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The Self-Made Man: Daniel Elk

Like most of you, I have a lot of friends whose Facebook status updates are pretty much just a ticker tape of their Spotify playlists at this point (also, a lot of my friends listen to way too much Lady Gaga). But even though I see those updates all the time, I had no idea how long it had really been around; some social media stuff, Twitter for instance, takes a while to catch on with people. I also had no idea whose idea it was, so I decided to remedy that, figuring that it was probably the brainchild of an entrepreneur.


Sure enough, it was. And one who’s around my age too, the bastard. His name is Daniel Ek, and he’s a 29-year-old (as of right now, anyway) Swedish entrepreneur who was formerly the CEO of ?Torrent, aka what every college student used to download porn when I was an undergrad. Like a lot of young tech millionaires, Ek is a college dropout with tons of ambition (he apparently started his first company at 14). He also used Napster as a kid, and saw that program’s disruption as proof that the old models for the distribution of music were going to change.

Napster, along with iTunes training consumers to buy singles again instead of whole albums, inspired Ek to try and develop something that was both profitable and easier/more appealing than outright piracy. With that in mind, he put a team together to develop Spotify’s streaming service (Napster co-founder and ex-Facebook bigwig Sean Parker was an early investor) and worked out deals with record labels to build a huge music library that users could share with each other. It probably wasn’t easy getting the notoriously stodgy and conservative record industry to open up their vaults for something like that, even though Ek’s parents are both in the biz, so Ek managing to coax them into doing it deserves some applause, I think.

Like a lot of guys in his position, Ek is a workhorse; when Forbes wrote an article about him earlier this year, he’d made himself sick from flying all over America and Europe to check on his regional sales forces. His main office space offers day-beds so he and his lead programmers can crash between all-nighters. Granted, the flipside of his extreme dedication is that he’s richer than God and gets to hang out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Young every so often, but he didn’t get there purely by dumb luck; there’s a lot of elbow grease responsible for his success, too.

I’ll end with this Stanford University Entrepreneur’s Corner lecture, in which Ek talks about leadership, collaboration, and how disruptive companies/products/services are built. The lecture’s an hour long, which is a bit of a time commitment, but it’s worth watching all the way through. Besides, guys like Daniel Ek are worth listening to, right? Right.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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