After nearly a dozen years, this month I’m stepping back from my full time role at Mixcloud. I will continue working with the business as a board advisor, and my Cofounder Nico Perez is taking on the CEO position. I’m excited about where he continues to take the business, with my ongoing support from further back.
I’ve lived my life bounded by targets and goals, and for a short while I aim to have no overarching one. Instead, with the novelty of free time, I plan to spend at least a year gaining new experiences, exploring, learning and challenging myself in new ways. Practically, I want to focus on social impact projects, health & wellness, creative pursuits, and being more with family, before figuring out what’s next. This year is about breadth not depth.
I’m excited to embark on this new chapter of my life and I’d love to have conversations with people I can help as well as those who have been through a similar journey. Feel free to reach out in all the usual places — Twitter, IG, Linkedin, and of course Mixcloud.
I’ve got a lot to say, so I’m going to take it somewhat chronologically. I’d like to talk about the early days of the company, the hard things and good things about building a startup, grief, my decision to step back, and what I’ll continue to do at Mixcloud. Finally I’ve got some well deserved shout outs to give!
TAKING IT BACK
In the summer of 2008, myself and my Cofounder Nico quit our jobs to build a platform to connect the world’s best radio and DJ content to listeners. After searching high and low for some technical brains, we found our other 2 Cofounders, Mat Clayton and Sam Cooke, and Mixcloud was born.
We launched a year later, at the end of 2009 (things moved a lot slower back then!). We “broke” Twitter (4 out of 5 Trending spots), and very quickly some of my favourite DJs signed up and started sharing mixes. We were solving a real problem and it resonated.
BACK TO NOW
Allow me a minute of celebration. I’m incredibly proud of what the whole team, past and present, has achieved. As we wrote in a recent blog post about Mixcloud’s 10 year rebrand…
“A decade on from our humble roots in a warehouse in North West London, our platform has proven a powerful one for championing audio culture. We’ve seen 1.7 million creators upload their content, building a unique catalog of 50 million handcrafted shows– DJ mixes, radio shows, and podcasts to satisfy every genre, mood, taste and scene. People from everywhere have come to listen deeply, with the average logged-in listener engaging for over an hour a day.”
We’ve had 10s of millions of people download our apps, and 20M people tune into Mixcloud every month across all the different platforms. I’m particularly proud of the brilliant, diverse community we have built — with many of my DJ and musical heroes on the platform.
Every year since launch, Mixcloud has grown. Both in revenue and audience.
It’s been a joy.
And it’s been f***ing hard.
THE HARD THING ABOUT HARD THINGS
As Ben Horowitz viscerally wrote in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, building a startup is hard. At Mixcloud we certainly went through the high highs and low lows; the last decade has been a rollercoaster to say the least.
Digital music is a tough industry. We’re up against giants like Amazon, Apple and Google who bolt music onto their businesses to sell other things. Then there are the pureplay music giants like Spotify, Pandora, Deezer and many more. Mixcloud has always been the David versus these Goliaths.
For our first decade, we were completely bootstrapped — initially because we failed to raise money, but then we adapted and figured out how to survive. In the first 2 years we didn’t pay ourselves a penny. For the next 3 years, the platform kept growing fast but we were reliant on lumpy revenue from brands and advertisers, so as founders we sometimes sacrificed our salaries to keep the platform alive.
THE GOOD THING ABOUT HARD THINGS
Those days are done. We now have a brilliant team of 45 people who I am honoured to work alongside. We have wonderful lead investors WndrCo alongside fantastic investors such as legendary rapper Nas, legendary banker Stan Shuman (who helped Google with their IPO) and legendary growth expert Alex Schultz (who helped grow Facebook to 2B+ users). And we’ve created a unique and magical culture at the company, with a diverse team of people passionate about music, audio, coding, DJing and technology; united by a love of building products and communities.
But it doesn’t get easier. We’re still David versus many Goliaths. And that forces us to think differently. We learned to be nimble. We learned to hustle. We learned to be resilient. This has helped us make smart and creative business decisions.
18 months ago we launched an innovative subscription model called Mixcloud Select that is unique in music streaming (built around the creator, not the platform). We launched a new arm to the business, LOUD, which connects brands to our community whilst investing in the culture. And more recently, we launched an incredible new live streaming product in response to Covid-19 which is solving real challenges for creators who want to stream legally and monetize what they are doing online.
WHY AM I STEPPING BACK?
I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world, going into work everyday to build a platform around my passions, with people I love, having fun and learning along the way. And of course the soundtrack to the last decade has been second-to-none. Also I can hand-on-heart say that right now is the most exciting time for the business since we launched.
So why am I stepping back? There are a number of reasons why I made this decision towards the end of 2019, catalysed by the sudden loss of my father last Summer.
At my dad’s funeral in July 2019, I was standing in a line with my closest family outside the crematorium to shake hands with the guests, as is custom in Indian culture. A man I’ve never met, an old buddy of my dad’s from school in Kenya, shook my hand and held me by the shoulder, looked intently into my eyes and said into my ear: “The 2 most important things in life are your body and your family”, and he walked off. The line stuck with me.
Losing my father made me see the world differently. It gave me perspective.
I have poured a dozen years of hard work into this business; I’m incredibly happy and proud of what we’ve achieved as a team. (But believe me, it’s not always been this clear. There have been many ups and downs, questioning whether we’re doing well enough; in the startup world the goalposts are always moving and you’ve always gotta be “killing it”. The curse of the entrepreneur and a topic for another time.) I feel ready to move on. Truth be told, I need to move on. I need a break.
Since starting the business, I’ve changed as a human being. I’m no longer the 25 year old kid that was hustling to spin records at every party, promoting clubnights every weekend. And I’m no longer a fresh faced, first time entrepreneur. Whilst I continue to love the culture of music, DJing and clubs, I also have new passions. And there are new problems to solve in the world. One day. But right now, I’m excited to take a break.
I talked about the journey and the Hard Things because it’s been intense and demanding. Let’s be real. Building a company is f***ing tiring. It’s not just hard work, it’s also a lot of emotional energy when you’re building and leading a team, carrying the burden of sustainability, salaries, and people’s livelihoods on your shoulders. I went back to work a couple of weeks after my dad passed away, and it took me a couple more months before I realised I have finite emotional energy. For a moment, I’m choosing to put those reserves elsewhere in my life; as the wise man at the funeral said, myself and my family. And I also want to open up more time to do some social impact work.
I feel blessed that I can take this step back with faith and confidence in the future of the company because we have built a brilliant leadership team and a strong ecosystem.
I’ll continue to spend a few days a month with Mixcloud as a board advisor. This means ongoing strategic input to the board, advice and support for key people in the leadership team; and continuing to work with external partners to identify great growth opportunities for the business. So if you want to chat about Mixcloud, the doors remain open!
I’m also excited about giving back, putting more time into helping others in this next chapter of my life. I have already started working with a number of charities and early stage founders.
That just leaves me with one thing. With my best pirate radio voice:
“Shout out to all the people who have been part of my Mixcloud journey to date — the team past and present, our advisors, investors, creators, community, partners. Everyone I’ve met in meeting rooms, conference halls and on dancefloors. We built this together. And we will continue building great things together.”
I’d like to end with some specific people to name check.
Nico Perez: my initial Cofounder and dear friend for nearly two decades. As you said in your parting speech to me, we’ve spent more time together than anyone else on the planet apart from our parents and siblings. It’s been a joy and honour to build this with you and I can’t think of a better person to continue leading the business to even more success as CEO. I’ve learned an enormous amount from you. You’re never phased by any challenge, you just get your head down and figure it out. And you’re calm; possibly one of the least talked about traits in this game we’re playing. You’ve always been level headed and I’ve only recently started to appreciate how important that has been to the success of the business.
Mat Clayton: we didn’t know each other before we started this business. A dozen years later, we’re still in it together. That’s a rarity and testament to the deep relationship we have built over these years. I love that we could debate business and product decisions til the cows came home, knowing that it would never get personal. We’ve always been aligned on the big things whilst pushing each other on the small things to make the company better. You’re one of the best hybrid product and technical thinkers I’ve come across. I can’t wait to see how Mixcloud continues to evolve with you continuing to lead the product and tech.
Ben Lawrence: you came on board as one of our first employees 9 years ago. You believed in us when we didn’t have much, and you’ve stayed with us to enjoy the ups and downs. We’ve had a lot of fun hacking together a business model for Mixcloud over these years. I’ve always been in awe of how quickly you grasp new ideas and translate them into strategy and execution — a true entrepreneur.
The rest of the leadership team: Xanthe Fuller, I’m so glad to have you back from Maternity leave (with lovely Nia so beautiful and healthy) to lead our Community Team once again. Kazim Rashid, you’ve always brought a fresh and unique perspective as Creative Director, pushing us to be different and better. Chris Prescott, you’ve smashed it as our new Head of Product, bringing a fresh attitude of experimentation and wildly imaginative thinking. Becca Hilton-Miller, the team is everything and with you leading the charge on people and culture, I know we are in hands that care. Jonathan Hague, you are calm, unphased and a joy to work with; and you LOVE Excel; essential traits in a Finance Director. Jon King, I adore your energy, I don’t know anyone with a love and fluency of languages like you, and that extends to both human and computer languages!
All the team at WndrCo, you have been an inspiration to work with, each and every one of you have your superpower. Thank you for believing in us. In particular Anthony Saleh who led the deal, and Ann Daly who was on our board alongside Anthony. And thanks to all our other investors for also taking a bet on us!
The early believers on the team — Sam Cooke (our 4th Cofounder and all round talented man), Richard Morgan (first Community Manager and sick breakdancer), Matt Rawson (first developer and built the first audio player), Andreea Magdalina (our incredible second Community Manager and founder of the important women in music platform Shesaid.So). You all believed in Mixcloud in the early days and that means the world to me. I will never forget that.
All our advisors over the years, past and present: Richard Cohen, Fred McIntyre, Simon Watt, Dan Rowe, Jeff Toig, James Duffett Smith, Doug Holt, Gregor Pryor, Sachin Premnath. (And many more unofficial mentors and advisors too). I’ve learned so much from all of you, and I’m honoured to have had you all involved in the journey.
Now we dance.