Everybody Loves Pandora

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Pandora

Success, they, say has many friends. Tim Westergren (founder) and Tom Conrad (chief technology officer), the guys who are the public face of the much-in-demand online music startup, Pandora, would undoubtedly agree. After struggling for most of its life, the company, whose service allows you to create a radio station based on the music you like, is suddenly a Silicon Valley darling.

Such adoration was made clear at the f8 conference yesterday, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg singled out Pandora’s service and its tight integration with the social networking site’s new platform. He’s not the only one who’s fallen in love with Pandora. A few weeks ago, it was showcased by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the launch of iPhone 4.0 OS. Phone companies and even Ford talks about it in reverential tones. In short, Pandora is everywhere.

And why not? According to Appitzr, Pandora is the most popular free app on the iPhone platform; it’s among the most downloaded and used apps on the Android platform as well. Pandora has more than 50 million listeners, nearly 40 percent of which access the service on mobile platforms.

Which is somewhat ironic given that the company, which is 10 years old, was until recently always a half-step away from being in trouble. Whether it was running out of money or faced with draconian royalty rules, Pandora seemed like a Silicon Valley tragedy.

But I have known Westergren and Conrad for a long time and as such, have learned a lot about them as people. And I believe that much of their success can be attributed to their never-die (and sometimes foolish) optimism.

Westergren looks like a surfer dude; he has a totally chill vibe. When things got really hard back in 2008, he kept his wits about him, never once letting his emotions get the best of him — all while managing to keep Pandora up and running. We entrepreneurs should learn from that.

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Tom & Tim at Apple's iPhone 4.0 OS launch event.

Did you know, for example, that he did more than 300 meetings with venture capitalists, most of which resulted in bupkiss? Of course, all that changed with the arrival of the iPhone and Pandora’s iPhone app. And in July 2009 the company raised $35 million. With total sales of about $50 million last year, it is well on its way to being profitable and has investors lining up to give it more money. There’s even talk of an initial public offering.

I bumped into Westergren and Conrad at f8 and joked about the company’s darling status. They just looked at me, grinned sheepishly and excused themselves. Amazingly, all this success hasn’t changed them.

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