Soundcloud’s top execs are leaving at an incredibly awkward time

Peace out.
Peace out.
Image: Diane Bondareff/Invision for SoundCloud/AP Images
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Soundcloud, the streaming platform beloved by musicians, lost two top execs at an awkward time, as it seeks fresh funding just eight months after a mammoth cash infusion led by Twitter. Soundcloud’s chief operating officer Marc Strigel and finance director Markus Harder have left the company, the Financial Times reported (paywall). Soundcloud confirmed the departures.

The departures take place against an ominous-looking financial background. The streaming platform warned in its latest accounts, for 2015, that it may “run out of cash” this year, a point not lost on the trade press. Those same accounts also revealed widening losses, to the tune of €51.2 million ($52 million) in 2015. The 10-year-old firm, based in Berlin, has never turned a profit.

As a result, Soundcloud is now “begging for money,” the FT reported, citing an anonymous German financier. The firm would have to accept a lower valuation in order to get the required funds, the source told the FT.

A closer inspection reveals Soundcloud’s financial condition may not be quite as desperate as this implies. For starters, the “running out of cash” warning was associated with its 2015 accounts. Soundcloud raised more than $100 million last year, a period not covered by those filings, in debt and equity from Twitter and others. Granted, if Soundcloud is losing $50 million or more every year, that money won’t last long. It seems a stretch, though, to say that Soundcloud will run out of cash by year’s end.

Soundcloud confirmed that fresh fundraising is underway, but said the FT’s source was inaccurate. It said Strigel and Harder’s departures are unrelated to its fundraising, which is “typical” for a company of its age and size. Both executives are pursuing new opportunities after being with the company for about five years, a Soundcloud spokesperson said. Fundraising is proceeding on a “normal course” and is led by new chief financial officer Holly Lim, the spokesperson said. Lim joined in September from Google.

Beyond Soundcloud’s cash in the bank, the number that really matters is the conversion rate: How many of its claimed 175 million unique users, who listen for free but must accept advertising interruptions, can it persuade to hand over $9.99 a month for a Soundcloud Go subscription? Launched in March, this option gets rid of the ads and unlocks other features, like listening to music offline.

Spotify boasts an industry-leading estimated conversion rate of 25%, and it still lost €170 million in 2015. Soundcloud has a difficult task ahead: it must improve upon this lofty benchmark if it wants to break a seemingly endless cycle of fundraising.