Portfolio July 28, 2011

The Entrepreneur Questionnaire: Tim Westergren, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Pandora




Pandora is the personalized Internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites. Backed by Greylock Partners, Pandora began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “P” on June 15, 2011. Tim Westergren founded the company in January 2000 and currently serves as its chief strategy officer. He is also an award-winning composer, an accomplished musician and a record producer with 20 years of experience in the music industry.

What is the big idea behind your business?

The music genome project. It’s a hand-built musical taxonomy that captures an immense amount of musicological details across hundreds of thousands of songs and allows us to create highly personalized radio stations.

Why are you excited about the future for Pandora?

I’m excited from multiple perspectives. By and large, people have an enormous passion and appetite for music that is generally unfulfilled. There is an opportunity to bring people back to music, reengage them and bring that back into their lives in a way it hasn’t been for a long time. I’m equally excited about what it could mean for musicians. We create a level playing field that gives exposure to a large number of talented artists, many of whom have not had any type of radio play before.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I’ve always been one. My first entrepreneurial experience was being in a rock band. It’s a lot like a start-up. You are involved in a creative process, there is no proven road map and it involves a tremendous amount of uncertainty. You have to build it from scratch. You have to work effectively as a group and you are all poor. I’ve always enjoyed wide-open pursuits where I can create and be unconstrained.

What was the most difficult lesson you have learned as an entrepreneur?

It takes a tremendous amount of patience. It’s harder than you think, less predictable than you think and many times you have less control than you think and it takes longer than you think.

What has surprised you about being an entrepreneur?

How fast companies can change. Companies can change directions and become something they didn’t expect and do this nimbly and quickly. Once they find the right direction they can grow exponentially, faster than you imagined. There is a tipping point for companies when they find the right path. The pace of change can surprise you.

What five adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Determined, optimistic, creative, verbal, adaptable.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard?

Don’t be self conscious about being an entrepreneur.

What is your motto?

Find great people and bring them inside.

Which living person do you most admire?

Noam Chomsky. He’s brilliant. Has a tremendously high integrity and is very influential.

What are you passionate about?

Connecting artists and people who love their music. And building a company that “does good.”

What motivates you?

The effort of people around me.

What was your first paying job?

A newspaper boy. I was 13 and went door-to-door on my bike.

What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

Having complete control of my own destiny—to the extent anyone can, that is.

What do you like least about being an entrepreneur?

When greed rears its head.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to be more organized.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Building a company that has integrity and a culture I’m proud of.

What is the last book you read?

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. I loved it, it’s my bible.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?

Don’t do it alone. Find people who you have a complete trust in and with whom you have a relationship that can withstand adversity and ideally people whose skills are complimentary to yours, not overlapping.

Make a life for yourself that is sustainable over the long haul. When you start this path it will be harder and longer than you think–it is not a sprint. The entirety of your life, including your personal life, has to be sustainable and content as can be.