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Spotify’s Daniel Ek Wins KTH Great Prize

Swedish serial entrepreneur discusses future of his industry-changing music service


Published Sep 17, 2012

Daniel Ek, the 29-year-old entrepreneur behind the music streaming service Spotify, has been named winner of the KTH Great Prize for 2012. Ek becomes the youngest honouree in the 67-year history of the award.

Spotify CEO and founder Daniel Ek says he’s always had a slightly un-Swedish ambition to change the world.

Daniel Ek has been named winner of the 2012 KTH Great Prize, this year valued at €140,000. The citation reads:

“Daniel Ek, entrepreneur and founder of Spotify, has been awarded the KTH Great Prize 2012 for his innovative application and successful commercialisation of information technology at the highest international level. He has contributed to a fundamental re-shaping of the way consumers listen to music.

“Mr. Ek’s service has shaken up the music industry around the world. His creative innovation and co-operation with thousands of record labels has established a new business model for music consumption.”

KTH President Peter Gudmundson says this year’s winner is richly deserving of the honour: “Daniel Ek is a shining example of how advanced technology can be transformed into new products, expansive applications and even behavioural changes among a wide audience.”

How does it feel to join earlier winners of the KTH Great Prize, including such well-known Swedes as Håkan Lans, Hans Rosling, Gunilla Pontén and Niklas Zennström?

“We didn’t create Spotify to win prizes, but obviously it makes you very happy when all the hard work gets noticed,” Ek said. “Of course I think it feels great.”

You’re widely recognised as an idea-generator and expert at identifying talent, and your enterprises and innovations have been very successful at attracting investors. How do you react to the praise?

“I've always had a slightly un-Swedish ambition to change the world, even if it’s just in a small way. By combining two of my personal passions — music and technology — I and my colleagues have managed to influence how people all over the world listen to music. I'm proud of that! But I don’t focus so much on my role because I’m surrounded by so much talent. I learn something new every day and I work with incredibly inspirational people.”

Even before winning the KTH Great Prize, you had been honoured with several innovation awards. What can you tell music fans about where Spotify will go next?

“We’re focused on developing the service further, launching in more countries, and making the music experience more social. It's exciting to see how every little change we make affects millions of people.”

You began your career as a developer and engineer. How has that background influenced you as an entrepreneur?

“Martin Lorentzon, the co-founder of Spotify, often says ‘problems aren’t the problem,’ and it’s in my nature to focus on opportunities rather than obstacles, because those can be overcome. A good idea is just the beginning, but then you have to assemble a strong team that can deliver. Building an Internet company today means you have to have a good understanding of technology. That’s especially true for a company like Spotify, where the focus is on differentiating the service with a better product experience. Technology is crucial there, and that’s why my background matches Spotify very well.”

You studied at KTH, but your business career took off before you graduated. Will you be coming back to finish your degree?

“KTH is incredibly important for all of Sweden, and we have a lot of talented engineers and developers there. Many of my colleagues at Spotify come from KTH and we’re constantly recruiting there. I don’t see a school desk in my future for the time being because my schedule is already full. But who knows?

 By Peter Larsson

About Daniel Ek

Before co-founding Spotify, Daniel Ek contributed in various capacities to several successful companies, including Stardoll, TradeDoubler and Jajja Communications. 

About the KTH Great Prize

The KTH Great Prize includes a cash award of SEK 1.2 million (€140,000), financed from an endowment established by an anonymous donor. The prize is awarded annually to a Swedish citizen who has “promoted the nation’s betterment through outstanding efforts or discoveries, and the creation of new values, especially in technology but also in science and the arts.” The KTH Great Prize was first awarded in 1945.