What’s good doesn’t always last. Yet the ripple effect stemming from a good thing can be a powerful force that reverberates throughout a community indefinitely. Grooveshark, the Gainesville-based music streaming service, was in many ways a startup success story. One of the company’s founders, Josh Greenberg, used his position as a local thought leader to lift up students, aspiring entrepreneurs, and the startup ecosystem in Gainesville. Grooveshark and its founders kick-started a community built and influenced by startups. Still, after years of enjoying a global user base and bringing in both revenue and fame, Grooveshark’s hay day came to an end with a lawsuit. The startup had failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the music on Grooveshark’s website. The company forfeited its intellectual property to record companies and urged users to sign up and pay for legal streaming services like Spotify. In a day, Grooveshark was over. Boxes were packed up and the office vacated. Still, the influence of Josh Greenberg and Grooveshark continued to serve and mold Gainesville as the startup hub we know today.
Most Grooveshark employees had been on staff for years, and many had seen the startup from its inception to its end. Those individuals had, possibly for the first time, seen the potential of startups and their influence in a city. Take Paulo Da Silva for example, one of the first employees at Grooveshark.
“I walked up to the door for my interview. A business card was taped to it with Grooveshark’s name and logo. Josh opened the door for me. From there I stood in a ten by ten room with no furniture except for maybe an old couch and some cardboard boxes used as desks.” Paulo said, discussing his initial meet and greet with Josh. Years later, Paulo was leading Grooveshark University – a program that took in nearly one hundred college students to gain professional experience and the chance to become a Grooveshark employee. By then, Grooveshark was nearly 150 staff large and Josh was curating several civic ventures in the community. One of those ventures was a mentorship group through which Gainesville entrepreneurs could come together as mentors and mentees.
“Josh proved that with great power comes great responsibility. He had this innate understanding that we’re successful when we work together to be bigger than ourselves. He wanted to give back by being civically minded,” said Abhi Lokesh, co-founder of leading glass photo printing company Fracture. Abhi was in the same mentorship group as Josh. Also in that group was Kristen Hadeed founder of Student Maid. She later helped Josh to found the second mentorship program.
“Josh had a gift that made you feel listened to,” Kristen explained. With the mentorship group, she and Josh asked the question: “How do we keep people in Gainesville and help people start and maintain a successful business?”
Both Kristen and Abhi are now founders of large local companies. Alongside Grooveshark’s rise, Student Maid grew into a successful cleaning business in multiple cities with a scheduling tool, MaidSuite. Meanwhile Ahbi founded Fracture, which prints photos directly on glass, has gained a national customer base, and employs over 70 employees.
“We had twenty to twenty five talented engineers all in one place without anywhere to go. That’s a unique thing.”
Josh’s fellow peers were not the only ones to help raise Gainesville’s startup community. After Grooveshark’s doors closed, former employees came together to discuss next steps. They sat in a room and discussed how to fill the gap that Grooveshark had left behind.
“We had twenty to twenty five talented engineers all in one place without anywhere to go. That’s a unique thing,” said Will Richardson, once Grooveshark employee. Reflecting on the company’s immediate end, Will explained how former employees came together to brainstorm the very question, “What do we do now?”
“The group whittled down to five of us who were willing to take a risk and start a new company. We wanted to keep the spirit of Grooveshark. Working at Grooveshark was all about the willingness to believe in the mission, it wasn’t about the money. Starting anew, we weren’t thinking of making money but instead wanting to continue the culture and experience of working at Grooveshark,” said Will.
“I credit Grooveshark with inspiring me to want to go forward and try my own entrepreneurial venture.”
Over the next few years, those individuals evolved into the founders of two startups that are now flourishing companies with national influence. Will went on to begin Admiral, a locally-based company which specializes in adblock revenue recovery and website visitor relationships. Today, Admiral now has offices in both Gainesville and New York and has raised over $5.1M in venture capital. Another former Grooveshark employee, Travis Whitton, CTO and co-founder of SharpSpring, launched the company shortly after Grooveshark’s end. SharpSpring now employs 200+ people and was acquired in 2014.
“I credit Grooveshark with inspiring me to want to go forward and try my own entrepreneurial venture,” said Travis. “Josh was really good at getting people excited and motivated around a cause… and I took that spirit with me as Sharpspring evolved.”
So, here we are in 2019. Grooveshark days are over, but one can still feel its presence in Gainesville. Amongst the conversations at local food joints – whispers of the startup that started it all still linger. Walking downtown, one passes the companies run by the individuals who once worked at Grooveshark. The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Gainesville, now a startup ecosystem birthed by leaders like Josh Greenberg and his company, Grooveshark.