“The inflection point.” This is the phrase Josh Greenberg titled the moment when his company, Grooveshark, disrupted the music industry. The startup had been in operation for just under two years with a team of young entrepreneurs all behind one mission: End music piracy through peer-to-peer sharing while paying the artists. While the mission was noble, Grooveshark’s product utilization was amiss. With roughly 10,000 users in 2008, Grooveshark was not profitable enough to go on. Investors pressured the startup to multiply their user base five-fold. The future looked bleak for Grooveshark. Yet within one month of nearing bankruptcy, the startup defied all odds. In nearly 30 days, Grooveshark had roughly 50,000 users and within the next month had nearly 100,000 users. Enter “the inflection point”.
Josh, his co-founder, Sam Tarrantino, and the Grooveshark staff sat in a room together. Josh and Sam laid it out for their team: Within two weeks the company would fail. All employees, given the option to leave, chose to spend the next two weeks in search of a solution to save Grooveshark.
“We split into teams and began brainstorming solutions to revive the company. Grooveshark held an internal contest. The winning idea would be implemented as a last ditch effort,” said Travis Whitton. Travis was an initial employee at Grooveshark and is now the founder of local company Sharpspring. Travis’ team won with the idea to transform Grooveshark’s website into a landing page with one spacebar. The concept was simple: one could type in a song then have the chance to preview what users had uploaded. By previewing the song users had the ability to stream music without purchase. Soon, Grooveshark was a music-streaming giant.
“The inflection point opened the door for the service to legitimize itself. It got real advertisers like Honda, Samsung, and other high profile brands running full page ads on the home screen. Eventually, financial performance mirrored the user excitement,” said Travis.
In a few short months, Grooveshark’s success had skyrocketed. In many ways, the credit belongs to the employees who chose to lean into a start-up on the brink of failure. This sort of employee morale is rare. But when speaking to those former employees, it’s clear there is one source from which the morale stemmed. That source? Josh Greenberg.
“To Grooveshark staff, Josh generated an authentic and sustainable enthusiasm.”
“It was all related to Josh and his philosophy on how the company should be run, the type of people that should be hired, and how much of himself he put into Grooveshark,” said Will Richardson, former Grooveshark employee and now founder of local company, Admiral.
To Grooveshark staff, Josh generated an authentic and sustainable enthusiasm. Travis expanded, “Josh was really good at getting people excited and motivated. He would rely on that enthusiasm to get things done. It showed that a great way to lead people is by inspiring. It’s something you can build into your culture, replicated as the team grows. At Grooveshark, everyone subscribed to a bigger picture, and still had room for autonomy and creativity.. When the team felt they had ownership, they were motivated to do things right.”
Following “the inflection point” came the building of a startup culture that was unlike anything its hometown, Gainesville, had seen.
“There were no set hours. We worked as much as we wanted to… as long as we got the work done. The office felt like a second home. We were all young employees with the same passion for music and the place we worked,” said Will.
Grooveshark became known as the office in town where staff would lounge and play video games, or where national bands would travel to for live performances. That’s right. Grooveshark’s offices held shows for their employees, showcasing bands from across the country. Still, the influence of the startup expanded beyond its office doors.
“Josh himself was very involved in the community. He was responsible for a lot of initiatives that helped other startups, and inspired others people to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Will. He continued, “Grooveshark was priority number one. Josh’s number two priority was contributing as much as he could to the startup community in Gainesville.”
Here are a few of those initiatives Josh developed: The curation of an incubator office, at which developing startups could begin their business and grow with the right tools into their own operation. Grooveshark University, a summer school at which local college students interned at Grooveshark to learn about startup culture and fully engage themselves in entrepreneurial endeavors. The Gainesville Dev Academy, a bootcamp which cultivated young engineers to lead them to successful careers. An entrepreneur mentorship group, though which young professionals and startup founders united to help better one another and their ventures.
Paulo de Salva, an original employee of Grooveshark noted, “Josh wanted Grooveshark to do well but he wanted Gainesville to do well.” Josh’s civic influence reached far beyond Grooveshark; students, fellow entrepreneurs, and a growing startup community benefited from the programs he developed and led.
“Josh showed how entrepreneurs could give back to their communities,” said Abhi Lokesh, once a member in a mentorship group with Josh. Abhi is now the founder and CEO of Fracture, a local glass printing startup that now has 50+ employees.
“What I loved about Josh was that he would bring people together and create community,” explained Kristen Hadeed, another former member of a mentorship group with Josh. Kristen founded and owns Student Maid, a successful cleaning business in Gainesville and in other cities. Most say that creating community was one of Josh’s specialties. As Grooveshark hit its heyday, Josh and co-founder, Sam, curated experiences that opened new doors for Gainesville. Those doors led to the world of startup culture.
“Grooveshark never did things quietly,” said Ahbi while reflecting on the parties and promotional events the company put on. Take the infamous Christmas Party for example. “They invited all the newest startups, their teams, and their friends,” said Kristen. Never before had the city seen a gathering of entrepreneurs and company owners all in one place enjoying boos, ice sculptures, and dancing late into the night. Essentially, work hard play hard came to life for Gainesville’s startup scene. With Grooveshark’s influential stance in town, being a part of the startup community was very appealing.
Over Grooveshark’s lifetime, Josh Greenberg inspired his staff and his community through his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Josh’s influence also showed young professionals that startup culture enables those with varying talents and interests to unite, have fun, and grow. One may say that Grooveshark was the inflection point which catalyzed the startup ecosystem that is Gainesville today.
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Help startupGNV further Josh’s mission to grow Gainesville’s startup and tech ecosystem by donating to the Onward & Upward grant at joshgreenbergday.com!