The Power of Creative Persistence: Shazam’s Journey to Success
Chris Barton, co-founder of Shazam, spoke at the 2024 edition of LINKS, Liberty Network's thought leadership customer event in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Shazam was a crazy idea from the start.

Chris Barton, co-founder of Shazam, gave a rousing talk at LINKS 2024, where he shared the history of a company that was never supposed to succeed.

When Barton first pitched the idea to over a hundred VCs, only three said yes. Now Shazam is the leading music recognition app and one of the most famous unicorn startups from the music field to emerge in the 21st century.

There were a plethora of problems that Barton’s team faced when they formulated their revolutionary concept. No shortage of experts told Barton’s team that the idea was simply impossible. Noise cancelation, audio filtering, speed variation, pitch correction, reverberation, and sound distortion were some of the headaches they had to overcome. 

Barton, however, was accustomed to failing better and better. Throughout his teens, he had struggled with academics due to dyslexia. It was by being defiant and trusting the magic of his ideas that he managed, many years later, to get two billion people to download Shazam.

And they did so by building from basic truths. That meant articulating their vision from a ‘first principles’ thinking, without any preconceived assumption. This philosophy is essential to the telecom sector, Barton noted. All success stories, ultimately, came when a group of people followed their obsessions and connected with the public through emotions.

“What is the insight that you have that others don’t see?” That was the communication problem that they had to break through. They knew Shazam was revolutionary, even if they didn’t have the language yet to convey their groundbreaking concept to investors. But they had passion, and knew that only real conviction is convincing.

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Initially, Barton admits, his idea for Shazam was terrible: to create software that would identify songs from the radio relying on radio monitoring systems. Then came the ‘aha’ moment: “What if you didn’t need to rely on those existing technologies? What if you could just do it from the sound in the air coming to the microphone of your phone?”

Once he had the million-dollar idea, all he had to do was the impossible: execute it. That meant creating an algorithm to identify audio signals, manually creating a music database, and raising capital.

And as the no’s started rolling in and the challenges began to pile up, Barton and his team powered through by sheer creative persistence: "You have this big idea, but the system feels like it’s set up to stop you like a prison. You have to defy all these barriers."

So they set out to eliminate friction, one of Barton’s key tips to any founder finding their bearings in the world of tech innovation. "Reduce the effort for others and not for ourselves" was their motto. They simplified, streamlined, and made it easier for their customers to navigate their innovative concept.

And it proved successful. In 2008, Shazam became one of the few apps that debuted with the launch of Apple’s App Store. Some ten years later, Apple acquired Shazam. Today, Shazam is literally a verb.

Reminiscing about his company's two-decade history, Barton says there is still nothing quite like hearing somebody say: "Let’s Shazam it!"

As the audience broke into applause, Barton reminded everybody, with his words and his example, that great vision always ends up attracting great investment.

Follow our LinkedIn page for more insights from the conference over the coming weeks.

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The Power of Creative Persistence
The Power of Creative Persistence: Shazam’s Journey to Success
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