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Master of music – Pandora CEO shares secrets of company’s success, advises future entrepreneurs

By Annika Heinle | 2 Mar 2011

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Joe Kennedy, chief executive officer of Pandora Media, Inc. closed out Wednesday’s Conference on Entrepreneurship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business with remarks about the importance of adaptability for online companies.  Kennedy’s company is the popular online radio that personalizes music playlists based on users’ preferences in artists.

After a full day of panels, presentations, and group activities centered around the future of technology and entrepreneurship, Kennedy spoke to a full auditorium about the innovation behind Pandora, and the constant changes in the way the Internet is used.

After receiving his MBA from Harvard, Kennedy was both the vice president of marketing at Saturn Corporation and CEO of E-Loan before coming to Pandora. With over 80 million users on the site – Pandora makes up more than half of all online radio listening – the company is preparing for an initial public offering in upcoming months, something Kennedy laughed about.

“That’s all in the hands of the SEC,” he said.

Kennedy began his speech with an introduction about “The Great Train Robbery,” the classic film that changed the way video cameras were used and movies were shot. Kennedy said that despite the breakthroughs in technology, the industry was still hesitant to embrace change because of old paradigms, and that this was the case with radio with the advent of the Internet. Calling major technological developments “tectonic shifts,” Kennedy explained that it is these shifts that enable “entirely new ways of thinking previously undiscovered.”

Pre-Internet radio worked as a broadcast: information is disseminated from one source to many, and it is  only able to move one way (to the listener).  Now, Pandora has modified radio to incorporate personalization. “The one-to-one of the Internet [as opposed to the one-to-many nature of broadcast] enables personalization,” Kennedy said. “This is one of the most fundamental things the Internet enables.”

Kennedy went on to elaborate about the personalization embedded in other major websites, like Amazon, Facebook and eBay. “If you look at the big winners from the first wave of the Internet, all of them in very basic ways took something that preexisted the Internet and updated it, often with personalization features.”

Mobile technology seems to be the next “tectonic shift” that Kennedy is watching. With Pandora apps available for most smartphones, Kennedy and the company are looking for ways to develop Internet radio further, incorporating mobile features like making location-based music and concerts available.

“Music is intensely personal and incredibly diverse,” Kennedy said. “It is made for the personalization potential that the Internet enables.”

Beyond Internet radio and Pandora, Kennedy urged the audience to be aware of these technological “shifts” in order to create more entrepreneurial outlets. He closed his speech by posing a question meant to keep people thinking about innovation in terms of themselves.

He asked: “What do you see that everyone else is blind to?”

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