Xconomist of the Week Chris Rizik: Who Says A VC Has No Soul?

1/19/12Follow @XconomyDET

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independent soul-music artists as if they were mainstream stars? What if my site could act as a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal for soul musicians who deserved more attention?”

Rizik had the website professionally redesigned so that readers could find anything they were looking for within two or three clicks, and he began selling advertising, he says.  He also hired a stable of freelance writers, many of whom were already well-regarded for writing about topics other than music at their day jobs. Rizik says he wanted the tone of the writing to be honest but not artificially provocative.

“Now, we’re at the center of the indy soul movement,” Rizik says. “We don’t pave any roads technologically on this site, but we continue to grow.”

The site has 200,000 page views per month and 19,000 subscribers, a group with an average age of 40. Rizik describes his site’s users as “hardcore,” buying 20 CDs per year.” Facebook was its greatest source of growth in 2011, he says. (As of this writing, SoulTracks has 6,310 Likes on Facebook.)

Rizik continues to be a major player in VC after having achieved success with an online music site. So how does he feel about the current state of venture capitalism in Michigan?

“The rest of the country is moving in Michigan’s direction—smaller funds investing really efficiently,” he says. “I think Michigan funds are very well positioned. Suddenly, the Midwest as a whole looks like a more attractive place to invest.”

He says the fact that Michigan pumps out great technology developed in its universities and elsewhere and has major companies willing to invest in that technology makes Michigan a potential Mecca for venture capital.

“Michigan, in the past, has looked at itself defensively,” Rizik notes. “Part of what’s changing is that we have nothing to be defensive about. We have great technology, great companies, the best engineers in the world…we stand up to anyone else.”

However, Rizik admits Michigan still has a ways to go, especially in terms of overcoming the cultural tendency to associate failure with shame rather than a necessary step along the path to success. He’s pleased, however, that the obsession with who gets credit for success has lessened to the point where increased collaboration is now possible.

But Rizik also sees collaboration—or lack thereof— as one of Detroit’s major challenges.

“Some areas of Detroit are very vibrant, but we have to support those areas on a regional basis—not ending at 8 Mile Road,” he says. [Ed note: For you non-Eminem fans, 8 Mile serves as the line between the city and the suburbs.] “In the short run, there will be parts of town that are just not viable. A lot of people on both sides of 8 Mile are on the wrong side of history and looking at things too provincially. People have to stop being concerned with sacred cows.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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