Not long after leaving a plum position at The New York Times, Soraya Darabi, 26, went skiing in Beaver Creek, Colorado, with her new bosses at Drop.io, Steve Greenwood and Sam Lessin, also 26. The boys swooshed down a double black diamond, one of the steepest in the country, calling over their shoulders, "You'll be fine!" She wiped out but emerged with only minor cuts and bruises.
Fearless? Clearly. Foolhardy? Maybe. Charmed? So it would seem, based on her success as manager of digital partnerships and social-media marketing at the Times, where she was hired at 23. "Soraya was dazzling when she showed up at The New York Times, trying to tug the Gray Lady into Facebook and Twitter and all the social media," says columnist Nicholas Kristof. "I often travel to exotic foreign lands with a local guide and interpreter, and Soraya played precisely that role when she led me into the world of new media. The only reason I have nearly 1 million followers on Twitter and 150,000 fans on Facebook is Soraya's guidance." Darabi herself has nearly half a million Twitter followers, which means that when the Freelance Whales play at her friend's loft party, they wind up as a showcase band at South by Southwest, in Austin. She's earned a reputation among the digerati as someone who intuitively, if not effortlessly, understands where all this social-media stuff is going. "Soraya knows how media companies can take advantage of these practices—if they're willing to take the risk," says Alice Marwick, a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Adds her boss Greenwood: "She's been one of my go-to people for what's going on in social media and how companies are innovating from a brand and marketing perspective."
"I get information from my peers," Darabi says simply.
Late last year, Greenwood took Darabi to breakfast at a Brooklyn café called Ted & Honey to ask her advice on Drop.io. He was secretly hoping that she would agree to come on board and help the company launch its first application, Presslift, then in the works. Drop.io, with Nicholas Negroponte on the board and DFJ Gotham and RRE Ventures as investors, is designed to make sharing rich media in the cloud both simple and private. Presslift is built on top, allowing PR people to add video, audio, photos, links, and documents to press releases that can be spread via social media and tracked in real time via Google Analytics. Pepsi, McGraw-Hill, Porter Novelli, NPR, and Vice Media became clients within the first few months. Now Darabi is working on a suite of similar verticals for fields including education and possibly entertainment.
Leaving one of the world's most powerful media brands to build new-media products alongside a dozen folks her own age reflects Darabi's own entrepreneurial drive—"We need more young women starting companies"—and her conviction about the power of evolving modes of communication. "We're living in a world right now where the 26-year-old founder of a PHP platform [Facebook] has more power than the president of the U.S. in terms of his reach on a day-to-day basis," she says, dismissing talk of a social-media bubble. "I'm not sure social media has been overestimated yet."
If you're on a desert island and your phone can only tap into enough bandwidth to download a single mobile application, what would you choose? Am I alone on this island? If not, and there are a few tiki hot spots, then I'd say foursquare. But if alone, my answer is the Classics app. I hope my mobile device is the Apple tablet.