Daniel Ek's "impossible thinking" started at age 13 with a Web development mini-empire

By Erin Griffith , written on November 8, 2012

From The News Desk

Some entrepreneurs stumble into starting companies. Others seem built for it. Daniel Ek falls into the latter camp, evidenced by the impossibly ridiculous Web development empire he built out of his parents house a 13-year-old.

"I've always done sort of impossible things," he said between two firs at PandoMonthly New York tonight. When Google turned him down for a job, he thought, "I'll just make my own search engine, it can't be that hard," he said. "It turns out it's really, really hard."

"I'm naive enough to think things will always work out and I don't fully understand how hard things are," he said. A perfect example is his first entrepreneurial endeavor, at age 13. He spent a lot of time on his family's computer, and at some point, people started asking him to build homepages for their businesses. He charged $100 for the first one. He tried $200 for the next person who asked. By the time a year went by he was charging $5,000 a pop for websites. He bribed mathematically gifted kids in his class with video games, having them stay after school to train them to write code on the school's computer. He was spending all of his time building websites, bribing other students to take his exams.

He was making $50,000 a month at one point, which his parents started to notice when huge TVs started showing up at their house. They eventualy moved to a new house, so Ek could run his business out of their house. He'd hired a team of hired a team of 25 by the time he was 18. Eventually he got a letter from the Swedish IRS and thought he was going to have to file for bankruptcy.

It wasn't until eBay bought Skype and the European M&A market opened up, that he was able to sell four companies within a matter of months. He eventually realized that the money he'd earned and lost and earned back again was meaningless without a project he was super passionate about. Which is how he got the idea for Spotify.

At the time he started Spotify, the illegal product for digital music -- ie, pirated mp3s -- was so much better than the legal one -- ie, iTunes. His goal with Spotify to even out the odds.