Pete Cashmore: Internet playboy

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HE IS lauded by millions as an expert in his field, with offices in New York and San Francisco, and a Twitter account that boasts more followers than Stephen Fry and Lily Allen added together.

Yet the average Scot would struggle to recognise Pete Cashmore's name, let alone embrace him as one of our own.

From his modest headquarters in the Kincardineshire town where he grew up, he oversees a business with revenues of seven-figures, and has a status in the online world befitting that of a true international star.

"If people ask what I do," the 24-year-old says, "I tell them I write about the web and cover new stuff that's happening. That's the simplest way I can put it."

It is a straightforward approach that has won him an international fanbase. Cashmore's business, Mashable, is the web's third most popular blog, visited each month by 4.7 million people eager to digest the latest online applications and features.

The former Banchory Academy student can be considered a true champion of the web world, feted on the West Coast of the US and commuting on a regular basis to New York. But he admits he gets his best work done at home in Scotland.

He founded the firm in 2005 from his bedroom in his parents' home and, after leaving school, contemplated reading law or politics before becoming increasingly bewitched by the possibilities of the internet.

"I saw wider opportunities in the web than I did in anything else," he recalled. "It's the biggest thing to happen in my lifetime, there's no other way of having that reach on the world."

The Scot relocated last year to San Francisco Bay – regarded as the new tech hub of the US – to network and build up his business.

Silicon Valley embraced him, and he has featured in the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, and Business Week. At parties and networking events in Silicon Valley, he worked the room with the most advantaged Ivy League graduates. Hosting his own party there, he was spotted high-fiving fans, bear-hugging colleagues and guests and draping his arms around glamorous women.

Some have even been known to become mildly aggressive with the photographers if they fail to capture their photo opportunity with the playboy of the western web.

His looks have inspired the gossip columnists to coo over the young CEO, dubbing him a "playboy of the web," and the "Brad Pitt of the blogosphere".

"I don't intentionally self-promote," Cashmore says. "I kind of just let it wash over me.

"I do worry that people will start thinking of me as some kind of 2-D character.

"I'm always written about in this sort of context," he says, referring to the party reports.

"I mean, no-one ever writes, 'Pete spent the day working at home today'. But there are competitive advantages to that kind of visibility, you know."

Eventually, the relentless rounds of networking and meetings, invigorating at first, threatened to take over. The call of Banchory became too powerful to resist, and earlier this year, he moved back home.

He said: "There was recognition there (in the US], a certain aspect of being known. But I don't go in for that stuff. You have to remember how you became successful and don't lose your focus."

Like most teens, Cashmore was a fan of early social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo. He began avidly consuming blogs devoted to new developments on the web, before starting to write about them himself.

Yet he did not entertain the notion that he might make a living from it. "Bloggers were being lambasted, it was seen as a hobby. No-one thought you could ever make any money out of it," he said.

Nonetheless, he devoted himself to the idea of a "community" which shared his interests in social media, and gradually, his readership swelled, and he found companies seeking out his advice on the latest trends.

Working 20 hours a day, he soon took on his first member of staff and two years ago advertisers, lured in by Mashable's vast audience, began to come on board. The firm now employs 12 full-time staff across six US cities, with a further 25 writers.

As the vanguard of that brave, if curious, new world known as Web 2.0, Mashable is essentially a pathfinder through the world of interactive networking.

Described by its founder as a "social media guide," it offers up breaking news and provides tips on how to get the best use of sites like Facebook and Twitter. Founded in July 2005, Mashable is the largest and most popular blog focused on social networking.

Besides relaying the latest news about Web 2.0 giants MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, it's loaded with tips on enhancing your own social networking experience (for example, how to delete the idiotic comments you made on YouTube so a potential employer doesn't see them) and making your blog more user-friendly.

Yesterday for example, members logging in could follow a what was bannered as a simple step-by-step guide to creating their own video mixing together music, moving images and photographs.

Within the site members are encouraged to contribute to their own techno-community, sharing ideas and examples of their work.

The atmosphere is friendly and offers an thriving alternative to the original social networking sites that inspired its creation.

There's an eclectic mix of photo albums, animation and personal video clips, with intriguing titles such as Monty Python meets Star Wars, Lego Spiderman and Pink Panty Plea all intended to inspire or be adapted.

Technobabble is strictly avoided – Cashmore wants Mashable to become a consumer-focused site, offering a "guide to the web. It's a refreshing approach to a medium which can seem overwhelming to amateurs trying to scratch the surface. Life in Kincardineshire, it is fair to say, is considerably quieter than his time Stateside.

Cashmore can go about unknown – although he admits to a few contacts "expressing surprise that I have more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter".

But his popularity is based on what he does, and what he does he does well.

He said: "When I'm working, I prefer not being distracted, so Banchory is a great place to be.

"It distances you from everything that's happening in San Francisco and New York, which I like. It lets you take that step back."

His average day will begin in the early evening, when most commuters are returning home. Then, while others sleep, he is online, liaising with his US staff until the following morning.

"Banchory is home to me. The only challenge I face in Scotland is synchronising timezones to speak to people," he added.

"The winter can be hard. I wake up when it's dark, and go to sleep when it's dark. It's a tough couple of months.

"But the US didn't feel like home, and I just have to live with the unreasonable hours. I'm the one person, after all – I can't ask people in San Francisco to work on UK time."

Scotland, he says, has a wealth of technology talent, but in order to maintain its vast audience, Mashable requires US exposure.

He said: "Scotland's had a problem with its population which is hard to get over, and that's true of the UK as a whole.

"We have a lot of great tech talent in Dundee and the east coast, and we're very good at industries like gaming.

"It's not a difficult place to start a company, but if you want the reach the biggest market, you have to have a presence in the US."

What they say about Cashmore

"Tech media wunderkind Pete Cashmore is widely regarded as an expert on how to use, consume and profit from social media."

Forbes Magazine

"Rumour has it that Pete Cashmore, the unfairly handsome Mashable blogger, has also been kicked out of the PopSugar-TechCrunch party."

Gawker website

"Cashmore, 22, is aggressively handsome. He's tall and slim as a reed, with a neatly shaved head and a superhero's square jaw."

Details Magazine

"Ladies, he's Mashable! Peter is no mere internet tool; he's here to throb hearts at Internet Week"

New York Observer