Recently NJTechWeekly.com spoke to Jay Bhatti, an experienced New Jersey startup investor. See his biography below. Bhatti talked to us about his investment journey with Vydia, the Holmdel-based music distribution company recently acquired by gamma. gamma (Los Angeles) was founded by Apple Music’s former global creative director, Larry Jackson, and veteran music exec Ike Youssef. Vydia will be staying in New Jersey.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hi Jay, so good to talk to you again. Here’s my first question: How did you become acquainted with Vydia?
Back in 2016, a lawyer told me that there was a company I should look at because they were doing something interesting. When I met Roy [LaManna, cofounder and CEO] for the first time, the company was located in Freehold, right off Main Street, and they were working on the second floor over a music studio or a dance studio. It looked like one of those classic startups with a bunch of employees crammed into a very small space that could have also been an apartment. It had a very classic Silicon Valley-type vibe.
I was instantly interested in the business. Within 30 minutes of talking with Roy, I understood that he knew the music space well. He understood the pain points artists had, especially emerging artists. He said he was building a technology solution that will be very interesting for these artists. I liked his technology focus. I met his early team members. I became probably their first institutional investor and then an official board member, as well.
What do you think made this deal with gamma happen?
I think that a big reason why this transaction happened was that gamma was saying, “How do we leverage technology to help artists reach their maximum potential?” And Vydia was already doing that for multiple years. Vydia’s machine learning has a decade of data behind it. It gets smarter every day, and with gamma it will be able to pull in even more data to get even smarter. Roy’s engineering team is able to distill all the noise that we hear on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, Tik Tok, all the places where we track artists, and track the revenue generated. gamma received a decade’s worth of machine learning by acquiring this technology that can tell artists and the company where the artists will do well. Will it be YouTube or Tik Tok?
So, you see this as a smart move for Vydia and gamma?
I think it was a smart move. With Roy being the CTO of gamma, he’s got the capital now with Jackson to go out there and create a dominant entity that goes to the next level in terms of what an artist-centric studio looks like for artists.
New Jersey wasn’t really a hotbed of music industry technology when Vydia was founded. How did Vydia manage to flourish in New Jersey without moving to New York City?
At the beginning, people kept asking, “How is this company NOT in New York City?” But Roy said, “No. I’m a Jersey guy. I’m building this in New Jersey.” I remember the early days, when a lot of people told him, “You could get a lot more for your company if you were in New York. If you’re in New York, you could hire better people. You could do more meetings in New York.”
But Roy said, “No, we have a lot of great talent here. And they love working at Vydia because they don’t have to commute. And, you know, Vydia is going to be important enough that all the important people that we need to see will either take our meeting when we want or come and visit.” That’s why I think the exit for Vydia, and the fact that they’re going to continue to have New Jersey be their home, bodes well for the tech ecosystem in New Jersey.
How much should we credit the Murphy administration for getting Vydia on the right path?
I remember going to an NJEDA [New Jersey Economic Development Authority] event where Roy introduced Governor Murphy, who was in his first couple of months in office. He said that a big focus of his was helping startup founders like Roy be successful in New Jersey. I think you’ll see that the efforts Governor Murphy put into motion helping smaller businesses is starting to bear fruit here, and Vydia is a great first example of that. And so, Roy was very incentivized to stay in Jersey.
One of the biggest knocks against being a startup in New Jersey historically was that New Jersey was focused on the big tech companies, not startups. New Jersey historically has been a tough environment to be a startup. But I think you have to give a lot of credit to Governor Murphy. He’s playing the long game here. He said, “Hey, we’ve got to make investments in startup companies and not just help the big guys, right?” Vydia was on his radar.
Now you can see the value created by investment in startups like Vydia. Think about the tax revenue that’s generated for New Jersey from this exit happening, with new revenue coming in with a company like gamma being able to put more resources behind it. That’s going to increase the tax base and employment base of New Jersey, right? You’ve got to give Governor Murphy and Tim Sullivan at the NJEDA a lot of credit. And this is just the start, in my opinion. I’m involved in several New Jersey companies that are among the ones that I think are going to do incredibly impressive things, and you’ll be doing stories about them in the next couple of years.
[Jay Bhatti has been a venture capitalist for over 10 years. He is also an active angel investor in New Jersey startups. Due to his work in the startup community in New Jersey, Bhatti was nominated for Venture Capitalist of the Year in New Jersey in 2017 by the New Jersey Tech Council, now TechUnited:NJ. More recently, Bhatti was cochair of Governor Murphy’s Tech Transition Team and is working with the administration on ways to make New Jersey the center of tech innovation again.]
A Great New Jersey Tech Story: Vydia Acquired by gamma, by Esther Surden
How Freehold-based Vydia Played Major Role in Major Shakeup of Music Industry, by Tom Bergeron, of ROI-NJ.