Tim Westergren, the preternaturally calm former musician who helped found the music streaming company Pandora, has a unique argument for why his company will survive the rough stretch in which it finds itself. Despite fierce competition in the music on-demand (for a fee) category from Spotify and Apple and the free category from Google’s YouTube, Westergren simply thinks Pandora’s coming products are better.
“Every listener on Pandora has been giving us an immense amount of data,” he told me last week. “Users teach us about their taste. When they come to “premium” it will be imbedded with their personal preferences. We have a big advantage on personalization.”
He’s referring to Pandora’s soon-to-be launched premium on-demand service, a costly upgrade from the company’s bread-and-butter business, an ad-supported online radio service currently used by some 80 million people. This constitutes a head start no other entrant to on-demand music would have. “We can market to them,” insists Westergren, the company’s CEO for the last year.
On the one hand, it’s hard not to admire Westergren’s pluck. His business is eroding, his stock price is down, and an activist investor called Corvex Management wants him to sell the company. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe Pandora can survive the onslaught. As Westergren himself says: “Amazon, Apple, Google. It’s not who you would choose for your competition.”
Pandora all but invented the genre. It wasn’t the first streaming music company. AOL and Yahoo were much bigger. But Pandora offered something much cooler, a “genome” that mapped musical tastes and made highly relevant suggestions about what music users might like to hear next. But it was late to the I-want-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now game, and it is furiously playing catch up. Westergren says some 450 attributes go into crafting a profile of what listeners like, a picture that can’t easily be replicated by others.
Common sense suggests Pandora is a goner. But music is emotional, and Pandora’s product is sometimes magical. Who knows, maybe quality might just win out.
BITS AND BYTES
Google refutes government claim that it underpays women. The company issued a statement over the weekend defending itself against testimony Friday by a Department of Labor director suggesting there are systemic pay disparities across its workforce along gender lines. The issue was uncovered during a routine review—as a federal contractor, Google’s compensation policies are investigated periodically. In a statement published by Bloomberg, a Google spokeswoman called the claim “unfounded” and said it hasn’t seen the data. (Bloomberg, Fortune)
TaskRabbit is for sale. The freelance services marketplace is shopping itself to larger companies that could help it expand more quickly, confirmed CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot to the Wall Street Journal. The talks were described as “opportunistic.” (Wall Street Journal, Fortune)
Uber fights back against Google’s trade secret case. In a filing last Friday, the ride-sharing services company said it started designing key components of its self-driving car technology before the former Google executive at the center of the dispute, Anthony Levandowski, became part of its team. Besides, according to Uber’s new court papers, its technology is substantially different from Google’s. Uber also denies having a set of confidential documents that Google alleges Levandowski took without permission. (Fortune, New York Times)
McDonald’s latest use for Snapchat: recruiting tool. The fast-food titan is testing the process in Australia, encouraging potential applicants to upload 10-second videos onto the social network. (Fortune)
Well, that was a rude awakening. Hackers managed to set off 156 emergency services sirens across the city of Dallas early on Saturday morning. Few details are available, but officials believe the culprit perpetrated the breach locally. (Fortune, New York Times)
The rising U.S. dollar will be a drag on IT budgets this year. Market research firm Gartner is projecting global spending of $3.5 trillion for information technology this year, which is a growth rate of 1.4%. Last quarter, it forecast an expansion of 2.7%. The revision is mainly tied to “currency headwinds.” (Gartner)
Salesforce’s soaring San Francisco skyscraper is nearing completion. The final beam for the cloud software company’s new 1,070-foot-tall headquarters was placed on Friday. The structure is the highest office building west of Chicago. The move-in is planned for later this year. (Bloomberg)
The window for H-1B visa applications is officially closed. It took just five business days for the cap to be reached. Immigration officials haven’t disclosed how many requests they’ve reached, but last year the number topped a record 236,00 petitions. (Computerworld)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Comcast Is Wooing Cord Cutters Over Heavy Mobile Users, by Aaron Pressman
Apple Malware Appears to Be Skyrocketing, by Jonathan Vanian
The Risky Side of Spotify’s IPO Plans, by Erin Griffith
Why Okta Wants to Go Big and Go It Alone in Enterprise Software, by Barb Darrow
This Smartphone Has the Highest Resale Value, by Aaron Pressman
ONE MORE THING
This robot could be soft enough to hug. Disney has filed a patent for “toy-sized” robotics technology intended for physical interaction with humans, particularly children. (Fortune)