Westergren charts history of Pandora

Feb. 9, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

Last Thursday evening, Tim Westergren ’88, founder of Pandora, spoke to the Stanford community about his story and the origins of Pandora.

Clad in a simple hoodie and jeans, Westergren explained how he, as a young musician, had tried to create ways to find new music.

“It was a notion that by understanding somebody’s music taste and mapping musical DNA that I could build a method for discovering music,” Westergren said. “At the time, I was not intending to build a radio product. I was really just trying to solve the discovery problem that I primarily faced as a musician.”

According to Westergren, Pandora, which was founded in 2000 and which now has over 1,000 employees, hasn’t grown without hardship. The company has competed extensively with Apple and has had several controversial royalty battles.

Anjuli Felix, who manages the internship program and university recruiting efforts, said that she wanted Pandora’s internship program — which was launched last year — to have a twist.

“One thing I noticed when I was doing this competitive research [on internship programs] was that a lot of companies didn’t have a theme for their research,” Felix said.

Felix explained that Pandora interns meet with mentors in one-on-one meetings called “soundtracks” and are given badges with their photos, schools and names.

Paul Wilke, a communications director at Pandora, described the company’s structure as very fluid and flowing.

“Pandora has no offices. It’s a very open structure,” Wilke said. “You have conversations with people that you don’t normally deal with. It’s very open, and it’s great because we get to share ideas.”

Westergren also discussed the company’s “nurturing” culture, including unplanned lunches with his employees. Pandora’s most recent development involved a lighting ceremony for putting up a sign on their Oakland building.

“We have seven-foot tall letters across the top of a big building in Downtown Oakland,” Westergren said. “We had a sign-lighting ceremony and rented a deck of a parking structure across the street so everybody got out there and looked across and watched the sign light up at night. It was a moment I will not forget in a long time.”

Westergren later discussed one of Pandora’s main services: reaching out to artists and bringing them on board. He estimated that the firm has brought 5,000 previously unknown artists to the broader public.

“It’s all about artists coming to Pandora and building a set of features for them to leverage the audience and talk to the audience and help it drive their careers,” Westergren said.

Despite the firm’s multifaceted approach to expansion, Westergren said that he aims to keep Pandora and its features simple.

“Our goal is to help somebody use it more effectively without cluttering up that experience,” Westergren said.


Contact Angelique Dakkak at angeldak  ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu

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