When it went public in 2011, over a decade after the company’s founding, Pandora employed fewer than 40 engineers. With this skeleton crew, the company built products for 70 million monthly users on the web, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, a thousand consumer electronic devices, and in over 100 types of cars. It also generated half a billion in revenue — laying the groundwork for its $7 billion valuation today.
Compared to Twitter and Facebook, with their armies of engineers, Pandora is one of those rare Hail Mary success stories that keeps entrepreneurs and investors betting on long-shots. From day one, it pushed against constraints that these other companies didn’t have. Namely, the fact that it had to hand a huge chunk of its funding over to the music industry, leaving it with a scrappy budget that forces companies to stay lean and get creative.
That’s how the Pandora prioritization process was born. In an exclusive First Round CTO Summit talk, Tom Conrad — the company’s CTO since 2004 — broke down how the company figured out the exact right things to build fast and literally demanded buy-in from stakeholders (albeit with fake money, as you’ll see).