In the early 2000s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was frustrated with the roles he was being offered. 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 alongside the internet, he created a website where he could ideate, produce and share his work. More than 10 years later, he wants to turn that pet project, called HitRecord, into a full-fledged technology company.
Onstage at Upfront Venture’s annual summit outside of Los Angeles, Gordon-Levitt announced a $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 at the helm as chief executive officer, co-founder Jared Geller serving as president and co-founder Marke Johnson as creative director. The trio plan 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, “building off of each other’s contributions, to create things [they] couldn’t have made on [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 roughly $3 million.
HitRecord hasn’t accepted outside capital, until now. Initially, Gordon-Levitt used his own cash to push the company forward, and for the last five years, the startup has been cash-flow positive. I sat down with Gordon-Levitt to learn more about what he’s been working on and why he decided to pursue venture capital dollars. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length.
TC: How do you explain HitRecord in one sentence?
JGL: It’s a collaborative media platform where people make all kinds of creative things together. I guess that’s one sentence, but if I can keep going… As opposed to places where people post things that they’ve made on their own, this is a place where people collaborate, right? So they submit their ideas onto the platform and then they find people who want to collaborate with them and then they’re able to make 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 or fifth or even 10th sentence of why people come to HitRecord.
TC: HitRecord launched a decade ago… what inspired you to create it?
JGL: I started HitRecord as this little hobby message board with my brother and it grew very slowly. It came out of a time in my life when I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be in sort of like more serious Sundance movies and everyone was like, ‘oh, but you’re the funny kid on TV’ and you know, it was really painful for me. I said, okay, you know what, I can’t just wait around for someone to give me a part. I want to make my own things. And I started making my own. I started making videos and songs and stories and stuff. And my brother helped me set up a website that we called HitRecord. We didn’t spend any money; we had no intention of making any money. It was just a fun thing we were doing.
TC: And now you want to expand it into a full-fledged tech platform. But… you’re cash-flow positive and you’ve built a solid community of avid users, why take venture money?
JGL: You know, it started as just a hobby that I was doing for fun. We launched it as a production company as a way to do more ambitious, creative things and do it with everybody. But if you talk to our users, what people really enjoy is having that experience of being creative and being creative with other people because I think honestly, being creative is really hard alone. Venture money will not only allow us to do even cooler productions, but it’ll also allow this whole other world and more people to participate.
TC: Now that you’re venture-funded, how do you plan on making money for your investors?
JGL: So 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 we licensed it to a brand or we did any number of things that generated revenue. [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 grow into a collaborative platform, the idea is that it’s not just our staff that’s leading these projects and letting people collaboratively finish them. The idea is anybody could come to start their own thing 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 were not ready to talk about exactly how we would make money that way. I think we have a number of ideas. There are ways that the internet gets monetized these days that I think incentivize the wrong things like attention for myself and I don’t want to enter into a business model that incentivizes that kind of behavior.
TC: What was the process of raising venture capital like? 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 anybody for having that. The assumption is that there’s not any substance behind the company or the idea, that it’s all sizzle and no steak.
But we’re also not really a startup, per se. It’s not like I was going into these offices and saying, like, I have an idea. It’s like, here’s what we’ve done for the last 10 years and we’ve been cash flow positive five years. We know how to run a business. It’s just we’ve been running a production company business, now we want to run something that’s more like a technology business.
TC: What’s your long-term vision for HitRecord?
JGL: My ultimate goal is for my acting career and HitRecord to kind of become one in the same thing. I would love to be, you know, developing a movie not for a Hollywood studio, but like in this new collaborative way for HitRecord. I mean, we won an Emmy for our TV show. We’re about to release this special that we’re doing with Logic, the rapper, and he used the platform to lead a collaboration and make a song and a music video and we documented the process and that special is going to come out on YouTube. What I really want is to be able to put an app in Logic’s hand where he goes like, oh, I understand this and is able to use it instantly. We don’t have that app yet. This is why we raised capital.
USAF taps Exosonic to develop supersonic combat training drone
The US Air Force has awarded Exosonic a contract to develop a supersonic combat drone concept. The demonstrator vehicle will be used to demonstrate the technologies behind the quiet supersonic concept and to train pilots. The project will, among other things, help the USAF train its fighter pilots for potential future encounters with “near-peer adversaries.”
Low-boom supersonic technology is a hot topic at the moment, promising a rapid rate of travel without the loud booming noises typical of these aircraft. Exosonic will use its low-boom technologies to develop the demonstrater unmanned aerial vehicle for the USAF under a Direct to Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract.
The company says this will be the USAF’s first purpose-built supersonic drone intended to help train pilots. Of note, the US Air Force is currently facing both a pilot shortage and training budget constraints, which has resulted in a lack of new fighter pilots that have been fully trained. The Exosonic UAV will be leveraged as a “mock adversary” for use during live flight training exercises for fighter pilots
Compared to existing live training processes, Exosonic says its low-boom supersonic drone will help the USAF train fighter pilots at a much lower cost while also reducing the wear and tear on existing aircraft. Beyond that, the company points out that using an unmanned drone as the faux adversary will free up pilots to focus on their own training rather than requiring them to spend time serving as the enemy in a training situation.
Beyond the USAF, Exosonic says that it can also leverage the unmanned drone for its own purposes, namely as a way to test its low-boom supersonic tech. The data from these flights may then help pave the way for a revision on regulations that limit overland supersonic flights, which are intended to prevent the public from being disrupted by the loud booming sounds.
Apple adds more ports and a notch to 2021 MacBook Pro
For a while, the MacBook’s disappearing ports were something of a meme among the I/O enthusiasts of the world. However, with today’s new MacBook reveal, Apple has reversed course, announcing that it’s actually adding ports to the new MacBook Pro. In addition, it looks like the display on the 2021 MacBook Pro is taking a design cue from modern iPhones, picking up a notch it can call its own.
The ports on the new MacBook Pro may not be able to challenge the port-heavy laptops of yesteryear, but there’s still some good stuff here. On the right side of the device, we’ll see an HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 4 port, and an SDXC card slot. In addition, we get two more Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack that supports high-impedance headphones on the left side. While the headphone jack departed iPhones years ago, it looks like we’re still getting one on the 2021 MacBook Pro.
Apple says these port selections are enough to connect two Pro Display XDRs on the M1 Pro-based MacBook, while the M1 Max-based MacBook will connect to three Pro Display XDRs and a 4K display. In addition to those ports, the new MacBook Pro will feature a MagSafe 3 port for charging.
If you look closely at the main image at the top of this article, you’ll also see that the MacBook Pro display has a notch for the first time. Of course, iPhone users are already well familiar with the notch, but Apple decided to employ it in the MacBook Pro to cut back on the borders around the display while still providing a space for the front-facing camera.
It’s certainly a little strange at first, though the presence of a notch does give a nice space for the menu bars in apps and Finder to nestle into. We’ll find out if the notch is a distraction or if the smaller borders around the screen make a noticeable difference soon enough, as the new MacBook Pro will be launching in 14-inch and 16-inch varieties next week.
MacOS Monterey release date and requirements
Your Apple computer will soon get a significant update to the latest version of macOS, the company’s desktop operating system. This latest version is macOS Monterey, and it’ll be available for almost every Apple desktop computer all the way back to late 2013. You’ll find the new MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch machines running this software right out of the box next week.
If you have a macOS computer at home, you’ll find an upgrade awaiting you on October 25. That’s assuming the macOS Monterey release date (of October 25, 2021) fits with your machine’s build. The eldest Mac that’ll get this update is the “Late 2013” version of the Mac Pro.
If you have a Mac Pro from late 2013 or later, you’ll get macOS Monterey at launch. You’ll find the same is true of the Late 2014 and later Mac mini, and the early 2015 and later MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. If you have an early 2016 or later version of the MacBook, you’ll get this upgrade. So will late 2015 and older iMac machines. You’ll be set with an update if you have an iMac Pro released in 2017 or later.
If you’re unfamiliar with the contents of macOS Monterey at this point, take a peek at our timeline of features below. Keys to this next upgrade to the OS include the release of Shortcuts support, Focus Mode, and Universal Control. If you’re planning on buying a new mobile device from Apple soon, you’ll want this upgrade for your macOS machine as well.
Some features in this operating system update will require specific hardware to operate. For example if you’re using an Intel machine, some new features won’t function. Meanwhile, since you’re using an Apple machine, no further investigation into hardware requirements is needed outside of the release date of your machine from Apple to access whether you’re able to download and run this new OS – easy as can be.
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