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I'm With Stupid: Where Great Minds and I Come to Meet

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I got my annual dose of humility this week when I attended the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, an event that brings Wall Street and Silicon Valley elite together for three days of talks and networking. I've been to it four years in a row now, and it's always a good ego check for me.

My head had been a little swollen the past month or so because some guy told me he liked my semiweekly, volunteer radio show. Then Monday I had dinner in a room with a combined net worth of googolplex, none of it contributed by me, and that took care of that.

But I did figure out that since my net worth is probably actually negative, all those people must have negative times as much money as I do to have a positive amount of money. So in that regard it made me feel kind of rich.

On Tuesday, at a lunch and talk on the future of work in this country, the moderator had us all introduce ourselves by saying our names and what we did. There were so many CEOs that it was getting boring. It was like, "Hi. I'm John Doe, CEO of," over and over again, so I, being a CEO myself, gave my occupation as "professional ninja" instead just to break things up.

Seriously. I did.

I like going to the conference, even though a lot of the business and technology talk goes right over my head. It helps me to put a human face to these captains of industry whom everyone decries when they talk about the equality gap. It makes me realize that they're just regular people like I am, except they're well-dressed, clean-shaven, smart, rich and hardworking and they arrived in Aspen via private jet rather than a muddy Toyota with a busted taillight.

This year, the human face of the conference, for me, was a man named Sunil Rajaraman, the earnest, young CEO and co-founder of I met Rajaraman because his public relations person sent me an email asking if I would like to do an interview with him as part of my coverage of the conference.

To understand why this is odd, you need to understand how this particular conference works. It's basically a meat market where the CEOs of startup companies flirt with venture capitalists in hopes of scoring a deal and becoming the next Internet sensation.

Given the relative importance of everyone else there, it seemed strange that one of the flirtatious CEOs would want to waste time talking to moi, perhaps the lowest person on the totem pole. But he did, so I said sure, I'd interview him, even though I had no intention of writing about him.

You see, his business is something I'm actually quite interested in, as it involves paying a stable of writers a set, comparatively low fee for churning out blog posts and other content for websites. The lowest rate they pay, which is actually high compared with's contemporaries, is $24.50 for 400 words, which works out to a per-word rate of roughly 6 cents. For comparison's sake, top magazines pay a dollar or more per word.

Rajaraman said the $24.50 fee was based on what's people felt was a generous hourly rate, and they're right: That would be a generous hourly rate, but if it only takes people an hour each to research, create, edit, proofread and send 400-word stories, chances are that some of those stories are going to be pretty craptastic, like the one I saw recently that recommended driving Colorado Highway 82 from Glenwood Springs to its terminus at the Royal Gorge, which lies about 100 miles away from the actual end of Highway 82.

Rajaraman acknowledged that quality control is an important issue, and for that reason uses editors, who also get paid a good hourly rate, to ensure that two sets of eyes see each story before it's passed on to the client.

I was going to protest that the editors likely don't know any more about the subject than the authors and are unlikely to fact-check the stories they edit, but then I realized it was pointless to fight. and its ilk are the future of writing, and I should just get used to it.

Besides, I could write 400 words in half an hour and double my hourly rate if I knew that I didn't have to worry too much about being right.

Todd "Royal Gorge" Hartley is so named because he likes to wear crowns to buffets. To read more or leave a comment, please visit