After nearly nine years of operation and 35 album releases, JDub has announced that it will close up shop for financial reasons.
The not-for-profit record label that is best known for helping to launch the career of reggae star Matisyahu worked to help Jews in their 20s and 30s “forge vibrant connections to Judaism through music, media and cultural events,” according to its mission statement.
On that level, it succeeded, said Felicia Herman, the executive director of the Natan Fund, a funder of JDub for the last eight years. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people JDub touched directly through its events and albums, the organization “changed the communal conversation and made the community aware of the need to adapt to 21st-century American realities,” she said. “JDub’s stakeholders should feel nothing except ‘mission accomplished.’”
In addition to the challenges facing the music industry during the past decade, JDub suffered from an “aging out” of the startup world. With almost a decade of experience and a significant annual budget, JDub sought second-stage funding, also known as mezzanine-level funding, to help secure its long-term future. While the Jewish community has increased its support of innovative startups in recent years, JDub’s demise raises the question of whether enough funds are earmarked toward helping successful startups achieve long-term growth and sustainability as they celebrate their 10th birthday and beyond.
“It’s a systemic problem,” Herman acknowledged. “It’s much more expensive to support growth.”
While Natan, which focuses primarily on programs aimed at Jews in their 20s and 30s, funds startups with budgets of less than $1.5 million, the fund has a small portfolio of core grantees that it funds for the long term. JDub was one of those grantees. “If the budget grows above $1.5 million, we’re happy,” Herman said.
JDub had tried to sustain itself with moneymaking side ventures, though it may have stretched itself too thin. The organization earned half of its annual budget from foundations and individual donors, and half from album sales and concert tickets, as well as a consultancy it founded that provided marketing expertise to organizations such as Birthright Israel NEXT, Tablet Magazine, and Hillel International.
In 2010, it acquired Jewcy.com, the irreverent web portal catering to young Jews, which has attracted nearly three million unique visitors. The organization also co-founded the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists.
“While these strategic moves have dramatically increased our impact, they never yielded a sustainable revenue base,” JDub acknowledged in a press release Tuesday announcing its decision to wind down.
The timeline for JDub’s closing, as well as possible spin-offs of certain projects, has yet to be determined. (Aaron Bisman, JDub’s CEO, declined to comment.) The organization said that it plans to be transparent in its efforts and to model the best practices for shuttering a Jewish nonprofit.
The decision to close was a “really careful decision,” Herman said. “It’s incredibly courageous — you have to be very honest about what you can and cannot sustain.”
Herman noted that Bisman, as a leader, and JDub, as an organization, taught the community about the 20s and 30s demographic and how to reach them.
“I guess that’s why I’m not as sad,” she added. “We don’t necessarily build an organization to last forever.”