What did you wake up thinking about this morning? The top-of-mind question today is whether we should be raising more money to invest in our growth. Bessemer, Shasta, Granite and Floodgate have invested $25 million in Smule. Our apps, like I Am T-Pain and Glee Karaoke, let anyone create music and share with their network. We had another record year of sales, and our business actually generated cash in December. So, in theory, we don’t need more capital, which ironically suggests it’s the perfect time to raise more. We should invest more in our platform. Our users are uploading over 500 gigabytes a day of songs they’re singing or playing to our network. We should also invest more in Asia, specifically Japan, Korea and China. We need to build a beachhead in those markets.
Describe a lesson you’ve learned from a failure. Never compromise on hiring — never. If there is ever a task that requires discipline and patience for me, it is hiring. I can trace virtually every execution outage at Smule and my former companies to a compromise made in hiring. Never settle. Wait if you must.
What will define your career in the coming year? After starting my career as a software engineer, I’ve been running startup software businesses for over 20 years. So I wonder whether my career has already been defined. The only reason I ended up on the management side was that the co-founder of my first startup, Jean-Christophe Denis Bandini, had such a thick French accent that no one here could understand him. While we were writing code all day and night, one of us was going to have to sell something. Maybe what I care about most this year is whether Smule can be part of pop culture. We have 140 million users of such products as Magic Piano, Ocarina, Autorap and Sing! Karaoke, representing around 2% of the world’s population. But we haven’t yet penetrated the mainstream conversation about music and culture. Until we do, I’m not sure anything we’re doing will matter.
Who’s your most important mentor, and what did you learn? Steve Jobs. I never worked for Steve, yet I met with him in the context of the software we had developed for his company NeXT. I was at Frame and we had developed a technical publishing product that ran on his platform. He wanted to know how we might “enhance” the user interface. I learned that you should never compromise standards on products, nor should you trust boards made up of people who don’t have 100% of their skin in the game. Steve, the co-founder of Apple, was fired by his board so they could bring in an experienced CEO.
Name a project you’re not affiliated with that has most impressed you in the past year. SoundCloud. Alex Ljung and his team have done a superb job. I really admire their open architecture and how they have approached distribution.
Name a desert island album. Bartók’s “String Quartets: The Hagen Quartet.” I plan on taking the “Adagio Molto” from Bartók’s fifth quartet with me to my grave.