How Daniel Ek Learned to Program and Created Spotify

Daniel Ek is the co-founder and CEO of Spotify, the music service almost single-handedly responsible for convincing a generation of music pirates to start paying for music again. An incredibly talented businessman, Ek taught himself to code when he was just fourteen. In this article, we will explore how Daniel Ek learned to code and eventually founded Spotify.

Ek was born in Sweden in 1983. When he was a teenager, he started a business building websites from his house. Reflecting on this period of his life, Ek recalls,

The story is this. I started when I was 14 just by pure accident. By the time I was 14 I was a pretty skilled C++ programmer, I thought myself at least. Then I had learned myself HTML CGI programming, which was really big at the day. Local people asked me if I could help them do their home page. This was the big buzzword at the day. Everyone needed a home page.

He charged the first client $100, the second $200, and was soon charging $5,000.

Eventually, he started recruiting fellow students from his class to work on websites for his clients from the school computer lab. (He bribed them with video games.) He even began teaching other students how to program, saying,

I was giving them some stuff. figured there has to be some correlation of people who were good at math and programming. I taught them how to program. I could even use the school’s equipment to do all this on. Basically, after school, I told my teachers I was educating others, but I was actually doing my own sort of child labor factory at the time.

By age 18, he had made $50,000 and had a team of twenty-five of his peers working for him. His parents didn’t notice his business activities until he started bringing home fancy TVs!

His knack for business was a natural talent– he had ambition, vision, and the ability to inspire. From the beginning of his career, he was delivering services that people desperately needed. He said: “The value of a company is the sum of the problems you solve.” This philosophy is evident in the design of Spotify.

Over the course of his career, he worked for Tradera, Stardoll, and μTorrent (μTorrent’s founder Ludvig Strigeus later joined him as a Spotify developer.) Eventually, he founded a company called Advertigo: an online classifieds website similar to Craigslist.  After Advertigo, he made enough money to retire, but soon he became bored and missed having a project he cared about.

In 2002, after Napster shut down, he had the idea of Spotify. The demise of the high-profile site didn’t thwart music pirates. They just switched to another source. Ek’s idea was to convert pirates from illegal music downloading to a legal service that compensated the music industry, by creating a superior platform.

He founded Spotify with Martin Lorentzon in Sweden in 2006, and the service launched in 2008. It originally ran on a peer-to-peer distribution model but switched to a server-client model in 2014. Spotify has a vast library of music that users can choose from. It collects revenue via occasional advertisements and Premium subscriptions, which allow users to listen without advertisements and in more flexible ways (for example, off of shuffle on mobile).

As of June 2017, Spotify has over 140 million active users.

What can we learn from Daniel Ek?

1. Use social media to learn. Using modern technology, we have better access to information than we ever have, and we can put it to use by learning from experts in both computer science and business. Follow as many experts as you can and gain wisdom from their posts. Ek says, “With Twitter and other social networking tools, you can get a lot of advice from great people. I learn more from Twitter than any survey or discussion with a big company.”

2. Make your technology timeless. By responding to an important and enduring need of your customers, you can find a niche that will make your app as indispensable as Spotify is today. Ek said, “Music isn’t like news, where it’s what happened five minutes ago or even 10 seconds ago that matters. With music, a song from the 1960s could be as relevant to someone today as the latest Ke$ha song.”

What have you learned from Daniel Ek and Spotify? Let us know in the comments below!

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