2009 CEO interview highlights

Bambi Francisco Roizen · December 23, 2009 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/c9a

CEOs of LinkedIn, DemandMedia, Zynga, Pandora, Smule, Mint, etc.

VatorNews conducted more than 200 interviews in 2009, from some of the leading movers and shakers in the startup world. Here's a sample of the interviews we conducted. They were chosen because the companies were in the spotlight this year or the interview received a significant number of views from our audience. 

We hope you enjoy these videos and we look forward to providing even more videos and interviewing the leading CEOs, founders and thinkers across innvoation and entrepreneurship in 2010.

Mark Pincus is founder and CEO of Zynga, the largest social gaming publisher of games, such as Texas Hold'Em, FarmVille, and Mafia Wars, that run on top of social networks. Zynga raised $180 million in December, bringing its total raise $219 million. Mark is also going to be speaking at Vator's inaugural Splash event on February 4, 2010.

I managed to catch up with Mark in 2009 for a series of interviews (see links below) to discuss a range of topics from how the gaming industry is changing because of the social networks to lessons he's learned as an entrepreneur, including thoughts on his failures and setbacks, notably Tribe, the social network he started in the early days of networking. Mark was also a guest host on Vator's American Idol-styled show, Vator Box

Social gaming owes a lot to Facebook

Lessons from Tribe: Fail fast

Mark Pincus as guest host on Vator Box, analyzing Smule

I had a chance to sit down with Reid Hoffman, former CEO and founder of LinkedIn at the TiE Conference in 2009, where Hoffman was a keynote interview. The professional network is one of the early pioneers of social networks, even though LinkedIn has always been a “business” or professional network, and not a place to throw sheep. It’s been around since launching in 2003, and after $100 million in venture funding raised, it’s reached more than 40 million registered users from around the world. LinkedIn is profitable, and its last valuation was $1 billion. Hoffman's goal is to get every professional in the world to be on LinkedIn.

Reid on the business of LinkedIn

Lessons Learned: Pursue as a learning cycle

Imagine an assembly line, of title creators, writers, fact-checkers, editors, etc. all lined up and working on one article or video. Each person touches a piece of content in a sequential manner using optimally-planned logistics. That's the methodology behind Demand Media's content creation. And, it's getting noticed. 

"We're adding science to the art of creating content," said Richard Rosenblatt, CEO and co-founder of Demand Media, a social media network. I caught up with Richard in the fall of 2009 for a series of interviews ranging from Demand's financial outlook to its methodology behind content creation to where it fits in the media landscape.

Demand Media's scientific approach to news

Demand Media's IPO ambitions

How Demand fits into the media landscape

In this segment, Aaron Patzer, CEO of Mint.com, shared the inside story of his company's acquisition and his plans for the next three years at the helm of Intuit's personal finance division. Mint.com is a personal finance tool with a beautiful user interface that saw astronomical growth from the time it launched at TC 50 in 2007. In two years, it has gained over 1 million users. On September 13, 2009, Mint announced its acquisition by Intuit for $170 million. VatorNews caught up with Patzer at the Vator.tv and The Funded's Juice Pitcher event last night, where Patzer gave a presentation on the cost side of building a business.

Mint CEO unveils global expansion plan

Aaron Patzer lays bare Mint's numbers

This year, I converted my husband from Napster to Pandora, a personalized radio station that creates music stations based on personal preferences. It's been a great year for Pandora (and not because my husband is now a mega fan). In July, Webcasters came to an agreement, which pretty much has saved Internet radio, and Pandora closed another round of funding, estimated by peHUB to be around $35 million. In an interview with Joe Kennedy, CEO of Emeryville, Calif.-based Pandora, he said that Pandora sales should double in 2009, thanks in part to its popularity on the iPhone app. In a three-part interview segment, I talk to Joe about the popularity of Pandora, what's driving revenue, and importantly how hitting the reset button was one of the reasons the company is thriving today.

Pandora sees revenue up 80% this year

Pandora banks on advertising over music sales

Evolution of radio and music genome project

Lessons Learned: How Pandora hit reset, and became a success

John Battelle, is founder and CEO of Federated Media, a leading advertising network and media company. Federated Media didn't make a big splash this year with any fundraising news (its last raise was $50 million back in 2008). But it's still a high-profile company, led by an even higher-profile CEO - Battelle. 

In our interviews, Battelle talks about his search for a replacement, his thoughts on conversational marketing and lessons as an entrepreneur, specifically his experience at the Industry Standard, a publishing company he was not able to control in the end, because he gave up control too soon.

John on conversational marketing

John on the CEO search and on nurturing properties

Lessons Learned: Sell as little as possible

Let's face it - this year was the year of the iPhone app. And, one company dominating the iPhone app charts has been Smule. When the iPhone first launched, few saw the vision of turning it into a musical instrument. Today, Smule has some of the most popular and highest grossing apps, from I Am T-Pain, Ocarina and Leaf Trombone.  Recently, Smule raised $8 million, bringing its total raise to $13.5 million. Jeff Smith, co-founder and CEO of Smule, caught up in 2009 to talk about why people are playing their phones. Jeff is also a keynote speaker at Vator's Splash event on February 4, 2010. He'll not only be giving a presentation, he may even play a mini-concert.

 Smule iPhone app closes in on 1.5 mln

Smule's big iPhone 3.0 launch

Lessons Learned: proximity and slow and steady win the race

Jeff as guest host on VatorBox, analyzing Heyzap

Earlier this year, I interviewed Venky Hariynaryan, co-founder and CEO of Kosmix, a search engine that organizes content in a magazine-styled fashion. Kosmix is a search engine that is a combination of Wikipedia meets Answers.com meets search. Kosmix has raised more than $50 million in funding from top venture capitalists. For those around in the earlier days of the Internet, Venky developed the first e-commerce search engine, Junglee, which was acquired by Amazon.com in 1998 for $250 million. Kosmix also has one the bigger follower bases on Vator, with nearly 2000 followers.

Kosmix browse vs search

Kosmix to introduce sponsored widgets

After bootstrapping his company, Eventbrite, with his own $250,000, Kevin Hartz raised $6.5 million from one of the leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley - Sequoia. In our interview at the end of 2009, Kevin, CEO and co-founder (with his wife) said he's "democratizing tickets," giving anyone the ability to easily create, organize, market and sell tickets to an event - from a yoga class, Turkey Trot to a conference. Eventbrite's traffic is exploding as the service has already sold 10 million tickets for its customers. Many publications have said Eventbrite may one day eat Ticketmaster's lunch! OK. No one has said that. But there's truth to it. except me. 

Kevin is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded payment platform Xoom.com, which is on track to go public in 2010.  

Eventbrite monetizes events


Image Description

Bambi Francisco Roizen

Author of "Unequally Yoked"; Co-founder Vator and Invent Health; Former Columnist/correspondent Dow Jones MarketWatch; Business anchor CBS affiliate KPIX

All author posts

Support VatorNews by Donating

Read more from our "Interviews" series

More episodes

Related Companies, Investors, and Entrepreneurs



Joined Vator on

Zynga is the largest social gaming company with 8.5 million daily users and 45 million monthly users.  Zynga’s games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Yahoo! and the iPhone, and include Texas Hold’Em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist.  The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Pilot Group, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel.  Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco.  For more information, please visit www.zynga.com.

Demand Media


Joined Vator on

Demand Media is building a different type of new media company. With a proprietary media platform that powers the company's highly-trafficked domains and wholly-owned content media properties, Demand Media leverages cutting edge, user-driven publishing, community and monetization tools in its quest to define the next generation of new media companies.

Federated Media


Joined Vator on

At FM, we believe that the best conversations are those where all parties are engaged, informed, and valued. Working with our marketing and publishing partners, Federated Media is helping to define this innovative form of online marketing: a three-way dialog among creators, audiences, and marketers.

FM represents outstanding authors whose sites cater to cultural influencers, technology decision makers, and business leaders. Our first federation, focused on digital culture, currently reaches millions and millions of readers every month. New federations in the media/entertainment, parenting, and small business categories, representing millions of entrepreneurs, consumers, and families, are in the process of launching as well.

In addition to establishing a devoted following, each site in the FM fold subscribes to a core set of values: strong voice and point of view, accuracy to the facts, engagement with its community, responsibility, integrity and transparency.


Eventbrite, Inc.


Joined Vator on

Eventbrite is the world’s largest self-service ticketing platform, and enables people all over the world to plan, promote, and sell out any event. The online event registration service has helped organizers process over 130 million tickets in 179 countries, and makes it easy for everyone to discover and share the events with people they know. In this way, Eventbrite brings communities together by encouraging people to connect through live experiences. Eventbrite's investors include DAG Ventures, Sequoia Capital, T. Rowe Price, Tenaya Capital and Tiger Global. Learn more at www.eventbrite.com.



Joined Vator on

Pandora, the leading internet radio service, gives people music they love
anytime, anywhere, through a wide variety of connected devices: laptop and
desktop computers, smartphones, connected BluRay players, connected TVs,
etc. Personalized stations launch instantly with the input of a single “seed” –
a favorite artist, song or genre. The Music Genome Project®, a deeply
detailed, hand-built musical taxonomy, powers the personalization or
Pandora. Using this musicological “DNA” and constant listener feedback
Pandora crafts personalized stations from the more than 800,000 songs that
have been analyzed since the project began in January 2000.
More than 75 million people throughout the United States listen to
personalized radio stations for free on Pandora through their PCs, mobile
phones and devices such as the iPad, and connected in-house devices
ranging from TVs to set-top boxes to Blu-Ray players. Mobile technology has
been a significant factor in the growth and popularity of Pandora, starting
with the introduction of the Apple app store for the iPhone in the summer of
2008. Pandora instantly became one of the most top downloaded apps and
today, according to Nielsen, is one of the top five most popular apps across
all smartphone platforms.

Pandora is free, simple and, thanks to connectivity, available everywhere
consumers are – at the office, at home, in the car and all points in between.
In 2009 the Company announced that Pandora would be incorporated into
the dashboard in Ford cars via SYNC technology; GM has already followed in
announcing plans to integrate Pandora into its vehicles and Mercedes-Benz
introduced their Media Interface Plus device that works with the
free Pandora iPhone app to provide direct control of Pandora from in-dash
stereo controls. This was all great news for the millions of Pandora listeners
who had been plugging their smartphones into car dashboards to listen to
personalized stations while driving. More than 50 percent of radio listening
happens in the car, making it a crucial arena for Pandora.

Today tens of millions of people have a deeply personal connection with
Pandora based on the delight of personalized radio listening and discovery.
These highly engaged listeners reinforce the value Pandora provides to: 1)
musicians, who have found in Pandora a level playing field on which their
music has a greater chance of being played than ever before; 2) advertisers,
who benefit from the multi-platform reach of Pandora, as well as its best
practices in targeting consumers for specific campaigns; 3) the music
industry, which has found in Pandora a highly effective distribution channel;
and 4) automobile and consumer electronics device manufacturers, who have
noted that incorporating Pandora into their product makes it more valuable
to consumers.

Pandora continues to focus on its business in the United States. The radio
arena has never been hotter, thanks to technology that enables radio to be
personalized to the individual and more accessible than ever before. Right
now millions of people listen to Pandora in the United States and we hope
someday to bring Pandora to billions of people around the world.

• 2000 – Tim Westergren’s Music Genome Project begins.
• 2005 – Pandora launches on the web.
• 2008 – Pandora app becomes one of the most consistently downloaded
apps in the Apple store.
• 2009 – Ford announces Pandora will be incorporated into car
dashboard. Alpine and Pioneer begin selling aftermarket radios that
connect to consumers’ iPhones and puts the control and command of
Pandora into the car dashboard.
• 2010 – Pandora is present on more than 200 connected consumer
electronics devices ranging from smartphones to TVs to set-top boxes
to Blu-ray players and is able to stream visual, audio, and interactive
advertising to computers, smartphones, iPads, and in-home connected



Joined Vator on

Smule develops interactive sonic applications for the iPhone and other technology platforms.   Smule is developing the new sonic network, connecting users across the globe through expressive audio.  Smule's Ocarina, I Am T-Pain, and Leaf Trombone have set the standard for iPhone applications, combining innovative uses of the hardware with compelling social experiences. 

@WalmartLabs (Kosmix)


Joined Vator on

Kosmix was acquired by Walmart in May of 2011 to create @WalmartLabs.

Through the innovative fusion of retail, social and mobile, @WalmartLabs is redefining Commerce for the largest retailer worldwide. We are a group comprised of the brightest technologists and businesspeople in the industry, excited about the limitless opportunities that this next generation of Commerce will bring to billions of people around the globe, all in an effort to help them save money and live better.

Kosmix was funded by Time Warner Investments, Accel Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Dag Ventures, private investor Ed Zander and Jeff Bezos' personal investment company, Bezos Expeditions.


WalmartLabs is hiring.




Jeffrey Smith

Joined Vator on


Reid Hoffman

Joined Vator on


Mark Pincus

Joined Vator on