Cliff Hunt has worn many hats in the music biz. For the past 18 years he has served as co-founder, former chairman and COO of the technology company YANGAROO which is in the business of secure digital delivery of IP content to radio and television stations in North America. On August 1st, he stepped down from day-to-day operations with the company, passing the mantle to current company executive Gary Moss, but he will remain in a consultancy capacity for two more years. His son, Adam Hunt, was named VP Sales, Entertainment division at the same time.
You can read the press release here.
Over the years, Cliff Hunt has proven himself to be an astute businessman, a wise reader of people and trends, and cultivated a far-flung network of friends, alliances and investors. It is worth noting that after I returned to the music business about ten years ago, indie music promoter Joe Wood steered me to meet with Cliff, suggesting I should pitch him on starting a music trade publication for the Canadian music industry. I remember meeting with Cliff at the YANGAROO offices in Liberty Village. We had known each other over the years but never sat down to talk one-on-one. At the mere mention of what I was proposing he was immediately in as a seed investor. No hesitation at all in committing.
The name FYI came about because it was easy to remember, and served as an acronym for Farrell, Yangaroo Inc. With his support and a small cash infusion I met up with Gary Slaight, and the project took flight.
The following is a conversation with Cliff conducted yesterday. I wish him all the best in his next adventure.
Cliff, give us some background about the company: when it launched, how the idea came about?
It all began in late 1998, early 1999. I was sitting in my office one day and received a "cold call" from an investment banker who got my name out of a contact book. He was trying to get a record deal for his girlfriend. Long story short, one thing led to another, and we ended up meeting and discussing the current state of the music business and where it was going.
Digital file sharing was just becoming an issue, and co-incidentally I had just been approved for Direct Board Approval for Factor funding.
When I mentioned that I had access to government funding, but it required matching funds, he stated: "Well that's what I do, how much money do you need to raise?" After extensive research, it was clear that any investor money was going into technology related companies, and not music.
He was aware of a company that had acquired a unique technology called Bio Password that was a method of identifying the user of a computer by their unique typing rhythm or pattern on a keyboard. We discussed how cool it would be if you could combine this technology with a digital rights management platform and allow people to send music files while identifying both the sender and recipient. We met with them and realized they didn't see the value in what they had, and we managed to acquire the worldwide rights for Bio-Password for shares in a yet to be established technology company.
With that technology in hand, we set about to raise some seed money and put together a tech team that would build a working demo that we could begin demonstrating the dream and start seriously raising enough funds to build a viable technology firm focussed initially on the music industry.
Industry veterans, the late Gerry Lacousierre and Jerry Renewych, joined our Board of Directors and gave us immediate credibility industry-wide, both here in Canada and the US. I could never thank those two enough and will miss them both greatly.
That, essentially, is how we got started.
What are the highlights of your career at YANGAROO?
There have been so many it's hard to choose.
I would say first getting Lacousierre and Renewych on board early helped get us off the ground and gave the company much-needed credibility.
Second would have to be the support of Gary Slaight and Standard Broadcasting and Deane Cameron and EMI Music early on as development partners who helped us prove the concept of secure digital transfer of music files from record labels to radio stations.
The third highlight would be the significant financing by Sprott Securities (now Cormark Securities) in 2007 who raised $10M for us to grow and expand from the music industry into advertising.
The fourth highlight would be all the key strategic partnerships we were able to establish. For instance, MTV Networks in NY, who worked with us to move into music video delivery. The Junos and later The Grammys, who helped us develop and establish our Awards Platform which is now the industry standard. And, finally, a partnership with Horizon Media in NY who worked hand-in-hand with our team to build and develop our Advertising delivery service that is now seeing great success.
And most recently, a personal highlight was being honoured by the City of Mississauga last year, as they included me as a member of their Music Walk of Fame for being a Music Industry digital pioneer.
And, finally, being able to hand over the day to day reins of the Entertainment Division to my son Adam. He is going to do a fantastic job as he knows the business inside and out, and has been working with the company since he graduated from university over 13 years ago. That is a true highlight!
The company has gone through some rocky patches, but you seem to have weathered the storm. What is the end game now, and how fast is the company growing?
Of course, there have been some rocky patches. How about trying to do an IPO in 2003 following 9/11, the scandals of Enron and WorldCom? We did it!!
I can remember early on borrowing against my house to make payroll, or in 2006 before the Sprott Securities financing, both myself and then CEO John Heaven going for six months without a paycheck.
Ah, the good old days!!!
It's not in my nature to dwell on the past or even think about the tough times, as it's what's happening tomorrow that matters; and things have never been better or looked brighter for this company.
2017 is by far the biggest year in the company's history. Advertising is finally really taking off, and I expect it will be the real growth area for years to come. We are active primarily in the Canada and the US, but I see lots of room for growth in many other territories.
What spurred your decision to step down as COO at this time, and what is in the cards for Cliff in the months ahead?
The decision was based on a number of things. Eighteen years is a long time, and it's time for the young guns to take it to the next level.
I will remain involved as a consultant and will contribute when and where I can, but we have over 40 employees and a very aggressive and eager team, and it is their turn.
As for me personally, I have lots on my plate. As you know, I collect classic cars and expect to spend more time on that venture. I will be travelling to Europe in a few weeks with my wife Corrine, which is something I have promised her for too long. We will spend time in California during the winter months, and I have been invited to consult with some industry related companies and organizations. So keeping busy will not be an issue.
What will you miss most?
Rush hour on the QEW!!!! Ha-ha.
Seriously, I will miss the energy level generated by a team of young, smart, dedicated people that every day kept me young and motivated. Some, like Ricardo Martinez, Anne Lee, Andrew Nicol, Adam Hunt, Drew Ferante, and of course Rich Klosa have been with us for close to a decade or more. They live and breathe YANGAROO and are the future.
They are truly the future of the company.