Onto the next chapter

Written by Adrian Holovaty on August 15, 2012

In July 2007, I founded a company called EveryBlock. August 31 will be my last day at the company.

I've worked on this for five years, three of those after selling it to msnbc.com, and I've developed an uncontrollable itch to do something new.

There was no single event, person or experience that swayed my decision -- just a gradual realization that I've done what I wanted to do with EveryBlock and am hungry for the next thing. I've really enjoyed building the site, collaborating with talented people and breaking ground in several areas, from open data to mapping to local news -- but I've realized lately that I don't have the passion for it that I once did.

As I leave EveryBlock, the product and team are in the best shape ever. I wouldn't have been comfortable leaving a year, or even six months, ago, but our president, Brian Addison, has got things firmly under control, and the product/community/bizdev teams are more effective than they've ever been. We've got huge traction in large parts of Chicago (where, in a number of neighborhoods, more than 10,000 residents each are signed up for the service!), and other cities are more modest but promising. I'll continue to be a loyal user, and I look forward to seeing what the team does next.

Over the past three years (EveryBlock's post-acquisition period), msnbc.com has been a fantastic company to work for. With EveryBlock, it's managed to do something very rare: not only keeping it alive post-acquisition (which the acquired company cannot take for granted), but achieving the delicate balance of providing guidance/resources and keeping their hands off. Most acquisitions fail, and Charlie Tillinghast and the msnbc.com folks have bent over backwards to avoid that with us. I can't think of a better place for us to have ended up than msnbc.com.

(An important, related aside: Just about a month ago, NBC News acquired msnbc.com. I want to explicitly point out that the timing of my departure has nothing to do with that. I'd actually come to my decision before I had any idea the NBC News thing was going to happen; that's just the way the timing worked out. I urge all journalism-industry armchair pundits not to jump to conclusions or generate artificial conflict.)

Going further back, I want to thank the Knight Foundation for the $1.1 million grant to start EveryBlock back in 2007. The foundation set three concrete goals for me: build EveryBlock, launch it in 10 cities and open-source the code. More broadly, the context around the grant was to test the concept of geographic news feeds, asking the question, "What interesting things happen when we aggregate news and data at the level of city block?"

I believe it was a tremendous success. Here's some of what we accomplished in five years:

  • We helped jumpstart the open-data movement. In 2007, we were basically the first consumer-focused entity with a full-time person (Dan O'Neil) devoted to convincing city governments to open their data feeds. At the time, city employees responded to us as if we were crazy. "You want WHAT? A daily feed of every crime? How about I give you these paper printouts once a month?" We did a ton of informal lobbying, spoke at relevant conferences and (most importantly) built a product based on civic data that showed municipalities that there was consumer-level demand for their stuff. Eventually, open data became trendy among cities, and these days it seems like every major city has a data portal (e.g., Chicago, San Francisco). And no less than John Tolva, CTO of the City of Chicago, has credited us with helping inspire the city's (awesome) open-data policy.
  • We helped jumpstart the movement toward custom maps. In 2008, Web mapping equalled Google Maps. Everybody used the Google Maps API, and few mainstream sites had the vision and skills to make their own maps -- their own color schemes, fonts, road sizes, etc. We believed we could do better, and Paul Smith and Wilson Miner figured out how to do it -- no easy task, given the horrendous documentation of the time. Paul's article for A List Apart was influential, I gave a keynote advocating custom maps at an early Where 2.0 conference, and these days sites such as Apple and Foursquare have started making their own maps.
  • Our open-source code made an indirect but strong impact. In 2009, at the end of our grant period, we released the EveryBlock source code. Very few people have used it to create EveryBlock-ish sites for their own cities, but indirectly, a lot of prominent people derived a ton of value from the code, learned from it, and went on to create amazing things. I've gotten dozens of emails and in-person "thank yous" from people who say the EveryBlock code taught them how to do geographic stuff in their Web apps. Kevin Systrom, CEO of Django-powered Instagram, emailed me in 2011, saying "I learned most of what I know about Django by reading the EveryBlock source code."
  • We've made a difference in neighborhoods in our 16 cities. Since we changed focus to neighborhood discussion in March 2011, EveryBlock users have used our service to accomplish amazing things in their neighborhoods: starting farmers markets, catching flashers, raising money for their community, finding/reporting lost pets (way too many cases to link to...) and generally getting to know their neighbors and forging community bonds. These days, something like this happens on the site nearly every day -- which casual onlookers might not notice because of our long-tail, neighborhood-specific focus. EveryBlock has become a force for good, and it's got a bright future.

Beyond those successes, I thank the Knight Foundation for bringing out the startup guy in me. Before EveryBlock, I had very "safe" jobs, working as a Web developer at newspapers, with steady income. The Knight grant gave me a chance to take a huge risk while maintaining a financial safety net. It was a great gateway into the startup world, and now, of course, I'm eager to do it again!

And that leads me to the big question: What's next? Honestly, I don't know. I have a pile of side-project ideas and a bunch of started-yet-unfinished ones lying around -- from small stuff on the scale of the YouTube Insult Generator to bigger things. If you've got ideas, get in touch. I do know two things: I'm staying in Chicago, and I'm ready, once more, to make something awesome.


Posted by Will Sullivan on August 15, 2012, at 3:34 p.m.:

Congrats on all your success with Everyblock, Adrian. I can't wait to hear about what you'll cook up next.

Posted by John Bracken on August 15, 2012, at 3:36 p.m.:

Congrats, Adrian!

Posted by kioopi on August 15, 2012, at 3:39 p.m.:

Godspeed. I'm excited to see what you'll end up doing.

Posted by Andrew Huff on August 15, 2012, at 3:48 p.m.:

Good luck, Adrian. I'm excited to see where you go from here!

Posted by John Barnicle on August 15, 2012, at 3:51 p.m.:

Best of luck, Adrian.

Posted by brian whitman on August 15, 2012, at 3:52 p.m.:

congrats adrian!! I hope you finish up that music editor / learning thing you teased at PyCon!

Posted by Dave Gustafson on August 15, 2012, at 3:54 p.m.:

There he is. Good luck with this major transition. I, too, am excited to see what's ahead for you.

Posted by Aaron Salmon on August 15, 2012, at 3:56 p.m.:

Congrats Adrian! I'm excited to see what comes next!

Posted by Ralph Gage on August 15, 2012, at 4 p.m.:

Rock on, Adrian. Best of luck to you.

Posted by miranda mulligan on August 15, 2012, at 4:02 p.m.:

Wow. Congrats … exciting and intriguing. Can't wait to find out what you will be up to next.

Posted by Marc Wilson on August 15, 2012, at 4:02 p.m.:

Congratulations Adrian, and we look forward to your next great adventure!

Posted by Sam Giroux on August 15, 2012, at 4:05 p.m.:

All the best man! It take a lot of guts to jump off the cliff and hope the parachute opens. Keep me informed on your next steps.

Posted by tiffehr on August 15, 2012, at 4:05 p.m.:

Congratulations, Adrian! I look forward to what you get into next! (However, my sympathies for EveryBlockers and extended fam under the NBCNews umbrella who will miss working with you.)

Posted by Steve S on August 15, 2012, at 4:15 p.m.:

Best of luck to you! I look forward to seeing what comes next...!

Posted by Stephanie Behne on August 15, 2012, at 4:18 p.m.:

Thanks for posting the note! I've watched your career as a journalist (and musician) with interest since we met briefly, and I look forward to reading posts about your next career move, as well as about your little guy at home. (Maybe you could let me have an interview, too :)

Posted by Brad Flora on August 15, 2012, at 4:19 p.m.:

Best of luck to you Adrian!

Posted by Daniel X. O'Neil on August 15, 2012, at 4:22 p.m.:

Way to go, Adrian! Some of the best times of my life: typing into the Internet with you, Paul, and Wilson.

Posted by Jeff Judge on August 15, 2012, at 4:22 p.m.:

Awesome! Thanks for building Everyblock and pre-thanks for what's next.

Posted by John Granatino on August 15, 2012, at 4:29 p.m.:

Best wishes as you reach this crossroad, Adrian. Whichever path you choose from here, be sure it's aligned with your passions. If it is, then your choice will never feel like work.

Posted by Ryan Pitts on August 15, 2012, at 4:46 p.m.:

Exciting! Congratulations and best of luck to you.

Posted by Julie Shapiro on August 15, 2012, at 4:57 p.m.:

Wow! Exciting. Big. Can't wait to see what's next...

Posted by Patrick Beeson on August 15, 2012, at 5:05 p.m.:

Congrats! You and your work have been an inspiration to me for years now. I can't wait to see what comes next!

Posted by Hy Addison on August 15, 2012, at 5:48 p.m.:

You are an exceptional guy, and I'll keep it short by passing along my old traditional family toast: "You should have what I wish you."
All the best.

Posted by Ken Sands on August 15, 2012, at 5:51 p.m.:

The best is yet to come.

Posted by bryan knight on August 15, 2012, at 5:59 p.m.:

congrats dude! stoked to see your next phase!

Posted by John Li on August 15, 2012, at 5:59 p.m.:

Congrats Adrian! Can't wait to see what you build next.

Posted by Sharon Burns on August 15, 2012, at 6:10 p.m.:

Congrats Adrian. Glad you are staying in Chicago, yea for us!

Posted by Brian Ray on August 15, 2012, at 6:23 p.m.:

EveryBlock is amazing. Good luck with what is next. I am sure it will be the best ever...

Posted by Andrew Pergam on August 15, 2012, at 6:41 p.m.:

Congrats, Adrian -- and best of luck in what's next!

Posted by George Oates on August 15, 2012, at 6:58 p.m.:

Congratulations, Adrian! EveryBlock is/was prescient in so many ways. Fantastic to see you leaving on a high.

Posted by Al Tompkins-Poynter on August 15, 2012, at 6:59 p.m.:

What ever you do-can it involve a guitar?

Posted by David Cohn on August 15, 2012, at 7:04 p.m.:

I know that Everyblock is in good hands.

The worst thing about a good startup is that it ends up sucking all the time/energy of its founder. Granted - that time/energy is used to construct a beautiful thing - but I for one am curious to see what you end up doing with that time/energy back.

Posted by Andy Keil on August 15, 2012, at 7:35 p.m.:

Thanks for popularizing open data. Looking forward to what's next.

Posted by Thomas Gam Nielsen on August 15, 2012, at 7:38 p.m.:

Dear Adrian. Congratulations with your big decision and good luck with your next steps. All the best, Thomas

Posted by Carrie Jensen on August 15, 2012, at 8:02 p.m.:

Best of luck with your creatin'! I LOVE LOVE LOVE Everyblock... it's done wonders to create "community" in my neighborhood (Uke Village represent :)

Thanks for everything. Can't wait to see what you come up with next!

Posted by David Schalliol on August 15, 2012, at 8:13 p.m.:

Congratulations, Adrian! May your future endeavors be as significant.

Posted by Jody Brannon on August 15, 2012, at 9:28 p.m.:

I knew you when! Go forth and prosper further, always dancing to your own tune.

Posted by Bill Gannon on August 15, 2012, at 10:04 p.m.:

Best of luck Adrian!

Posted by PE_Feeds on August 15, 2012, at 10:31 p.m.:

Good luck with your next venture!! I learned about EveryBlock last year and have subscribed and been a fan. Cheers.

Posted by Taisa Seneczko on August 15, 2012, at 11:18 p.m.:

You and I go waaaaaaay back! I can't wait to see what the future holds. Good luck!

Posted by Gerd Kamp on August 16, 2012, at 4:49 a.m.:

Congratulations from the other side of the pond. Good luck with your next steps.

Posted by Kella Hammond on August 16, 2012, at 5:21 a.m.:

Congratulations, Adrian! I am certain you will most definitely make more awesome happen in the near future. In the meantime, can I just say yet again how grateful I am that you're playing guitar at my wedding this month? You rock.

Posted by Mark Roth on August 16, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.:

Onward and upward! Enjoy the freedom to find that passion again! Go make music and hang with your family for awhile and it will come to ya. ;). You have just had an amazing run.

Posted by Bart Brouwers on August 16, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.:

Everyblock has always been an example for dichtbij.nl. Our success is - in part at least - caused by your activities, your experience and your inventions! Thanks for that again and best of luck to you.

Posted by scott heiferman on August 16, 2012, at 3:47 p.m.:

congrats & thanks & onward & upward! come say hi in nyc soon

Posted by Javaun Moradi on August 16, 2012, at 6:59 p.m.:

Congratulations Adrian, you deserve everything you've achieved. I can't wait to see what you do next.

Posted by Paul Bissex on August 18, 2012, at 7:14 p.m.:

I remember talking with you five years ago about the larval Everyblock. Congrats on a great five years. I look forward to seeing what's next!

Posted by Pam Fine on August 18, 2012, at 8:23 p.m.:

You did indeed jumpstart journalism in hugely important ways and as significantly, you became a model for a digital-age journalist: tech savvy, entrepreneurial, public-affairs minded. When you're back in Kansas, or available to Skype, pls let us know. We'd love to have our students meet with you...All the best....

Posted by Robb Montgomery on August 20, 2012, at 8:24 p.m.:

Congrats Adrian!

I look forward to seeing you where your next adventures in creativity take you.

Robb Montgomery
Berlin, Germany

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