David Noël is the VP of Community for SoundCloud, a social sound platform launched in October 2008, which has now reached over 20 million registered users worldwide. We caught up with David to learn how SoundCloud has achieved such rapid success. If you want to hear more, he’ll be talking at the EVCA’s Venture Capital Forum this month in Amsterdam.
Part of the key to success has been the service’s flexibility. “It’s for anyone who creates audio”, says Noël. “We’ve seen bands using it for their songs, politicians for speeches, media for interviews, radio stations for podcast syndication, even parents recording the voices of their children… Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York uses it to share his weekly radio address.”
From “Hip Berlin” to global ambition
SoundCloud is a multinational operation, with offices in London and San Francisco in addition to its home base in Berlin. Its international outlook was guaranteed from the beginning as the original team featured Germans, Swedes, Britons and Belgians among others. Today the company has people of almost 30 different nationalities.
Noël says that for online social software companies like SoundCloud, looking beyond their country to go international was “a no brainer”. “We wanted to create something accessible to the world.”
Berlin was a uniquely good place from which to launch, combining quality of life and good infrastructure with brimming creativity. “After the Wall came down”, says Noël, “you had a playground that attracted tons of different people. They were renting office and art spaces very cheaply. People started coming from around Europe and the world and this creativity started to happen.”
“A New Yorker I just spoke with, tells me Berlin feels like what New York felt like in ’96.” With Google having set up an office and with a growing number of start-ups, Berlin is increasingly establishing itself as a hub for tech firms.
Sharing Without Borders
But how did SoundCloud spread so far and wide? SoundCloud maintains a balance between “virality” and monetization: It is free to use for basic use, but additional features come with subscriptions.
While SoundCloud does not specifically target markets, the company made sure they would be well established in both Europe and America. “The U.S. is a strong eco-system in terms of technology. Other people can work on it so that Facebook and Apple products are all integrated with SoundCloud. That’s why we wanted to be there.”
But beyond this, SoundCloud’s model is not country-based: when the service is shared as an orange ‘wave-form’ on Facebook, national borders are meaningless. Noël says the process of spread was fluid. “The first months were Berlin-centric. Then it spiraled to all parts of Europe and from the UK to the U.S. It wasn’t really sequential.”
But ultimately Noël says they are not targeting specific markets: “We’re citizens of the web.” SoundCloud is currently spreading beyond its established markets in Europe and North America, especially to Latin America and Asia where online services are booming.
European entrepreneurship & innovation
SoundCloud was able to launch itself in part thanks to venture capital investment. “VC is a fuel which lets you ignite this engine of innovation, says Noël. Building companies and teams, expanding into markets with really beautiful products that have an impact on people’s lives. VC is a part of this. It’s one element of entrepreneurship.”
The other parts include all the factors that make up what Noël calls the “eco-system” needed to enable entrepreneurs to prosper. “If you zoom in on Silicon Valley and its 50 years of history, all the building blocks are there for a strong, entrepreneurial ecosystem. You have what is in fact a relatively small community where it is easy to learn, have an open environment, and have access to mentors and advisers.”
Noël says European capitals and tech hubs are increasingly showing the same kind building blocks for innovation and risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit. “I think it’s been changing a lot over the past five years. You go to Berlin, Paris or London, and you find similar dynamics.”
“On the Web you find there are similar groups of people with the same hunger to build products that have an impact in people’s lives.”