SoundCloud will soon collapse if investors don’t vote for a rescue funding round tomorrow. The stumbling music streaming community site had to suddenly lay off 40 percent of its staff last month. Now it’s asking investors for $169.5 million at a pre-money enterprise valuation of just $150 million, according to Axios‘ reliable business editor Dan Primack. That’s a steep drop from the $700 million valuation of its previous rounds.
If SoundCloud doesn’t get the funding, CEO Alexander Ljung reportedly told investors that SoundCloud won’t be able “to continue as a going concern.” That could force SoundCloud to sell even though Ljung has stubbornly fought to keep the dying startup independent. If it can’t find funding or a buyer, SoundCloud could vaporize, destroying its massive archive of user-uploaded music, podcasts and other sounds.
Investors would be forgiven their distrust since SoundCloud has burned over $230 million in funding plus $70 million in debt with little monetization progress to show for it.[Update: At least this new funding deal would bring in new management. Recode reports that former Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor would replace SoundCloud CEO Alex Ljung if investors do provide the funding.]
Last month we detailed the many, MANY problems with SoundCloud. Employees told us the company is “a shitshow,” with a lack of product direction, talent leaving and employees secretly using Spotify.
Rather than focus on its unique value proposition of being the “YouTube for Audio” with demos, DJ sets and remixes available nowhere else, SoundCloud chased dreams of grandeur as it tried to evolve into a Spotify competitor. But after taking years to negotiate deals with the major record labels, the extremely late $9.99 SoundCloud Go+ subscription service flopped. Meanwhile, it had burned credibility with core users like DJs by removing their music over dubious copyright claims while trying to suck up to the labels.
SoundCloud lavishly spent money on offices around the world while its CEO galavanted at music festivals like a rock star. SoundCloud recklessly wasted money, hiring people up until the moment it announced they’d be immediately let go as part of the 173 layoffs it announced last month. Now staff morale is in the toilet, the user experience is a mess, the subscription models are unappealing, competitors are growing rapidly and musicians are fleeing to other upload platforms.
That’s why it seems crazy for investors to fund a $170 million Series F to keep a sinking ship afloat a little longer unless SoundCloud is willing to swallow its pride and get acquired for whatever it can get.
The new investors would be Raine Group and Temasek, plus existing backers Union Square Ventures, Doughty Hanson and Atlantic Technology. They’d at least get preferred stock that’s paid out upon exit before previous investors. But how are they to know they won’t get diluted too when SoundCloud runs out of money again? The new deal would reportedly reduce the liquidity preference of the previous Series E investors by over 40 percent.
We reached out to SoundCloud PR and its CEO for comment or clarity on the do-or-die fundraise, but didn’t hear back.
Investors’ best bet is to fund a small bridge round just big enough for SoundCloud to shop itself around and find a buyer. Perhaps Google would buy it to align the YouTube of Audio with the YouTube of YouTube. Or Amazon could step in and try to do for musicians what it did for book authors by creating a convenient aggregated marketplace, though acquiring Pandora might better mesh with Amazon’s mainstream demographic.
SoundCloud has proven it can’t manage itself. It’s too damaged, too in debt and too far behind to thrive independently without a miracle turnaround. No matter what, the whole service is on shaky footing, so musicians may want to archive their audio and start promoting their presence somewhere safer.