Spotify founder-CEO Daniel Ek may have quickly deleted his two-word take on Apple Music’s June 8 announcement. But that hasn’t stopped him from having Apple-level ambitions for Spotify, as well as other European startups.
Speaking to a small group of press on the second day of his inaugural Brilliant Minds Conference at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, Ek and co-host Ash Pournouri (founder of At Night Management, which manages Avicii) spoke of Sweden’s need to move beyond its heritage of jantelagen, the humble practice of feeling equal instead of greater than your peers. “We’ve had this way of humble-bragging where you don’t brag at all,” Pournouri said.
Because many of Scandinavia’s biggest business exports have opted not to scale or acquire as quickly as their American peers, they’ve missed out on becoming the next Google or Microsoft. “Whenever a European company has ever been on the brink of success, it’s sold,” Ek said. “It’s insane -- we have 200 million people in Europe, and we don’t have one of these companies. Statistically, that’s an anomaly.”
And with many of Sweden’s biggest entrepreneurs speaking at Brillliant Minds (including top execs from Sony Ericsson, Candy Crush Makers King and ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus), Ek saw the event as an opportunity to host an open dialogue about the future of Europe’s business growth. For example, he recently told Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, partner and CEO, that he “sold too early” to Microsoft. “The point is, what could Skype be today if he would have had the same tenacity as when he started it? I don’t know, but I’d like to think -- given all the other communication and messaging businesses -- that it could have been one of the big ones. Back then, he didn’t have options like liquidity for his employees, and all the people around him told him sell, sell, sell. It was a very different situation.”
At Spotify, Ek has been slowly ramping up a streaming music empire that includes acquisitions of Tunigo and The Echo Nest, and he recently announced a $526 million round of funding that would value the company at $8.53 billion (and more than 20 million paying subscribers). Though Ek declined to discuss Spotify specifically at the conference, he called out several of his competitors for evolving beyond their Nordic roots. “If you think about Tidal, Beats Music -- all of them were created by Swedes. They were both started here in the backyard of Sweden. Soundcloud was also founded by two Swedish guys. It’s ironic when you think about how much music tech is from [here].”
Perhaps the greatest potential for the next major player to emerge from Scandinavia, Ek argued, is one of the billion-dollar mobile gaming companies currently based in the territory, like King, Rovio or Minecraft. “The economy is strong enough to bear [a big European company] -- it’s in these economies of culture if you think about gaming now, Finland and Sweden -- we got all of them. Supercell, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, they’re all in these two very small markets.”
But expanding Sweden’s global economic profile isn’t the only item on the Brilliant Minds agenda. Pournouri says discussions are already underway to improve transportation and direct flights from Sweden to the U.S., as well as the rest of the world. “We want to make it more accessible to everyone,” he said.