How Shazam reached 1 billion downloads worldwide

This is the story of Shazam and how the company became successful and reached 1 billion downloads worldwide.

Shazam founders (from left): Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery WangChris Barton, Dhiraj Muckerjee / image source

There’s one major problem. It’s 2000 and mobile phones are not capable of doing that.

This is how cellphones looked like back in 2000 / image source

Don’t look at the market today but aim for what the market will look like in the future.

Dhiraj Mukherjee

Firstly, look way ahead of your time, at the risk of launching a company with a slightly wacky idea or incomplete technology stack. Secondly, think big and shoot for the moon; plan for every person to use your product at some point in time. It’s much better to fall short on a lofty goal than to exceed a reasonable projection.

Philip Inghelbrecht

Avery’s algorithm tackled and solved many challenges:

  • Searched a massive database of millions of songs;
  • Was able to search quickly;
  • Had a high recognition rate and a low false-positive rate;
  • Was tolerant of noise and distortion, room reverberation, as well as voice compression.

Here are the challenges that Shazam’s four co-founders have striven to overcome to be successful:

  • Waiting for mobile phone technology to catch up with their vision;
  • Building technology from scratch and also commercialize on it;
  • Raising money;
  • Negotiating with mobile operators;
  • Building a large enough music database;
  • Creating the algorithm i.e. the core recognition service itself;
  • Managing 40+ employees and 50 or 60 temporary staff.

I wanted to build a business that was based on cutting-edge technology and had the aim to revolutionize the way we discover music by using the mobile phone.

Chris Burton

How Shazam worked on launch day in 2002:

  1. 95% of people with mobile phones in the UK could dial 2580 when they heard music in a bar, café, restaurant, club, or on the radio and hold their phone to music;
  2. 15 seconds later, the voice phone call would terminate and a text message would be sent to their phone with the name of the artist and song;
  3. There was no charge if Shazam could not identify the song;
  4. If it could, then they were charged 50 pence on their mobile phone bill.

What got Chris, Avery, Philip and Dhiraj through these rocky years?

The most dangerous outcome for a startup during times like these can be a fallout between the founders, but we never had this issue because there was such a powerful bond between the four of us.

Chris Barton

Shazam timeline, stats in 2019 and business model

  • Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang and Dhiraj Mukherjee founded the company in 1999;
  • By 2000, they managed to raise $1 million from angel investors;
  • The service launched in 2002;
  • Shazam joined the brand new Apple App Store in 2008 as one of its first apps;
  • Introduced a new feature in 2011 — in addition to music, the app was extended to let users Shazam TV programs and ads to get special offers and more information on what they were watching;
  • In 2015 Shazam was valued at $1 billion;
  • The company was acquired by Apple in 2018 for a reported $400 million;
  • To date, the Shazam app has more than 1 billion downloads;
  • 150 million people use it every month;
  • The app drives the download of 400,000 songs daily;
  • The company earns revenue by referring users to make media purchases: the platform provides users with links to purchase music, television programming, and more through content distributors.

My biggest piece of advice is to be careful about the assumption of “If I build it, they will come.”
A mobile entrepreneur should make sure that part of their innovation includes a path to acquiring users and driving usage. Getting these users through an innovative channel that is free will be the key to such a successful business.

Chris barton



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