- Thai Randolph was named CEO of Kevin Hart’s media company, HartBeat, in January.
- The former marketer led HartBeat’s $100 million funding round with private equity firm Abry.
- Randolph also co-founded Sugaberry, a podcast focused on the experience of black mothers.
“I basically still believe I’m ready for a bigger challenge,” Thai Randolph said with a laugh on a recent sunny afternoon in Los Angeles. Earlier today, The New York Times reported that she had been named CEO of Kevin Hart’s new media venture, HartBeat, which also announced that private equity firm Abry was taking a $100 million minority stake. dollars in the business.
Randolph was previously president and chief operating officer of Hart’s 13-year-old production company, also called HartBeat. In early 2021, she began discussions with the comedian about expanding her role. She told Insider that the opportunity for her next big challenge came a few months later at a corporate retreat in Mexico, where she and her colleagues realized that Hart’s two companies — HartBeat and the digital comedy studio Laugh Out Loud – should combine.
“I remember coming off stage and shortly after Kevin said, ‘It’s time,'” Randolph recalled. “It was obvious that this was our moment.” They quietly made it official in early 2022, with Randolph taking over from Hart as GM.
Randolph led the fundraiser that brought in Abry, who has a handful of entertainment companies in her portfolio and previously invested in “Ozark” producer MRC. The deal – the latest in a series of private equity bets on Hollywood production companies – values HartBeat at $650 million, according to the Times report.
Randolph said both Hart entities were profitable before the rollup, with the production company doubling its revenue over the past two years.
“Kevin Hart has a better sense of audience and consumer than any brand marketer I’ve ever met,” she said. “Our ambition is to be the most innovative and inclusive entertainment company in the world.”
The combined company was organized around three focus areas – HartBeat Studio, which handles all funding, development and content production; HartBeat Media, for commercial activities such as live events, sales and licensing; and the Pulse branded entertainment arm — which allow it to create, market and monetize “any type of entertainment content or experience,” Randolph said.
She described Hart as a hands-on leader who brings his star quality and “entrepreneurial restlessness” to all of the company’s projects and personally leads many of them, from the YouTube interview series “Cold as Balls.” — in which the comedian interviews people from a bathhouse — to Netflix’s drama feature “Fatherhood.”
The company retreat in Los Cabos was his idea. Randolph was hesitant to plan a group trip amid COVID concerns, but Hart told him, “We’re going to be asking people to do a lot for us. It’s a tough time. Let’s make them feel good “, she recalls.
“That’s one of the guidelines for how we run the business, how we approach content,” Randolph added. “It’s about making sure people have a good time.”
Although there are signs that the boom in demand for content may be slowing – including Netflix’s recent update which expects to lose subscribers in the first half of 2022 – Randolph said HartBeat is ready to weather any storm.
“As a diverse media company, I guess all the things I activate today won’t be activated 12 months from now,” she explained. “All the bets I make today will not come true.”
Randolph thought she wanted to be a screenwriter when she was young and even considered applying to film school until she realized that, for the eldest of a blended family of seven children who had to pay college, the safest path was a degree. in communications.
She spent much of her early career in public relations and marketing, and it was her experience shaping brands like Facebook and Sony that led her to join Hart’s Laugh Out Loud as SVP Marketing in 2017 as it prepared to launch as a standalone subscription streaming service. managed by Lionsgate. The app was downloaded a million times in its first hundred days, Lionsgate said at the time.
Over time, its role has expanded. It first added monetization to its scope. Then, in 2018, she became the brand’s chief executive and led it through its Lionsgate spin-off and pivots to become a digital-first production company with NBCUniversal as an investor and strategic partner.
Each of Randolph’s promotions, she said, is the result of her ability to solve a problem and “prove distinct value creation.”
Looking back, she said her move from marketing to an operational role — first at Laugh Out Loud and later at HartBeat Productions — was more surprising to her than her recent promotion to CEO. “I thought I would go back to film school, but I was never going to go to business school,” she said. “The past five years have been a business school and an entrepreneur boot camp rolled into one.”
Randolph didn’t just build Hart’s businesses, she also created one of her own — the podcast company Sugaberry, which she launched in 2019 with actress Tika Sumpter.
“Sugaberry is possible because I think I’m using the same parts of my brain in both exercises,” she said, explaining that the company’s focus on the joy of black motherhood resonated with her personal journey of becoming a parent to her 4-year-old son. “What I do every day at HartBeat is ask, ‘How can we help people feel good?’ And on Sugaberry, I say, ‘How can I make life a little sweeter?’ I work a lot, but it makes it easier when you’re working towards goals like that.”