Can Rocketboom Survive Its Talent Drain & Money Troubles?

rocketboom family portrait

Some in the independent web video world were shocked this week to learn that Kenyatta Cheese and Ellie Rountree, long-time contributors at Rocketboom and Know Your Meme, were leaving to pursue other interests. But they aren’t the only ones to leave, as Rocketboom seems to be facing a mass exodus of employees and contributors, due in part to a lack of cash.

Both Rountree and Cheese both announced their decisions on Tuesday morning, but each said that the timing was coincidental. “What I can say is it was great at Rocketboom, but time to go. ¬†After producing, writing, and hosting great weekly original content, including websites (Know Your Meme and Rocketboom Tech), this was the right time to bow out and focus on other endeavors. After almost 5 years at Rocketboom it’s bittersweet to leave, but the right decision,” Rountree said via email.

The separate announcements by Cheese and Rountree might have come as a surprise because both had been with Rocketboom for so long: Rountree had served nearly five years with Rocketboom as a producer, writer and co-creator of Know Your Meme and Rocketboom Tech, and Cheese had served four years with the company, with his last title listed as COO of the indie video startup.

But while they were the highest-profile departures, Rocketboom has seen another five employees leave since November. Those include Greg Leuch and Chris Menning, who both left late last year to join viral video site Buzzfeed. And yesterday, Know Your Meme contributors Mike Rungetta and Patrick Davison told founder Andrew Baron that they would no longer work with the company.

Rocketboom has a history of public comings and goings when it comes to staff, including the drama-heavy departure of original host Amanda Congdon and a public talent hunt for new hosts that lead to the hiring of Meme Molly, who is still currently the host of the Rocketboom show.

One reason that so many employees have left recently is that Rocketboom is struggling with money issues and has been for a while. In a phone interview, Baron said that he personally invested $700,000 in the company in 2010, but that it ran out of cash sometime in October. At that point point Baron sought outside investment for the first time, but employees were understandably nervous. Baron said that Cheese and Rountree decided to leave in part because Rocketboom was unable to secure additional funds over the last several months.

For now, the company continues to operate month-to-month, but Baron claims it has secured a few sponsorship deals that should keep it in business. While it has seen seven people depart since November, Baron said the startup still has 13 employees working for it over three distinct businesses. The legacy Rocketboom and Know Your Meme video shows continue, and the company also has a large — and growing — community of users on its independently run Know Your Meme forum. It also runs a viral video tracker called Magma.

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