He became a millionaire revolutionizing the music market and now dreams of taking the reins of the football club of his loves, Arsenal: Daniel Ek, co-founder and patron of Spotify, embodies the success of a son of working-class Sweden who led his’ start-up ‘to the triumph on Wall Street.
With a shaved head and a three-day beard, trainers and a T-shirt, this 38-year-old man, originally from Stockholm, responds to a typical image of an urban thirty-something, but is really the top leader of a company that is currently worth 55,000 million. Dollars.
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For some, he is a visionary who gave Europe one of its great technological achievements, refloating the music industry and holding its head high against rival giants like Apple. Others, however, consider him a “merchant” of culture, who exploits creators without fair compensation and who maintains agreements with large companies using their holding companies in places like Cyprus or Luxembourg.
It is not easy to separate history from legend to talk about this shy Swede nicknamed “Spice” by former colleagues. “They considered that he always had a tendency to add some pepper to his stories to make them more interesting,” explains Sven Carlsson, co-author of “Spotify from the inside” to AFP.
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For Daniel Ek (“oak” in Swedish), as for Spotify, the starting point is Ragsved, a modest place on the southern outskirts of Stockholm, where he grew up. Coming from a working-class background, his father left the family home when Daniel was a child.
It was there that his passion for Arsenal also began, following the games of Swedish international Anders Limpar, who played for the ‘Gunners’ in the early 1990s. With great talent for programming (“I want to do better than Bill Gates ”, He bragged at the age of 11), young Daniel made a living creating web pages early on.
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At the age of 23, he made his first million dollars selling Advertigo, an online advertising company, and found Martin Lorentzon, a businessman fourteen years older and with an established fortune, as a sponsor. At the beginning of 2006, both imagined what a legal and mainly free music distribution service would look like in the face of pirated download platforms that were plunging the industry into crisis.
It was thus, thinking about underwear in his Ragsved apartment, that the name of the ‘start-up’ was born, says Sven Carlsson. “You are young and in my case quite naive, so you often tell yourself that it should not be too harsh. When I founded Spotify, I didn’t even know that I needed licenses from record companies, ”Ek said a few years later.
He spent two years from plane to plane to try to convince the ‘majors’ of music to open their catalogs: Spotify finally launched its service in 2008. Spotify was overcoming obstacles and went from the Swedish market to other countries in Europe, before make the leap to the United States in 2011, despite hostility from Apple and Steve Jobs.
Fifteen years after its founding, Spotify has more than 300 million active users and almost half of paid subscriptions, fighting the competition, from Amazon to Apple or the Chinese Tecent, with whom it has established an alliance.
In Silicon Valley, Daniel Ek had the support of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg -one of Spotify’s first allies-, who came to be present at his wedding in 2016. With 9.2% of the capital -but a third of voting rights according to Spotify’s annual report – his personal fortune is estimated at nearly $ 5 billion, according to Forbes.
That allows him to think about taking the leap from the music industry towards the conquest of another stage of the world ‘star system’, football. Daniel Ek confirmed last week that he was preparing an offer to buy the London club Arsenal, after the fiasco of the European Super League project, with which the current owner, the American Stan Kroenke, had been associated.
The latter has the rejection of the fan ‘gunner’ but ensures that he has no intention of selling. “I’ve braced myself for the idea that it could be a long road,” admitted Ek, who has sought to ally himself with former club glories such as Thierry Henry.