20VC HitRecord's Joseph GordonLevitt on How Show Business Prepared Him For Life As An Entrepreneur, What Founders Should Look For Most In Their Investor Base & Why The Current Ad Model of Social Is Harming The World's Creative Spirit

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Minutes VC," host Harry Stebbings interviews Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor and founder of HitRecord, a collaborative platform that encourages creative cooperation over self-promotion. Gordon-Levitt shares HitRecord's evolution from a personal mantra into a venture-backed startup with investors like Alex at Javelin, David Rogier of Masterclass, and Kevin Lin of Twitch. He discusses the importance of creativity as an intrinsic motivation, contrasting the collaborative nature of HitRecord with the attention-driven model of mainstream social media. Gordon-Levitt emphasizes the joy found in the creative process itself and envisions HitRecord as a global community where anyone can engage in collective creativity. The conversation touches on the emotional aspect of pitching, the value of mentorship, and the potential of technology to foster positive creative experiences.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Episode

  • Harry Stebbings introduces the Founders Friday episode on the 20 minutes VC podcast.
  • He mentions his excitement about interviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, founder of HitRecord.
  • Harry acknowledges investors who have contributed questions for the episode.

"We are back for founders Friday here on the 20 minutes VC with me, Harry Stebbings and I answer all questions and comments personally on Instagram at htebbings 1996 with two b's."

Harry Stebbings introduces the podcast episode and his personal engagement with the audience via Instagram.

"I'm thrilled to welcome Joseph Gordon Levitt, founder at Hit Record, the startup that allows you to be creative together, encouraging less self promotion and more collaboration so you can create things you couldn't have made on your own."

Harry Stebbings expresses his excitement about welcoming Joseph Gordon-Levitt and describes the purpose of HitRecord.

Harry Stebbings' Personal Favorites

  • Harry Stebbings expresses his admiration for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's work in acting and filmmaking.
  • He lists some of his favorite movies that Joseph has starred in.

"Starring in some of my personal favorites of all time, including the Dark Knight rises, inception, ten things I hate about you, and many, many more."

Harry Stebbings shares his personal favorite movies that feature Joseph Gordon-Levitt, indicating his long-standing appreciation for Joseph's work.

Acknowledgments to Investors

  • Harry Stebbings thanks David at Masterclass, Kevin at Twitch, and Alex at Javelin for their contributions to the episode.
  • He notes their roles as investors in HitRecord and their support in formulating questions.

"I do also want to say a huge thank you to David at Masterclass, Kevin at Twitch and Alex at Javelin for some fantastic questions suggestions today."

Harry Stebbings appreciates the input from investors who helped shape the content of the podcast episode.


  • Harry Stebbings discusses sleep optimization and the pod by eight sleep as a trend among tech leaders.
  • He talks about First Republic's services for entrepreneurs and mentions clients like Instacart, Carter, and Wish.
  • He introduces Reich, a tool for work management that uses AI and cloud-based solutions.

"The latest trend with top tech leaders is sleep optimization. The first step? The pod by eight sleep."

Harry Stebbings introduces the concept of sleep optimization and a product designed to improve sleep quality.

"First Republic's resources, network and expertise allow entrepreneurs to customize a solid foundation for their business across all stages."

Harry Stebbings explains the benefits of banking with First Republic for entrepreneurs.

"Well, every day, Reich helps thousands of companies worldwide do this by revolutionizing how they approach work."

Harry Stebbings promotes Reich as a tool that aids companies in managing work more efficiently.

Introduction to Joseph Gordon-Levitt

  • Harry Stebbings welcomes Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the show and shares the excitement of having him as a guest.
  • He mentions the positive feedback received from Joseph's investors.

"I mean, my word, I have to say, it is such a joy to have you on the show."

Harry Stebbings conveys his enthusiasm for having Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the podcast.

Founding Story of HitRecord

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt recounts the founding story of HitRecord, starting with his early acting career.
  • He explains the transition from acting to creating his own content due to challenges in getting cast.
  • HitRecord began as a personal mantra and evolved into a collaborative platform.
  • The community aspect of HitRecord grew, leading to the idea of it becoming a production company.
  • Legal considerations around intellectual property and collaboration were addressed.
  • Joseph and his co-founder set ambitious goals for the types of creative work they wanted to produce.

"Hit record did not start as a startup in the least."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt clarifies that HitRecord began not as a business but as a personal project.

"I can't wait around for somebody else to give me permission to be creative."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt emphasizes the importance of taking personal responsibility for one's creativity.

"Using the Internet to collaborate to make something together with other people that you might not have been able to make on your own, that was sincerely new behavior that was only made possible by this new technology."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt discusses the innovative aspect of online collaboration facilitated by HitRecord.

"We worked for a long time with Wilson Sincini to build a unique terms of service so that we could allow our community to remix each other, and we could monetize the finished pieces that came out of those collaborations, and we could pay the different contributing artists."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains the legal framework developed to support collaborative creativity and monetization on HitRecord.

HitRecord's Evolution and Community

  • HitRecord began as a small project and has accomplished a variety of creative milestones.
  • The platform published books with Harper Collins, released records, and showcased work at film festivals like Sundance and Toronto.
  • A TV show made by HitRecord won an Emmy and the platform has paid out nearly $3 million to contributing artists.
  • Over 700,000 registered users have joined HitRecord without any paid traffic or registrations, forming a unique and positive community.
  • The community's collaborative nature fosters respect and mutual encouragement, setting it apart from typical toxic online environments.
  • HitRecord has transitioned into a venture-backed company to expand its capabilities and reach.

And then over the years, we did all those things, actually, and really had a great time doing it. We did publish a book with a number of books, actually, with Harper Collins. We put out records. We've screened a whole bunch of stuff at Sundance, the Toronto Film Festival, et cetera. We made a tv show, it won an Emmy.

This quote outlines the creative achievements of HitRecord over the years, highlighting the diverse range of content and accolades.

We've paid out different contributing artists. We're almost at $3 million now. It's like 2.9 now.

This quote emphasizes the financial support given to artists contributing to HitRecord, indicating the platform's success and commitment to its community.

Over 700,000 registered users now, we've never paid a single dollar to buy traffic or registrations or downloads or anything like that.

This quote showcases the organic growth of HitRecord's user base, illustrating the genuine interest and engagement of the community.

And thing I'm most proud of, though, beyond any of the productions, is the community itself.

This quote reflects the speaker's pride in the positive and collaborative community that has formed around HitRecord, which is considered the platform's greatest accomplishment.

Identity and Role Definition

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt considers himself eclectic and values the variety of roles he plays, both as an actor and a tech founder.
  • He and his co-founders initially did not view themselves as tech experts, focusing more on their artistic backgrounds.
  • HitRecord's shift towards embracing technology came after realizing the potential for a broader creative ecosystem and the need for better tools to facilitate community-led projects.

I guess I would consider myself first eclectic. I would be sad if I had to give up any of the wide variety of things that I am fortunate enough to do.

This quote reveals Joseph Gordon-Levitt's reluctance to label himself solely as one thing, as he values the diverse aspects of his career.

And we never really considered hit record a tech company until very recently.

This quote indicates that HitRecord's identification as a tech company is a recent development, aligning with its evolving goals and capabilities.

Venture Capital and Investor Selection

  • HitRecord raised $6.5 million in a Series A funding round, attracting notable investors from the tech industry.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt sought not just financial support but also guidance and mentorship from investors with a genuine passion for the creative process.
  • The investor selection process involved forming a new network in the technology community and prioritizing investors who could provide valuable insights and collaboration.

We raised six and a half million dollars.

This quote states the amount of money raised during HitRecord's Series A funding round, indicating significant investor interest.

We were not just looking for money... I wanted even more than the capital was the guidance.

This quote highlights the strategic approach to investor selection, emphasizing the desire for experienced mentors over purely financial contributions.

Mentorship and Learning

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt values the mentorship of individuals like David Rogier and Alex from Javelin, who provide hands-on guidance and support.
  • He also mentions Jaron Lanier as a mentor, whose philosophy on technology and creativity aligns with his own views.
  • The importance of learning from those with more experience in the tech industry is a key part of HitRecord's growth and development.

David himself has been one of the biggest mentors.

This quote acknowledges the mentorship of David Rogier, co-founder of Masterclass, and his influence on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's approach to building HitRecord.

Jaron started the first VR company back in the 80s.

This quote introduces Jaron Lanier, another mentor, and underscores his pioneering role in virtual reality and his influence on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's perspectives on technology.

Jaron Lanier's Critique of Social Media Business Models

  • Jaron Lanier, a mentor to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has been a critic of social media for many years.
  • Lanier's books discuss the negative impacts of social media's business models on humanity.
  • "Who Owns the Future?" focuses on the economic impact of free services in exchange for data used to manipulate users for advertising purposes.
  • Lanier offers alternative solutions to the current social media business models.

"His latest book is called ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now, which is a blunt title, but is actually very thoughtful and very specific about what he thinks is wrong with the business model." "Where he really dives into the economic impact of this business model, where products or services are given away for free in exchange for the right to opaquely gather lots of data around people and use that data to manipulate them according to the will of advertisers."

The quotes summarize Lanier's perspective on the detrimental effects of the social media business model, emphasizing the manipulation of users through data collection for advertising purposes.

Comparing Pitching in Tech and Show Business

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt finds similarities between pitching in show business and tech entrepreneurship.
  • The pitching process involves understanding the audience, connecting with them, and speaking their language.
  • Pitching a movie focuses on emotional resonance, while pitching a company includes both analytical and emotional components.
  • Gordon-Levitt found that emotional and intuitive aspects play a significant role in decision-making in Silicon Valley, not just data.

"Doing it in a pitch meeting is rather different than doing it in an acting audition or even when you're pitching a movie as a filmmaker, because when you're pitching a movie, it's purely emotional." "There is that analytical component, but there's also the emotional component."

These quotes highlight the dual nature of pitching in the tech industry, where both analytical data and emotional storytelling are crucial elements in the process.

Impact of Social Media on Creativity

  • Gordon-Levitt discusses the influence of social media on creativity and the creative process.
  • The attention economy of social media platforms is designed to sell user attention to advertisers, affecting creative motivations.
  • The pursuit of attention can lead to dissatisfaction and anxiety for creative individuals.
  • Social media platforms emphasize metrics like clicks and ad revenue over the actual creative process.
  • Gordon-Levitt expresses concern for the impact of social media's ad model on the creativity of younger generations.

"Jaren is critical of the business model of Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. All these companies is based on an attention economy." "I know from experience that if your goal in a creative process is to get attention, you're never going to be satisfied."

These quotes convey the negative effects of social media's attention-based business model on personal fulfillment and the authenticity of the creative process.

Alternative Creative Ecosystems

  • Gordon-Levitt works on building an alternative to mainstream social media with hitRECord, focusing on collaboration and the creative process.
  • hitRECord emphasizes making and collaboration over seeking attention.
  • The platform offers a different experience from social media, aiming to leave users feeling uplifted rather than worse.
  • Gordon-Levitt believes technology can facilitate positive, creative connections rather than inducing anxiety.

"What we're trying to build on hit record is an ecosystem for creativity that emphasizes what, in my experience, is the more joy filled and meaningful parts of the creative process." "The Internet is exactly conducive to that, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't work like that."

These quotes describe the mission of hitRECord as an alternative creative platform that prioritizes the joy and meaning of the creative process over the pursuit of attention.

Personal Fulfillment in Creative Work

  • Harry Stebbings realized that reaching a certain number of plays on his podcast wasn't what made him happy; rather, it was engaging in conversations like the one he was having with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
  • Joseph concurs, suggesting that intrinsic motivation is more fulfilling than extrinsic rewards.

"I always thought when I started doing the podcast that it would be when you reach 100,000 plays or whatever that metric is, it would be the thing that makes me happy. And then I realized, actually, that it's kind of doing episodes like this that makes me happy and where I derive the most joy."

The quote emphasizes the realization that the joy of podcasting comes from the process and conversations, not the metrics of success.

Favorite Book and Creative Motivation

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt's favorite book is "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke.
  • He appreciates the book's message about honoring one's own voice and creating for intrinsic reasons rather than external validation, likening it to not doing things for 'likes' before social media existed.

"I'll go with letters to a young poet by real k. We were just talking about creativity and being sort of extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated. If you read letters to a young poet, it's very much a rant, if you will, or a manifesto, maybe, of honoring your own voice and in modern terms, not doing it for the likes. But it was written 100 years before likes were a thing."

The quote explains why "Letters to a Young Poet" resonates with Joseph, particularly its advocacy for intrinsic motivation in creative endeavors.

Handling Stressful Situations

  • Joseph's strategy for dealing with stressful 'shit hit the fan' moments involves initially venting in private, then approaching the situation calmly and seeking diverse opinions to avoid emotional decision-making.

"First I go into a closed room and scream shit. Then after I get that out of my system, I walk back out to where everybody else is and try to stay as calm as I can and remove emotion from the equation and get lots of different opinions."

The quote describes Joseph's two-step approach to stress management: releasing emotions privately and then tackling the issue with calmness and multiple perspectives.

Ideal Day Off

  • Joseph cherishes spending time with his family, which includes two children and his wife, describing the joy they bring as indescribable.

"Well, I have a family. I'm very, very blessed to have two children and a partner, my wife. And they bring me unbounded joy that I couldn't possibly describe."

This quote highlights the importance Joseph places on family time and the immense joy it brings him on his days off.

Definition of Success

  • Jim Henson is the first person who comes to Joseph's mind when thinking about success due to Henson's impactful work with puppetry, storytelling, and filmmaking.

"How about Jim Henson, one of my favorite all time artists who took incredible talent for puppetry and storytelling and filmmaking and blew it up into something so much larger that was so impactful on so many people."

Joseph's quote reflects his admiration for Jim Henson's talent and the profound, positive impact Henson had through his work.

Learning New Skills

  • Joseph learned to do a standing backflip from his gymnastics experience during his youth, which he had the opportunity to pursue alongside other activities like acting, baseball, and piano.

"I did gymnastics when I was young. It was one of the other things I did, along with acting and baseball and piano and things."

The quote gives insight into Joseph's diverse extracurricular background and how it contributed to his ability to perform a standing backflip.

Growth and Learning in Business

  • Joseph has learned the importance of applying a scientific approach to his business, HitRecord, balancing the subjective nature of art with objective measures of success.

"The thing I'm learning a lot over the last couple of years is how to be scientific towards things. It's very different than being an artist."

This quote emphasizes the learning curve Joseph experienced in blending artistic creativity with measurable, scientific methods in business.

Future of HitRecord

  • Joseph envisions HitRecord as a community that fosters creativity among all people, not just those aspiring to enter the creative industry.
  • He believes that collaboration can unlock creativity and wants HitRecord to be an ecosystem where anyone with the urge to be creative can find others to create with.

"What we have found over the years of doing this as a production company is that when you invite people into a community, rather than saying, like, hey, post what you have, you say like, hey, let's all make something together. It really brings people out of their shells and unlocks a creativity in a way that you don't see when people are doing it alone."

The quote captures Joseph's vision for HitRecord as a collaborative platform that empowers people to engage in creative activities together.

Conclusion and Acknowledgments

  • Harry Stebbings expresses gratitude towards Joseph for the interview, mentioning the positive feedback from Joseph's cap table.
  • Joseph thanks Harry for the enjoyable interview experience.

"Thank you, Harry. It was a blast. I really appreciate it."

The quote is a polite exchange of thanks, concluding the interview on a positive note.

Promotions and Recommendations

  • Harry Stebbings promotes Joseph's Twitter handle and HitRecord's website, encouraging listeners to check them out.
  • He also advocates for sleep optimization through the pod by Eight Sleep and mentions First Republic Bank and Reich as valuable resources for entrepreneurs and businesses.

"And if you'd like to see more from Joe, you can find him on Twitter at hit record Joe. Likewise, you can find him and the site@hitrecord.org it really is a must check out, so do head over there."

This quote is a promotion of Joseph's social media and the HitRecord platform, suggesting that the audience engage with them for further inspiration and creativity.

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