20 Product: Spotify’s Gustav Söderström on Why Product is 100% Science and 0% Art, Why You Should Look at the Competition and then Do Something Completely Different & Why Talk is Cheap and Product Teams Should Do More of it; Structuring the Best Debate and Discussions in Product Teams

Posted on 12th October 2022 by Harry

Gustav Söderström is Spotify’s Chief Research & Development Officer. He has the CPO & CTO responsibility, overseeing the product, design, data, and engineering teams at Spotify and is responsible for Spotify’s product strategy. Gustav is also an entrepreneur and investor who has founded and sold startups that he co-founded to Meta’s Oculus in 2014 and then also his first startup which he co-founded and led as CEO, up until their acquisition by Yahoo! Gustav is also the host of the podcast mini-series  — Spotify: A product story — which offers a glimpse into the decisions that have guided Spotify’s product evolution.

In Today’s Episode with Gustav Söderström

1.) From Selling Companies to Yahoo and Meta to Leading Spotify’s Product:

  • How did Gustav first make his way into the world of tech and startups?
  • What was it that made Gustav so compelled to join Daniel Ek and build Spotify?
  • What does Gustav know now that he wishes he had known when he started?

2.) “Never Fight a Macro Wind”:

  • What does Gustav mean when he says “never fight a macro wind”?
  • What models can product leaders construct to measure the size, importance and timing of a macro wind?
  • What can product leaders do to change the macro wind and have it blowing in their back and not their face?
  • When did Gustav experience this? What did he change to have the wind blow in his back? How did this alter his mindset and mentality?

3.) “Do Something Completely Different to the Competition”:

  • Why does Gustav believe startups should do the complete opposite to the competition? Does this change if your competition is other startups vs incumbents?
  • What is the story of how Spotify did the complete opposite to Youtube? Why did it work?
  • On the flip side, when did Spotify do the complete opposite and it did not work out?

4.) Mastering the Learning Process:

  • How does Gustav approach the learning process for all new skills and disciplines?
  • Why does Gustav believe that all technology leaders have to be the master of their domain? How did this lead to Gustav going back to University to study machine learning?
  • What are the single biggest mistakes people make in the learning process?

5.) Gustav: The Product Leader:

  • Why does Gustav believe that product is 100% science and not art?
  • What does Gustav mean when he says, “talk is cheap and so we should do more of it”?
  • How does Gustav structure internal debates? Who sets the agenda? Who is invited? What makes a good vs a bad internal debate?
  • How does Gustav make everyone feel safe? What can leaders do to ensure an environment where everyone feels they can debate with the boss?

6.) Spotify: The Crucible Moments:

  • What is Gustav’s favourite near-death experience in the Spotify journey?
  • Why did Spotify decide to make the move into podcasting and video? How does that additional complexity change the product paradigm of an audio-only platform?
  • How do the single most impactful platforms in the world approach market expansion and when to add new products?
  • What are the best companies in the world not merely technology innovations but also business model innovations?

Items Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

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