Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify — Habits, Systems and Mental Models for Top Performance (#484)

Illustration by 99designs

We believe that speed of iteration beats quality of iteration, which is why we’re not big on bureaucracy.

— Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) is the founder, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of directors of Spotify, the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service, with 320M users, including 144M subscribers, across 92 markets.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Headspace easy-to-use app with guided meditations, Literati subscription book club, and Wealthfront automated investing. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#484: Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify — Habits, Systems and Mental Models for Top Performance
Download

This episode is brought to you by Headspace! Headspace is your daily dose of mindfulness in the form of guided meditations in an easy-to-use app. Whatever the situation, Headspace can help you feel better. Overwhelmed? Headspace has a 3-minute SOS meditation for you. Need some help falling asleep? Headspace has wind-down sessions their members swear by. And for parents, Headspace even has morning meditations you can do with your kids. Headspace’s approach to mindfulness can reduce stress, improve sleep, boost focus, and increase your overall sense of well-being.

Go to Headspace.com/Tim for a FREE one-month trial with access to Headspace’s full library of meditations for every situation.


This episode is brought to you by Literati! I absolutely love what they’re doing, and I’ve been waiting for someone to really pull it off. Literati is a subscription book club that sends a beautiful book to your door each month, hand-picked by world-renowned authors and leaders. Every month, you’ll get one paperback or hardcover book that’s specific to your Luminary’s club. Like Malala Yousafzai’s club, Fearless. Or Stephen Curry’s club, Underrated. These are life-changing books, personally picked by awe-inspiring people.

Get the books that the world’s most fascinating minds are reading, every month. And you can cancel anytime. Go to Literati.com/Tim to find your perfect book club and sign up today.


This episode is brought to you by WealthfrontWealthfront pioneered the automated investing movement, sometimes referred to as ‘robo-advising,’ and they currently oversee $20 billion of assets for their clients. It takes about three minutes to sign up, and then Wealthfront will build you a globally diversified portfolio of ETFs based on your risk appetite and manage it for you at an incredibly low cost. 

Smart investing should not feel like a rollercoaster ride. Let the professionals do the work for you. Go to Wealthfront.com/Tim and open a Wealthfront account today, and you’ll get your first $5,000 managed for free, for lifeWealthfront will automate your investments for the long term. Get started today at Wealthfront.com/Tim.

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode that can help clarify how Shopify and Spotify differ in leadership? Check out my conversation with Shopify founder and CEO Tobi Lütke, in which we discuss feedback as a gift, fostering a growth mindset, the impact of dyslexia on Tobi’s reading list and coding endeavors, understanding “the next box,” why the business world should be keeping a close eye on the video game industry, Enneagrams, and much more.

#359: Tobi Lütke — From Snowboard Shop to Billion-Dollar Company
Download

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Daniel Ek:

Spotify | Twitter | LinkedIn

SHOW NOTES

  • What’s the origin story of Daniel’s Twitter handle, @eldsjal? [06:36]
  • In what context does the Swedish word “lagom” (which means something akin to just right) get used often at Spotify — a company immersed in both Swedish and American culture? [09:24]
  • Does Daniel think he was born eldsjäl, or was it something he picked up along the way? [12:54]
  • As a parent, does Daniel favor raising his children with the guaranteed social safety net his own European upbringing provided — which allowed him the freedom to tinker without worrying about food and shelter — or a more hands-off American approach that necessitates some level of success in order to survive? Is there a happy medium? [17:13]
  • As someone who reads “north of 60 or 70 books” per year, what is it about Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist that makes them particularly memorable and influential to Daniel? [20:40]
  • There was a time when Daniel let his health fall by the wayside and he weighed 40 or 50 pounds more than he does today. What helped him turn things around and get back to a more ideal weight? [30:09]
  • While Daniel hasn’t been one to shy away from 100-hour workweeks when necessary, one of his defining characteristics is knowing how to prioritize focus. What impact does this have on his typical schedule? [34:49]
  • How does Daniel approach the concept of roles in a given meeting, and why is it important to be clear on those roles beforehand? [38:20]
  • What do Daniel’s annual reviews with his immediate leadership team look like, and how do they address the rapid pace of change Spotify has experienced thus far and expects to continue over the years to come? [44:13]
  • As CEO, what does Daniel view as the most crucial components of his job, and what allows him to perform them optimally? [50:19]
  • While their names might get them confused with one another, Spotify and Shopify are two completely different entities — and so are their CEOs. How does Daniel compare and contrast his company, culture, and leadership with that of our mutual friend, Shopify’s Tobi Lütke? [56:52]
  • Are there any biographies that stand out for Daniel? [1:01:05]
  • Favorite books on management. [1:02:22]
  • Daniel shares some tough-to-hear feedback he got from someone on his leadership team and what it taught him about being mindful of the value he’s adding (or not adding) to his interactions. [1:03:05]
  • Rather than defining static jobs within Spotify, the company prefers to assign missions to staff that last about two years. What have Daniel’s two-year missions entailed? [1:08:45]
  • How does Daniel ensure he stays on target when he’s working to fulfill a mission? How has his process adapted over time? [1:10:48]
  • What does Daniel mean when he says: “We believe that speed of iteration beats quality of iteration?” [1:16:29]
  • What is Brilliant Minds, and how did it start? [1:19:09]
  • How and why Daniel dedicates a significant portion of his wealth to “moonshots” across Europe. [1:21:52]
  • What would Daniel’s billboard say? [1:28:47]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:31:13]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply to Jan Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

7 Replies to “Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify — Habits, Systems and Mental Models for Top Performance (#484)”

  1. I love this interview and the golden nuggets!
    Creativity is not in the chaos, but is within the frames we set!

    Also, good insights of how CEO think and how the profession doesn’t need to be justified by the title.

    Thank you for this interview, Tim!

    Maybe you can make it a series and interview other CEOs?

  2. Tim!

    I enjoyed your episode with Daniel Elk! Big fan here and fellow podcaster.

    I was disappointed there wasn’t a discussion about artist compensation.

    I have a music podcast in Boston and I am well aware of the struggle musicians and artists have in making a living. Spotify is an incredible tool and I use it myself. But the payout to artists leave much to be desired.

    I heard on your episode that Daniel gave a billion euros to moonshot ideas. I love that he did that, and it is hugely important to feed fledgling ideas, causes and the like. But he has built a company on the shoulders of artists, and if artists are complaining, I would hope it would be a priority to take care of them.

    I heard an interview recently where he seemed tone deaf to a musicians plight. “There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” That, I know, rubbed many the wrong way.

    I do not begrudge Daniel at all for his success. But I would love to hear you talk about numbers – how an artist can have streaming be a meaningful part of their income.
    What comes to mind for me is when Budweiser had a contest for an artist to write them a song for a commercial. Song became a hit. Artist got nothing other than a base pay. Budweiser spills enough money to have given the artist a leg up and give him a meaningful payout.

    It is time for artists to get paid their worth. Could you bring this to Daniel if you have another interview? I would love to hear a more meaningful response rather than a sound bite. It isn’t fair to him to just blast him without a fair shake.

    I appreciate what you do! Thanks for reading!

    Chuck

    Chuck Clough
    [Moderator: business name and website respectfully removed due to comment policy.]

    1. I was wondering. Daniel Ek has the potential to create a middle class for musicians if he really wanted to. Moonshots are great, but so is being the first person in history to help artists get paid well on such a large scale. To get 100,000, you need somewhere in the range of 250 million streams in a year. To make streaming a realistically viable income source, doubling or tripling the payout would do a lot – not necessarily to make everyone six figure earners, but enough for artists to really lean into the platform. I for one would be willing to pay a couple extra bucks a month on spotify if the option was available for me and I knew all that money was going to help the artists who I love.

  3. Appreciated this episode so much. Used to listen to Spotify regularly but never looked into its CEO… he seems so wise, like an old soul. Very cool that Spotify went public two years ago and seeing where its stock is now. Wish them continued growth. These days, I listen to Amazon music, not even sure how but have been an Amazon customer since 2001, I think… and very much a huge fan of Jeff Bezos… how he started the company, his socially conscious bent, and didn’t even know much about his marriage but was a fan of of my impression of their partnership too.

    That aside, huge gratitude to Daniel Ek for making the time for the interview which provides so much value, and not just for today. In the same way that we still read Napoleon Hill, this is it happening now… the titans and titanettes. Interesting story behind his twitter handle. Wonder if he knows chef Magnus Nilsson. Watched his episode on Chef’s Table and he’s smart beyond belief. From going out in nature and breaking a portion of the surface ice from the lake and recreating this in his kitchen just blows your mind. Seemed to have found inspiration everywhere. Would be amazing to hear a conversation between the two of them exchanging ideas. Nilsson shared some Norse creation myths in the episode… would be interesting to put together a book of various creation myths from around the world.

    Thanks again. “Be kind. Everyone is on their own journey.”

  4. Thanks Tim for letting us know about Wealthfront. I jumped to the opportunity right away. But to no avail. I was interested in automated investing and I still am. I was curious about Creative Planning and Vanguard and now Wealthfront. But, all these companies work in U.S.A. only. And I live in Croatia, EU. Do you know a company that offers automated investing in EU? And if there isn’t any, now you know what the problem…. eerrrr…. opportunity is. 😉