much muscle mass too early”). Somehow, he doesn’t sound like he’s making excuses;
he’s focused on learning, on improving—a trait that has defined him, and Spotify, from
the very beginning.
As for the next day’s stock market debut, Ek willfully downplays its importance. “I
keep forgetting it’s tomorrow,” he says at one point.
Spotify’s IPO in early April, like Ek’s body-fat obsession, was unconventional. The
company didn’t offer any new shares to raise money, instead listing ones already available. There was no bell ringing at the exchange, no public media blitz. Despite the lack
of fanfare, though, it was a breakthrough success: Spotify ended its first day with a
$26 billion valuation, making it one of the biggest tech IPOs in history. It quickly inspired
speculation that other mega-unicorns, like Airbnb and Uber, might come to market via
Spotify’s nontraditional method.
Ek is Swedish, and like the Swedish word lagom—which means “in moderation” and
is often used to describe that country’s character—he has a proclivity for understatement. He deflects attention (“It’s never one person,” he told me at the outset of our first
interview. “It’s the team”) and describes himself as an introvert (“I don’t really do social
calls. I tell my friends that I like to be invited, but I probably won’t come”). But Ek isn’t
shy about his ambitions: “What motivates me is impacting culture.”
FOR 70 DAYS AT THE BEGINNING
of this year, Daniel Ek and a group of
friends competed to see who could cut
their body-fat percentage the most.
Ek, the 35-year-old cofounder and CEO
of the streaming service Spotify, went
on a special regimen, which included
twice-a-day workouts and a single
meal—specially configured for him—
eaten at a set time each afternoon.
“You look great,” teased music impresario Scooter Braun, a participant in
the contest, who texted his friend after
noting Ek’s slimmed-down physique
during Spotify’s web-broadcast Investor Day presentation in late March.
“Too bad you lost.” ¶ When I see Ek a
few days later, on the eve of Spotify’s
listing as a public company on the
New York Stock Exchange, he acknowledges that he’d been bested in the
body-fat battle by several competitors.
“I made a strategic error,” he says. In an
analytical fashion that is typical of Ek,
he then deconstructs both the limita-
tions of the contest (“some folks were
heavier to begin with,” he says) and
the missteps that he made (“I lost too S e t d e