Business

Triller Fuels IPO Rumors In Hiring Tuhin Roy to Steer Growth: Exclusive

Tuhin Roy, Mike Lu
Juliette Bouquerel

Tuhin Roy and Triller CEO Mike Lu at the 2020 Grammy Awards

"If there is a public company future for Triller, then they'll be well set up for that."

As rumors swirl that Triller is planning to go public, the video app's parent company Proxima Media Group has hired Tuhin Roy -- a music executive with a track record of helping companies like Pandora and Digital Music Group boost business ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) -- as an operating principal.

Roy joins Proxima from Universal Music Group (UMG), where he has served as senior vp of new digital business and innovation since May 2018. In his new role, Roy will help steer the growth and operations of Proxima portfolio companies including Triller, where he'll act as president of business operations; and The Entertainment Stock Exchange, a stock exchange-like trading platform to raise funds for film and television projects, where he's been named a principal. He reports in both cases to Proxima partners Bobby Sarnevesht and Ryan Kavanaugh.

"We are thrilled to welcome Tuhin to the Proxima Media team," said Sarnevesht, who is also Triller’s executive chair. "He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the investment community and we’re looking forward to working with him as we expand, evolve and innovate new ways for influencers and brands to interact with their audience."

At UMG, the world's largest music company, Roy worked to expand the company's engagement with startups including both Triller and competitor TikTok, reporting to UMG executive vp of digital strategy Michael Nash, who oversees all of the company's digital accounts including Spotify, Snapchat and YouTube.

A self-proclaimed "music industry lifer" who got his start as a songwriter and producer, Roy has also worked to accelerate growth at digital media companies like Giphy (which was acquired by Facebook in 2020), Pandora (which filed for an IPO in 2011), Loudr (which Spotify acquired in 2018) and Digital Music Group (which IPO'd in 2006 and was acquired by Sony Music Entertainment in 2015).

Now, Roy's hiring comes at a time when Triller is rumored to be exploring an IPO of its own. To date, the company has raised $37.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a $28 million series B round last year. While Roy will not confirm the rumors, he tells Billboard that his "immediate goal" is to make Triller's operational standards "consistent with a publicly-traded company."

"There are no definitive plans that have been discussed publicly, but we’re certainly preparing the company to operate at a higher standard," he says. "One of the byproducts of improving operations is, if there is a public company future for Triller, then they’ll be well set up for that."

Founded in 2015, Triller kicked its operations into overdrive over the summer, taking advantage of TikTok's ongoing battle with the White House as an opportunity to unroll new products, announce new partnerships and lure top influencers to the platform -- as well as executives. Over the past two months, Triller has poached two executives from TikTok's music team: Daniel Gillick and Mary Rahmani, who now serve as Triller's global co-heads of partnerships.

The platform has also sought to set itself apart by emphasizing a collaborative relationship with the music industry. It has music licensing deals in place with the three major labels, Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group, and counts Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd, Marshmello and Lil Wayne among its investors.

Even so, Triller has run into licensing disputes on the music publishing side. Earlier this week, Wixen Music Publishing filed a $50 million copyright lawsuit against Triller, alleging copyright infringement on more than 1,000 songs, and the NMPA has also accused Triller of using music without the proper licenses. "We're hoping that we can dispose of the [Wixen] lawsuit quickly," Roy says. "We don't think they have a leg to stand on."

He adds that music licensing is a notoriously thorny process, and one that "even the largest companies running music services don't get right all the time," he says. "There has to be a certain amount of latitude that reflects the incredible complexity of building systems to manage rights." The Wixen lawsuit, which he terms a "shakedown," "hurts the entire music business," Roy argues, "because it's these types of lawsuits that dissuade great entrepreneurs and investors from building new businesses here."

Licensing hasn't been Triller's only challenge. The company is also embattled in a patent infringement lawsuit with TikTok itself, and while Triller claims it tallied 250 million total global downloads as of August, it has been accused of inflating user numbers. Triller has disputed those claims, and Roy says one of his goals is "creating credibility around user numbers through partnerships with third-party firms that can confirm it.")  And behind closed doors, some music and tech insiders have raised concerns that Triller's flashy celebrity endorsements may not be enough to fuel the organic user base a digital platform needs to sustain growth.

But Roy is perhaps most confident in the platform's ability to cater directly to creators. Earlier this week, Triller rolled out an update deemed "Triller 2.0" with better music editing capabilities, interactive text over video and other new features. "One of the biggest areas of focus for the company is really understanding what the creators want to see in the product and developing to that," Roy says.

He adds that he thinks Triller's relationship with the music industry will remain one of its strongest assets.

"At the end of the day, I think that Triller has focused itself around artists and the music industry's needs in a very significant way," he says. "The number of major artists and managers who have invested money in the company reflects that. And we're confident that we're going to continue to have a very, very positive relationship with all of the music industry."