On Thursday, VentureVillage represented Berlin at the UK Trade and Investment Social Media press tour in East London’s “Tech City.” Tech City is a government initiative to support and promote the growth of internet tech companies currently based in East London. Formerly known as “Silicon Roundup,” Tech City is a robust support network (as well as a sort of idiom for London start-up buzz) aiming to connect, finance, and raise the profiles of the 1,067 tech and design start-ups currently working from East London offices.
I was thrilled to meet each of the new start-ups represented, as well as to listen and lunch with the people behind Tech City, an amazing initiative with far-reach and relevance to VV’s mission here in Berlin. To honor the event and share what we liked best, we’re giving out some awards. The first goes to a hometown hero, SoundCloud, who brought eyes, ears, and investment to Berlin in the year 2011 (and gave a killer presentation at the UKTI Social Media press tour.) Stay tuned as we hand out the remainder of the UKTI Press Tour Awards.
For Surprising Social Impact in 2011, the VV award goes to: SoundCloud
SoundCloud is currently the biggest platform for sound on the web. It hosts over 8.5 million creators, ranging from big musicians like Leonard Cohen and Britney Spears to emerging artists, journalists, politicians and comedians. The last million users joined within the last 44 days.* With offices in Berlin, London, and San Francisco, and investment ranging from Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures ($10 million in January) to Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Fund (in June), its international profile continues to build.
Of the 15 presenters at the UKTI Tech City Press Tour on Thursday in London, SoundCloud was the only company with its primary office in Berlin. Presenting the SoundCloud vision for 2012 was VP of Business Development Dave Haynes, one of four of the company’s London-based employees (There are 50-60 in Berlin, many of whom go back and forth between the two European hubs.) “SoundCloud isn’t just letting people share music,” Haynes told us, “It’s connecting people and enabling social action.”
Enabling Social Action
Though it originally gained notice as a music-industry following, SoundCloud has since gathered creative applications for its service. News outlets like ABC are uploading 911 and #occupywallstreet recordings via SoundCloud. Haynes himself uses it to record the sounds of his young son to share with friends and family on Flickr and YouTube, where he can attach a visual. Gabriel Giffords, the US congresswoman who was shot in Tucson back in January 2011, is using the platform currently as she recovers speech, sending out emotional messages like “This year has been difficult for us all,” to her constituents nationwide. One central insight of the company manifests often in the material shared: Audio carries emotion that text cannot.
Unmuting the Web
The advent of YouTube marked the realization that we’re all walking around with video cameras in our pockets. Photo-sharing social sites reveal a similar insight with regards to the camera, especially with the newly improved quality of the iPhone 4S. SoundCloud draws our attention to the fact that microphones are integral to our basic pocket software, that the audio of our days tell compelling stories about our culture.
For its contributions to the European start-up landscape in 2011, VentureVillage recognizes SoundCloud. From the NBR Christchurch earthquake coverage to the many hundred uploads of songs about donuts, SoundCloud continues to capture our interest and draw ears to Berlin. By first proving itself in Europe and then launching in San Francisco, (and not vice versa), SoundCloud is a rare and powerful example for our ecosystem here in Europe, both for start-up capitals London and Berlin. “Our success in the Valley hasn’t been crucial to the success of the company,” Haynes said at the press conference Thursday. “Our objectives—to make sound social, to ‘unmute’ the web—have always been international.”
The company recently launched its app for the iPad (joining its iPhone and android apps) and has shifted from flash to HTML5 (still in beta). Integration with Foursquare allows users to place uploaded sounds geographically. With 250 applications already in their gallery, SoundCloud’s open platform allows for unforeseen growth and collaboration in 2012. We are pleased to recognize it for its achievements this year and excited to see what’s to come.
*Current to December 1, 2011