Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Cincinnati Social Media Breakfast: Pandora
February 3, 2009, 1:42 am
Filed under: Networking/Social Media

pandora1Our SMB’s (Social Media Breakfasts) in Cincinnati have just kept getting better and better. This month, our scheduled guest was Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, the internet radio company that has been destroying (in a good way) terrestrial radio, and is starting to take its toll on XM radio as well. Pandora allows you to basically customize your musical experience using their Musical Genome Project. Tim talked with us this morning about his background, why he started Pandora, and gave us a glimpse of the company’s business model and what they’ve accomplished since their official launch back in 2005. There were approximately 100 people in attendance, and we broadcasted the discussion live via

Tim is a musician himself and he employs 30 musicians who listen to music and analyze each song, breaking it down into the basic ‘building blocks’ that make up Pandora’s musical genome. Those of us in attendance got to see these basic elements in a PPT presentation, but Tim made our camera guy turn his camera away so that those viewing through Ustream would not be able to see this fantastic breakdown of musical elements. This information is used to categorize and score each song so that when we give songs a thumbs up or a thumbs down, Pandora essentially learns our true musical taste and tailors the playlist to suit what we like. The way this system works is really fascinating and it was great to have him break it down for us.

It’s hard to remember that Pandora has only been around for about 3 years, as it has already begun to shake up terrestrial radio. I don’t know if you can see on this picture, but Pandora AQH (average quarter hour) listening stats are higher than radio in most of the areas where data was collected. Tim’s goal is to have a sort of Pandora “musical digital cloud” that will follow you from mobile device to automobile to home theater to PC. He jokingly said that in the future, all cars will have a “thumbs up and thumbs down” on the steering wheel 🙂 

I was particularly interested in the digital presence that exists to spread the word about Pandora. Tim stated that they have an average of 45,000 new listeners register every day, and this has been accomplished through zero advertising. New listeners are brought in through WOM, viral, SEM, and what Tim calls “Town Hall meetings” – gatherings in random cities where he talks about Pandora. Interestingly, he said the first town hall meeting he held was attended by 2 people – in Manhattan. He said the last time he visited Manhattan, there were about 300 people in attendance, with another 200 waiting outside to get in. The average listener, Tim said, refers about 8 new people, and they have a Twitter handle at @pandora_radio which is run by a community manager who is highly interactive with its followers. In addition, Pandora has created a cool iPhone app and has designs in place for a Blackberry app as well as an Android app for the G1. This company is highly interactive, and high-touch with their audience.

From a business standpoint, Pandora is still operating on VC funding so they haven’t become profitable yet, but their profitability model is pretty neat. They use visual ads that can be targeted to specific audiences, much like Facebook ads, based on the very detailed information that is known about each user. As these ads are visual, they don’t interfere with the auditory user experience. He said it’s kind of like reading the back of the box while you’re having a bowl of cereal. Tim expects Pandora to be profitable in the very near future, and is committed to employing other musicians to help them earn a living while they pursue their musical dreams (a very nice gesture, if you ask me!) They are also fiercely dedicated to helping out independent musicians and building what Tim calls the “musician middle class”. He announced to the audience that if anyone had a CD they’d like to have put on Pandora that he’d be happy to receive it.

As an added bonus, Bryan Person made a surprise appearance this morning, and was sitting at the table with me! Bryan Person is from Austin, and he is the guy who actually started Social Media Breakfasts, the first one having been held in Boston back in the fall of 2007. SMB’s are now being officially held in 15 cities in the US and internationally. I had heard that he might be here, and it was a treat to sit with him. I had a nice opportunity to chat him up after Tim’s presentation and find out a little about what he does with SMBs.

I’m interested to see who we’ll have in March! I think it might be hard to top this month’s, but our organizer, Kevin Dugan of Bad Pitch Blog fame, always does a fantastic job of getting great speakers for us.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I love Pandora, so thanks for reporting on the SMB. If it hadn’t sold out so quickly I would have driven down to hear him speak. I really hope they make a go of it, because I have been turned on to some fantastic new artists (new to me) through Pandora.

Comment by jillsommer

45,000 new listeners everyday that each refer 8 new people-dang- no wonder they can actually start a Genome project!

Long live Pandora and the Semantic Radio!

Comment by Suzy

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