Mahbod Moghadam: Why Rap Genius is Going to IPO One Day


You guys were talked heavily in the press in regards to getting banned on Google, can you tell us a little bit about that?

“Well, hey man, I cheated, I f*cked up, it was really a bad thing and I got to learn to be more patient. It’s hard to be patient when you know that your site is going to be the biggest website in the world and you’re waiting there and it’s not, it’s the biggest, it’s the 80th biggest. It’s like, “What the f*ck is going on?” I just always want to make a lot of noise and sometimes I make big errors in judgement, it’s really shameful on me and bad for a lot of people. It’s bad for the users of Google too who are not able to get to the best page for what they’re looking for.”

What are some cool things that Rap Genius is up to now?

“The coolest thing that has happened in the past couple of weeks is the launch of the Rap Genius App, and the cool thing about the Rap Genius App is that you can get to Rap Genius directly and it’s called Genius. It ties together, Rock Genius, News Genius, and it also has a built in “Shazam” function which means that you can instantly get the annotated lyrics any song you play. So Rap Genius is not a website. In reality, Rap Genius launched two weeks ago when the Genius App came out because this is always meant to be an app. Sixty percent of our traffic is mobile and sixty percent of that is iPhone and eventually this is going to be how everyone is using our site. In a thousand years from now when aliens come down and they’re looking at Rap Genius, they’re not going to think of it as a website, they’re going to think of it as that really, really dope app.”

Aside from the whole Google controversy, can you tell us a memorable mistake you’ve made in the past?

“Well you know as I’ve said many times, I feel terrible about insulting Mark Zuckerberg. That was supposed to be a joke and a lot of people just didn’t get it and it came off that I am insulting this guy who I have tremendous respect for, and the crazy thing is that huge amount of support that he showed Rap Genius before I f*cked it up. He had our back when people talked sh*t about us and so I really, really f*cked up. That was a perfect example of me trying to make a joke and it totally f*cked everything up, so I truly regret it. And as I’ve said, I think Facebook is a game changer in the human culture too in the same way that Rap Genius is. Facebook is a way for people to communicate, in the same way that Rap Genius is a way for them to have a dialogue with text. So they’re like sisters.  I think Rap Genius and Facebook are like sisters.”

And siblings do fight sometimes!

“Hey, this wasn’t even on purpose. I thought it would be clear I am making a joke and it was taken the wrong way and I ended up totally getting burned. It looked like I’m trying to insult one of my greatest idols.”

I’m sure the press spun the story in the worst way possible too.

“Yeah it’s funny because at that point I also didn’t think anybody cared about what I have to say. That’s when people first started listening to what we have to say and it’s cool; the most important thing is just for the knowledge that Rap Genius exists to spread because the product sells itself as soon as people see it. Rap Genius is like the cocaine of apps, the cocaine of websites, it just sells itself.”

Some entrepreneurs that I’ve met seem to be so self-promotional, I love how you guys are so in love with your brand and you guys are constantly collectively promoting Rap Genius 24/7.

“Well I don’t know about that, man. I always try to promote on my own poetry too. All of my poetry is not only contained on Poetry Genius but it’s composed. I actually write it directly on Poetry Genius so the annotations are intensely interwoven; you better believe I’m going to be reading at our poetry reading this coming Saturday. We’ve got a lot of meme-poets, a lot of the meme young poetry crowd are going to be reading and everything that’s gonna be read will have already been annotated on Poetry Genius. We’re going to have the annotations running along with the reading. That’s the only thing that’s more important to me to promote than Rap Genius, is my own poetry.”

So I’m assuming that if you didn’t have Rap Genius, if Rap Genius didn’t exist, you would most likely be a poet then?

“Well, I think it goes hand in hand. The reason why Rap Genius exists is for me to write my poetry on it. Then my poetry is all contained within Poetry Genius, so it’s like they are totally interconnected. In a sense, you can think of Rap Genius as a poem that God has written, because everyone is writing it together. It’s a divine poem.”

You guys are known to live a rock star lifestyle, what are your plans for the next five years?

“So I’m basically dead set that by the time I’m thirty-five, I’m thirty-one right now, by the time I’m thirty-five, Rap Genius will have IPOed and I will be an alcoholic playwright living in Rio de Janeiro. Right now, the most important thing is my baby, so we’re going have to get the baby to IPO city, so it’s going to be a couple of years away and then what’s the ticker gonna be? You know, like RAPG, RG, maybe just RAP, that would be pretty good. NASDAQ, they’ll let you use four, so we’ll probably do NASDAQ.”

Startups nowadays seem to be going through some huge exits; at this moment is there a price that you’d sell Rap Genius for?

“Well the problem with that is that Rap Genius is basically a cathedral. So, what price would you sell [NextShark] cathedral? It’s priceless, and then also if you sell your company you have to work for someone else, so clearly I can’t work for anyone else.  And then the thing is, who would buy Rap Genius? Like Rap Genius is going be the fabric of the internet. We’re going to have annotations on other sites, so every other site in the world like “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Times” are going be Genius powered and they’re going to have our annotations on them. And then the Genius platform will take over the internet; everyone’s most important statistic that they have in life is their Genius IQ in their related field. You want to get a good job as a programmer?  What’s your code IQ? You want to get a job at a fashion magazine? What’s your fashion IQ on Fashion Genius? So who would buy Rap Genius? I could see Rap Genius buying Google or whatever but if you have something that’s going to be the fabric of the internet, it’s going to be the biggest site, the biggest phenomenon on the entire internet.”

It’s like you guys are really just planning to take over the world one annotation at a time!

“Yeah, I know, and hopefully annotating things becomes like email. It’s just a medium that people used for getting things done because it’s convenient; it’s a convenient way to have a dialogue with a bunch of people who are not in the same place and the critical thing is awarding IQ. Right now, what every newspaper and media website has are comments at the bottom of articles and the comments are a disaggregated clump; you don’t know what part of something anyone is talking about and if you’re an actual intelligent person you have a disincentive to leave a comment because it’s just going to get lost in this giant muddle whereas with leaving quality annotations, the main way that you get IQ is on the votes that an annotation gets. So if you leave something that is of high quality it’s going to get a bunch of up votes, so you get a giant boost for your IQ for leaving that annotation. So we incentivise people to put good dialogue on things whereas right now, there’s a huge disincentive and the dialogue is still the biggest part. When you go to a news website on the internet, the article gets probably as much eyeball time as the comments do. So these sh*t comments are still getting a bunch of attention. So if you’re going to replace them with something that is ten times better, then that’s going to be f*cking huge.”

Lastly, what is the one piece of advice you’d give to every young aspiring entrepreneur?

“Well I don’t think anyone should be an aspiring entrepreneur; I am a firm believer that if there is something to do, you stumble onto it, so I think the best thing is to put yourself in positions where you can meet a lot of other people who are [alike]. I didn’t stumble into Rap Genius, Tom built this site that I got to work on. So like if you want to be an entrepreneur, I think the best thing that you can do is to get into consulting. That’s what I think is the best, stumble into something entrepreneurial, a position to put yourself in. So I went to Law School, that’s not bad either, overall I’m very grateful that I went into law school particularly because I went to Stanford, that’s like the coolest place. I wish I went there for undergrad too, but law school is not as good as working for Bain or Mckenzie or something like that. That’s what I kind of wished I’d done.”


Photography by Sean Willis

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