True visionaries — people with an almost supernatural ability to see where the future is heading — are a rare breed. Even rarer are visionaries who have the passion, drive, and talent to turn their visions into thriving and profitable businesses.
Jon Kraft is one of those people. A classic “serial entrepreneur,” Jon has participated in the birth of no fewer than seven successful companies, including Big Stage Entertainment, UberMedia, Stanford Technology Group, Thrively, LiffOff, MuMo, and his best-known venture, Pandora Media. One of the world’s largest and most successful music streaming services, Pandora currently has over 250 million registered users and a market cap of over $2.1 billion.
Here at MSM, we consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate that Jon has agreed to join our Advisory Board. His vision, insights, and knowledge will prove invaluable to helping our Megastar Millionaire online talent competition platform become a worldwide success.
Recently, we sat down with Jon to get his thoughts on Pandora’s impressive success and how he plans to help MSM achieve growth and profitability. The following transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.
What inspired you to co-found Pandora?
In 1999, Tim Westergren and I were both spending a lot of time in Los Angeles. Tim was in the middle of breaking into the film scoring business, staying at my LA apartment whenever he was down here, and we’d often talk late into the night. Tim pitched me his vision for Pandora one night around 3 a.m. and it was a true “Aha!!” moment for me. I was a believer instantly. We made a couple of calls the next morning to a couple of folks who became our initial investors, and we were off to the races.
What was the hardest part of getting Pandora up and running?
The toughest thing for us was navigating the overwhelming negativity and confusion in the market back in the early 2000s. Investors wanted nothing to do with a music-technology company. The traditional music companies were terrified of anything technology-related because Napster was in the middle of becoming a major disruptor to their industry, and all of this was going on while the Internet bubble of the late ’90s was bursting. There were very few external believers in the early days, and keeping the team positive amidst all of those challenges was very difficult.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as CEO of Pandora?
Fundraising was far and away the biggest challenge we faced. Everyone loved our product, and we were winning every major customer who was in the market for music discovery experiences — companies like Tower Records, Barnes & Noble, AOL, and Best Buy. But institutional investors were not buying the vision. Our first angel investor, John Rogers, was the bedrock that kept us going in those early days, and we were able to find enough other angel investors who loved the product and believed in us to keep us alive and keep the team together.
But it was an enormous challenge, trying to establish the business with far less capital than any of our competitors, in an industry that was struggling to figure out its future, and we were barely keeping it together.
Did you ever expect it to become such a success?
We absolutely expected success. You have to be a relentless optimist to be an entrepreneur, and to try to do something that mixed technology and music in the early 2000s, you had to be both a relentless and a fanatical optimist. Having said that, if I told you that doubt never crept in, I would be lying.
Do you think the Megastar Millionaire concept has the same potential to change digital media and entertainment?
Without a doubt. YouTube has already proven to be a tremendous unstructured talent pool, and the popularity of more structured platforms like American Idol, X-Factor, and all of the talent competition shows over the past decade has been overwhelming. Clearly, people love to see talent, people want to be discovered, and it’s a process that fans want to engage with. I have no doubt Megastar Millionaire is going to be extremely successful.
What attracted you to working with Megastar Millionaire?
I’ve known Doug Barry for years, ever since Tim and I first pitched him to invest in Pandora. I’ve known him as a board member and an advisor. He is a very strong strategist and the kind of honest, direct, no-nonsense executive that people want to work with. When I met with him and Dion Sullivan to dive deeper into their vision for Megastar Millionaire, I knew they were the right team to put this project together.
What sort of advice will you be giving the Megastar Millionaire team?
I’ll help them think through the kinds of partnerships and influencers they’ll need to build the momentum for Megastar Millionaire, and I’ll make whatever introductions I can to ensure that they are successful. I also look forward to weighing in on the ongoing product roadmap. There are so many exciting directions to take this.
What other projects are you working on now?
I run an accelerator in LA called LiftOff, and we have more than 15 companies we’re helping to build, ranging from a 3-D printing marketplace to an “infinite swarming” control system for drones, to a strength-based education platform, among many others. The one I’m spending the most time on today is MuMo, short for Music Moments, where I’ve become the Interim CEO. MuMo allows people to listen to music together in real time.
How does MUMO work?
MuMo is an incredible way to spend time with friends, no matter where you are. Listening to music together is a very cool experience, and something people don’t get to do enough these days. MuMo brings that experience back in a cool, visual interface that lets you share your moment with music, photos, and messaging. Users simply listen to whatever they want — one of their iTunes playlists, for example — and then they “publish” what they’re listening to in real time, along with a photo of wherever they are, so that all of their friends, family, and fans can join in right then and there.
What is the most exciting thing about MuMo?
As awesome as the idea was when I was first pitched MuMo, I was really surprised at how impactful the experience was when I started listening to music with other people again. I realized I hadn’t done that in a long time. Other users were jumping in, commenting on my songs and on the pictures I took, and it creates a nice vibe. You’re suddenly hanging out with friends, even if you’re eating a late dinner alone, going on a run by yourself, or getting caught up on some admin work. It was the first time the user experience of a product really took me by surprise; it’s just an incredibly fun product to use. In fact, download it from the app store today and invite a few friends. If you aren’t blown away, let me know and I’ll buy you a year’s worth of Pandora One!