Moving On To My Next Adventure
I joined at Pandora as #85 nearly 5 years ago. After an amazing ride, it’s time for me to move on to a new adventure.
Today will be my last day… and what a ride it’s been. When I started, Pandora’s future as the leader in personalized radio was far from guaranteed. In fact, it’s existence was still very much still in jeopardy. In 2009, the royalty structure for Pandora and other webcasters caused it to shell out nearly 70% of its revenue to record labels, which obviously made it very hard to run a profitable business.
Pandora’s own founder Tim Westergren said the situation was approaching a “pull-the-plug kind of decision.” And Mike Arrington wrote that Pandora may need to be our sacrificial lamb — “sacrificed before artists and labels to realize just how absurd their position is.” Needless to say I asked a lot of questions in the interviews but was still a little more than nervous that I’d be out of a job soon.
Luckily a few months later a royalty agreement was struck, Pandora raised another $35mm in VC funding, and the rest as they say, is history.
It has been a truly incredible experience to watch how far we’ve come and how fast we’ve grown since then.
Here are a few examples that come to mind.
— I joined Pandora 3 months after we launched audio ads. I found in an old notebook that our entire company audio goal for the 2nd quarter in 2009 was $650k (which I’m pretty sure we didn’t hit). This past quarter we did $144mm in advertising revenues. While the financial results don’t break out audio vs. display, you can bet audio revenues made up a huge chunk of this.
— Mobile advertising revenues in 2009 were laughable. The advertising industry just didn’t adopt it as fast as users were. Our CEO at the time Joe Kennedy called it the runaway train problem. The usage and costs paid from royalties on mobile was far outpacing our actual revenues. So we got really serious about mobile monetization and doubled down as a company. This past quarter we passed the $100mm milestone on mobile advertising revenues for the first time.
— I wish I remembered our exact unique visitor and share of radio listening numbers from back then (update from the comments: it was 10mm monthly uniques as of May of ‘09) : so I could show you some graphs. But you can imagine that now at 71mm monthly uniques and 8.06% of total U.S. radio listening, those are hockey stick graphs that would be the envy of any startup.
We’re executing well in a growing market (again, still only 8% of total U.S. radio listening) with an amazing vision (that I still strongly believe in).
Things are going very well.
So why leave a good thing?
In short, growth and impact.
My #1 priority is to learn. I’ve grown a ton in the past five years. My time at Pandora has taught me so much. How to sell and communicate. Listening to your users. Adapting to a changing industry landscape. Asking the right questions. How to keep a product simple but featured. How to scale and grow a team. The importance of hiring the best people while keeping the culture.
But as the company has grown (now over 1,100 employees), my role has become much more specialized and so the ability to learn and grow has gone down.
As we’ve gotten bigger, the overall impact that I personally have has gone down as well. Which is important to me.
So I’m ready for my next challenge. I’m heading to a startup where everything that I do matters exponentially more. I’ve written a lot about startups here so that might not be the biggest surprise.
Despite these feelings, the decision was not an easy one. I had a lot of difficulty saying the words “I’m leaving” to my friend and boss. It’s still a bit weird to think about, but I know it’s the right move.
I feel so grateful to have been a part of the Pandora journey over the past few years. I want to thank everyone, across the country, who I’ve had the pleasure to work with during my time here. I also want to thank my friends, family, and those in the entrepreneurial community (you know who you are) for all the support and love.
More details to come on my next adventure and why I chose it, but for now I’m taking the month of December off to reboot and recharge. I’m off to Hong Kong and Thailand tomorrow, so please let me know if you have any recommendations!
If you’ve gone through something similar recently, I’d love to hear from you at gabowman at gmail.
Image credit: The only picture of Pandora’s old office I could find, courtesy of Inc.com