Notes by Nero Okwa
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Notes by Nero Okwa

#26. Spotify: A Product Story ‘Review’

05: Hardware is hard.

“You miss all the shots you don’t take on goal”

Listening to 🎵 La Vie Est Belle by Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, & TRESOR

Hello Readers,

I am excited to bring you another article on the series — Spotify: A Product Story.

Today we shall learn about why doing hardware is hard, partnerships, and what it takes to introduce a new standard, and deliver an ambitious vision for your industry.

Are you building a product, doing a business, or an avid Spotify user? Then this series is for you.


Lesson #1: ‘Everybody thinks of the user as their user’.

Lesson #2: ‘Know your company’s natural role’.

Lesson #3: ‘Understand market dynamics.’


In 2011, to give users ‘the perfect listening experience’, Spotify envisioned a world where music ‘could seamlessly flow from one device to the next — from your desktop to your phone to your home speakers’. But at the time in a world of CDs, this vision was quite a stretch.

At the time, software had not disrupted speaker systems. ‘There were 100s of manufacturers making 1000s of speakers’ which were not connected to the internet and depended on slow Bluetooth technology.

Luckily, Spotify found a speaker company that shared their vision — Sonos. Sonos was a high-end Wi-Fi-connected speaker system. This made Sonos a great fit for partnership with Spotify for a home speaker integration. This integration meant that users could stream any song via Spotify on their connected speakers.

Spotify + Sonos = Partnership?

The Spotify engineering team worked hard to compress the Spotify desktop app into the smallest software file to be able to run on the tiny computer chips on these speakers. Both teams quickly discovered that their goals (or strategy) were at odds with each other — a disagreement on technology.

The crux of that disagreement was about whether to optimize for the speaker UI or for the music service UI’ where UI — User Interface.

This brings us to our 1st lesson.

Lesson #1: ‘Everybody thinks of the user as their user’.

Sonos was betting on a future where they were the only stand-out speaker with several music services, while Spotify was the exact opposite: betting on a future where they were the only stand-out music service with several speakers.

It was a case of deciding whose app(view) should run on the speaker.

This was resolved by going back to basics, each company needed to decide what their ‘natural role’ was. Sonos’ natural role was great sound everywhere, while Spotify’s natural role was discovery — helping users decide on what to play.

This showed that both complemented each other.

This was Partnership 101. In every partnership, each party must understand their natural role, and if you both have the same natural role then the partnership cannot work.

This brings us to the next lesson.

Lesson #2: ‘Know your company’s natural role’.

Listening to 🎵 Time For Me by Migos

It is crucial that you and your partner understand your natural role, if it overlaps and may be problematic in the future.

Working closely with Sonos, Spotify realized they needed to design a unique software stack that delivered the desired experience. But how do they do this without giving up too much control? There was the added risk that Spotify’s code could crash Sonos’ speakers.

Spotify’s vision was for all the software and algorithms to be in the ‘cloud’, and play music while connecting to any of a user’s different devices — a user-centric model. This was opposite to the existing device-centric model.

This gave birth to Spotify Connect.

This is a remote controlling experience where the Spotify app on your phone talks to your device and controls the music. Play, Pause, Skip — all from one phone.

Because the service lives in the cloud, this frees Spotify up for future innovation without being limited to a specific device.

Spotify overcame Sonos’ reservation by identifying their key issues e.g., low memory usage. For example, by using C programming language, they designed a software that could work on any operating system and required low memory usage.

This brings us to Lesson 3.

Lesson #3: ‘Understand market dynamics.’

To introduce a new industry standard, you need a fragmented market.

‘If there had only been one or two dominant speaker manufacturers, they would have said no way — you’re not running your code on our chips. And we never would have achieved a user-centric model, it would have remained speaker centric.’

But because there were fewer streaming services than speaker manufacturers, we could make the case that the manufacturers should use our library, because there was no way we could incorporate all their different libraries into our app. Our app would have been gigabytes (GBs) instead of megabytes (MBs).

This is key for anytime you want to make a significant change in a market. If there are a few dominant players, they have more leverage, and decide if your vision is accepted.

On the other hand, Spotify was the dominant streaming service, so they had leverage with the speaker manufacturers.


In 2011, Spotify envisioned a future that users would switch from their old CD players to connected speakers, and developed Spotify Connect.

It wasn’t until 7 years later that they saw a return, when voice-activated speakers went mainstream. By that time all the Speaker manufacturers had integrated Spotify Connect.

Betting on the future is a long-term play, which needs a lot of conviction, which needs a clear vision.

Listening to 🎵 Celebration by Joeboy


Lesson #1: ‘Everybody thinks of the user as their user’.

Lesson #2:Know your company’s natural role’.

Lesson #3: ‘Understand market dynamics.’

Thanks for reading and see you next week.

You can catch up with past articles in this series: , , , , , .

If you’re finding this newsletter valuable, consider sharing it with friends, or if you haven’t already.

For any questions you can reach me at or on , and .


Racing Towards Excellence.



A collection of Notes, Articles and Musings by Nero Okwa

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Nero Okwa

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.