What I Learned From My Rap Genius Cofounders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: (L-R): Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory and Mahbod Moghadam of Rap Genius speak onstage with Josh Constine at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Center on May 1, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch) *** Local Caption *** Ilan Zechory; Mahbod Moghadam; Tom Lehman; Josh Constine

I beef with my co-founders now, but I have to admit — they taught me some valuable things. Ilan Zechory was the first person who ever told me that the internet was going to blow up. This was in 2005. For those of you who don’t remember those times, let me explain to you: Facebook did not exist. Can you imagine? My Everipedia co-founders do not remember such a time.

When Ilan was living in L.A. writing for “Deadwood,” I would sometimes go to his Venice apartment where he was cooped up playing Party Poker online, and he would bemoan: “Ah! I have the whole internet right here at my fingertips and I don’t know what to do with it! So frustrating!”

At times like this I would always tell him, “Go on Craigslist dogg, let’s see what is poppin …” — I simply did not share his vision.

After Ilan’s writing gig finished up, he got a job with Google in NYC. He moved in with this “mysterious nerd” who worked for a hedge fund. His dream was to start a start-up with this nerd and make millions, like in the Wild Wild West.

The nerd, if you haven’t guessed, is Tom Lehman. Tom taught me to love money.

The first time I ever met Tom, Ilan was out of town so he couldn’t be there to mediate. He was afraid we wouldn’t get along. But Tom and I immediately became thick as thieves. We fell in love. We decided to make a video for Ilan. We came up with an idea for a start-up! It would be called “Flick” and would serve as the world’s first dickpic app, a total game-changer for social networking!

That night, I even came up with a slogan for Flick: “FLICK IT!”

In other words, Tom and I invented Snapchat in 2007. And he didn’t ever build it, even though he built Rap Genius and Flick would have probably been a much bigger sensation.

If I could get a short movie made of memorable vignettes of my time at Rap Genius — something like the last scene of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” — I have no doubt that the movie would be cute and would make me very emotional. But I am trying to grow and move on. My new project, Everipedia, is similar to Rap Genius in the sense that it is a platform for crowd knowledge to coalesce, but what makes Everipedia cooler is that it is way easier to use. Rap Genius is hella-complicated, whereas Everipedia is accessible, even for children.

After breaking up with Tom and Ilan, I have moved on to some YOUNGER boys…but they are teaching me some cool stuff too. One thing that always bothered me about Tom and Ilan was that they aren’t Persian, so it feels good to finally have a Persian co-founder. The cool thing about my newfound Persian, Sam Hamidi-Kazemian, is that he is always singing the praises of Python the same way Tom would constantly blow the horn of Ruby on Rails. Even when I was at Rap Genius, I would often tire of Ruby on Rails (even though I know nothing about coding!) because it seems like Rails is slow, bloated and inefficient. Python is so CLEAN! I love it.

The Python/Rails dichotomy speaks to broader personality differences between Tom and Sam, too. Rails is a Cadillac Escalade; Python is a Tesla. Tom’s passion for Rails speaks to his generally profligate nature. When we were living together in the East Village building, the original version of Rap Genius (it was known as “Rap Exegesis” back then), one of Tom’s favorite pastimes was throwing heavy stuff out of the window and watching it crash and break in the alley. One time, we threw out an old, broken television set — probably the biggest/scariest object we ever threw. It shattered and got shards of glass all over the alley — we laughed and laughed.

And that, my friends, is why you shouldn’t work with white co-founders, or build your site with Ruby on Rails.

About the author: Mahbod Moghadam is a co-founder of Genius (formerly Rap Genius).

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