As We See It

Paul Carr’s comeback: NSFW Corporation in Downtown Vegas

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“I would have fired me a lot sooner,” Carr says of his alcoholic past at the publishing house he co-founded.
Photo: Bill Hughes
Sam Glaser @sammyglaser

In 2004, Paul Carr was a respected British journalist and well-positioned entrepreneur. But a humbling, booze-soaked sequence of judgment errors and business failures led him to Las Vegas, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh and a way back up.

Today, the 32-year-old Carr describes himself as oscillating between the two worlds of “recovering journalist, then recovering entrepreneur, then recovering journalist again.” His humor merges snarky sarcasm with pointed analysis, delivered with self-effacing wit and endearing authenticity. As a journalist, his blue-chip résumé includes the U.K.’s The Guardian and The Telegraph, New York’s Huffington Post and Silicon Valley’s TechCrunch.

While covering entrepreneurs at The Guardian in his 20s, Carr co-founded the Friday Project, an independent publishing house that went public in the U.K., raised a ton of money and was hailed as the future of publishing.

“To f*ck that up really takes some doing, but I managed it,” Carr reflects. Before the company was bought by Harper Collins, Carr was “unceremoniously ejected due to incorrigible alcoholism.”

“Rightly so,” he adds. “I would have fired me a lot sooner.”

Later, Carr also got fired from The Telegraph and The Guardian in the same week. “The Guardian ran out of money, and The Telegraph realized I was basically just writing columns about how much I hate writing for The Telegraph.”

It took Carr six years to realize that he needed to stop drinking and go back to writing, and when he did, he “wrote books about failure—which I did rather well, ironically.”

Paul had let booze become part of his public persona, so he publicly enlisted his social network for support: “I wrote books about being a drunk. I was known around for being the drunk guy. An anonymous group wasn’t going to help me, because everybody in my non-anonymous life would still know me as a drunk and still would be handing me drinks. So I decided, for me, the way for me to quit was to go very public about it.”

Carr entered into recovery nearly two years ago, and this year he chronicled the process in his memoir, Sober Is My New Drunk. Today, his benign habits include Diet Coke and getting into arguments on the Internet.

Before giving up alcohol, Carr realized he could save money and meet women by leaving London in favor of hotel living. His publisher later convinced him to write about it in The Upgrade, which is full of anecdotes about his hedonistic adventures along the way, and which he promoted in a month-long Huffington Post series about applying the same hotel-living concept to Las Vegas.

During his travels, Tony Hsieh convinced Carr to develop his new business, Not Safe for Work Corporation, in Downtown Las Vegas, offering to fund the project in exchange for local licensing rights, provided Carr based NSFW Corp. Downtown.

“Paul was among the first tech entrepreneurs to recognize the energy of what was happening in the Downtown Las Vegas tech community and beyond,” Hsieh says. “He’s someone who used to take pride in living a nomadic life in hotels, so I think it makes a powerful statement that he chose to make Downtown Las Vegas his new home.”

Today, Carr’s mobile-media company publishes a magazine, books and an audio show. It’s The Economist meets The Daily Show and, with a $1 per month mobile-only subscription model, perhaps the future of publishing. And Carr is also nurturing the local landscape of the Vegas tech community: “Our developer is in Vegas, our designer is in Vegas, our new copywriting editor is in Vegas, and we are going to hire an admin who’s in Vegas … It says on the masthead, ‘Published in Las Vegas, Nevada,’” Carr says.

“The Zappos thing will deliver people. Whether they’re happy when they get here is down to everyone else. I’m looking forward to seeing more art and photography and film stuff coming out of Vegas. On the literary scene as well, I hope.”

And Carr’s advice for aspiring Vegas tech entrepreneurs? “Don’t take my advice, would be the first one. Ask a successful person.” He then explains that Vegas companies will succeed “because their business fits in Vegas—either the existing Vegas or the new Downtown growth.” He mentions entertainment, hospitality and community, and continues: “The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who identify something that they love to do and then figure out a way to make money off the back of it.”

Paul Carr’s comeback may not be safe for work, but it sounds perfect for Downtown.

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