There was no shortage of news to discuss Tuesday when Pandora CTO Tom Conrad sat down for a one-on-one panel with TechCrunch’s MG Siegler on the last day of SXSW Interactive at the Austin Convention Center.
The Internet radio giant recently lost  CEO Joe Kennedy, turned in a better-than-expected earnings  report, and announced a first-ever cap on mobile streaming  -- all in the past week. Conrad was forthcoming about the fast times at the Oakland, Calif.-based company, beginning with a personal appraisal of Kennedy’s imminent departure.
“Having spent 10 years of his life doing this, I think he would say it’s been incredibly rewarding, but honestly it’s not the easiest job in the world,” Conrad said. “He’s been saying he needs to recharge his batteries, and I think he’s leaving the company in incredibly good condition.”
Conrad didn’t say whether Pandora has a replacement for Kennedy in mind, but he gave a quick rundown of the requisite job qualifications.
“We’re all excited to find someone that brings a wealth of experience and has new insights, but also someone who is excited about building upon what we’ve already created and has a respect for the culture,” he said.
Pandora’s revenues were up 56% in the last year, and although the company is not yet profitable, its stock price has surged on the news. Conrad attributed the growth to two factors: Pandora’s increasing share of the radio market (it now accounts for 8% of all radio) and the local and national advertising that has attracted; and the maturation of mobile advertising.
“I think we’ve gone through some years where agencies and brands were really just kind of experimenting with mobile advertising. But now they’ve become more serious about executing on the platform,” he said.
Conrad, who oversees product development at Pandora, said the company now sees itself as primarily in the mobile business, and not as a web or subscription service as it is sometimes portrayed.
“People like to talk about our business as if it’s really complicated, but it’s not really,” Conrad said. “Don’t talk about how the web is doing or what’s happening with subscriptions. The real story is that Pandora is a mobile phenomenon. People want to take their music with them throughout the day and that’s how the vast majority of our users experience the service.”
Conrad called the recent mobile streaming cap of 40 hours per month (after which users hit a paywall) “counter to our mission” and said the company hopes to eventually reverse the restriction as mobile revenues continue to improve.
As a pioneer in one of the moment’s hottest areas of music delivery, Pandora is facing stiff competition from rivals that have either recently entered the space or are expected to do so imminently. Spotify added a radio service last year, and Apple and Google are rumored to be next. Conrad played it cool when asked whether Pandora is feeling the pressure, pointing out that the eight-year-old company has already outlasted its fair share of healthy competitors.
“There’s a tendency for people to talk as if Pandora has never faced competition before and all of a sudden here comes this new entrant that’s going to take the wind out of our sails,” Conrad said. “But the fact is that when we started, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL were the giants of Internet radio. Since then there has been imeem and Playlists.com and MySpace and Last.fm. We slowly eroded their market share to become the biggest in the business.”
Interestingly, Conrad said he sees the future of Pandora in its deals with automobile manufacturers, that have to date incorporated a full version of the service in the dashboards of 85 vehicle models. He said next up for the company is deepening the relationship between the smartphone and the car’s dashboard in a safe manner.
Conrad was also excited about television and the idea of creating experiences for groups as opposed to just individuals.
“Pandora in its native form is fundamentally personalized, but more and more people will be coming together to listen to Pandora in the car, in the living room or at a bar,” he said. “We’re really fascinated and challenged by the idea of letting people collaborate for an experience we can all enjoy.”