Young Guns: Grooveshark, the "Jaws" of the Music Business?

Gainesville, Florida is a college town--home of the Gators, the University of Florida’s well-known and beloved football team. A lesser known factoid is that it’s the hometown of legendary rocker Tom Petty. But who would have thought it would be the starting place for Grooveshark, one of the biggest music startups in the country right now.

Well, for starters, Sam Tarantino and Josh Greenberg--the co-founders of this much talked about music streaming service that allows you to search, upload and listen to any song.

“I had so many people say you’re in Gainesville, you’re not in the Valley—you can’t do anything there,” explained Tarantino. “There are no developers, there are no smart people. It’s Gainesville, what the heck do you think you’re going to do there?”

“It’s unfortunate because in the past there have been legitimately bad players in the space that have muddied the waters...."

- Sam Tarantino, Grooveshark CEO

Tarantino, along with Grooveshark’s 100 employees, have certainly proved the naysayers wrong. The company, which has an average of 35 million users and streams over 155 million songs a month, is doing just fine in the Sunshine State.

“The easiest analogy to draw is we do for audio what You Tube does for video,” said Greenberg.

Its current revenue model is based on subscriptions and advertising but Tarantino and Greenberg--25 and 24, respectively--say their future plan is to work with record labels to develop new artists they find on Grooveshark. And while they say they’re currently in partnerships with hundreds of labels, not everyone is a fan.

As of today, it is reportedly being sued over licensing issues by some of the biggest names in the industry – including Warner Bros., Sony and even EMI, with which it had recently partnered.

“We have to show that were not out to be Napster and Limewire and all those pirate services. We are really trying to build value for artists, for labels and at the end of the day, it does come down to showing that we’re about increasing their profits and helping them generate revenue and cut costs,” said Greenberg.

Tarantino agreed.

“We need to educate people,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because in the past there have been legitimately bad players in the space that have muddied the waters and people just think, ‘They're only 25-years-old, let’s just forget them’ but we really are trying to help build up this industry.”

The determination and excitement of these co-founders seems infectious--and you could see it on the smiling faces of their employees at the company’s weekly Friday meeting.

As a fun aside, Tarantino showed them all a humorous YouTube video that showcased the popularity--and criticisms--of Denver Broncos quarterback and phenomenon Tim Tebow (who had previously played at the University of Florida).

“They all tell Tebow he cannot keep winning, and six games later, he still is. I feel like that’s our story,” said Tarantino, as the room erupted in applause.

“Everybody tells us we can’t do it, everybody puts us down, and again and again and again, we keep coming back and we keep growing…. And everyone knows the Tebow story, nobody knows ours yet. But it will be told."

Six Shooter Q&A with Sam Tarantino and Josh Greenberg

1. What is your favorite quote and why?

Tarantino: “Never, never, never give up!” - Churchill.

This is the fundamental essence of business and life. Great things happen and bad things happen, the worst scenario can and will be a reality and the best you can do is never give up because business and life are cyclical. Impossible odds can be beaten but only with this attitude.

Greenberg: "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."

I love that quote because it has helped me get through periods of complexity and ambiguity in both business and my personal life.  Many times I've found myself facing a daunting task that seemed so large it appeared to be insurmountable -- it's helpful for me to remember that every such task is really a series of tiny steps meant to be taken one at a time.

2. How is Grooveshark different than all the other music-listening sites?

Tarantino: We focus on our user experience above all and believe that while music is trending towards free to consumers, the backend monetization potential is enormous. So in that sense we are different because we are focused on the long-term.

Greenberg: Grooveshark is focused on immediacy, accessibility, and user control.  Being able to instantly access a song right after having it pop into your head is a big differentiator when Grooveshark is compared to the competition.

3. Why will Grooveshark succeed?

Tarantino: Because we are constantly evolving and constantly bettering ourselves.

Greenberg: Grooveshark will succeed because of our unwavering focus on competing with piracy and creating a sustainable solution for fans, artists, and everyone else in the music business.

4. Why will you succeed?

Tarantino: Because we never give up.

Greenberg: By being happy each and every day. If I look back later on a happy life, I'll deem myself successful.

5. Who is your biggest source of inspiration?

Tarantino: Those who have faced impossible odds and won. The signers of the Declaration of Independence who risked their lives for what they believed in despite having been branded as "traitors". Winston Churchill for not giving into the tyranny of Nazism even as the British fought alone in the darkest days of WWII. Steve Jobs for never giving into his vision and belief for how the world should use products even after having been kicked out of his own company.

Greenberg: I draw a lot of inspiration from people around me: friends, family, and coworkers.  I also get a lot out of scouring the Internet for random tidbits of inspiration, particularly through Reddit and StumbleUpon.

6. What does Josh bring to the table and how do you think you complement one another?

Tarantino: Josh is our tech brainchild. He is analytical and I think with my gut. It is a very powerful balance and when we are both laser focused on an issue we can and have solved anything this way.

What does Sam bring to the table and how do you think you complement one another?

Greenberg: Sam brings charisma, vision, and passion to Grooveshark. He's a leader in the truest sense of the word.

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