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Hark is the world’s one and only platform to access, via desktop or mobile, more than three million sound bites, quotes and images spanning pop culture new and old. Additionally, the Hark platform connects content creators – including movie and television studios – with their audiences via the distribution of legal audio content that can be played on any device and shared through social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more.
David Aronchick, CEO of Hark, has been in the technology industry for 14 years. During this time, he has founded three companies and worked at Microsoft on a variety of teams including Windows Client, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Exchange and IP Ventures. As CEO of Hark, Aronchick has helped create the world’s largest platform for pop culture sound bites. Aronchick holds a BA from Dartmouth College.
MO: Where did the idea for Hark come from?
David: Basically, we just started with out passion for quotes and ended up building a media platform with a larger population than Germany. In late 2007, my cofounder and I, children of the 80s, were sitting around literally reciting lines from the EXCELLENT movie WarGames. After an afternoon of making each other laugh, we decided it would be hilarious to make the computer sound the text message notification on our phone. An hour later, we came to the realization that normal human beings have no hope of doing this: the sound was hard to find, difficult to download, nearly impossible to move to our phone and complex to even TALK about on the social web. At that moment, we knew that audio deserved a platform, just like video, images, text and documents had – a first class platform that supported all the ways people wanted to use it. A year later, Hark launched (originally called Entertonement) and the rest is history.
MO: Can you talk a bit about the development process for creating the Hark platform? What kind of challenges did you encounter along the way?
David: We knew that we wanted content from across the spectrum, from the most professional to the most amateur, because you never knew what was going to be the most meaningful to people. This led to two major challenges: first, how do you get users to contribute to a site that has no content, and two, how do you get large partners to trust you with the content they’ve held on to so tightly.
In both cases, you have a chicken and egg problem, where people will not contribute until the content is there. To start, we became our own first and best users; in the fall of 2008, we helped populate the site with the most popular content in the world at the time, the presidential election. By using the product so thoroughly ourselves, and showing the community the power of what we were building, we were able to understand exactly what would work and what would be the most powerful content to our users. By the end of the year the flywheel was spinning and users had contributed more that ten-times our own contributions and led to the millions of pieces of content we have on the site today.
MO: Startups typically need to pivot and evolve their business model over time, especially as customers start to use the product or site. Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?
David: The number one thing that EVERY entrepreneur should be doing is launching and measuring. There is no excuse, with how many services are out there, to delay launching. Having a plan is great, and everyone should go in with a well-baked strategy for the next 12-24 months, but being live in the market and measuring what is actually going on and working is invaluable. Cut your sprint in half, cut your number of features by two-thirds, get it out AND MEASURE.
MO: What trends have you seen emerge since first launching back in 2007?
David: Since launching back in 2007, the world of social marketing and sharing has absolutely exploded. It’s difficult to remember, but Facebook and Twitter have increased by orders of magnitude, Pinterest and Tumblr have revolutionized curation and the iPhone and Android launches have made rich content consumable anywhere. This means that our site, which was once entirely focused on embeds and blogs, MUST be incredibly social and allow users to take their content with them and to hear their sound bites on every available platform.
MO: Congratulations on securing partnerships with major studios like, Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount. Have these partnerships been a game-changer for Hark?
David: Absolutely. These partnerships not only allow us to provide unique content to users, they also unlock new dollars for content owners. We know that users are out there looking for this stuff; there are already 40 B queries a month related to entertainment, and, unfortunately, the content owners see very little upside on this traffic. By giving users what they want – high quality content – and content owners a new avenue for revenue and marketing, we are helping to revolutionize the consumption and economics of media.
MO: Can you talk about how you’ve managed to walk a very thin line of both building an amazing platform that everyone can contribute to, and still be respectful of the rights of the content owners?
David: You have correctly pointed out, this is a VERY thin line. Thankfully, the DMCA provides a safe-harbor for sites like ours. We get millions of submissions of content and could not possibly look through them all, but when a content owner identifies the content that they are absolutely sure they own the rights to, we usually start an immediate conversation. We are more than happy to take that content down, but usually we are able to show them the economics of leaving the content up, and getting them both ad revenue dollars AND increased sales of their merchandise. This combination of both respecting their brands and helping them make incremental revenue are dual winners.
MO: What are the three most popular sound bites ever requested on Hark?
David: It always astounds me what will catch fire on our site. Though the numbers vary frequently, three of the most popular have been: Math 911 Homework Call, Expelliarmus and I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills!
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