Chasen joins Goldstein for the panel discussion and Q&A. The questions are softballs. The traffic drop-off question never comes up. But if it had, here's the best explanation of what happened last year: In June, negotiations with the record labels required Turntable to cut off all access to international users while licensing agreements were hammered out, killing some traffic right there. Then a big rush of folks left—probably those who surfed the site once or twice but weren't really into it. Then it started fading more gradually. Chasen believes it's because of problems with the product—that the model is based on users' being intensely involved, when other music sites can play in the background. Goldstein, meanwhile, has wondered whether they just never got the word out far enough to hard-core music fans instead of techies. Since early January, Chasen says, the site has been adding new users every week.
Then there are, as the Q&A makes clear, still plenty of people who really, really love it. Nearly all the questions are requests for new features to the site. Could there be new game elements? Could the avatars dance more? Chasen responds vaguely: Yeah, that's probably coming. Sure, that would be great.
Afterward, a gaggle of fans come up to talk to Chasen. Some are trolling for jobs; others just want to meet the guy who made Turntable. Chasen soaks in the attention. Then, two fans step over, not to him but to the big vinyl avatar head that's resting onstage. "Can we try it on?" one asks, a big smile on her face.
Chasen's smile falls. He hesitates.
Chasen guards Turntable reflexively. Candidates for developer jobs face meticulous testing, and he rejects nearly all of them. The search for a VP of engineering, whose duties include adding new features, took six months. Not just anybody can touch Turntable code.
Chasen tends to group his Turntable duties into two categories: product development work and distractions. He says he doesn't mind Goldstein's efforts to market Turntable through music festivals, celebrity performers, and parties—so long as they don't interfere with the site or his development budget. When I ask whether he thinks the tactics are effective, he shrugs. "Seth is a business guy," Chasen says. "He thinks you can throw a level of marketing on something mediocre and make it great." If crowds aren't flocking to Turntable, he says, it's because it needs fixing. If anyone fixes it, it will be Chasen.
A company run by someone so obsessed and so talented creates beautiful products. It also follows inspiration over strategy, falls behind schedule on nearly every project it attempts, and, if it makes money, does so as an afterthought. Goldstein finds all this frustrating. But this is how business works in social Internet, he says: Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook—they all have coder chieftains, and all scored huge counterintuitive successes. Plenty of similar start-ups have failed, too, of course.
Chasen wants a larger audience for Turntable, though for different reasons from Goldstein's. "No artist ever makes something just for himself," he says. His solution, unsurprisingly, is a new product, the latest idea on his list. Code-named Kiwi—inspiration struck during a New Zealand vacation—it will be something like Pandora, but with playlists based on the recommendations of the user's Turntable friends. This will attract passive listeners interested in hearing friends' favorites, just not chatting or collecting points in a live Turntable room.
This time, Goldstein wants Chasen to at least consider Turntable the business. Before the most recent board meeting, he e-mailed Chasen five questions he should be prepared to answer: Can Turntable's live product still attract more users? Will Kiwi engage Turntable's cult fan base? Will Kiwi integrate with Turntable live? How will it affect the record-label deals? And finally, Goldstein asked Chasen to think about management process.
Chasen wouldn't answer the questions before the meeting. "But I saw that he thought about them," Goldstein says. A small sign.
The board meeting went well. Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures supported the Kiwi idea—it's similar to the way Zynga, another of his investments, moved away from its live Poker game to Words With Friends and FarmVille, which people can play at their leisure. Afterward, he sent an e-mail to Goldstein: "Great board meeting. Best yet...I think we're finally starting to operate like a business."
"One of the great lines in couples therapy is, 'Stay connected through conflict,'" says Goldstein, who has been married 13 years. "That's what Billy and I continue to try to do. Neither of us is a great communicator."
Later on, Chasen agrees. "We all have the same goal, and Seth is always trying to help guide me," he says. "I can be stubborn sometimes, but it's good to have somebody calling me on things. It sometimes comes off as bickering or fighting. But we both help each other."
On Turntable's last night in Austin, the company throws a massive party for 1,500 festival attendees, starring Questlove, The Jane Doze, and electronic pop stars AraabMuzik, A-Trak, and Diplo. Goldstein is everywhere: handing out Turntable T-shirts and avatar masks, persuading folks in the back of the line to wait it out, shuttling friends backstage. By 11:30, the crowd is so frenzied by the 64,000 watts of electronica blasting into their skulls that people start climbing onstage to dance. When the first young woman gets up, Goldstein spots his opportunity. He runs out, brandishing a Turntable T-shirt, and holds her handbag while she puts it on. Then he grabs an avatar head and, as she gyrates, shoves it on her. For the next two and a half hours, this is his job: finding dancing fans and plunking avatar heads on one after the other. At 2 a.m., Goldstein rushes into the green room, his shirt soaked through with sweat, his eyes wild, and grabs two more Turntable heads. "They're gonna shut us down! Get out there!" he yells. But I'm the only one there. Chasen wasn't interested in promoting Turntable this way himself. He had flown back to New York the day before.
Burt Helm is a senior writer for Inc. He wrote for the March issue about Khalid Shaikh, who pleaded guilty to sabotaging YouSendIt, a company he co-founded.
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