Spotify A Product Story Summary – Part 2

23 Apr 2022

Spotify: A Product Story is a podcast about all the major decisions which shaped Spotify into the product it is today, discussed by the decision makers and other people who influenced the decisions.

This part will cover Episodes 5 to 7. You can check out the summary of Episode (1-4) here.

This is not my best effort as I got bored with this and half-assed this. There are two more episodes in the podcast and I would recommend you hear them as Episode 8 talks about building and open sourcing Backstage.

Episode 5: When Your Winning Bet Becomes Your Losing Bet

This episode talks about how they moved from proprietary tech on a few servers in a cupboard, through buying thousands of servers in anticipation of our their growth, to eventually shutting down their own server infrastructure team completely, instead partnering with Google to be able to move up the stack and compete where their resources can make the most difference.

Lesson 1: Don’t get attached to the status quo

  • Spotify’s peer to peer networking, mentioned in Episode 1, which was their best asset in the early years, turned out to be a liability when most of the users switched to mobile.
  • The payoff from running their own data centers started diminishing rapidly as cloud computing got cheaper and more reliable.
  • So, they decided to moved their infrastructure to Google Cloud to focus their efforts on building their product better.
  • It took longer than it should have to accept this fact because they were attached to their peer to peer technology they pioneered.
  • When you’re really good at something, it’s easy to continue doing it, because you’re really good at it, not because it’s the right thing to do!

Lesson 2: The right question isn’t if you can do it better, but if you should do it better

  • Spotify decided to move their infra to cloud, as it would enable them to focus on building a better audio experience.
  • It’s tempting to make everything yourself just because you can, but that’s a strategic mistake in the long run.
  • This is the classic “build vs buy” dilemma, wherein you are not sure if you build something or buy it. The podcast recommends that you have to focus on building things that help you advance towards achieving your product vision.

Lesson 3: There’s a benefit to picking “the challenger”

  • Spotify decided to go with Google Cloud, a new entrant to the market, at that time at least, instead of Amazon Web Services.
  • They did that so that they can leverage their relative power, being one of the biggest customers at that time, and support the competition to keep themselves from getting squeezed by a monopoly down the line.

Lesson 4: With great power comes great responsibility

  • When Spotify moved its data to the cloud, people started leveraging the cloud to do things that were not possible before without understanding the cost behind it.
  • People started running repeated queries on the exponentially growing data, which quickly increased the costs.
  • So, the Spotify team created “golden data sets” which gave people high quality, often-queried data.

Episode 6: Hardware is Hard

Lesson 1: Everybody thinks of the user as their user

  • Different teams in Spotify started building interfaces for the users, thinking of their interface as the main one.
  • This would have led to lack of cohesion in Spotify as a product, where each interface they would be using would be wildly different from one another.

Lesson 2: Know your company’s natural role

  • How does it overlap with Your Partners, and is that going to be a problem later?

Lesson 3: Understand market dynamics

  • If you want to introduce a new industry standard, you need to find a fragmented market.

Lesson 4: Be aware that what might appear as a user need, may just be a constraint of the UI

  • Sometimes, it’s hard to know if the user data you are seeing is what the user actually wants to do, or if it is the only thing they can do in that UI. Look at what the user does in the least constrained experience.

Episode 7: Spotify’s Podcast Bet

Lesson 1: Follow the hackers

Lesson 2: You’re always better off competing with yourself than competing with someone else

Lesson 3: Differentiate with business model, not just with product and features

Lesson 4: Content strategy is product strategy