Eric Schmidt’s daughter has tech ambitions—just not in Silicon Valley3 min read . Updated: 28 Sep 2020, 09:42 AM IST
Sophie Schmidt’s Rest of World covers technology and its impact on societies outside the U.S.
Sophie Schmidt is looking to build her own big name in tech.
In May, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, the multibillionaire former chief executive and executive chairman of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, launched Rest of World, a journalism startup focused on technology and its impact on countries that get little or no tech news coverage.
She has already invested $6 million out of a family trust into the nonprofit and said she is committed to spending as much as $60 million over the next decade to sustain and expand the site and shine a light on technology’s impact beyond developed Western countries.
“This is my life’s project," the 33-year-old Ms. Schmidt said in an interview. “There are three or four billion people who live in markets that are deemed not important enough to address, so there is just a huge gap in understanding what is going on in the rest of the world."
The site has hired about 30 people—roughly two-thirds as full-time staffers—and has begun producing long-form pieces on efforts to digitize once-secret KGB files in the former Soviet Union and the use of Zoom to mete out justice, including the death penalty, in Nigeria.
Other stories have examined the way small communities in Kenya have adopted cryptocurrencies to hedge against economic downswings and profiled the man behind a Telegram channel that played a big role in driving the recent protests in Belarus.
“We are trying to show that there is an entire tech ecosystem alive and well outside of Silicon Valley, and some of the unintended circumstances of how that technology can be used," said Anup Kaphle, the site’s executive editor, who previously worked on the foreign desks at BuzzFeed and the Washington Post.
Ms. Schmidt has no plans to sell advertising on the site or to develop a subscription model, and said she intends to finance the operation entirely on her own. She said she might try to bring in another investor.
English-speakers in Western countries comprise Rest of World’s primary audience, but Ms. Schmidt said some stories will be translated into other languages and distributed more broadly through publishing partnerships with local media groups around the world. The New York-based site, which has been working virtually, is building a network of regular contributors from dozens of countries.
Rest of World enters a crowded tech-journalism market and fights for attention with well-established digital brands from TechCrunch and CNET to the Verge and the Information, which focus heavily on the U.S. tech industry. Foreign reporting is expensive, so the site’s longevity will rely entirely on Ms. Schmidt’s interest in financing the costs.
“Tech journalism has traditionally been very business- and finance-focused and oriented towards the world of venture capitalists, and we want to break out of that model," she said.
Ms. Schmidt said she plans to measure the success of the site by the quality of the audience it attracts. “We’re not going for mass volume here," she said. “I’m interested in building a long-term relationship with readers who have a stake in where technology is headed in the next decade."
Ms. Schmidt had originally planned to launch the site in March, but put things on hold for two months as the coronavirus outbreak ground the global economy to a halt. She contracted the virus early on and was ill for three months. She said she still suffers some lingering aftereffects, primarily affecting her senses of taste and smell.
Before beginning to develop the site in 2018, Ms. Schmidt worked as a public policy and communications manager at Uber Technologies Inc. With an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a master of public administration degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, Ms. Schmidt has worked for tech companies abroad, including smartphone firm Xiaomi Corp. in Beijing and the Dubai office of Afghan media company Moby Group.
“The rest of the world is very mobilized technologically and isn’t always taking the lead from the U.S. and the West anymore. The way TikTok has played out just underscores that point," she said, referring to the popular Chinese-developed video-sharing app that the Trump administration has targeted. “Products and platforms aren’t being built with other parts of the world in mind, so people are taking these things and making them their own."
She said she considers herself lucky to have had inside exposure to the tech world through her father and her early career.
“I had a front-row seat to profound shifts in both the tech industry and the world over the last 15 years," she said. “It’s given me a clear understanding of technology’s fundamental duality: The good comes with the bad, always. But accurate information well told remains the North Star, and something worth fighting for every day."
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