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How Spotify chooses the price it’s willing to pay for success

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, had this to say during a company wide town hall about the Joe Rogan controversy:

“If we want even a shot at achieving our bold ambitions, it will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with,” he says. “Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly and even makes us angry or sad.”

The crucial word in this statement is “if”. It’s a choice. In many ways. You choose your goals (what Ek calls “ambition”), and you choose the conditions which you are not going to sacrifice to reach the goal (in other words: the price you’re willing to pay to reach the goal).

For Spotify, the ambition Ek is speaking of is named later in the meeting (emphasis mine):

“So I think ultimately, this really comes down to two things. First, do we believe in our mission: 50 million creators and 1 billion users? And finally, are we willing to consistently enforce our policies on even the loudest and most popular voices on the platform? And I’m telling you, I believe both.”

Their mission is “50 million creators and 1 billion users”. That’s the goal they’re trying to reach. That’s the ambition that motivates the company. Together with the first quote, it’s clear that the policies are a servant to this mission. They are designed so that they get out of the way of reaching the mission as much as possible. For example, the policies ensure legality, not pride.

That is a valid stance and Spotify is free to choose that stance.

But the takeaway here is that it is a choice. Spotify can choose to have different policies, e.g. policies that ensure that they would be proud of any content that’s on Spotify.

Spotify can also choose to have a different mission, e.g. related to the quality of the content, the kind of content, the kind of relationship they have with their customer, or a vast number of completely different takes.

They choose to make their ambition purely about numbers. As a price to achieve this mission, they choose to accept to be associated with content that many will “not be proud to be associated with”.

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