Pandora Founder: Personalization Is the Future of Radio

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- While high-flying start-ups like Facebook and Zynga have achieved remarkable success in just a few years, Internet radio stalwart Pandora has had a much longer, tortuous path.

The online radio company has suffered several near-death experiences since its founding in 1999, including impacts of the dot com bust, near-bankruptcy and lawsuits from the recording industry.
Pandora founder Tim Westergren

Pandora, which started as a recommendation engine that suggested music to users based on songs they already like, has more than 75 million listeners and holds lucrative deals with partners like Samsung, Roku and Ford ( F), whose in-car Sync service will soon allow users to listen to their Pandora stations while driving. The company's iPad app is the most downloaded free app in the history of Apple's ( AAPL) App Store, and its iPhone app is the second-most popular, behind Facebook.

The start-up is also rumored to be prepping for an IPO, and could go public sometime before the end of the year.

Pandora founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Tim Westergren, recently spoke with TheStreet about the company's future, the role of traditional radio and the lessons he learned building a start-up.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TheStreet: Pandora's certainly had an interesting history, with lots of bumps along the way. Can you explain the evolution of the company and how it's transformed into what it is today?

It has been a long and winding road for sure. I'd define Pandora as having three chapters. We were first focused on 9-to-5 desktop listening at work. In the summer of 2008, we launched on the iPhone and other smartphones, which really opened up a whole new arena for us. Smartphones redefined Pandora, because all of a sudden, you could get Internet radio anywhere. Consumers began taking their smartphones and plugging it into other electronics -- they turned their cars into personal radio stations. This led to an inflection point in terms of our pace of growth, and it also caused our consumers to rethink what Pandora was.

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