Turntable.fm might very well be the hottest startup on the planet right now--and I feel very fortunate to say that it is a First Round portfolio company. Credit for that, however, should go to Billy Chasen, the founder. We made a bet on Stickybits, a QR code platform, that didn't pan out. We continued to be supportive of Billy as he decided to work on another idea after disproving the hypothesis that people wanted to engage with QR codes here in the US--and that idea is the fantastic new social music service Turntable.fm.
The magic behind Turntable.fm, in my opinion, is how it ties in social to music. Some services just tell you what your friends are listening to--the digital data exhaust of an inherently unsocial experience. You listen to music on your own, and your data is broadcasted to your graph. Imagine if you could only date someone based on what they do in their apartments by themselves. It would be an odd experience, and not really reflective of the best behavior, or at least most interactive behavior, they might have if they were actually hanging out with you.
Turntable only lets you in if you already know someone on Facebook who is on it--so you're almost guaranteed to find someone you know, and often multiple people, in one of the rooms. Not only does Turntable give DJs the added pressure of playing something great that their audience will like, so they can get points, but the songs will often be tailored to get a particular emotional response to your group of friends. It's not just about getting to be a DJ--it's like having a DJ who already knows you personalize a setlist for you and your social graph cohort. Honestly, after spending time in Turntable, if you think of it as just as a recommendation service, you're going to find that Pandora and Last.fm pale in comparison to the quality of recommendations. What Turntable has brilliantly done has given users the right incentives and provided the right game mechanics to tell the service what the best songs are.
It's also the kind of business, like a (warning... FRC portfolio company pitch alert!) GroupMe, Birchbox, Chloe and Isabel, that clearly appeals to wide swaths of the "normals". It doesn't feel like a "Techcrunch 53k" kind of play where only the geekiest of geeks will ever need the service--not that they don't use it. The coding soundtrack group is normally the most popular room on the site, especially after 2AM.
This is an exciting business to be involved in--and one where you could easily see lots of ways to monetize, especially through virtual goods. Lots of people in these rooms are asking for ways to pay to bump bad songs off, to get two songs at a time, and to change their avatars. Brands, too, should be paying attention here. Shouldn't Dunkin Donuts be sponsoring the 9AM "WAKE UP!" room? Seems that there are a lot of opportunities here and lots of potential for this new service to change the way we listen to music online.