Are you using YouTube Music, or have you ever tried Google Play Music?

Well, if you have, your experience has likely been impacted by my guest today – Eric Davich. Eric is a lifetime musician, long-time Google employee, and co-founder at Songza – a music streaming and recommendation service that has been funded by Amazon and later acquired by Google. I hope you will enjoy this podcast as I'm trying to discover Eric's lessons from running a startup, not being afraid to send cold emails and the stories about Jeff Bezos and Larry Page 😉

Learn More about Songza:

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Episode Transcript

Please note, the transcript below has been generated automatically.

Stephan Mazokha 01:00

Eric, perhaps you could introduce yourself. Who is Eric Davich?

Eric Davich  01:07

I would say that I am a musician turned startup operator turned marketer turned entrepreneur, at least in terms of my professional identity. I'm also a husband father and enjoy doing a lot of outdoor physical activities like snowboarding and running and water skiing and whatnot. But that's generally who I am in a nutshell.

Stephan Mazokha 01:34

I got to also notion a couple of things that you also have been part of two startups that got acquired by two very big companies and you're a successful Zuggler with a long experience of working in this big company and scaling it tremendously and that's huge.

Eric Davich  01:51

That's true. That is also important color to add to my professional resume.

Stephan Mazokha 01:57

You've mentioned that you're a musician, right. Perhaps you could get started by sharing a bit about how did you get started with music, who was your influence and what musical instruments did you play?

Eric Davich  02:09

Yeah, I think my influence with regards to music started as most people with their parents and growing up, but with me it was even going back to my grandparents. My grandfather on my mother's side was a musician and played the saxophone in a band which was called Swing and Sway with Barry Kay. They played jazz at resorts in the catskins back in, I don't know, the probably. And then my father was a natural musician who taught himself how to play piano, never had any lessons, just played by ear. And so I always had some sort of genetic inclination. And then as I reached, I don't know, three or four years old, my parents started exposing me to the fun world of theater and Broadway and actually took me to see a show called The Starlight Express. And after the show was over, I refused to leave theater until I could go on the stage and that wasn't allowed. But that convinced my parents that they should enroll me in acting classes. And so they got me into a small theater in Morristown, New Jersey, near where we lived. And I took acting classes and I was in local plays, and I started acting in community theater and eventually did a couple local TV and radio commercials. Actually, the radio commercial national.

Stephan Mazokha 03:47

You mean like you were recorded on video or just voice actor.

Eric Davich  03:52

I did a local TV commercial for a car dealership called William J. Sherbow and Sons, in which I said I was driving a power wheels car and a clip on tie and said, this car may look fun to drive, but at William J. Sherbow and Sons, buying a car is serious business. And that was me at age five or six. There's a whole blooper reel that I can't find, otherwise it would be on YouTube. And then I did a national radio commercial for a company called Cremence Jewelers, in which I was a child with his father at a jewelry store. And I spotted a jewel in the jewelry case and said, daddy, get this one. It matches mommy's eyes.

Stephan Mazokha 04:40


Eric Davich  04:42

I did some child acting, and that was like the peak of my child acting career. I had gotten an audition or something with a legitimate manager, and I just wouldn't perform because I only wanted to perform on what I called Caroline's stage. Caroline was the woman who ran the theater workshop that I was doing. So that was the peak of my performing career. But I had always liked performing and performing musical theater. And as I got older, I got more interested in popular music. And by the time I turned ten, I wanted to learn how to play the guitar because my best friend Mike had learned how to play some songs by Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And at that time, that was what resonated with us as young wannabe teenagers in the mid. And so my after a lot of convincing, my parents got me a guitar and some guitar lessons, and that was kind of the beginning of the end. And I took it very seriously moving through high school and started playing a little bit professionally, started forming my own bands. And by the time I got to college, I had already decided that I wanted to be a rock star. But in college, I basically used that time, even though I was at a liberal arts college, I used that time as basically the on ramp to my music career.

Stephan Mazokha 06:19

How did you get from trying to play, I'm assuming, in some sort of bars, to entrepreneurship? What was that step for you? How did you get there?

Eric Davich  06:26

Entrepreneurship was always kind of embedded in my DNA, dating back to when I was in high school, and I made my own recordings all by myself. I figured out how to record music and produce it and play all the instruments that I needed to and sold it in the cafeteria. And I didn't even realize that I was necessarily good at that. But I kept doing stuff like that just out of my natural urges to create things and share those things that I created. And when I went to college, the biggest milestone or accomplishment that I had was my honors project, in which I put together a group of, I think it was 40 or so people within the community, both students and teachers and community members who happened to play the instruments that I needed. And I wrote and had them perform this suite of music and recorded it. And that was very fulfilling for me, both as a musician artist. But I think primarily my biggest takeaways were with regards to actually project management. And that was the big learning in doing. That was how to rally people around a particular vision, how to get them bought in, to spending time on something that you've thought up and created, and how to get them to work together to produce something really hopefully, magical and enjoyable and entertaining that could then be savored or recorded, that people could learn from. And when I graduated college, I failed forward very quickly. I thought, oh, if I could do this in college, I could do this in high school. Moving to New York City is just the next step, and everyone's going to welcome my artistic vision with open arms and kind of fell flat on my face and realized that there's a thousand of me, if not a million of me, trying to do this and very few people willing to shower me with that kind of praise. So I had a really good career discussion with my sister, and she was basically like, look, you need to think of other ways to make money. What are your options? And I said, well, I'm tied to music, I must be in music. So the options in music are work at a record label, which was kind of a shrinking at risk industry at that time, 2007, when illegal downloads were at their height and itunes was maybe starting to rise as the only real legal option for music consumption. I turned in that direction and I said, okay, well, maybe there's something in music in this new realm of digital, which to me at the time, I only really knew of two things. One was itunes, and I was like, oh, that's a tech company, and I'm not a tech person, I'm a music person. And then the other was this site called Amy Street, which I had been introduced to by a mutual friend of the founders who had been recruiting artists to put their content on the site. And I had put my music on the site, and I had actually gotten some fans from it, sold a little bit of music, found that it was a cool platform for an artist like myself who was just desperate to find fans and clearly wasn't finding as many as I would have liked in my immediate vicinity. And it inspired me to write an email to the founders and say, look, I'm a musician, I have some experience in the music industry, I'm knowledgeable about music and I want to work for you. I want to basically use whatever skills and knowledge I have to help grow Amy Street and would love to meet and discuss. And luckily they got back to me pretty immediately.

Stephan Mazokha 11:06

So you literally just send them a cold email without any expectations.

Eric Davich  11:10

So I think the initial email went to Elias and Elliot, who were later my co founders, but they looped in two of the other guys whose names were Josh and Peter. And turns out that Josh and Peter, who were the sort of marketing and content guys, were starting to think that they needed some help, and they needed some help in blogging and doing artist work and working with all of the record companies and whomever. And so they already needed a hand. So my timing was great. And so I met with them at a deli in New York City and we talked, we got along, we had friends in common, the whole thing. And so we decided to set up a working arrangement, which I would go out to their house that they were living in, in Hicksville, Long Island, a couple of times a week and then the rest of the time work from my apartment. And I was an independent contractor for a few months while they secured their Series A fundraise and then became a full on employee. The rest is history, which I can get into more of those details, but it was pretty cool that it could come from a cold email, right? Yeah.

Stephan Mazokha 12:40

This is a great example to aspiring entrepreneurs or people who just want to be part of a startup. Don't be afraid to just send a message. You never know what's going to happen. What's the worst that could happen off of your message? They're just going to ignore it. Oh my God, such a pain to you. It's a great example. And why is it a great example? Let's be clear about that part. So as far as I know, later on the product actually got acquired by Amazon to some extent. Right. So perhaps you could share a bit about what stage have you guys been on and how did you get there and what does Jeff Bezos play in terms of his role in this project?

Eric Davich  13:17

Yeah, so Amy Street, the original founders, had started it in college and moved out of campus and officially launched. It got some early traction and attention from tech blogs and Michael Arrington TechCrunch was particularly bullish on the model because it had.

Stephan Mazokha 13:43

And that was at the time when TechCrunch was only starting, right?

Eric Davich  13:48

Yeah, that's when TechCrunch was kind of a kingmaker in the space. And that was before social media was really big, but people were still reading blogs on their RSS feed or

Eric Davich  14:08

a Mike Arrington was a big advocate, and it meant that they started getting some legitimate attention from investors. Right around the time they were raising their Series A, they were meeting with Amazon and they actually flew out to Seattle to have a meeting with Jeff Bezos. And as the story goes, they practiced their pitch, they really honed it in, were very confident, and delivered it to Jeff and a room full of executives. And the feedback was generally like, this isn't the idea, but I believe in you guys as a team, and you're going to figure it out. Just remember that you need to fall in love with the problem, not the solution, because problems stay the same, but solutions change. And then he turned to the guy to his right and said, Get it done, and walked out of the and.

Stephan Mazokha 15:05

You never saw him again.

Eric Davich  15:07

Yeah. And that's how Amy Street landed its Series A funding round, which was led by Amazon, who stayed as the lead investor in the company throughout its various stages, which ultimately ended up in a latter company called Songzo, which was acquired by Google. That's right.

Stephan Mazokha 15:35

Coming back to the message about you guys are a great team, right. And they believed in you guys as a team, what does that mean? What are the characteristics that you think they could have identified that this is why they want to invest into you guys?

Eric Davich  15:49

I think that's a really good question, very extremely valid of a question, because for me, at least, I wouldn't have stuck around that long as long as I did seven years, had I not believed that this is the group of people that could crack the code in digital music better than anyone. I think for us, it had to do with a couple of things. One, just general talent and intelligence. The guys who started Amy Street were, to me, some of the smartest, most intelligent, deep thinkers and practical people that I had ever met. Two, it had to do with obsession with music. I think you need to have people who are not just passionate about music that they like, but passionate about music in general and the history around recorded music and the role that music plays in people's lives. And just having that extra amount of curiosity and knowledge in that particular vertical was very helpful and a competitive advantage, some might say. And then lastly, scrappiness. Especially when you're a first time group of entrepreneurs, you've never done anything, let alone run a successful venture. They need to believe that you're going to be able to do what it takes, that you're going to be adaptable, that you're going to be able to pivot, that you're going to be able to learn on the job. That you're going to be able to acquire all sorts of new skills and convince people that you are the ones to get a return on their investment fund or that they can trust with their recorded music catalog. Right. And so a lot of that comes down to character. A lot of it comes down to any sort of track record or signals that you can show as a way to prove that you're a scrappy person who's very determined and will get things done despite whatever personal cost it may come with.

Stephan Mazokha 18:17

I see.

Eric Davich  18:18

And I'm not sure how anyone would have believed that we would have had that character, especially at that stage, aside from maybe talking to some of our early investors or college professors or people that we knew prior to our professional careers. But we're lucky that people took a chance on us, and it certainly has panned out in some way.

Stephan Mazokha 18:45

I think that's a skill that these successful people do have because they do have to identify these opportunities at scale. So what was the actual premise of Amy Street? Why was it so breakthrough that they decided to eventually work on it? What was that extra feature that was so novel at the time?

Eric Davich  19:09

So at the time, if you wanted to listen to music, your options were buying it, which nobody was doing anymore, pirating it, which was kind of a broken experience in which you didn't know what kind of quality you were going to get or you might get viruses. It took a long time to download or acquiring it legally. And acquiring it legally meant spending basically the same amount that you would on a CD, but you would just be downloading it to your computer. And it didn't come with any discovery, it didn't come with any special experience. It was just kind of a transaction. And I think generally we're recent college graduates, our pain point that we decided to address was first and foremost price. And we thought that if people were going to stop pirating music, you would need to give it to them at a price that was a bit more reasonable with a better user experience. And so the main idea that they came up with was called dynamic pricing. And the theory there was you would start all songs at zero or close to $0.00 and they would increase in price the more that they were purchased. So price is actually a way to denote the quality of a song, not just the cost.

Stephan Mazokha 20:21

Pretty much like stock.

Eric Davich  20:23

Yeah. So as you might imagine, may or may not imagine could be counterintuitive to some. The most expensive songs were the ones that got bought the most because ultimately it was a measure of quality as measured by the community, and the price was the vote. So we thought it was an interesting model. A lot of people thought it was an interesting model. There were some other components to it, but ultimately it ended up being primarily independent artists and brand new artists who didn't have major label contracts or major publishers that had a say, or some sort of stake in how much they earned on a per song or per download basis.

Stephan Mazokha 21:12

That's really nice because it sounds like compared to itunes, which was pretty much the spotlight of the day, it sounds like this was the stage to go to to get yourself superfans.

Eric Davich  21:26

It was certainly theoretically sound. The practicality of it ended up being a bit less reasonable because eventually there's only so much music that was available through that site. And our belief was you needed to have the full content of available music to make it truly successful. And the industry certainly wasn't willing to just give us their music for free and start giving it away on our site where they're working with Apple and Emusic and other retailers that they know, giving their songs away on those channels. And for us, it came down to either trying to keep pushing at this and spending all of our time becoming content acquisition and business affairs experts or figuring out another way. And we ended up looking at other kinds of options for how we could crack music discovery without having to spend a ton of money and a ton of hours negotiating with rights holders to acquire content. And at the time, this was 2007, 2008, streaming was just starting to kick off. YouTube had just launched, people were uploading music to YouTube. There were other sites like both Illegal and Pirating, sites like LimeWire, et cetera, but also more legal ish kinds of services that were kind of legal gray areas where people could find music and stream it without having to download it. And we ended up discovering a service called Songza, which marketed themselves as Google for music. And what it really was, was an aggregate where you could search for any song and it would pull from all these different streaming sites and find the best quality version and play it for you right there. It was kind of like a prototype for Spotify and you could make your own playlist and it was kind of cool. And they got some traction pretty early on, and we had reached out to them and they had really no interest in learning the ins and outs of monetizing music and running an advertising model to support their streams or any of these things that we had become kind of experts in over one or two years of doing digital downloads. And all of the licenses were involved in that. And so we agreed to actually acquire them. And for a while we were running both songs as well as two spin off versions of songs, which we called Songs of Radio and Songs of Sets, as well as Amy Street, the download store. So I think we were maybe 20 people running four different services.

Stephan Mazokha 24:43

Fast forward to the time when you guys have I'm assuming you sold the name Amy Street to Amazon entirely, right? And you decided to focus on songs. How did you come to that decision and why?

Eric Davich  24:56

Yeah, it was a matter of focus. I think at that point in time we had had some pretty good traction with Amy Street Songza had a good deal of users and usage and we saw the future of music being streaming and we needed to focus because we were a small team, which was shrinking because people started leaving when the economy wasn't doing so well. 2008, right? And we weren't able to bump people up in terms of compensation, so people started leaving for other things and we got down to four of us and there was no way that we were going to run all four services as just four people. And so we needed to pick one and we needed to focus. And a lot of that I think, was driven by our advisors and investors and board being like, you guys need to focus to pick one thing and do it really well. And so we had decided to offload the download store and sold it to Amazon and used the money that they gave us as basically seed investment for the new version of Songza that we launched on the heels of that. And that new version of Songza was kind of an amalgamation of everything that we had learned from Amy Street and all the different songs of spinoff services kind of combined into one in a bit of a Frankenstein way. And after we sold Amy Street and offloaded that and migrated all of our users over to Amazon music, if you go to right now, it probably redirects to did. It tells you words about that. Oh, cool. I'm glad to see that that landing page still exists. And then we tried to get everyone to start using songs that too, but songs that was repositioned as social radio at that point in time. Remember, this is 2008 and there was.

Stephan Mazokha 27:03

Maybe 2000 spotify existed at the time already.

Eric Davich  27:08

Yeah, but it wasn't in the US. Which is where we didn't really have.

Stephan Mazokha 27:13

A lot of streaming competitors around.

Eric Davich  27:17

Yeah, I don't really remember who the competitors were at that point in time. I think we still looked at itunes and e music as sort of our main competitors initially. And then there were all these Pirating sites and Grooveshark and LimeWire

Eric Davich  27:36

and things like immersing up as streaming music services that we were looking at. And we thought that our edge could be making a social network out of music, basically, and basically creating a bunch of playlist themes and then having the user base add to the playlist to make it like the most comprehensive, best possible version of a playlist. And we would come up with all these cool ideas that we liked for playlists, like Ninety s One Hit Wonders or Feeling Good in the 90s. I'm just thinking of all the right now. I think we had one that was I think this had originally called like when guitar solos were mainstream.

Stephan Mazokha 28:29

So in other words, you put a huge bet on the fact that people are not just buying a single or song, they're here for certain actions. So either I'm working out or I'm sitting at home chilling, drinking wine or something. And you were like, let's create curated playlist so that you could enjoy that time with some music around, because there is always an opportunity to enjoy your time better when there is music. So you bet fully on that capacity.

Eric Davich  28:56

We weren't quite there yet. We were more on the hypothesis that if people could contribute to playlists, that they would listen to them and they would share them and we could create sort of a network effect and grow a huge business out of social playlisting. But what we found was that people were less interested in actually making playlists or collaborating on playlists and following rules of said playlists and more interested in actually listening and consuming to some of these things that we actually concepted like hip hop playlists for working out or driving playlists and things like that, that we didn't allow crowdsourcing for.

Stephan Mazokha 29:46

How did you come up with these ideas and how did you validate them?

Eric Davich  29:51

Initially, for our first couple of years, we built stuff and thought people would like it and then made some changes based on product analytics and whatever conversations we would have with people which were more organic. But that didn't take us very far and luckily we had a marketer in the family, elias Roman. His father Ernan, ran a direct marketing agency and he turned us on to this idea of the voice of the customer, which his agency did extensive voice of customer research and worked for the Microsoft's of the world. And we were able to work with them on a study, if you will. And what he taught us was how to interview people in a very conversational way, not so directly about your product, but more so about their lives and the role that something like music could play in their life. When do they listen to music? Why do they listen to music? What are the current things that they do to listen to and experience music? And where are those shortcomings? And we listened in on a bunch of phone interviews that he did and got more and more insight and color from actually listening to that and literally applying the things that people were saying into our solutions and then designing solutions that way.

Stephan Mazokha 31:29

What were the characteristics of these interviews?

Eric Davich  31:34

Yeah, I think your standard kinds of open ended questions, but it was kind of like, okay, let's talk for a minute. What is your day like? What do you do on a typical day? And starting to understand a bit more about who that person is, what their identity is, what their lifestyle is like before getting into anything about music or digital tools that they might use in their life. And as you hear things, you might ask for some clarification like, oh, I wake up, then I go to work. And it's like, okay, well, what does waking up consist of? It's not like you just open your eyes and you're in your car going to work. So like, literally being curious to try to unpack all those different moments throughout their day and sort of what's going through their head, what they're experiencing, and where there are potential areas that could be improved. So that's the general lens that he was sort of talking people through. I want to really just understand as best as you'll let me what it's like to live a day in your life. And I don't remember what the exact sort of script or process was for these interviews, but you would imagine that somebody might say, oh, I get in the car and I turn on the radio. And that's when you can start to ask about music, right? Like, oh, do you listen to a lot of music? How do you choose the music that you listen to in your car radio? Do you like the stuff that you listen to? Is there something that would be better with the music selection? And that's when we started to unpack the real meat that would inform our product. What we started to understand was and we talked to people who already used Songza and we also talked to people who'd never used it. And across the board, what we were starting to hear was that when people were listening to music, it was actually during some other activity. It was they were bringing their ipod to the gym to pump them up while they were working out, or they were listening to music in their car to soundtrack their drive. Or they would put on music to help them fall asleep or to give them energy in the morning, or to help them focus while they were doing some work.

Stephan Mazokha 34:06

This is probably one of the most amazing lessons that I have discovered myself. Do not ever ask your client direct, subjective questions about what you want to build. Because if you ask a subjective, direct question, you're going to get a biased subjective answer that will not prove to you what is the real challenge that they're facing. If you're trying to just improve your product, sure, of course, just go ahead and ask what that button does and why or what the problem with it potentially is. However, if you're trying to reimagine the whole market, if you're trying to break through with a disruptive product, you need to go back to the basics and you need to start asking questions that potentially could be about what is wrong with that behavior or how could that behavior be changed? And it sounds like you guys have specifically done exactly that. And you were able to identify a couple of niches that led you to build a product that actually people. Love because they didn't know they needed this.

Eric Davich  35:09

Yeah, I think, yes, they didn't know that they needed it. It also took us a while to get to the version of the product that ultimately would take off. I think it's a combination of starting to for us, it was a change in approach and that approach became lead with the voice of the customer. We were a broken record in that respect. I remember Elias would take in any new employee and run them through sort of the songs investor pitch deck and basically like, we lead with the voice of the customer. We lead with the voice of the customer. Lead with the voice of the customer and all things will start to fall in place, right? And so that was the big shift for us. And then as we started on that shift, we released a new version of Songza that was more positioned as a lifestyle enhancement service is how we referred to it. And it was a library of playlists for any moment, mood situation that you could ever need music for. And we thought, okay, this is what's going to do it because now we're positioning music properly and it didn't take off in the way that we expected, right? And we were like, okay, well, we got to go back to the drawing board again. We got to talk to more users, we got to listen to the voice of the customer and have them tell us why this isn't working, despite the fact that the content is there to meet their needs. What we started to find out was that it took a long time, but also a lot of mental energy or mental math for them to decide what playlist was going to be perfect for any moment or situation that they needed music. And it took us just a lot of repetition in hearing that from people and demoing it for people and seeing how long it took us to actually get them to the right playlist. That led us down this path of even more focus and

Eric Davich  37:17

even more sort of customer considerations like removing mental math, taking context into account, because that's going to factor any decision that you make, right, if it's Monday morning versus Tuesday evening. The kind of music that you might need or the situations that you might be encountering that you might need music for are likely to be starkly different. And that's going to be very dynamic throughout the entire week and all the various moments that you need music. And so it was an important kind of additional lesson for us in that, yeah, you can listen to people and you can be really great at interviewing and getting insights that are truthful, but even then you can't stop, right? You still have to continue to figure out, okay, well, what's a better solution? What is an even more focused way that you can solve this problem for people and create more value for them or just more significant value. And for us it was both. In that first initial step of creating the library of content that could map to any moment and then actually figuring out a very intuitive user interface that would surface that content at the right moment based on all of your context and personal usage and things like that. And that was the real breakthrough that led to our most explosive growth and ultimately the acquisition by Google.

Stephan Mazokha 39:11

Let's talk numbers for a second. You said that I've read in a couple of places that you guys had some ridiculous monthly usage count sort of closer to the acquisition side. What were the sort of active monthly listener numbers that you.

Eric Davich  39:28

For? I think the peak that we touted was five and a half million monthly active users.

Stephan Mazokha 39:35


Eric Davich  39:36

And I think we had probably somewhere around 25 million registered users.

Stephan Mazokha 39:43

And that's a mobile app, right? It's not a website or anything like that.

Eric Davich  39:48

It was website too. It was mobile first, primarily iOS and Android and then Web, as well as tablet. And there were some other interesting little partnerships that we did, like little platform things that we might have done. Forget actually some of the names of these things, but we also had a white label version in partnership with a company called Black Planet, which was a radio company. They had a bunch of radio stations and so they had sort of a songs alike interface on a mobile app and a website that in addition to playlists that we had, that they had borrowed, they also curated their own playlists and surfaced their radio stations. That's nice.

Stephan Mazokha 40:35

And this was at the time, I'm assuming, when you already competed a lot. So what year was it where you said it was five and a 5 million monthly users or listeners?

Eric Davich  40:44

2014 when we got acquired. Yeah.

Stephan Mazokha 40:49

Spotify was huge at the time and I'm assuming you've experienced already some sort of a market shift to the point where shopify was becoming a primary platform, right?

Eric Davich  41:00

Well, at that point in time, Spotify, I don't remember what year Spotify launched in the US. But it was maybe two or three years before we got acquired. Apple Music was about to launch in the US right before we got acquired. And I think the Beats acquisition by Apple happened right before the Songs acquisition. So things were really competition was really heating up and consolidation was starting to happen.

Stephan Mazokha 41:31

How did you get approached by Google?

Eric Davich  41:35

Interestingly enough, we had both made the decision that we wanted to be acquired and right around the same time that Google was exploring whether or not to acquire a company or basically rebuild their music subscription service, which at the time was called Google Play Music All Access. And the story that I heard was that Larry Page called in the Google Play team and said, google Play music all access isn't what I want it to should if this is Google for music, it should be able to anticipate what kind of music I need for my workout or my drive or waking up or whatever it is that he personally wanted Google to automatically play music for. And the question then came to the team, it's like, okay, what does it look like to build that? How much is it going to cost, how long is it going to take and what is the alternative in an acquisition look like? And we've been working with Google in a myriad of capacities up until that point. We were an affiliate partner, so when you streamed songs on Songs and you were on Android phone, there was a link to buy it. On the Google Play store.

Eric Davich  43:03

We were an app developer, so we worked with their apps business Development team sorry, developer Marketing and Business Development team on tuning the app so that it would met best practices and getting featured in Keynotes and other kinds of places that they feature apps like on the App Store. And we talked to people at Google a few times about other ways of partnering and sort of had exposure. Later when I was at Google, I found out from some of the senior executives there that they'd been talking to us or knew about us for a long, long time. Some even before their time at Google when they were at record companies or what have you. So there was a whole lot of sort of conversation and relationship already with Google and its various dimensions.

Stephan Mazokha 44:03

It was a very organical approach, I'm assuming.

Eric Davich  44:06

Kind of yes and no, I'm sure. I mean, I wasn't super close to those conversations. A lot of what I know about it, I know from people telling me later on. But it felt like a natural fit despite the fact that Amazon was our lead investor and they sort of had the right of first refusal. But it turned out that part of the reason that we decided that Google was the right place for us was that there was a philosophical alignment with regards to what we believed would drive the future of music. And a company like Google, with its vast understanding of just tons of data and context to be able to deliver people good results, felt very much in line with how we approached music curation, and we thought that having a company that was so masterful in data science would be a good place. And then also culturally, it felt like a good fit. It felt like a place where our whole team could be comfortable, but we could still be weird, still be scrappy startupy people and sort of grow into a company culture versus some of the other potential places that we were entertaining. Just didn't feel like as good of a fit for the product, for our user base, or for our team.

Stephan Mazokha 45:42

What does a team member of a startup that has been acquired by such a giant experience.

Eric Davich  45:48

At the time, before we got acquired, I at least, and probably some others, were under the impression that we would never have to leave our office in Long Island City and that would just know, become the new Long Island City headquarters of whatever company we ended up getting acquired by. And that was, in retrospect, laughable because there was barely a consistent internet connection there, not to mention the rats and just the general dilapidated nature of our office. So somebody from Google came and inspected it and was basically like, no, you've got to move into the Google office. And starting the day that we got acquired, we could work from Google if we wanted, but we didn't have assigned desks or seating for those first couple of weeks, and a bunch of us would go in, and we just loved having the free food and the micro kitchens and cool, unique, comfortable places to work. And eventually we moved into a space, and it was called the war room because it had like a literal war room conference room in it as well, some desk space where we could work. And then eventually we got integrated with the Google Play team.

Stephan Mazokha 47:06

And that was in New York, or was that in California?

Eric Davich  47:10

Yeah, it was in.

Stephan Mazokha 47:14

Larry pitch every day.

Eric Davich  47:16

Yeah, no, I don't think any of us ever had any meetings with Larry. I forget what year Sundar became the CEO, but it was pretty soon thereafter we had joined.

Stephan Mazokha 47:28

Do you think in the retrospect, was it a right decision and in terms of that whole transition process, is there anything you could have done better?

Eric Davich  47:36

Yeah, I think I have to give kudos to Elias, Peter, and Elliot, who did basically the whole negotiation on behalf of the company and made sure that everyone who was a full time employee at Songza had some form of a role or contract going over to Google. Not everyone was offered a full time salaried position. Some people were able to actually convert to that and are still at anyone, and only a few people opted not to come, and then everyone else stayed for quite some time. There's probably at least we were 40 people when we got acquired. For a number of years, I think there were still 25 songs of employees at Google, and now it's probably a bit smaller, probably closer to ten or twelve people that are still there. But I think in general, everyone felt like it was a good transition and at the very least, a good opportunity for them to be able to work at Google, see how Google operates, and put Google on their resume, even if it's something that they didn't stick with.

Stephan Mazokha 48:53

Hold up for a second. You're saying that there is still Songs team at Google? What is it called? At the moment? I thought that the product at the.

Eric Davich  49:02

Moment, part of the product doesn't exist. But basically, over time, songs merged with Google Play Music and then Google Play Music merged with YouTube Music. And so a lot of the team, not everybody, but a lot of the team moved with the Music product as it evolved into its final destination. And then since people have spun out into other realms of the company, there's folks in the cloud organization, there's folks in PeopleOps I moved to Android and Play. There are some people in YouTube, both in YouTube Music and other parts of YouTube. Elias moved to Area 120 and stayed there and then has since moved into Google Labs. So Songza lives on in those people and also in the foundational elements of the YouTube Music product that still reference some of our playlists or reference the contextual way that we used to curate or some of the algorithms that produced music and playlist recommendations for people. So there's still a lot of songs that still exist, just not in the actual brand or the product.

Stephan Mazokha 50:30

So, in other words, if somebody is going to YouTube Music to listen to anything, whether it's a phone app or whether it's a website, they're essentially using portion of your product right now. And so I think that's a huge achievement. You're essentially reaching with all of that activity, who knows, maybe closer to a billion people these days, right?

Eric Davich  50:52

Oh, maybe. I don't think the YouTube Music app is used by a billion people, but certainly tens of millions. And it's certainly been tried by hundreds of millions at this.

Stephan Mazokha 51:06

Yeah, yeah, you're right. What does it feel like when Google decides to shift over from, let's say, Songs? I'm assuming at some point the app was still existing in that form for a while, and then they decided to say, okay, this is now becoming part of Google Play Music. How did that transition happen? Is that like a request that comes from the top in some sort of a very set email? And how does that transition process usually happen? Because Google is famous for its graveyard of products. This is not that story. This is not a graveyard product. But still, how does that transition happen?

Eric Davich  51:45

Google constantly changes strategy and reorganizes its teams. And at that point in time, Google Play Music had had since the Songzo team came on, Google Play Music had started to grow in a really strong way, and we kind of cracked the code and figured out how to make a better music product that could actually attract people and retain them. And YouTube Music was kind of struggling out of the gate. They had very high hopes and expectations based on the YouTube brand and the funnel that they could convert to paid subscribers. And it wasn't really hitting the mark. And a lot of it was attributed to product. But also internally, there was a lot of fight over whether or not we were cannibalizing each other's audiences and we were also asking the same stakeholders for resources. So if I'm the CFO of Google, why would I fund this music product and not this music product? You're you're basically spreading yourself thin with regards to how much resources you can dedicate to music. And for a couple of years, we tried to work together to figure out what's the united Google strategy in music. And after a while, we actually recommended to the marketing leadership that we bet it all on YouTube, that we actually just merged with YouTube, bet it on the YouTube YouTube brand. Like YouTube needed to win in music more than the Google Play business. But there were a lot of political complexities in doing that. And our marketing leadership at the time said, what is this crazy idea? Stop. But we probably at least planted the idea in their minds. And I don't know where the decision ended up coming from, but I think at a certain point in time, senior leadership said, you know what, we're spreading ourselves too thin. We're starting to cannibalize either our user base and or, you know, we had business development teams on both sides talking to the same record labels, talking to the same artists, and the feedback. And this was so common at Google and all the teams that I worked on, people would come back and say, who should I be talking to here? I'm getting mixed messages from different teams, different products. I just want to have a cohesive Google strategy and one single point of contact that I can talk to that unlocks the full power of Google. And so the decision was made in merging the teams, taking the best of what we had learned from Google Play Music, moving that user base over leveraging the funnel and reach of YouTube, and growing YouTube Music in that way, and also consolidating the relationship so that our partners had an easier time working with us. They weren't having us negotiate against each other. And things gradually became really streamlined under the YouTube umbrella.

Stephan Mazokha 55:13

Right now, you're rowing all of you guys in the same

Stephan Mazokha 55:20

and what was your position at the time when you were part of Google? When songs that became part of Google.

Eric Davich  55:28

So I kind of transitioned from a person wearing all non technical hats to a bit more of a specialized focus on artists, industry and influencer partnership marketing. And it was kind of an aggregation of all of my skills and strengths made into a role on the Google Play Music marketing team.

Stephan Mazokha 55:52

And what were the biggest highlights of that experience?

Eric Davich  55:56

I think that for me, it was one I told my first manager this when I was working on Google Play Music, it felt like I was drinking through the fire hose and just physically growing because I didn't realize I had as much capacity to learn as I was learning.

Stephan Mazokha 56:18

How does this kind of an acquisition usually work? Did they actually leverage the tech that you built? Or did they just request that you work on their own technology after you become part of the Google team?

Eric Davich  56:32

There were certain things that they certainly kept with regards to the content. A lot of what we did was kind of copy paste all of the eligible playlists, but of course there was a migration and ingestion process that needed to happen to map to their system.

Stephan Mazokha 56:50

That's right.

Eric Davich  56:52

On the technology side, I think it was all like a merge or a redo from scratch kind of thing. Partially, yeah.

Stephan Mazokha 57:05

Google is very famous for having their own tech stack.

Eric Davich  57:08

I know.

Stephan Mazokha 57:08

Yeah. They probably made you guys rewrite everything.

Eric Davich  57:12

Yeah. And I think a lot of it was also due to a more sophisticated product offering in Google Play Music. Songza was just streaming Playlists. And yeah, we had some other capabilities, like a premium tier where you got rid of ads and you could link out for affiliate purchases. But it was pretty simple from an infrastructure standpoint, what Google Play Music already had because of a completely different licensing structure, and it was global at that point, probably in at least 30 or 40 countries, was much more sophisticated. One, because it was a subscription product, so you could pay $10 a month for it. Two, it didn't have advertising, so it was a slightly different sort of tiering approach. We later added advertising so that we could have a free tier. And then it also had cloud storage, which was sort of the initial way that it had launched was Google Play Music. All Access was basically a cloud storage locker for all of your music so that you could stream it on the so it was a much more sophisticated and sort of heavy product that we had to integrate into. And so it was like adding on to that. Existing infrastructure required, basically, that we ditch our proprietary stuff. Aside from the editorial in the playlist.

Stephan Mazokha 59:00

This is a very interesting thinking to make because when we hear startups being acquired by bigger sort of by giants, we think, oh, this app is just going to be sort of acquired as is, and they're just going to deploy this within their infrastructure. No, it's the opposite. They're acquiring people, they're acquiring research and findings, and they're acquiring proprietary IP, if you have any patents and stuff like that. But everything specifically related to the implementation, it's still going to be redone because merging those two things together is so complex and Google already invested so much into their infrastructure that they just don't want to mess with it. I'm assuming they just want to build everything to whatever their standard is. What were the biggest lessons that you've learned from being at Google?

Eric Davich  59:44

So I learned a lot about myself at Google. Part of it was due to a lot of the experiences that teams had with professional development, both in terms of team off sites and these kinds of personality quizzes and things that we did in order to learn more about ourselves and then collaborate more with other people. So I learned a bit about my personality and then a lot of it was also just due to experience and being aware of who I was and how I was interacting with certain people. Sort of where my limitations were in terms of my personality and relationships, where my limitations were in terms of my practical skills and emotional intelligence and how that manifests in my career. And I found that even though for most of my career, even including my time at Google, my core values and the things that were driving me were, one, creativity, two, learning, and three, impact. And in instances where I felt like I wasn't able to truly express those things, I had to move on. And even though music was a key driving interest and force for me, for my entire life and most of my career, there was a point where I wasn't able to have the impact that I wanted, or I wasn't able to be as creative as I wanted. And I felt like I had to actually move on from that. And so that big lesson was listen to yourself and understand your values so that you can do what's right by you. And to have a fulfilling career, to have any sort of fulfilling relationship, you have to be true to those values, and you have to be in a place where you feel like you can express those values to the truest extent that you can. And then the other thing that I learned, I would say, when I left Google, was that there was a fourth value that I didn't realize how important it was to me, which was sort of connectedness. And what had happened was you go through Google and you're constantly being exposed to people, or anytime you want to meet somebody or get somebody to weigh in on particular area of expertise, it's very easy to access them. And people at Google are very friendly and very willing to talk to you, no matter if you've never met them, no matter if they're way more senior than you, or if they're in a completely different country, what have you. You have access to basically this amazing network of amazingly diverse and intelligent, smart and friendly people at your disposal. And when you leave Google, it's all gone, right? It's all gone.

Stephan Mazokha 1:02:41

It's not all gone.

Eric Davich  1:02:42

That's the thing.

Stephan Mazokha 1:02:43

You have to build out your own company like Google. That being said, so you left Google to work on your own product. Anything you want to share at the moment about that? I know you're a bit cryptic at the moment about it for obvious reasons, but anything you'd like to share?

Eric Davich  1:02:59

I think a lot of it has to do with my experience leaving Google, in that I sort of realized that it can be hard to kind of put yourself out there to have relationships with people. Even if you're somebody that is very experienced in building relationships and you have a network, even just the basic human need of being able to connect with other people can be challenging because of the way that we live. We're also very busy, we're also constantly connected. And you don't want to take up people's time, even just to base, you know, to fulfill your basic human need of being able to connect with other people and feel a sense of belonging. And as I realized that for myself, as an almost 40 year old person who's had all the life's privileges and some professional success and a great network and all these things, imagine what it's like for somebody who is just leaving high school or college and doesn't have an embedded network or peer group and is now entering a fully remote, hybrid workforce. And you've got a ton of stupid questions to ask and no one to ask them to. And if you do, you have to sort of set up a formal conversation about it. And it's a very challenging situation, a very challenging environment to transition into. And the current means of helping people do that aren't necessarily hitting the mark, especially for this younger generation. And so that's where my focus has been between now and when this podcast goes live or when the product actually launches. The solution could be immensely different than what I currently have in mind. So don't want to talk too much about that in the spirit of the advice that Jeff Bezos gave by Amy Street co founders. Right, yeah. So I am particularly passionate about this problem, less so passionate about the solution, although I am particularly energized about the route that we're currently exploring, based on.

Stephan Mazokha 1:05:26

What I know about insider information about what Eric is building. I think this is going to be a fantastic product and I think we should all stay tuned to his I think LinkedIn would be the primary way right, to subscribe to you.

Eric Davich  1:05:40

It's probably a good way right now. You can also sign up to be a pilot tester. Right now it'll be called Jammy. Who knows, that could change too. But if you go to Jammy, that's okay. Yeah, you can go to Jammy Chat to fill out an eligibility survey if you're interested in signing up. And who knows, maybe by the time this airs, it won't be a survey anymore. It'll actually be a working website.

Stephan Mazokha 1:06:05

Thank you very much, Eric. It's been a pleasure chatting with you. I think it's very inspiring to hear your story and I think that the lessons that you've demonstrated so far in terms of what people should learn and how to apply this to building a product, I think they're worth listening to. So, thank you and yeah, good luck. Good luck. I'm looking forward to following up with you soon.

Eric Davich  1:06:28

Thank you very much. I will just say, if I can. That for the listeners out there. Big thank you for having me. This has been a fun conversation to have and rehashing a lot of these old memories and also just articulating and crystallizing these things that I've learned has been really helpful for me. And then also just shout out to you personally for all of your help in our discussions leading up to today and informing sort of how I think about actually building this product has really shaped a lot of the direction. And people that have seen sort of the plans that I've come up with from a product development standpoint have said that it's like really rock solid. And I think a lot of that has to do with sort of the foundational feedback and guidance that you've given me. So just sharing my gratitude.

Stephan Mazokha 1:07:24

That's awesome. Yeah. We should stop now so that guys could go and we're going to continue. All right, thank you.