352: Music Industry Disrupter: How Ola Sars Helped Build The $3Billion Start-Up

In this digital age, music streaming and subscriptions have quickly become the norm. This week at Foundr, we were lucky enough to speak to an entrepreneur who was there for the evolution of streaming and the music-tech space: Ola Sars.

Before he was founder and CEO of the fastest growing B2B music streaming service, Soundtrack Your Brand, Ola was co-founder and COO of Beats Music, acquired by Apple and transformed into Apple Music, as well as the co-founder of Pacemaker, the world’s first DJ driven music platform.

Foundr’s Nathan Chan sits down with Ola Sars to map out his incredible journey through one of the most complex industries in the modern world: the music industry.

Nathan: Ola, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how’d you get your job?

Ola: Well, I created my job, obviously. I’ve been creating my job for a long while now and somewhat successfully, somewhat unsuccessfully. I’ve been running my own companies for almost 15 years now. Just creating them from the start mainly in the music tech space now the last 10 years. But before that also in consulting and other things. My first job I got like anyone else just went to school and applied and did lots of interviews and got some crappy jobs to start off with.

Nathan: What was the first business you started?

Ola: The first business I started was actually a consultancy firm. That was a very long time ago and it’s like 18 years ago or something. It was professional services firm focusing on a very specific vertical segment out of Stockholm where we were doing brand strategy basically. Co-founder that with a couple of older more experienced girls and boys and learnt how to build a professional services firm. That was my first startup. Then I’ve been going on since then.

Nathan: Interesting. That consultancy, what happened, was it successful? Because you said you’ve had some unsuccessful businesses. What happened?

Ola: That one was actually successful. We were able to sell that company to a different group or a bigger conglomerate. That company is still alive actually underneath the same brand as we started off. It’s called Differ and it’s a niche strategy consultant based here in Stockholm and in London.

Nathan: Oh, that’s awesome. How long did you work on the consultancy?

Ola: When I talk about what I do I usually talk about the last 10 years when I was made the move into music tech and my experience there. But before that I had a good eight years in different types of consultancy gigs from on the big us firms building my own company twice and professional services area. This first one Differ, I spent almost four years building. Then got out of that actually took a sabbatical year and travelled through South America by myself. Just disappeared from the map for 10 months, my mom not happy about that. Then got back and set up my second professional services firm, which was a bit more better well-thought through. It was a model where we actually took stake and bigger deals that we helped bigger advertising agency pitch for big global clients.

When they won that deal, we would take a percentage of the total deal. It was leverage in the model, it wasn’t just selling ours. Very successful small team flying around the world and winning the biggest accounts and taking 3% on the total revenue, gross revenue of those accounts, which was obviously an amazing business model. But it just turned me more and more cynical every year. It took me to a place where I was more and more unhappy with my life in the path and my profession that I’ve chosen. Did a couple of those gigs before I made a jump into my passion, which is music and in the worst possible timing ever when the music industry was in complete disaster after file sharing and everything. Near completely bombarded and the value of the music industry was almost a third of what it was when it was when it was at its best. That’s when I chose to move away from a prosperous career in consulting and banking to join the music trend.

Nathan: Interesting. When was that?

Ola: That was 2009. I think it was 2010. Properly, we did for a startup. No, it was 2007 actually when I made the move and made the decision. Since then I’ve actually done four startups in the music tech space.

Nathan: In 2007, is that when you created Beats?

Ola: No. My first company, wasn’t it. It’s a funny story. Actually I was on Ibiza the Island outside of Spain where all the fun stuff happens with good friends who all are in the music industry. What I realised was that they were having fun and making money and I was making money and having a terrible time at that time. But I was making good money and I just early one morning having stayed up all night sitting at home, watching the sun, come up with some friends just draw up a matrix where it’s like fun, boring money in money out on the air. Then I said like, “Okay, you guys actually are able to live a life where you’re in up in the fun area and you’re making money. I’m here having fun spending money and when I go back home, I’m making a lot of money, but having a boring time.”

I said like, okay, what, what could take me up to the same status in life where you are actually in the fun-money-in section. That was either music or sports, very cliche for a boy. But that was it. But it wasn’t only the emotional leap in my career. It was also irrational thinking around the fact that the music industry was digitising right in front of us at that point. Everything from production to distribution to consumption was all transforming into a complete new digital model. I saw that opportunity actually made the move. Started the first company called Tony and we built a really cool product called The Pacemaker, which was the world’s first pocket-sized DJ system.

It sounds quirky in a way, but it was actually a first step in the ambition of what I’m still doing. It comes back to if you have the music market, then did cessation of supply of the end of that market which just happened. That led to the fact that anyone could access all the music in the world anywhere anytime. That was the thesis that I had. Obviously that’s the reality of today fast forward, 12 years. Then that market reality, what I was thinking was that, okay, probably distribution is going to solve itself. Consumption is going to solve itself through cell phones and mobile phones and whatnot. Then production is such a small market, but that’s probably going to go software anyway. But in this big equation, the one who would figure out how to filter the music, curate the music, if you like, or create the recommendation engine of music, that’s probably interesting position to have in that digital value chain that music was entering into.

That was before, believe it or not, the App Store didn’t exist then. We were actually building the first music recommendation engine and we were doing it by a very simple thesis. Is that humans that are high engagement in music, DJs or music taste makers are actually the best source in the world for actually music recommendation or music curation, if you may. If we can build a platform that connects to all the DJs of the world, we could turn that into a music recommendation engine to all the consumers of the world. We called it like taste makers to taste taker exchange. It was maybe a bit too early thinking at that time, but that forced us into building hardware basically. Because the only way to distribute that into the DJ market was to build the world’s best DJ hardware software platform.

So we did, and that was called Pacemaker. We raised $20 million back then. That was a lot of money especially in little Sweden at that time. Started building Pacemaker and I spent four years working day and night launching that concept. It was a pretty cool concept actually, and still very proud of that. But back to your question, we crashed that one. Well, that was one of the companies I wasn’t able to follow through on because building hardware just consumed us. It was day and night for four years. Sourcing, producing, distributing hardware into 20 markets. It was just too tough for us to make it through.

Nathan: You guys went to market with that product?

Ola: We went to market with that product, sold it in 20 markets. The funny thing about that being the first venture in that space. When we realised we would make it in terms of, because the hardware production just consumed our whole company, the balance sheet and all the funding. It was just too intense to reiterate hardware on as a startup. I learned that the hard way, obviously no pun intended. But what I did then was, we’d built such a sophisticated system. We build all the embedded software for the hardware. We built the supporting software, meaning the iTunes to the pacemaker. Then we built an online platform where DJs could actually upload and share their DJ mixes. What I saw was that the online platform was obviously the real big thing that was where all the taste exchange occurred. In between people starting to follow DJs and things like that.

It became very quickly a huge music platform for music discovery and mainly music discovery through humans through DJs. Taste maker to taste taker exchange. I acquired the online platform from Pacemaker when we crashed and refinanced that myself with some money that I had left and started my second venture which was called LetsMix. Then during the pacemaker years, we were in the centrefold of a wired magazine. It was a big deal what we were building, very sophisticated music bet. That draws an attention to that concept where Jimmy and Dre who were building Beats by Dre back then got very interested in. We actually had very deep discussions of them acquiring pacemaker from us back then when they were building the hardware business of Beats by Dre headphones. It fitted their philosophy perfectly well, but I wasn’t able to broker the deal with my investors because they thought we were going to be the new Apple or something, obviously.

I was unsuccessful of brokering the hardware deal. But then when I was able to acquire the online platform after we crashed the whole hardware concept. Then I was able to reengage with Jimmy and Dre. Then they had evolved their idea around beats and wanted to build beats into global music brand or the mainstream music brand of tomorrow. That fit very well with our combined vision around music and human curation and competing with Spotify with a more human driven music service. Then I sold LetsMix to Beats and I incorporated the team into the Beat structure. We started building Beats Music as a stealth project out of Stockholm. That was the third startup, Beats Music then which you probably know of it was a service that launched and started competing with Spotify properly and then got acquired by Apple for just above $3 billion.

That was Pacemaker, LetsMix, Beats Music crazy, crazy ride. Lots of anecdotes of just sitting on a plane for 200 days and just dealing with these crazy people and trying to build technology at the same time and building a competitor to Spotify. We were actually, a good friends of mine here in Stockholm, just across the street. It was pretty weird I’m sitting here in Stockholm, in a stealth project building the competitor to my fellow suites in secrecy. Then we moved everything over to the US and we acquired a company up in San Francisco and launched the service in the US but that’s all history now.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Fascinating. Tonnes of questions, but let’s talk about Soundtrack Your Brand. Because that’s like Spotify’s commercial music for business now. We’ll go all the way through the journey then I have a tonne of different questions. Obviously, Beats Music was sold and the hardware to Apple. I’m curious, when did you start Soundtrack Your Brand?

Ola: When I had to check out from the craziness over there and West coast US. For family reasons, I was basically, and for health reasons, I was on a plane more than I could remember. I was moving back to Sweden, taking care of my family issues and needed a job obviously. I needed something to do and I was fairly treated by Jamie and everyone when I exited and everything was good. But I did actually exit before the acquisition was concluded. That’s another funny anecdote. That could have been a bit more sweeter if I’d stayed another six months, but I just didn’t have it in me. The Soundtrack ideas is a very simple idea. It was, I spent cutting my teeth in the B2C space. Learning about what is music, what’s the music market going to be like, what’s going to happen in terms of distribution.

It’s actually very complex. People tend to think that music streaming is easy. It’s one of the most complex freaking industries or constructs I’ve ever dealt with from a licencing technology perspective. My idea was to, all right, I’ve gotten multiple questions from Browns asking, how can I relate to streaming? How can I try and bring music into my shops or into my cars or anything? I started realising that there’s a whole new existing market, which is the sexy background music market, or the sexy elevator music market. I was just thinking about it. I was like, “Wait a minute. That’s pretty freaking cool.” Because I come from the DJ music culture and know what it’s all about when the experience is amazing. You can fall in love. You can remember a night forever and the soundtrack is everywhere and it’s memories and whatnot.

The public context is a very interesting music experience, a music market, maybe potentially also music discovery environment. All of a sudden I started thinking about, I was like, wow, it’s everywhere. Music is everywhere, outside of the headphones, music is still being played. The I said, “All right,” then I had to look at that market and realised it was 20 years behind that what was going on in the consumer space. What I had been an integral part of shaping a market and a model. I decided to bring that thesis into the B2B space and realise that no one had done it before. It’s a whole different licencing structure because you have to redo everything again like we did at Beats. I have 10,000 direct deals now at Soundtrack with labels and publishers worldwide in order to supply 51 million tracks in 74 markets. That’s taken me years to conclude. By the way, we had to invent the model as well, because there was no business model around it. That was soundtrack, but a very easy thesis to understand.

Of course music streaming is something that brands want and that can create amazing experience to sell more coffee. But the model was not there. The technology was completely different than building a consumer service. Set out to do that 2013 back home in Sweden with a small team of 75 people now that have spent close to seven years reiterating. I founded the company together with Spotify as my co-investor. But it’s a completely independent company with an independent sole ambition and everything. Here we are the short story seven years later live in 75 markets and think we can contribute with some really significant incremental growth into the streaming market moving forward. Growth that no one had really seen before, but it’s not as big a market as the consumer market. We’re charging $35 or $50 per subscription per month for businesses. It’s a high value, but a bit lower volume market than the consumer market.

Nathan: Interesting. I did a little bit of research and basically if you have your own cafe in Stockholm and someone on your team, your barista wants to start playing music from Spotify and just uses Spotify for free. You can actually do that. Can you? You need to have a Spotify for business or Soundtrack your brand licence or subscription to make that commercially viable. Correct? That is where you guys solve that problem.

Ola: Yeah, exactly. It’s the equivalent of opening a cinema on your Netflix account basically. It’s exactly the same legal thing. It’s just very poorly managed and very new. Or if you take the sports market as a good example. If you walk into a bar in and Melbourne and watch a rugby game or a football game or a soccer game or whatnot, golf or whatever you’re watching, those licences comment of very high price. Bars would pay up to $20,000 a year, or £20,000 to get the premier league in the UK because they’ll get it back. That’s a very good example of a functioning market where those rights have come into play and are now compliant and regulated. The music streaming market is so new that we’re just about now to regulate that market and move it up the value chain.

Nathan: What would be happening right now is like a mom and pop cafe shop, they wouldn’t realise that their barista is actually, what they’re doing is not allowed. You’re not allowed to do that. That would be really advantageous that obviously you would have the data from Spotify. Can you identify using Spotify if a business is streaming and they’re not paying for a licence correctly?

Ola: No. We’re separated at that instance with Spotify. Spotify is merely a shareholder as of today. The company is 100% independent. But you’re absolutely right. If you just take the example, we actually hired Nielsen Research last year to quantify the market for us. It’s not surprisingly showed up that there’s around 20 million businesses using consumer services illegally basically. That’s not only a Spotify, that’s Apple music, Amazon, and everyone. That’s 20 million businesses and probably close to 60 to a hundred million locations because every business has one, two on average locations. That trickles down to $2.65 billion in royalty debt every year that actually should be flowing through to artists and composers if those businesses were paying correctly $30 instead of 10 or $35 instead of 10. Which I know by the way, business owners have no problem paying if they would only be informed.

Of course, most of them respect artists right to make living as well. Most of them don’t think $35 is too much to have great music if they were informed and had a great service by the way where they can actually drive their business with music. I feel good about opening this market because it doesn’t really disturb anyone. Just creates a very good interchange and a fair trade between the business market and artists and composers. I’m unlocking intrinsic value here that’s already there and opening up for a great service to business. Because Spotify accounts if you’re using that, you have no control of what your staff is paying. They could be banging out Ramstein in the cafe and people walking out the door. That’s in our system you can obviously control the experience from a central point and you can always secure that their soundtrack is on brand in the commercial context

Nathan: Is your biggest challenge educating the market.

Ola: Yeah. Very good question. I usually compare with Spotify just for the example, not for the size or anything. As in the beginning they were very clear on saying that their main competitor was piracy. In order to compete with piracy, meaning file sharing at that time, Daniel’s very clear strategy was we win with product. With a better product read better than piracy, we will win the market over that has a carrot and people will have no problem paying 999, if you have an awesome product. The same analogy I’m using for me is that if you can talk about the stick in the caret, like they do in the US, I don’t know if you do that in a down and down and in Aussie land. But I’m assuming what it means.

It means I build the carrot, meaning like the great product that people, and then the market, the right soul seeker should actually carry the stick or the regulators. Because they have organisations in every market with one single job to represent the artists or the composer and the market, and that they get fairly compensated when their art is consumed. This one is right in front of them. Go get to work, everyone working in the societies to see to it that everyone is actually using a proper music service when they’re playing music in their venues. It’s as easy as that. Answering your question to Spotify, yes. You could see behavioural patterns from a consumer accounts where you could see easily that they’re using. But I also know now by Nielsen data that it’s around 20 million and a massive opportunity. I’m now rallying the industry to run the stick. While I do what Swedes do best, build product, the carrot.

Nathan: Interesting. That’s a really, really interesting thought process that the way that you tackle piracy is to build a better product. You can see that with like Netflix. Well, not everybody, but a lot of people used to use Utorrents to download a movie and all these different things. But it gets to a point where it’s actually friction. It causes friction to go and do all that stuff. Now it’s like, okay, I’ll see if Netflix have it or Amazon have it. Then off you go. Or you can even use Apple or Amazon to rent the movie. It might be even cheaper and easier. You know what I mean? Because people being now more than ever used to paying for content as well. People are being accustomed to pay for content more than ever through the app store also, yeah, through services like Spotify.

Ola: That’s also the exact prerequisite in the business market because the small businesses are buying more and more software as a service. Everything they’re doing is software as a service. Now they’re planning the restaurant proceedings. They’re doing their time scheduling with staff taxes, their payment systems. Everything is software as a service. The timing is quite nice to have put on online provisioning software as a service solution for businesses and music right now.

Nathan: I’m curious how you aggressively attacking that market around identifying potential businesses because the mom and pop doing outbound, like that wouldn’t be time beneficial for a sales rep or, how are you attacking that? Because yeah, are you going for big store chains, like a Walmart? Then obviously they’ve got tens of thousands of stores around a particular country or region. How do you tackle that?

Ola: Well, here we are moving into startup tactics and strategy and market segmentation and so forth. In my industry or in the B2B market space for music is very similar to, for example, payment services. What we’re doing right now is very roughly dividing marketing to enterprise mid-market and small business. What I like, and my religion is all about scalability and being able to build a music service that is self-provisioning and enables a self-service use case is very hard. That’s what we built and spent a lot of money building. Close to $40 million invested into building that service. It’s not trivial. Now we built that and now we look at, okay, self-service scales online first as a distribution channel strategy.

But with obviously a little bit hybrid in there with customer success, helping out during acquisition onboarding and so forth. Answering your question by what we’re doing now, after doing many mistakes, by the way. Because we did go into the market knowing nothing about this market. We did go into this market, building a sales team for enterprise US alphas, all of the mistakes startups do basically. But after, I’ve been around the block a couple of times, so I adjusted very quickly, it was a learning process as well. Because the buying market was not mature at all. It was if you’re selling to, for example, Joe and the juice which is a mid-sized chain, I don’t know if you know them, it’s a Danish juice bar chain.

I don’t know if they’re down in Australia, I’m assuming not now. But it’s like a fast growing, they’re around a thousand juice bars in the US and Europe. They’re happy to buy online. They’re self-serving the whole thing. They got one guy running the music in a very advanced music strategy worldwide. Then all of a sudden you have, I’m not going to mention them by name, a couple of big chains who actually don’t even want to open up a software stack or open up an online game. They just want to email a service person to solve it for them. They’re not buying software service, they’re buying service. Those, we just segment the market not by size, but rather a maturity of self-service. That’s the conclusion of three to four years of experimenting and labouring through rolling out the service worldwide.

Now it’s very easy. I’m targeting the self-service market and I’m doing it through an online hybrid model. I’m doing it very clean now in terms of just online marketing acquisition economics for SMB. That’s a conclusion after many mistakes. It’s easy to get carried away with flying to meet Starbucks, which I’ve done and [inaudible], all of these big chains. But what you end up doing is spending so much time and money. Then you’re getting negotiated down in the basement by their procurement departments and all of a sudden you look at the economics of those deals and they’re not that great.

Nathan: Got you. Yeah, because they’re not big enterprise deals, are they? Depending on how many licences.

Ola: They are clear enterprise. We actually signed huge enterprise prize account, but they’re so demanding and they’re not willing to pay that the whole sales, economics and the just the cost of servicing them is just too high because the market is broke. What we’ve said is we just focus on the self-service customer, we do that globally. Because I that I can run a global business, a global market leader with 75 people from a Stockholm office. That’s my mission. That’s a pretty cool scalability ambition because I like small tight teams and I like extreme scalability.

Nathan: You said something interesting. We’ve got a full gamut of your journey. I have a tonne of different questions. You said a few interesting things to me. You said you’re going to focus on what Swedes do best, which is building great product. What do you think that is? If you think even from a physical products as well, that’s what I know, Swedish have a really good sense of fashion and style and if like designed products. Why do you think that is?

Ola: Well, so it’s a small country, obviously, it’s like nine and a half million, and half a tenth, up here in North of Europe where no one goes. I think we’ve always had export as our main means of surviving, like from historically. Not just from the Vikings, but that was one type of export that we might not flag as a good one. But later on in our industrial heritage is actually all about just high quality industrial development with export as our only solution. Hence that there’s always been a fixture to product and winning through product because we can’t win through volume. We have to compete our way into markets and differentiate ourselves into our export markets. It’s always been, how do you do that by for some reason, creating more beautiful or more high or a better quality product.

That’s just a thesis around that. Then that goes all the way down into design simplicity, and close to nature. That all moves into some modern bloom out of that concept where we were very focused on product and product differentiation and product quality. Then you add engineering culture to that as well where engineering has been the core of our educational backbone. Then you get a nation that’s focused on building product, either through mechanical engineering or through software engineering. Design and engineering together and then in either world, you can add the third component, which is music. Which is another weird thing about Sweden in terms of our, our per capita being export of music is the third biggest in the world after US and the UK.

On the creative side, and then obviously a couple of startups in the engineering, tech music, those three ingredients have proven to be very useful for Swedish startup, like SoundCloud, for example, are Swedish as well. Spotify, Beat Steam was us, Cobalt and you name it. There’s a lot of music tech coming out of Sweden and obviously music tech is close to consumer. It can leverage to design focus and product quality focus. Then you add the music component to that as well and boom, here we are.

Nathan: I’m curious and I’ve always wondered this. You’ll be able to answer that question around Beats and working on that product. How difficult was it to all these licence deals with artists? Just to even fathom that, now it’s known that an artist would have to work with an Apple music or Spotify, because that’s a distribution channel for you. But to actually before that market and that distribution channel existed, you have to go to each artists, knock down the door and say, “Hey, how you typically make money with CDs where you make way more, it’s digitising and you’re going to get only a very small fraction of that.” How did you do that? What did that look like in those days?

Ola: Well, this is obviously the big one. The reason why I’m here in the music industry still is because it’s people underestimate the complexity. Then when you further through on that it’s really hard to build. It’s not hard to build only the technology, but in combination with what you’re referring to the re-engineering of the whole distribution model and the business model of music. I’m not taking any claim on that. That was already in motion when we came in and Spotify was actually knocking down doors on that one. There you have to give them the credit of actually getting the industry behind the model. The model is very complex to understand. It’s a pro-rata model. It’s basically to simplify it as we collect this money, we put it in a bucket. We keep 25% of that in order to build product.

Then the 75% rest of it, we distribute based on who’s being consumed. Then you’ve got to build great technology and you got to build price point that’s attractive for the consumer. Then you’ve got to build volume in order to pay out royalties to everyone. Getting everyone it’s not just the labels. It’s the labels, it’s the artists behind the labels. It’s the publishers, the songwriters, everyone has to believe in it. It was crazy getting this, but remember where we were when this happened. We were in a market that had no hope. It had been completely crushed by illegal file sharing. It was a market that needed to change in order to even survive. They had unsuccessfully tried with suing single moms and Melbourne or trying to build weird type of security systems that never worked and so forth.

This was their only hope. Daniel was their only hope when he did it, but it still was the absolute most complex. We came in and we just followed on Beats and we tweaked it a little bit. We were able to, so I’ll give them most of the prompts. But at soundtrack, that’s when I realised I moved home and I’m like, shit, I need to do this again. Now I need to be Daniel because now I need to go out and set the B2B model with everyone. That’s what I spent four years doing. Getting everyone behind the fact that, okay, this is the B2B model. That was actually the hardest part building the B2B licencing structure and business model. It was not equivalent to what Daniel did with Spotify because the understand the streaming model now, but it was equally challenging to get all of these labels and publishers and artists and songwriters aligned behind who keeps what, when we sell the subscription for 35 or $50.

Nathan: Yeah, I see. You didn’t just bolt on with with like Spotify as existing licencing agreements. You didn’t know. You had to build it all from scratch?

Ola: Yes.

Nathan: Wow.

Ola: There was no streaming licence for the public domain. Did not exist.

Nathan: That would have been painful.

Ola: It was painful. I almost look myself in the mirror, I was like, seriously, are you going to do this again? But what do you do for a job in the music industry? Working with your passion. By the way jokes aside, I did feel very secure about the fact that we were actually adding something very good to the market because we were adding a product that increased perception of value in music. Everyone was like, “Oh, music is going from 999 to $6 now.” Everyone was just, “Oh, what are we doing? Giving away all of this art for nothing.” Here comes another suite with look, I actually think we should be charging more for music. I actually think if you don’t want music, don’t play it.

Or if you want to play it pay it. If $35 is not too much to get like awesome freaking culture in your cafe every month. That’s what I pay for breakfast at Starbucks. The music industry has been really bad at extracting value from its product. It’s been more or less dysfunctional and they needed startups to help them do it. The the movie industry, they’re amazing. Every time you do anything, they’re getting paid, or the sports industry they’re getting paid. But the music industry, they chose to give it away for free or whatever. I’m a little bit being somewhat a pain in the ass, but I’m doing it with good intentions. Telling them, look, let’s fix this market and let’s extract more value from your music and that’s good for everyone. I can create a very profitable little diamond in the music industry as a company. That’s my goal.

Nathan: I have to ask, any crazy stories of working at Beats with Jimmy and Dre?

Ola: There’s a lot of crazy stories. It was absolutely crazy. It was me trying to get into meetings when they’re rolling flying private jets everywhere. Having Gwen Steffani and everyone with us Will.i.am, and everyone, it’s just like a big movie. Me being the Swede, trying to build together the team, staying focused on building great technology. It was very hard to do that and have that focus in there. But very interesting stories. One is when we had a board meeting in Las Vegas and we were going to present the whole the DNA actual concept and the business plan for Beats Music. Everyone was there, Dre was there and we sat in when they were presenting a product line with Beats the Pill.

It was like a speaker that came with one of those small portable speakers. Dre was just like, no way these colours are coming. He didn’t speak much but when he said something, everyone listened, it was relevant. It was always well thought through. He was completely killing this concept. I was up after, and Trent Reznor was with me. He actually went to buy a suit for the first time in his life. I was in t-shirts and jeans. Trent Reznor was in a suit all of a sudden. Obviously you wouldn’t expect that from him.

We went up and we did the presentation and I showed them the market. I showed them the ideas we had around initial product experience and a concept called we the sentence, which we launched a product within. Obviously, I just seen these people get completely hammered by coming up presenting and just walking out with nothing. It was a pretty intimidating situation, but then just at the end, he stood up and gave me a slow applaud. Then the CEO of a HTC was in the room as well. He just stood up after this is brilliant, we’re investing. That was a good story under 10 bad ones.

Nathan: Awesome. Thank you for sharing. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up, I’m mindful of your time as well. But this has been a crazy, fantastic, insightful, tonne of learning conversation. I have to ask you, because you do have extensive experience building startups on your journey. What do you think have been some of the most critical lessons that you’ve learned that you’d like to share with our audience?

Ola: I think would usually I had the privilege of going after to work with my dream. Being music market changing and the privilege of having the prerequisites of doing that. Obviously not everyone has that, and I’m grateful for that. But once you take that decision, you actually can work with something that you’re truly passionate about. It all comes down to perseverance. Everything is always 10 times harder than you would ever imagine. I’m sorry, but that’s just a reality. Nothing comes easy. The people you read about that nail it, most of them should be very humble to the fact that a lot of luck paid into that and a lot of timing and a lot of sliding doors. But if you believe in the core of your idea and it’s simple enough, and you can explain it to your mother, then perseverance is key and always thinking tactical five steps ahead.

Like, what happens if? I’m constantly planning through like a tree structure. Because I usually, people think I over-exaggerate, but like out of 10 things, nine things are bad. You’re waking up every morning and you got another torpedo on your side. That’s even maybe more so in the music industry, because it’s just so dysfunctional, but like deal with it. Perseverance, keep pushing and focus on the wins and eliminate the losses or move away from the the losses. Perseverance is everything. I think that is my main philosophy in learning. We’ll see if I make it through.

Nathan: What advice would you have to anyone that wants to get in touch with hard to reach people or banging down doors? Because obviously you are exceptional that throughout your career. You’ve had to work with some very extremely time poor people and being able to get in front of them. What advice would you have for anybody that wants to do that or needs to do that because that’s a part of the journey, right?

Ola: Yeah. I think this one is tricky. But it goes back to what I said about building great product. You have to have something that is extremely relevant for them in order to have a dialogue. Without that, there’s no use trying. They might be polite and so forth, but like you have to focus on your product or your offering first and foremost. If you have that core prerequisite of having something that they would want, then it’s easy. But you can’t think about it as like, I got a network. I don’t believe in that at all. I don’t even know what people do when they network. Everything is about a mutual synergies. For them getting more out of it than not working with you. In order to get there, you need to have something tangible.

Once you have that for example, me, when I have a music streaming service that’s for business, then that could potentially be interesting to have a discussion with Amazon about, or someone else. I don’t think about it as networking. Create density of relevance and the dialogues will come. You probably have to open them yourself, yes, but it’s so much easier. You could explain it why you’re reaching out. What’s the win for them. How do you give something to them? They want something, they want more.

Nathan: Okay, awesome. I won’t take up any more of your time. Final question. Where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work Soundtrack Your Brand?

Ola: Well about myself, I’m not as good as you are. I’m not great at self promotion. I think probably go to soundtrackyourbrand.com, that’s where you can read about this current business that I’m building. It’s pretty focused on that. But if you check me out on LinkedIn, I’m actually quite active on LinkedIn, believe it or not. Because I’ve found that being a pretty good platform for a guy like me, where I’m basically just door business and the music industry is there and the technology industry. I’m quite active there. Feel free to ping me on LinkedIn.

Nathan: Ola, thank you so much for your time, man. I really appreciate it was a fantastic conversation.

Ola: Thanks Nathan. Thanks for doing this. You’re doing an amazing job. Thanks for having me.

Related Articles