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Mahbod Moghadam, who rose to fame as the co-founder of Genius, has died

Mahbod Moghadam, the controversial, never-boring co-founder of Genius and Everipedia, as well as an angel investor, passed away last month at age 41 owing to “complications from a recurring brain tumor,” according to a post attributed to his family and published on Genius.

The startup world appears to have caught wind of his passing just this weekend, with numerous tributes springing up on the X platform, including by former TechCrunch writer-turned-investor Josh Constine, who once interviewed Moghadam and his founders at Genius when the company was still in its relative infancy and called Rap Genius. Wrote Constine: “RIP to Mahbod. A complex, edgy, and at times problematic guy, but also genuinely funny, brilliant, and always unique.”

Moghadam was most recently living in Los Angeles, where, after spending roughly 20 months with the venture firm Mucker Capital as an entrepreneur in residence, he was focused in part on figuring out schemes to help creators get paid more directly for their work.

One of those recent efforts was HellaDoge, a short-lived social media platform that offered to pay its users dogecoin for contributing dogecoin-related content for the benefit of the rest of the platform’s users. The ostensible idea was that, unlike a Facebook or Twitter, which generate ad revenue for themselves based on the engagement of their users, HellaDoge’s users would benefit directly from their participation.

In an interview 11 months ago with the online media outfit According 2 Hip Hop, Moghadam talked about a similar idea for a company called Communistagram where, he said, “you’d connect your Venmo and [as a creator] just get paid for using it,” rather than rely on Spotify or YouTube to receive payment.

Moghadam’s interest in how people can and should get paid dates back to 2009. After graduating from Yale and then Stanford Law School, he became a lawyer just as the economy was crashing in 2008. In that same interview from last year, Moghadam said he was “just, like, tiptoeing” around the offices of the law firm where he landed his first job and praying he wouldn’t be fired.

When the inevitable happened – Moghadam said the law firm “ended up basically just giving us some money to go away” – he used the money to co-found Rap Genius with two of his Yale friends: Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman.

Originally, the site invited users to annotate and explain hip-hop lyrics, eventually becoming so well-known that rappers gravitated to the platform to explain their own lyrics – as well as to correct users who’d mangled them – including the rapper Nas, who became an advisor and one of its first investors.

By the time that Rap Genius graced the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in May 2013, the three had landed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and were on the verge of rebranding Rap Genius as Genius and expanding its remit.

But Moghadam also began attracting attention to the annotation company for belligerent behavior, both public and private. In November 2013, he attributed his poor conduct to a fetal benign brain tumor that was removed in emergency surgery. He kept pushing the envelope, however. Indeed, in 2014, after posting provocative comments as annotations after a murderer’s manifesto was posted to Genius’s platform, Moghadam resigned at the urging of Lehman, who was the company’s CEO.

Moghadam later co-founded Everipedia, a now-defunct decentralized, blockchain-based encyclopedia that allowed users to create pages on any topic as long as the content was neutral and it was cited.

As it was winding down, he joined Mucker Capital.

Looking back, Moghadam expressed dismay that Genius contributors weren’t paid for helping to build out the platform. “The only reason Genius can get by with doing slave labor for lyrics is because people love music so much,” he said during last year’s interview with According 2 Hip Hop.

Either way, the company fell short of its ambitions, failing to expand far beyond its core audience of rap fans and unsuccessfully suing Google for copying and posting its lyrics at the top of search results to capture users who might otherwise have visited Genius.

In 2021, it sold for $80 million – less than half it went on to raise from venture investors – to a holding company.

While Moghadam never reached the same heights professionally as during the early days of Genius, he remained highly regarded by many of Genius’s most ardent fans, appearing on a variety of podcasts where enthusiastic hosts fawned over him.

Moghadam also never forgave Lehman and was still trying to sue the company as of last year in an attempt to “squeeze some juice from this rock,” he said in that interview last year.

Slamming the new owners of Genius, Moghadam had added that “at least the [original] CEO [Lehman] straight up built Genius with his own two hands. He’s a nerd. That’s the only good thing about him.”

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