“I left my company just before it sold for $3BN”
Swedish CEO Ola Sars missed a mega payday by walking away from beats music just before an Apple buyout – and he doesn’t regret it for a second.
Today, Ola Sars is CEO and co-founder of Soundtrack Your Brand, the world’s fastest-growing background-music streaming business. It’s a high-profile pressure cooker of a position, but it’s one that the 45-yearold executive relishes and enjoys. Rewind five years, however, and he was commuting between Stockholm and Los Angeles as the co-founder of streaming service Beats Music, while juggling a busy home life. And when it came to the crunch, he chose family over fortune.
I started off in management consulting, which was terrible. I was telling other companies what to do, but not taking responsibility for any of the consequences or ownership of any of the problems. You’re apart from the reality of it all and it made me feel bad.
I was sitting on the beach in Ibiza when I finally made the decision to move into the music industry. I was talking to a friend of mine who was very successful and enjoying what he was doing at the same time. I drew a rough axis in the sand that had fun down one side and money down the other, and made a mark that showed where I wanted to be. My mind was made up there and then.
It was the worst possible time to join the music industry. However, at first, we were flying. The company created a product that was a full on DJ system you could operate on the go. We raised £20m and moved into 20 markets, and I worked day and night to make it a success. It was a great idea, but the technology wasn’t around back then to make it happen – we had to build the hardware to collect mixes from DJs all over the world.
When we crashed, we crashed hard. The business folded and our downfall was covered in Wired [magazine]. However, I was determined to stay in the industry and acquired an online platform called Pacemaker, which had a music app called Let’s Mix. It became a big success quickly and Jimmy [Iovine] and [Dr] Dre really liked it. We joined forces and the Let’s Mix team became the Beats Music team. It was inspiring.
It soon became clear that we were going to launch in the United States and I did not want to be a part of that, so I exited the company. I checked out and gave up my position – and it was such a massive relief – but less than a year down the line, the company sold for $3 billion.
They had wanted to build a competitor to Spotify and, while it had been interesting working with A-list celebrities from the US, before long I was travelling back and forth from Sweden to the States, and it was exhausting. Also, we had just had our second child and there were all sorts of other business pressures. It was probably the darkest period of my working life.
Do I regret my decision to leave when I did? I have to say no. I took some necessary time out with my family and I began to feel like ‘me’ again. I was then able to identify a B2B opportunity that suited me much better.
The new company was co-founded in 2013 with Spotify as one of our founding partners and since then we’ve been going from strength to strength as the fastest-growing B2B music-streaming service in the world. Our plan is to dominate and we’re signing big-name clients that will make this happen.
Ultimately, my family is the most important thing to me. I spend a lot of effort on getting the work/life balance right for me and the team, while still enjoying my work. The music industry is fun, and we are very privileged to be able to build a company and way of working that enables us to have a life as well as a career.
This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/