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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 (s appl) CEO Steve Jobs at the launch of iPhone 4.0 OS. Phone companies and even Ford (s f) 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.

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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13 Responses to “Everybody Loves Pandora”

  1. amine

    I love Pandora very much. I’m starting to think that there is a psychological effect for the user experience.

    I think that when the user is notified up front that Pandora will only play music that you like, your mind is already open to suggestions that are going to be positive.

    As I’m thinking, there are a lot of example mentioned in the Book rationally irrational.
    I think its the beer example, when they tell the user that you will love the beer before trying it…..

    If you tell your mind that you are going to have a positive experience, then it is certain that you are going to be more open minded and open to suggestions….:)

    However, pandora is awesome, i promess you…lol

  2. It seems that in this segment, only two survivors in the long run are Pandora (in US) and Spotify (elsewhere). The US launch of the latter may be successful or may be not, but Pandora is a real Pandora Box for the rest of us on the other side of the pond, so we’ll stick to Spotify no matter how much good rap Pandora receives.

  3. Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I love Pandora too, but listen to Mog more often these days. Albums and on-demand mixed with genre music is my fav combo. I also find that pandora is not always great with long tail stuff. The company has a very particular model though and I think it’s notable how that model is winning. Fun post too btw Om.

  4. I have been a huge fan of Pandora for a long time, upgraded to Pandora One, try to buy all my music thru them if possible,and have been a vocal advocate to all of my friends and colleagues and have seen over the last year more and more people using it. Have always thought that this was the one piece that would make it even better. Hope they keep up the good work!

    • I think most of their customers feel that way about the company. I think it is the personal connection which has allowed the company to survive some near death experiences. I am glad that they are around — they make music fun and fantastic/

  5. I think the fact that stood out for me in this article is that the Pandora app is apparently the most popular free app on the iPhone – which makes it more popular than the Facebook app? The FB app always seems to be ranked in front of the Pandora app on the Top Free Apps list though….

  6. Perfect timing on this article — as a Pandora user for the past 3 or 4 years, I finally added to the “darling fund” by becoming a Pandora One subscriber this morning. I can’t help but root for the company – as lax as Tim’s attitude is, his perseverance is inspiring. And the product speaks for itself, which can’t be said about many others these days.