“I fundamentally always believe I’m ready for a bigger challenge,” Thai Randolph said with a laugh on a recent sunny LA afternoon. Earlier that day, 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 in the business.
Randolph was previously president and COO 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 the opportunity for her next big challenge came a few months later during a company retreat in Mexico, where she and her colleagues realized Hart’s two businesses — HartBeat and digital comedy studio Laugh Out Loud — should combine.  
“I remember getting off the stage and shortly after that Kevin says, ‘It’s time,'” Randolph recalled. “It was evident that this was our moment.” They quietly made it official at the beginning of 2022, with Randolph succeeding Hart as chief executive. 
Randolph led the fundraise that brought in Abry, which has a handful of entertainment companies in its portfolio and previously invested in “Ozark” producer MRC. The deal — the latest in a string of private equity bets on Hollywood production companies — values HartBeat at $650 million, according to the Times report.
Randolph said that both Hart entities were profitable ahead of 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 has been organized around three focus areas — HartBeat Studio, which handles all content financing, development, and production; HartBeat Media, for commercial endeavors like live events and sales and licensing; and branded entertainment arm Pulse — that allow it to make, 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 hustle” to all the company’s projects and personally fronts many of them, from YouTube interview series “Cold as Balls” — in which the comedian interviews people from an ice bath — to Netflix dramedy feature “Fatherhood.” 
The company retreat to Los Cabos was his idea. Randolph was hesitant to plan a group trip amid COVID concerns, but Hart told her, “We’re gonna ask folks to do a lot for us. It’s a tough time. Let’s just make them feel good,” she recalled.
“That’s one of the through lines about how we run the company, how we approach content,” Randolph added. “It’s about making sure that folks have a good time.”
Though there are signs the boom in content demand may be slowing — including Netflix’s recent update that it expects to lose subscribers during the first half of 2022 — Randolph said HartBeat is set up to weather any storm.
“As a diversified media company, I assume that not every single thing that I activate today I’ll be activating in 12 months,” she explained. “Not every single bet that I make today is going to pan out.” 
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 oldest in a blended family of seven children who had to pay her way through college, the more prudent 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 when it was preparing to launch as a standalone subscription streaming service run by Lionsgate. The app was downloaded one million times in its first hundred days, Lionsgate said at the time.
Over time, her role expanded. First she added monetization to her purview. Then, in 2018, she became general manager of the brand and led it through its spinoff from Lionsgate and pivot to becoming a digital-first production company with NBCUniversal as an investor and strategic partner. 
Each of Randolph’s promotions, she said, came as a result of her ability to solve a problem and “prove distinct value creation.”  
Looking back, she said her move away from marketing and into an operational role — first at Laugh Out Loud and later HartBeat Productions — was more surprising to her than her recent promotion to the CEO seat. “I thought I would go back to film school, but I was never going to go to business school,” she said. “This last five years has been business school plus entrepreneur boot camp all mixed into one.” 
Randolph hasn’t been just been building Hart’s businesses, she’s also created one of her own — podcast company Sugaberry, which she launched in 2019 with the actress Tika Sumpter. 
“Sugaberry is possible because I think I use 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 son, age 4. “What I’m doing at HartBeat every day is asking, ‘How do we help people feel good?’ And on Sugaberry, I’m saying, ‘How do I make life just a little bit sweeter?’ I work a lot but it makes it easier when you’re working towards goals like that.” 
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