The hacked Sony emails show how Silicon Valley dealmaking really works

The Lynton files.
The Lynton files.
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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Sony Pictures’ thousands of hacked executive emails, published yesterday on Wikileaks, have already highlighted significant drama at the studio.

But now that they are more easily searchable, typing a few simple keywords—names, companies, internet domains—reveals a fascinating trove of communication. These discussions include financial negotiations and personal (and professional) favors; the messages range from the mundane to the regrettable.

Snapchat stories

Snapchat, the fast-growing messaging app that is expanding into mobile video, is a frequent topic. That’s for good reason: Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment and Sony Pictures—whose emails these are—is on its board.

In one January 2014 correspondence, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo emails Lynton, noting he has “a couple big ideas” about how Twitter can work with Snapchat and its young, impressive founder, Evan Spiegel:

I just wanted to send you a note that I am going be coming back to LA next Friday to talk to Evan again about a couple big ideas we have about working with SnapChat, and I’ve also asked my CTO to be as helpful as possible to Bobby about scaling the platform. If you have any specific ideas you think it would be helpful to add to the mix, I’d be delighted to hear them, otherwise I’ll of course let Evan follow-up with you about things we can be doing together.

Almost two weeks later, Costolo is back with another message about Spiegel. “I’ll stop making all of our conversations about Evan,” he writes, “I promise.” Costolo links to this presentation Spiegel had given the day before at the AXS Partner Summit, and then gushes.

I really think he is one of the best product thinkers out there right now. Thoughtful, understands what the shifts in the landscape actually mean for people, clearheaded about what the implications are for product and design. Great.

The theme of communicating through media instead of around media is crystal clear and articulated simply. Really impressive.

Were Costolo’s “big ideas” to try to buy Snapchat before Facebook could? (Snapchat famously turned down Facebook, too—a decision that keeps looking better.) Twitter and Snapchat have not announced any formal partnerships since then, and the two appear to be heading toward more head-on competition.

Other emails focus on Snapchat’s various rounds of private investment. For example: Former Apple executive Scott Forstall—who has remained out of the public eye since his dismissal from Apple—was listed as a Snapchat advisor in early 2014, as TechCrunch first noticed.

In another email chain, New York venture capitalist Ken Lerer—whose correspondence with Lynton was sometimes very personal, suggesting friendship—is asked to wire $1 million for participation in Snapchat’s Series C financing. Lerer—like Lynton, a former AOL executive—had not been previously disclosed as a Snapchat investor, and his firm Lerer Hippeau Ventures does not list Snapchat among its investments.

A month later, Lerer—showing his value as an investor—writes to introduce Lynton to another entrepreneur whose company he has invested in, Rob Fishman of Niche Media, “a new agency of sorts” for Vine and Instagram stars. “Not sure if this is for you guys but he is a friend and asked.” (Earlier this year, Twitter acquired Niche Media for a reported $30 million.)

All caps

Not every introduction is as smooth.

One email captured in the Sony hack is from legendary Silicon Valley investor and connector Ron Conway, who is writing to introduce a producer friend, Lisa Erspamer, to BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti and former COO Jon Steinberg.

Conway forwards an email to the BuzzFeed executives from Erspamer, in which she claims to be working with Sony Pictures Television, “and we’re very interested in creating a show format in partnership with BuzzFeed that would potentially be syndicated around the world.”

Conway’s introduction is in all-caps.





According to the email chain, Steinberg forwarded that introduction to someone at Sony—asking if Erspamer is indeed working with them—and receives a response: “Don’t know. First I have heard of it.”

(Ron Conway, by the way, is a character. Here’s an overview by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz, who specifically mentions Conway’s email style: “immediate, short, all caps.”)

Orbitz for moguls

One of the best, most insidery chains we found is with Fred Wilson, the influential New York investor who placed early, successful bets on Twitter, Tumblr, and Etsy. Wilson, who just spent the winter in Los Angeles, lamented in emails last June about his challenges with developing some of his real estate in the trendy Venice beach neighborhood.

He also needed some help finding a private plane ride to Sun Valley, Idaho, where the annual Allen and Company mogul retreat took place in July.

instead of flying from NYC to Sun Valley on July 8th, we need to fly from LA to Sun Valley. and i’m looking to hitch a ride on someone’s plane. we flew to Sun Valley commercial last year and then realized we were the only people at the entire conference who did that.

Other chains in the Wikileaks cache include invitations to Netflix’s private retreat (“No publicity, no bankers, no agents.”), correspondence with journalists, discussions about setting people up for jobs and internships, medical procedures, and travel planning.

In one thread last April, Lynton asks Costolo for a favor: Can he help get his wife’s news website’s Twitter handle, @LASchoolReport, verified? Costolo replies the same day: “I will have this looked at today and get it taken care of. Stay tuned!”

Twitter’s policy for verifying accounts has frustrated many, so this isn’t an outrageous request. But it appears even a line directly to the top doesn’t always work. LA School Report, which covers the Los Angeles education universe in impressive detail, remains unverified.

Lynton did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and other email participants mentioned above either did not respond or declined to comment. But a Sony Pictures rep sent the following statement to Quartz:

The cyber-attack on Sony Pictures was a malicious criminal act, and we strongly condemn the indexing of stolen employee and other private and privileged information on WikiLeaks. The attackers used the dissemination of stolen information to try to harm SPE and its employees, and now WikiLeaks regrettably is assisting them in that effort. We vehemently disagree with WikiLeaks’ assertion that this material belongs in the public domain and will continue to fight for the safety, security, and privacy of our company and its more than 6,000 employees.