The Evolution of Rap Genius: From Forum Post to $15 Million Investment
Ever wonder how some businesses get started and subsequently evolve after their inception? I happened to stumble across a forum post from a user named “Actual God” where he outlined a new business he started, a lyrics site called Rap Genius. Now you may have heard of Rap Genius by now, it’s a popular site visited by millions of people and the company raised $15 million from Andreessen Horowitz (a well-known venture capital firm) to build an enterprise version of its annotation product for businesses and governments, but according to this forum post the future for the company wasn’t always so clear.
The post titled, “Critique my new new venture: explaining rap lyrics” published on March 2, 2010 and created by one of the three co-founders of the company (we couldn’t determine based on the username or profile information specifically which one, though we’d love to find out), describes the site as “a site that explains rap lyrics. You click on a song, play the song, and click on the lyrics for pop-up explanations that give context and meaning to the lyrics (and/or joke about them).”
To date that is still the same core functionality and value of the site, so for example, if you wanted to know what Eminem is saying in his new hit song “Rap God” and what it all means you can do that on Rap Genius.
At the time of the post the site was receiving page views in the low thousands and had an average visitor time on site of 5 minutes (that’s very good). The founder went onto say that they hypothesized in order to create a sustainable site they would need to do well in search results (aka Google) and outrank other lyrics sites.
“We hypothesize that meaningful, sustainable traffic will have to come from organic search, so our medium/longterm goal is to climb up the organic search rankings for lyrics searches of songs we have via acquiring more relevant backlinks (the tactical plan involves emailing a lot of bloggers and asking them to blog about us).”
Despite the lyrics site space being crowded, the RapGenius founder still appeared as be as confident as ever, “we are operating under the assumption that this is achievable given that our site is actually better than any other lyrics site if you’re looking for a song that we have – in other words, we’re counting on Google to recognize our superiority,” he wrote.
But what about business model? In the early days of Rap Genius it was all about ads, “what types of ads should we run on the site? Looking at other lyrics sites, it seems like ringtone display ads do well,” the founder wrote. Though it appears that while display ads were the obvious choice, the desire to look for other alternative monetization models was there as well, “do you have any novel monetization ideas that don’t involve a lot of display ads?”
From ads to enterprise annotation business is quite a jump and begs the question of how does one make such a jump?
One of the forums one user left this nugget of feedback:
“What you guys need is your own product. Maybe a slang dictionary? A premium subscriber section (charge like $5/month)?”
While it’s not exactly recommending an enterprise annotation tool, it does talk about creating their own product which the company is now doing. I’m not sure how the original poster felt about any of the feedback as he never posted after the initial post. Either way, it’s cool to see how an idea for a lyrics site can turn into a potentially multi-million/billion dollar product.
Do you use Rap Genius? What do you think about it?