Engadget–owned by AOL–they’ve got AOL resources; endless amounts of money. How do we differentiate ourselves from them? Well first, we’re private, and we don’t have to adhere to any AOL standards. We don’t have the AOL way. We can come out immediately with an opinion counter to AOL or one of AOL’s investments. AOL spreads a very wide net. So we differentiate ourselves that way. We have personalities; our writers, our personalities in video, compared to a site like Engadget. For example, they have very little video, and when they do, it’s generally product-focused. And that was one of the big draws of TechnoBuffalo’s business plan; we did our competitive analysis, and it was the the video side. We want to focus on showing a product immersively; give you a 3D view, show how it  affects me and how it might affect you instead of just showing the product. And there’s also the role of the underdog; people like to root for an underdog. And I don’t know what’s going to happen when we’re not the underdog anymore; that’s a tough mentality to have to change.  But it’s fun because I know a lot of the guys at Engadget. I know what they do, and I respect them a lot. It’s because of sites like them that I’m doing what I’m doing. They paved the way for other tech sites like TechnoBuffalo and others, but I guess to put it all together–differentiation is tough sometimes. People will only go to one place for a product review. Engadget is very formulaic; it’s what they do. And that’s been great for them. We run counter to that formula when we provide a different product; so if you’re looking to go to Starbucks–where we’re sitting–people might come for coffee, but people might also come for hot chocolate. So we try to be the hot chocolate to that. So right or wrong, sites like them determine how sites like us grow and develop.

Do you have advice for people who want to start blogging about tech, reviewing tech, or start their own blog? What advice do you have to business owners and content creators?

The biggest advice I say over and over to people who ask is–a lot of young audience–is, “Get an education first.” A lot of folks and kids say, “I wanna be a tech reviewer. I’m not going to finish high school. I’m not going to go to college.” I’m not just saying that because it seems the right thing to say, but it teaches people how to think. Never take your voice for granted. If folks are starting their own sites and they have a voice, never ever take that for granted. I wake up everyday with this huge smile on my face because I get to play with technology for a living; the audience has given me that privilege to live my dream. The day that folks and new content creators start taking that for granted is the day that they’re not being genuine to the audience. Don’t fall victim to the PR trap of essentially paid reviews for products. It’s really tempting; you can see the sites that go that route. Be genuine to your audience. Don’t try and emulate anyone else’s style. Find your own voice. And find things that are interesting to you. If they’re interesting to you, they’re interesting to other people. Focus on putting out the best content you can. There’s a big misconception that you have to be extremely wealthy to be a tech reviewer, that you have to go out and buy every product, and you have to have equipment. I started out making videos on my MacBook webcam with my bedroom in the background. You don’t have to buy the products. You can talk about your opinions on a product, or how you think the products are going to affect people. You don’t have to spend every cent you have, every cent your parents have. And don’t go in thinking you’re going to be a millionaire from it. If you go in thinking about the money you’re going to make, that’s gonna motivate you. If you think about the great content you’re going to create, and how you can help people make educated decisions, that’s going to translate to the audience, and the money and the rest of it will come.

Website: http://technobuffalo.com
YouTube: youtube.com/technobuffalo
Facebook: facebook.com/technobuffalo
Twitter: @technobuffalo and @jon4lakers

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  • http://twitter.com/MrDanielson Daniel Lomholt

    Great interview. I’ve been following TechnoBuffalo the last couple of years, and it’s amazing seen the site grow. Jon has been a big inspiration to me, that got me started my own tech site. I’ve seen a great interest for my site, and now I actually have a couple of companies  once in a while contacting me to let me review their products. Well, I have been reviewing products from Nokia, HTC, Samsung og Motorola, so it’s amazing to see this  growth. I want to make this for a living, but you really need to have a passion for tech, which I have :-)

    Keep it up!

  • http://www.techomaniac.com Techomaniac

    Beautiful. A very inspiring interview. What i really like how every answer of your is so honest and straight. All the best for your future. I have a very small tech blog and get all kind of sarcastic and mean feedback from people all the time. Your story makes me believe that if you give something your best and keep doing it, in the end its going to pay off. Thanks!

  • http://www.youtube.com/TechSmartt Keaton Keller

    Jon, that was phenomenal. It was almost like I was sitting next to you when you were interviewed. Your voice is so real and genuine that people really understand it. To add to that, people enjoy it too. Thanks again for giving us the awesome opportunity to read more about TechnoBuffalo and it’s foundation. Keep up the videos and posts!

  • Mikeneufeld30

    I.may not agree with everything TB says, but atleast you are getting real truths about products in a very unbiased way.

    Keep up the good work TB

  • http://twitter.com/theliltechpro The Tech Professor

    Thanks Jon I’m a 12 year old author and reviewer and your words are very inspiring!!!

  • hardikchawla

    Yeah!

  • Jon Rettinger

    Thanks Bryan. 

  • Jon Rettinger

    Same here!

  • Jon Rettinger

    Thank you Michael, I’ll look into that. 

  • Jon Rettinger

    Thank you for the kind words!

  • ratul29

    thanks for the inspiring interview, Jon, and Matt for asking brilliant questions. TechnoBuffalo is a success because of a great leader like Jon.

  • aLdZ Tapeceria

    You inspire me Jon.  I read TechnoBufffalo everyday!

  • onixblack

    Sweet mother of god that was long 

  • Michael Cowling

    Great interview Jon. I’m a big TechnoBuffalo fan, mainly the videos (as you say in the interview!), but starting to visit the site more. I agree that one of the reasons I follow you guys on YT is because you have personality, watching a video by you or John Q or Noah I know I won’t just get details on the product, I’ll get a personal viewpoint from somebody that I know a little bit about. Keep it up!

    Also, this interview made me think that maybe you should do an AMA on Reddit? Would be really interesting to see what the redditors have to ask you… :)

  • hardikchawla

    Nice. Hope you defeat that lawsuit.

  • http://www.cellpig.com/ Cellpig.com Co-Owner Bryan

    Awesome, good interview!

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