Troy Carter knows how to pick talent, but his own spark is turning that talent into a cultural phenomenon.
Carter managed Lady Gaga from early into her career to worldwide stardom until he was fired in 2013. These days, Carter and his talent agency, Atom Factory, manage the next frontier of pop stars, including Meghan Trainor and John Legend.
That’s not all he’s known for, though. Carter is the rare bridge between Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles entertainment industry. Uber, Lyft, Dropbox, Spotify, theSkimm, and Warby Parker are just a few of his tech investments.
His expertise at picking talented musicians and founders has more overlap than one would think.
“One makes hit records and one makes hit products, but you gotta have a hit,” Carter said in an exclusive interview with Business Insider.
While pop culture has validated two of his biggest hits (Lady Gaga and Uber), Carter decided to try his hand at a new venture: a startup accelerator.
Carter and the Atom Factory announced their new startup accelerator, SMASHD Labs, in July. The 10-week program, starting September 14, is designed to find companies that are at the center of technology, entertainment and culture — areas traditional venture capitalists have shied away from post-Napster.
When Carter first started investing, he met with Paul Graham from Y Combinator about music startups. Graham told Carter at the time that his famous and prestigious startup accelerator wouldn’t accept music startups because of the litigious nature of the music industry, Carter said, recounting the conversation.
“I was so disappointed just because there’s such lack of technological innovation in music right now and for companies to be able to come in and really revolutionise music, they’re going to need to be financially backed, supported, and be able to get the rights,” Carter said.
“We want to be able to open the door to companies to come into our network where we can actually invest money, put a network of investors around them, and put mentors in the room that can help them build a great company.”
Carter first got the idea to build SMASHD Labs, his new accelerator, after he started working with Everdream, a trio of filmmakers straight out of University of Southern California. He tore out the gym at the Atom Factory to give the founders room to work and plugged them into his network.
After a good trial experience with Everdream, Carter’s Smashd Labs will make its first run with its 10-week program, which kicks off September 14. After 200 applications came in, the batch was narrowed down to six:
- WeTransfer, which is a way to transfer large files, and is used widely in the music industry. Carter describes meeting the founding team of WeTransfer like when he met Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify. “Here you have this humble founder who is building this incredible business and whose looking to scale it around the world,” Carter said. The Amsterdam-based company is not only hot in Europe for its file transfer speed and security, but it’s also gained traction in the US within the music industry. “All of our clients on the music side use WeTransfer, so here we have this opportunity to reach 70 million people per month through advertising,” Carter said.
- Trakfire: Similar to a Product Hunt for music, Trakfire wants to surface new music and make finding talent much easier. Right now the industry relies on several data sources like Spotify or iHeart Radio lists to make predictions, but none of that is running through one system, Carter explained. “Without giving too much away about what they’re working on, it’s the most well-thought out and efficient way of discovering new music I’ve seen so far. And with the right product road map, they can build something that could be revolutionary in the music business,” Carter said.
- Sidestep: Super fans want to collect merchandise from concerts, but those are the same fans who don’t want miss a single song of the concert having to wait for in lengthy lines, Carter said. “You go into the venues and there’s a huge drop-off rate in the merch lines. People don’t want to miss parts of the concert,” Carter said. Sidestep lets fans skip the lines and order T-shirts and other fan gear directly to their seats or their house. After successfully piloting its line-saving system with a few acts like Train and Fall Out Boy, Sidestep has shown it can relieve an industry pain point while gaining valuable data on a musician’s fan base, Carter said.
- Throne: One of Carter’s favourite companies, Throne is an “eBay for streetwear” that pairs sneakers with thought-out articles and culture pieces. Carter first saw the company at a demo day and said he knew that he wanted to be in on their product. He’s been urging the company to join SMASHD since. “The problem with when you look at eBay is that you can put a pair of Jordans next to a frying pan. It’s an altogether different experience compared to having some editorial around it and well-curated experience,” Carter said.
- Podium: Remember those TV screens in the back of taxi cabs? Podium wants to do the same, but to help Lyft and Uber drivers. The startup gives tablets to drivers for the ride-hailing companies and then splits the revenue it gets from advertisers. “When you think about brands and movie studios and everybody who is trying to reach millennials, having a captive audience in the back of Lyft or an Uber is a pretty great place,” Carter said. Podium already did a pilot program in New York City that was funded by social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk, and, as an investor in both Uber and Lyft, Carter wants to plug Podium into his connections. Podium may need the help since Uber has discouraged third-party advertisers before.
- Enrou: The least entertainment-related of the startups, Enrou is a marketplace where buyers can support both the individuals and communities that they buy from. Carter first spotted its founders on the Forbes 30 under 30 list and wanted the company to apply for SMASHD. “This was a company that really checked a box that we were looking for in how can we combine social impact around global culture. With what Enrou was doing with helping women and taking products from local marketplaces, we thought it was really great,” Carter said.
Here’s an introduction to the inaugural SMASHD labs startups:
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