In the early 2000s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was frustrated with the roles that were being offered to him. Instead of starring in critically acclaimed indies, he was typecast as “the funny kid on TV” due to roles like Tommy from “3rd Rock from the Sun”.
So, like anyone who matured on the internet, he created a website where he could come up with, produce and share his work. Over 10 years later, he wants to turn that pet project, called HitRecord, into a tech company in its own right.
On the stage of Upfront Venture’s annual summit outside of Los Angeles, Gordon-Levitt announced $ 6.4 million Series A funding to do just that. Javelin Venture Partners has led the round, with participation from Crosslink Capital, Advancit Capital, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and MasterClass co-founder David Rogier.
Gordon-Levitt, known for starring in “Inception,” “Snowden,” and, my personal favorite, “10 Things I Hate About You,” tells TechCrunch that HitRecord has a team of 24 employees, with himself as CEO, co-founder Jared Geller as president, and co-founder Marke Johnson as creative director. The trio plans to use the investment to transform HitRecord from a traditional production company to a new collaborative media platform.
The company provides an online portal for artists to work together on projects, “leveraging the contributions of others, to create things [they] couldn’t have done in [their] own ”. If projects created within the HitRecord community are sold, the creators are paid based on their original contributions. Since 2010, HitRecord has paid its community approximately $ 3 million.
HitRecord has not accepted out of capital, until now. Initially, Gordon-Levitt used its own cash to move the company forward, and for the past five years, the start-up has been positive. I sat down with Gordon-Levitt to learn more about what he has been working on and why he decided to pursue venture capital dollars. The following conversation has been lightly edited for its duration.
TC: How do you explain HitRecord in a sentence?
JGL: It’s a collaborative media platform where people do all kinds of creative things together. I guess it’s a phrase, but if I can go on… Unlike places where people post things they’ve done on their own, this is a place where people collaborate, right? So they submit their ideas to the platform and then find people who want to collaborate with them and then they can earn money if the projects [find] a buyer
We’ve done all kinds of monetized productions, but I certainly wouldn’t include money in the third, fifth, or even tenth sentence of why people flock to HitRecord.
TC: HitRecord was released a decade ago… what inspired you to create it?
JGL: I started HitRecord as this little hobby forum with my brother and it grew very slowly. It came out of a time in my life where I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be in a more serious kind of Sundance. Movies and everyone was like “oh, but you’re the funny guy on TV” and you know, it was really painful for me. I said, okay, you know what, I can’t just wait for someone to give me a piece. I want to do my own thing. And I started to make my own. I started making videos and songs and stories and stuff. And my brother helped me create a website that we called HitRecord. We don’t spend money; We had no intention of making money. It was just a fun thing we were doing.
TC: And now you want to expand it to a complete technological platform. But… you have positive cash flow and have built a strong community of avid users, why gamble money?
JGL: You know, it started as a hobby that I was doing for fun. We launched it as a production company as a way to do more ambitious and creative things and do it with everyone. But if you talk to our users, what people really enjoy is having the experience of being creative and being creative with other people because I think honestly, being creative is really difficult alone. Not only will venture money allow us to make even cooler productions, but it will also allow this other world and more people to participate.
TC: Now that you are financed with venture capital, how do you plan to make money for your investors?
JGL: Historically, the way we’ve made money was as a production company, and the collaborative efforts of our community and our staff made money because we turned something into a TV show, or licensed it to a brand, or did something. Number of things that generated income. [HitRecord partnered with Ubisoft earlier this year to allow artists and musicians to contribute their own content to be used in its game, for example.] So moving forward, as we become a collaborative platform, the idea is that it’s not just our people who are leading these projects and letting people collaboratively finalize them. The idea is that anyone can start creating their own things and there will be better tools to self-organize and find your collaborators.
TC: And how do you better monetize once you’ve expanded your user base?
JGL: I think, look, we weren’t ready to talk exactly about how we would make money that way. I think we have a number of ideas. There are ways the internet is monetized these days that I think incentivize the wrong things like care for me and I don’t want to get into a business model that encourages that kind of behavior.
TC: How was the venture capital raising process? Did being Joseph Gordon-Levitt make it a little less terrible?
JGL: I think, honestly, it was a double-edged sword. I think there was justified skepticism and people would assume that, oh, I’m an actor, so I can’t start a company and I faced a certain amount of that skepticism. I don’t blame anyone for having that. The assumption is that there is no substance behind the company or the idea, that everything is sizzling and not steak.
But we’re not really a startup, per se, either. It’s not like I’m going into these offices and saying, like, I have an idea. It’s like, this is what we’ve done for the last 10 years and we’ve had positive cash flow for five years. We know how to run a business. It’s just that we’ve been running a production company business, now we want to run something that is more like a technology business.
TC: What is your long-term vision for HitRecord?
JGL: My ultimate goal is for my acting career and HitRecord to become one in the same thing. I would love to be, you know, developing a movie not for a Hollywood studio, but as in this new form of collaboration for HitRecord. I mean, we won an Emmy for our television show. We are about to release this special that we are doing with Logic, the rapper, and he used the platform to lead a collaboration and make a song and a music video, we document the process and that special will come out. Youtube. What I really want is to be able to put an app in Logic’s hand where he says, oh, I get this and I can use it instantly. We don’t have that app yet. That is why we have raised capital.