Dhiraj Mukherjee, Shazam's co-founder, tells us more about his experience and his advice to entrepreneurs.
‘Just Shazam it.’ Like Google, Hoover, Photoshop and many other greats, Shazam has transcended its brand name to become an everyday verb, used by many around the world.
As one of its four co-founders, Dhiraj Mukherjee has been pivotal to the platform’s meteoric rise. Today, he credit’s the app’s longevity to its purpose of addressing a fundamental human need (that moment of musical connection when you simply need to know “what’s that song?”), and the four founders’ relentless drive and tenacity for making it work.
Getting past the stumbling blocks
Founded in 1999, Shazam has evolved from being an SMS-based service to a huge app platform garnering one billion Shazams per month. But as Dhiraj Mukherjee explains, building Shazam was a journey full of ups and downs. Getting the music identifying platform up and running at a time when there was a huge wave of internet-based entrepreneurship meant they, like their peers, were expecting relatively easy success.
But their timing wasn’t exactly ideal.
“We were particularly unlucky because 3-4 months before we started the company, the internet bubble burst and NASDAQ was down by 70% and all bets were off, so we really had to improvise and think on our feet,” says Mukherjee. “And it happened again in 2008 with the Great Financial Crisis. So just when the company was on a solid footing and looking like it was going to be established, we had to go back and reinvent the business model.”
The team were not one to let something like global market forces dampen their spirits. A combination of ‘mind over matter’ thinking alongside grounded strategic moves in improving and growing their product meant they were able ride out the rocky waves.
And in 2018, Apple bought Shazam in a multi-million dollar deal.
Looking back, Mukherjee fondly remembers the work culture. As well as all employees having the same vision for producing the best product possible, there was also an atmosphere of fun. “Everyone has ups and downs. But at Shazam, we focused on making sure we were enjoying every moment of the journey.”
Today, Mukherjee is an active angel investor, focused on emerging technologies and ‘tech for good’. More specifically, he focuses on building up small business who are pioneering green technology and renewable energy. Most recently, he’s invested in a geo-thermo company, citing the huge potential that green technology can bring to the world.
“I had the great privilege of hearing Al Gore speak about 12 years ago. He was a partner at Kleiner Perkins, who invested in Shazam. He really taught us all in an hour about what was happening, and he struck a note of alarm. I then heard him speak again more recently, and he was much calmer because of the advances of things like renewable energy.”
Making the uncertain certain
So, what can his experience of growing Shazam teach today’s small businesses? For Mukherjee, it’s about prioritising ‘design for uncertainty’ – which is about making sure business plans can still thrive, despite all the changes that occur. “Humans like familiarity. They want predictability. But the universe doesn’t actually work that way,” he reminds us.
For Mukherjee, fostering a work environment that can easily adapt to change is key. “I think it’s about working in an agile way. So, little chunks of work, getting that done and then adjusting course and seeing what the priorities are ahead,” he explains.
It might be easier said than done, but it’s something Mukherjee strongly believes is in every small business owner. “As entrepreneurs, there’s so much you don’t know and you’re constantly making it up as you go along. So be able to design for uncertainty is part of your DNA.”
A look ahead
For Mukherjee, the fact that his children, aged 8 and 11, use Shazam is something of a magical thing. “It gives me the best feeling in the world,” he proclaims. Of course, the world Shazam was born into is vastly difference to what it is today. Social media has swept through society. And people’s relationship and reliance with technology has grown. But some things remain constant and true – like our need to Shazam tunes.