Alexander Ljung – SoundCloud 1 of 2

"Sound is more than just music, it's a key fundamental human thing." SoundCloud is a social sound platform where anyone can create and share sounds everywhere.

Matthew: Hi this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. So it’s with great pleasure that I’m here with Alex Ljung, the founder of SoundCloud. SoundCloud is a sound platform that enables you to upload, record, promote and share your originally created sounds across the web. With that said Alex we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.

Alex: Where to start. I was born in the UK and then moved to the Middle East, my parents were living there. My Dad is from Sweden, my Mom is from England. We lived there for a couple of years and then they sold everything that they had, bought Persian carpets, loaded them up on a caravan and we drove from the Middle East to Sweden where I then grew up the rest of my life. And I was always pretty geeky. I was really not always just about technology but I was very geeky about everything I did, I just really dove into it. And when I was a teenager I started getting into music and making music which became a huge sort of rabbit hole for me that I just got sucked into and I like don’t really remember anything but music and instruments for a couple of years there.

And so I was doing a lot of music, and I was still really into technology. The natural thing for me then was to start recording things; hacking different computers to do things in sound. And I realized that my whole dream in life was to become a sound engineer. Then I would get to work with sound, music and technology. Be in this cool studio, and that was it, I just realized this, I have my calling in life. And I ended up, I made an album in my sort of bedroom studio which was terrible music, very, very bad music. But it was actually quite well produced. So that landed me a job after high school at a post production studio in Stockholm, where I was thrown into a studio and started doing sound design for movies and for TV, which was fantastic. You know, get to work with everything from the small sound of a footstep to the big sound of a car explosion. And I loved it. Did that for two, two and a half years, and then suddenly realized that, damn that was my dream but this is not all that I wanted to do. I need to do something more challenging.

So I left that, started studying engineering. Focused on human computer and direction and a lot of interface design with the plan to become a researcher and do research on experimental interfaces. But I one day in the Unix computer lab I bumped into my co-founder, Eric. And the reason we sort of bumped into each other was that there was this big Unix lab and we were the only two guys that were with Mac laptops. And I was having this problem where I couldn’t sync my calendar with iCal, the schools calendar feed. And I go up to this guy with a Mac laptop and I’m like, hey I notice you have a Mac, like, do you know how to do this? And no joke, he’s sitting there trying to get the same exact same thing to work. So we immediately bonded on that and started building all these projects together. Started working together on all kinds of crazy things. He was an artist as well so he was into music and tech. And we ended up writing a book together at school about online sociology.

We actually traveled over to San Francisco for a couple of months to interview people who were kind of early in the social web movement and sort of how they were seeing people interact and be social through the web. While writing that book we realized that you know we were interested in starting a company. And you know our passion was in sound. So we started playing around with some ideas. And SoundCloud was basically born when we suddenly realized that the things we were really excited about on the web were things like Flicker and WordPress that completely changed the rules of what it meant for somebody to create and share. Like all of a sudden everybody’s a creator. Everybody can tell their story through photos or text. And we thought that was so powerful. Yet at the same time like our means of expression was through sound and music. And we looked at that space on the web and we realized, like oh my god, everybody has only been building stuff for the consumer. It’s so old school. Nobody’s been focusing on the creator side of things.

So that was the call for us and I abandoned my plans to be a researcher and we started working on SoundCloud. Which you know today has grown quite a bit. Still very focused on the creator side. We think that you know the web in general is a very silent place. Like there’s images, there’s text, there’s videos but there’s not that much sound. When there is sound it’s usually limited to just a play button and a piece of music which you know is great but I feel like there’s a whole lot more out there. And you know we’ve been lucky in that it’s grown very fast. There’s a lot of creators out there that are starting using SoundCloud to share their sounds and its grown well beyond just music now. So now I have authors and journalists and news and everything on there. So that’s the not so brief summary of my life.

Matthew: What makes SoundCloud unique? Who’s it for and why are you so passionate about it?

Alex: SoundCloud is really unique in a couple of different ways. I think one thing is our stance of really focusing on the creator side of things. It doesn’t matter really if you are 50 Cent, or if you’re Madonna, or if you’re somebody walking down the street wanting to record like your thoughts and share that, or a parent wanting to record their baby’s first words and share that. Like, really focusing on creation in a wide way is something where I feel we’re still completely unique with that. It’s also, it’s a very simple to use product. It’s built like a platform. We have over 230 apps built around it, so it’s really, it’s the only true like audio API out there. So if you want to build a product that has something to do with audio, maybe something where people can make music on their phones, can plug that directly into the SoundCloud API and all of a sudden you have all the sharing and social richness that SoundCloud brings directly into your app as well.

Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?

Alex: The cost of creating something is going down so rapidly. We’ve seen that on photos right here. Everybody walks around with their smartphone and everybody knows that’s a camera. But not everybody realizes that everybody has a microphone in their pocket as well right? So you can create something, capture something so simple, so easily. Like we joke that Twitter is really simple, right? But that’s 140 buttons, pressing record on your phone to record sound, that’s one button. So it’s 140 times simpler than Twitter. So the simplicity of that means that creation, no matter if it’s in sound or in music, like, it’s available for everybody out there. And I really believe that at this point everybody is a creator and that means that a sharing platform for all that content that people create makes a lot of sense.

And I think that’s a trend that people are starting to get now. I just saw at the Web 2 Summit the other day like Mary Meeker with her internet trans presentation saying that sound is the next big thing. That was actually nice that she used one of our quotes for it as well, but. So I think that’s a really big trend. Connected to that is also what’s happening in terms of tools for creating music. Like [Vossen] is a fantastic iPad app that allows you to just kind of play around with a couple of clicks and all of a sudden like you’ve created this whole song. Like it’s becoming so simple that really anybody can participate in it and sort of have this fantastic feeling of creating and sound of music and sharing that and getting reactions on it. And that’s something which is super, super, super big for us.

Matthew: You mentioned the story of how you met your co-founder. When you were looking for a co-founder, what qualities were you looking for, and how did you know he would be a good fit?

Alex: I think what really connected Eric and me at University was that neither one of us were really there to kind of go to all the courses and stuff. Like we were there to have time to do our projects. We built all these like interactive installations and kind of concept design products and stuff like that. And we were both really had this mission that the University was a framework. And then we had all these things that we wanted to do and we just kind of like shoved them into the University framework and had time to do them. And you know it was really great for both of us to find somebody else who wanted to really do that, put a lot of energy into creating, like, creating really cool things.

So that plus you know we’re both backgrounds working with sound and with tech just kind of drew us together very, very fast and we just started working on all different projects all the time together. So, it kind of came from that. We were working on stuff and then we both had this passion for sound and tech and we just suddenly realized something was missing there. And there was nothing we could do, we just had to do it, that was it. So it wasn’t a choice or anything. It was like we got drawn together and it was just one of those things where it’s like you know this is somebody I enjoy working with so much and we’re really, really in tune and synced on ambition level that we really want to do something that has an impact.

And I think a startup or doing a company around that, that was almost secondary, that became the vehicle we chose to actually do the thing we wanted to do. Like we wanted sound to be something different on the web. And in my mind before that was done through research. But, like we realized that a company was actually the better vehicle for being able to accomplish that.

Matthew: From idea to product launch how long did it take and when did you actually launch?

Alex: So for us it was actually a lot longer than most companies. And now we kind of like, we say that that’s just because things have changed today. It wasn’t like that back when we started. But we so the thing was we had quite a bit of extra time at University. We’d finished our thesis and had another year there. So we spent a lot of that year writing and discussing things and so out of that ideas around SoundCloud emerged, but once we’d figured out roughly what we wanted to do we very quickly moved to Berlin to set the company up from there and we decided that we were going to do a company. That was in the summer of 2007 and we actually didn’t launch the site like fully until the end of 2008.

So quite a long time like just kind of experimenting and using it with a, we were private based that whole period so we had a long, long, long private based period. And we’re just a very small group of people. We’re not in need of much cash at all, so, we’re kind of taking our time really figuring out, you know, exactly how it would work. Getting a lot of initial small traction. And then end of 2008 we opened it up and, yeah, since then it’s pretty much been exponential growth which now when we look back at it feels like everything happened last year, but because the numbers are so much bigger than before. But it’s actually been, yeah, it’s been around for a while.

Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about SoundCloud that you’d like to share with our audience?

Alex: I can share a couple of metrics. We have over 7 1/2 million registered creators on the site. It’s still growing really fast. We, our widget, like our sound widget is, I don’t have the exact metrics for it, but it’s probably the most popular audio widget across the web today. We just launched our integration with Facebook at [F8] a couple of weeks ago. We launched integration with Tumbler earlier this year where they did a really nice job. Then we integrated with FourSquare and Twitter and a couple of others as well.

Other metrics, we have, so it’s built like an open platform. We allow people to build apps all around it. I think we have roughly about 220 or 230 apps built all around the platform. Actually just yesterday Pro Tools launched, which, if anybody watching this is like, a hard core like studio geek you’ll be like oh my god. Because so Pro Tools is like the Rolls Royce of sound editing software. It’s like what they use when they do the sound for the Gladiator or what they use for the new Madonna album. And they built SoundCloud directly into that. So that’s one of the 230′ish apps built around it.

I think like our mobile, so our iOS and Android apps are probably about, not 100% sure, probably about 3 million total downloads so far. Maybe a little bit more than that. And yeah, I don’t know, like I mean it’s public data but our [inaudible 14:08] or something like that is in the 300′s or something like that….


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