-- Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory co-founded Genius (formerly Rap Genius) in 2009 after a discussion about song lyrics and music led them to the idea of a music annotation website.
The two friends -- who describe each other as "BFFLs" (best friends for life) -- met during freshmen year at Yale University. Now, the co-founders attend couples therapy once a week to help keep their friendship -- and their business -- strong.
Genius contributors are ranked by their "Genius IQ score,” which represents their knowledge of a topic. Most recently, Genius joined forces with Spotify to launch a "high-profile integration" called "Behind the Lyrics" where Spotify users can receive pop-up fun facts, lyrics and stories from their favorite artists alongside the music.
Lehman and Zechory recently joined Rebecca Jarvis on “Real Biz With Rebecca Jarvis” for a conversation about the inspiration behind Genius, growing a successful start-up with your BFFL and choosing company values. Below are excerpts from the conversation. For more of the interview, watch the video above.
Rebecca Jarvis: How did you choose the values you wanted [for] Genius?
Ilan Zechory: We met Dan Gilbert, who is one of our investors, and he runs many different companies. He runs [a] big online mortgage business, he owns sports teams, he owns hotels and real estates in Detroit. He basically said the most important thing is not what you do, it’s who you are ... you need to define who you are and that is the most important thing about managing a big organization.
Rebecca Jarvis: Let’s go through [Genius' values which you call “isms”].
Tom Lehman: OK, so it’s not-not your job. That’s the opening value, which basically means that a company like Genius as a startup ... work isn’t going to be assigned very precisely. You gotta look out and say, "Oh! Here’s a project that’s important, this one is ultimately backstopping it, no one is ultimately insuring that it gets done. I want to step up, I volunteer to step up to handle that. It’s not-not your job. The ending "ism" is, we’ll figure it out, which is just an "ism" that represents the idea that things are going to get stressful. Things are going to get hard. Things are, at times, going to feel really bad, like, "Here’s this top problem, how do we solve [it], we have no idea." "We’ll figure it out" [is] something you can say to assure everyone that although we can’t see the answer, and there’s no road map, we, through our belief in ourselves and our ingenuity and hard work, are going to be able to get to an answer.
Ilan Zechory: [Another is] don’t fill up on bread, which is don’t work on small, easy projects. Don’t just kind of fill up on easy-to-do [things], don’t just do your email all day.
Tom Lehman: [Another is] run into the spike.
Ilan Zechory: It's crucial. Run into the spike. It’s kind of a violent image, but the idea is when you are deciding what to do next, think about the most painful, most awful scary intimidating thing and do that.