According to US business magazine Forbes, he’s the most important man in the music industry.
He’s on text messaging terms with U2 singer Bono and ‘Zuck’ with Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.
But now the year is 2006 and he’s 23 years old. He’s sold his red dream Ferrari and got rid of his city apartment.
Daniel Ek is sitting in a cabin in the woods, deep in depression and fumbling about for a purpose in life.
It’s late friday afternoon, but nobody looks as if they’re on their way home. From the atrium in the centre, with a view of the enormous open-plan office floors, it’s almost like a cross section of an anthill. Teeming with young professionals, some wearing headphones at their laptops, many with beards, a group are playing pool.
People are jostling over the meeting rooms, which are named after hits like ‘Pretty vacant’, ‘Poker face’ and ‘Teen spirit’.
“Did you definitely book the room?”
“Where can we sit?”
“Can you use a different room?”
When Spotify moved to new offices on Birger Jarlsgatan in Stockolm in 2012, the music giant took over three floors. As they expanded, other companies in the building were bought out and the head office now occupies five floors.
There’s no sign of the football field there’s been talk of.
But it’s true that everyone speaks English.
We’ve managed to book a meeting with Jonathan Forster, Spotify’s managing director, and the first person to be begin work on the business side of things.
Forster has been around from the very beginning, when half a dozen young KTH graduates were assembling Ikea furniture in an apartment on Riddargatan, just a stone’s throw away.
It feels a long way off from our position at the top, in the lunch area with a view of half the city, in front of a stage on which artists like Veronica Maggio and Mando Diao have been invited to play at the company’s after-work drinks, and where Spotify founder Daniel Ek, 31, usually holds court.
– About once a month Daniel gets his leadteam together, either here or in the office in New York. They go on stage and talk to the whole company, they livestream it to the other offices. He sits upon the stage and do Q&A, he talks openly about whats going on, what the plans are, what we have to be worried about, explains Jonathan Forster.
– And its very cool, cause it does´nt leak.
The story of the cheeky little Swedish IT company that put the world at its feet is like a Hollywood film in itself, with a leading character who has experienced extreme success as well as huge nosedives.
The prologue to Spotify is written and enacted in the Stockholm suburb of Rågsved.
Daniel Ek grew up with a father who was out of the picture early on, with his mother Elisabet, his stepfather Hasse and younger brother Felix, under conditions that he described on the radio the summer before last as “An average Swede. We didn’t have much money”.
But music was around from the beginning.
“Music really was Daniel’s thing. If music wasn’t on his timetable, he would come to the music room anyway, or if he had a free period.”
His grandmother was an opera singer, her husband a jazz pianist and on the wall at home in Rågsved hung a classic Spanish, nylon string guitar.
Daniel Ek is four-five years old when he learns to play Swedish nursery rhyme ‘Lilla snigel’.
In secondary school he’s given the chance to combine two of his favourite subjects, music and technology. He installs the Internet at the Oasen youth club, where the story of Joakim Thåström’ and his punkband ‘Ebba Grön’ once started, creates websites for his friends and builds bands with a hint of Britpop.
When Daniel Ek was the guest presenter on Swedish radio show ‘Sommarpratarna’ (Summertime chats), he uses the opportunity to thank one person in particular, “Musikmajjen (music man) Tony, the driving force at my secondary school.”
– I was so proud when he mentioned me in the show. That kind of thing is so heart warming when you’ve worked for 40 years, says Tony Kinberg when Expressen reaches him.
– Music really was Daniel’s thing. If music wasn’t on his timetable, he would come to the music room anyway, or if he had a free period. He’s a really good singer and guitar player, says Tony Kinberg, who is still the music teacher, and explains that the Spotify creator played lead role in school musicals based on classic feature films on several occasions.
– He was in both ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ and Roman Polanski’s ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’.
– Rågsved is what it is, there were a lot of troublemakers. I wouldn’t say that Daniel was in trouble, but music became a way for him to look forward to school.
Music, and his interest in computers.
– He was into programming even then and was light years ahead of the others at school, says Tony Kinberg, who follows his old student’s successes with euphoria.
– It’s incredible how big it’s become, you can’t believe it’s true when you hear how much Spotify is worth! At first, when Spotify was in the papers, I didn’t understand what it was, but I got in touch with Daniel and he actually gave me my first year’s subscription for free.
The fact is that the boy from Rågsved was already good for (Swedish) millions before Spotify happened.
After three years at the IT college in Sundbyberg with top grades in eleven subjects, among them English, religion and datacom, Daniel Ek applies to study engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, but leaves after just eight weeks when he realises that the first year is all about theoretical mathematics.
Plus the fact, he business acumen has started to kick in.
He gets a job at TradeDoubler, then Europe’s biggest online advertisement company, and rapidly becomes successful. The money is rolling in and the door to the life he has always longed for is wide open.
“I realized the girls I was with weren’t very nice people. That they were just using me, and that my friends weren’t real friends”
At the age of 23, Daniel Ek has fulfilled his goals, he is financially independent, has a red Ferrari Modena in the driveway and a VIP card to the hottest clubs in the upscale Stockholm district of Stureplan. There were plenty of women to share the expensive bottles of champagne with, but not the women he was actually interested in.
– I realized the girls I was with weren’t very nice people. That they were just using me, and that my friends weren’t real friends, explains Daniel Ek in a recent interview with The New Yorker. They were people who were there for the good times, but if it ever turned ugly they’d leave me in a heartbeat.
– I had always wanted to belong and I had been thinking that this was going to get solved when I had money, and instead I had no idea how I wanted to live my life.
He sinks into depression, gets rid of his three room apartment in central Stockholm, sells his dream car and moves to a 29 m2 cabin 20 km out of town.
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