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Jul 13, 2012, 5:00am PDT

Entrepreneur lays Economists end to end, reaches his own conclusion

Managing Editor- San Francisco Business Times
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Another would-be Internet disrupter is taking aim at an entrenched media empire from San Francisco, and nobody can accuse Atul Singh of thinking small.

His target is the Economist, the 150-year-old London-headquartered, globally circulated newsmagazine that’s long been required reading in the halls of power, both governmental and economic. Atul’s vehicle, the Fair Observer, has recently moved headquaraters from the nation’s capital, the better to pitch for investment. The online-only media company focuses on analysis of international issues with articles written by more than 300 (now unpaid) contributors from more than 30 countries, with offices in Europe and the United States.

Atul’s critique of his established rival has to do with what he calls a “very paternalistic, post-imperialistic worldview. The Economist thinks it is still the 1850s and (the British) are still running the global economy and the sun never sets on the British Empire.”

“We think it’s a great magazine and we think it’s the best in the business, but we think we can do better,” Atul said. “It’s early days. It took them a long time, a century or more. Eventually we’ll get there.”

Atul’s own pedigree is nothing to sneeze at: With a family rooted in the Indian aristocracy (his uncle was a prominent politician), he has a master’s from Oxford University and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s part of the multinational elite that makes up a slice of the Economist’s readership.

Atul’s been working his global connections to build Fair Observer since launching it in 2010. A German accelerator program contributed office space in Sunnyvale. From European financial giant Allianz, Atul wrangled free space for a Berlin office next to the Brandenburg Gate. What’s eluded it so far is investment, thus Atul’s relocation to be next door to the hub of the Silicon Valley VC machine.

So for now, it’s self-funded. Fair Observer is mostly working out of a large house not far from the Balboa BART station. It’s packed with 20-somethings from Germany, Switzerland and Spain. They are not paid, but get to stay at the house for free. And the fridge comes full of beer.

There’s no indication this is causing concern in the Economist’s offices near London’s St. James’s Square. We asked; they didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Jim Gardner oversees print and online news coverage of the vibrant Bay Area economy.


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