Ideas Week: Succeeding in Our Digital World

When Pandora founder Tim Westergren plugged in the first search query into what would later evolve into the popular music discovery service, he thought he'd wasted about a million dollars and months of work.

"I typed in a song -- it was a Beatles tune -- and hit 'match,'" he recalled during Wednesday's "Mega Talk" of Chicago Ideas Week. "The first match that pops up for this Beatles song is a Bee Gees song. So, I thought, 'Oh s*#!.'"

But Westergren went on to explain how that moment of depression and fear a decade ago turned to elation when he played the Bee Gees track and discovered something that sounded like the Fab Four. He said he didn't know at the time, but before the Bee Gees went disco they "were essentially a copycat band to the Beatles" and had been signed by the same manager.

That success, though veiled in failure, drove him to not give up on the product and his belief in what it could become, and it pushed him to continue meeting with investor after investor until the idea took off.

When Pandora officially began trading on the New York Stock Exchange this last June, it sold at $16 per share, giving the company a valuation of more than $2.5 billion.

And it's that drive, by founder-led companies, that should be nurtured, according to Internet pioneer, venture capitalist and sports mogul Ted Leonsis.

"The best days at AOL were when we were founder-led. We had an intrinsic feel for the customer and the business and the business model. Google is founder-led. Apple had an unbelievably strong hand. Groupon is founder-led," he said. "I think we should be celebrating founders and building teams around them because ultimately... founder-led companies build all the value."

Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky echoed the importance of strong leadership in launching a successful company in the digital space.

"A great entrepreneur is really, I think, somebody, who has incredible passion behind what they're doing. They draw you in. You're kind of magnetically connected to their idea, and you also get this sense... that they will not lose. They just will do everything in their power to avoid failure," he said.

Wednesday's technology experts were invited to discuss the Internet, technology and what would bring about "the next big thing" in our digital world.

Full Coverage: Chicago Ideas Week
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