10 Questions with Rich Riley (W’96)

Rich Riley (W‘96), CEO of Shazam. Photo courtesy of Shazam.

Welcome to PennNYC’s Medium page, where we’ll be highlighting Penn alumni in New York City who are doing awesome and amazing things. (You can catch our other Q&As here.) Have an alumnus/a to nominate for a future post? Let us know!

This week we’re profiling Rich Riley (W‘96), the CEO of Shazam. You can connect with Shazam on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+.

Let’s talk Shazam.

How do you think Shazam has changed as a product and as a company since you came on board in 2013?

Shazam was originally created to identify the name of a song through a mobile device, but today, identifying a song is merely the start of the experience. We now have a robust content offering including lyrics, artist info, music videos, concert info, and purchasing and streaming options with more content being added to the experience continuously. (Examples: a personalized newsfeed tailored to each user and an integrated music player.)

We’ve also concentrated on evolving Shazam into new environments to connect users to the world around them no matter where they are. This includes TV, ads, radio, cinema, and retail, and soon, we’ll be introducing ways to use your smartphone camera to Shazam.

We’ve grown rapidly in the past few years. Today, more than 100 million people use Shazam; in fact, our users Shazam more than 20 million times a day. We’ve also recently joined the “Unicorn Club” of businesses valued at $1B or more. It’s a great time to be at Shazam, and I’m proud to be CEO of a company with such great potential.

Sounds awesome. What’s one of your favorite things about being CEO? And what’s one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced so far?

I love being CEO of a highly innovative company whose product hundreds of millions of people use and love. We are — generally speaking — the highest-rated app globally (of major apps).

People associate our product with “magic” and that’s an amazing thing.

The biggest challenges are around prioritization and scaling. We have a long list of great ideas that we want to implement, and many times it’s my job to decide which ones we’re not able to do in a given quarter or year, which is hard. Scaling a business also comes with challenges: we’ve added roughly 100 people to the team since I joined, and making sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction and as hard as we can is a big part of my role.

How do you see Shazam evolving over the next few months? Any big milestones you see coming up?

Shazam is one of the first apps on the Apple Watch, and we’re excited to connect with users on the new platform, making it even easier to discover new tracks and artists. We’ll also be revealing Visual Shazaming later in the year. And, as always, we’re enhancing the music experience for users with new announcements coming soon.

What has it been like incorporating Shazam functionality into smartwatches?

Any new device opens up new opportunities and challenges. We step back and think about the end-user and what experience will be most valuable to him or her. The great thing about a watch is that you don’t have to take it out; you just tap it. The challenge is that we don’t have very many pixels to use — but we were very proud to have Apple live-demo our Shazam watch app from their announcement event and are excited that it’s now on people’s wrists.

And can you tell us more about “Visual Shazaming”? How do you see its product-identification capabilities changing the nature of Shazam as it currently exists?

Visual Shazaming will allow us to continue to expand the universe of what users can Shazam. Shazam has already moved into TV, ads, radio, cinema, and retail, but we want our famous blue button to do much more for our brand partners and users. We’ll have more to tell you in the weeks ahead — but it’s something we think people will come to love.

What trends is Shazam seeing in the entertainment industry? Are there certain songs or TV shows that are most frequently Shazamed?

I could spend hours discussing which song is about to take off in Austin or what artist is primed to break in Austria. But, to put it simply, Shazam can predict the hits before others. With more than 100 million active mobile users Shazaming more than 20 million times per day across all genres of music and TV, we can determine which songs are about to take the industry by storm.

Shazam has remained one of the top 25 most-downloaded apps for years. What do you think the trick is to keeping it so popular?

Shazam is simple: with one tap, users are seamlessly connected to the world around them in seconds and provided with a rich experience that includes lyrics, videos, special offers, and more. Shazam remains popular because the platform is constantly evolving to provide even more content users crave in expanded environments.

The more Shazam continues to drive discovery and innovation, the more users will continue to love our platform. We are continuously working around the clock to make it better.

What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you learned from or that helped get you where you are?

The first pivotal moment in my career was becoming an investment banking analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (“DLJ,” which was subsequently acquired by Credit Suisse). I spent my junior summer there and went back after graduation. I think of that experience as having fast-forwarded my career by several years — at least partially because I worked 80+ hours per week. DLJ was amazing and I got exposure to a lot of things. It started my career on a great trajectory.

The second moment was when I had an idea on a plane one night about organizing bookmarks and passwords. The most important moment within that was that I decided to do something about it. I co-founded a company called Log-Me-On.com, where we would invent the Toolbar and sell it to Yahoo when I was 25 years old.

After 13 years at Yahoo, having risen to the #2 role in the company, I decided to leave, and that set me up for the third moment, which was the decision to join Shazam. I was attracted to the amazing brand, consumer love and traction, and powerful underlying technology and technical team. I thought there was enormous potential to “expand the verb” and that the mobile revolution was just getting started. I feel even more strongly about that today and more excited about the potential for Shazam than I did when I started.

What did you study at Penn? And do you think your time there prepared you for the professional success you’ve faced?

My time at Penn most certainly prepared me for the career path I’ve taken. I graduated from Wharton with a BS in Economics, with majors in Finance and Entrepreneurial Management. The skills I gained and the connections I made during my time at Penn were invaluable and laid the foundation early on that allowed me to have the career I have had.

What’s one piece of advice you would share with Penn alumni who want to follow in your footsteps?

Stay hungry and be willing to take risks.

I advise people to join companies that they can really get excited about. When you join a rocket ship company, it is constantly growing and changing. My Yahoo career was like that; we went from 800 employees when I joined to 18,000 when I left, and there was a constant need for people to step up and take on more responsibility. I would try to avoid doing the same exact role for more than three years.

Keep pushing yourself — don’t just park in your comfort zone. If you’re not excited to go to work most days I think you’re likely on the wrong path.

Rich Riley joined Shazam with more than 17 years experience as an entrepreneur and leading Internet executive. Most recently, he was EVP Americas for Yahoo!, where he was responsible for billions of dollars of revenue and managed a team of thousands, overseeing sales, account management, ad operations, B2B marketing, research and business development across the US, Canada and LatAm. Prior to that, Rich held a variety of roles including MD & SVP of the EMEA Region, SVP of the Small & Medium Business Division as well as corporate and business development roles. Rich holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Interview conducted by Lia Zneimer (C ‘09)

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