SoundCloud - Proving Potential of Berlin's Tech Talent

SoundCloud's Headquarters in Berlin.

Berlin has long been recognized as being one the stars of the European startup scene, and the darling of the dance here would have to be SoundCloud. Having recently upped its retro-geek cool factor with the addition of Nasa's historical audio, and rumored to be looking to raise some big cash, SoundCloud is on a roll so far this year.

Combine those valuation and fundraising bits with a willingness to play ball with the big guys, as evidenced by the deal Warner Music Group (WMG), and the company seems to have a solid foundation. More tweaks to the business model are surely yet to come, and deals are expected with Sony and Universal according to industry experts, albeit not right away. The Financial Times, among others, say Sony and Universal may be stuck on licensing details. It could be a case of hesitancy over the platform's prospects, or simply a case of two giants unwilling to adapt to modern market preferences.

Here is what David Noel, SoundCloud's Head of Internal Communications had to say about SoundCloud in Berlin and where they are headed:

Q: I understand Mr. Ljung and Mr. Wahlforss hail from Sweden, what prompted the move to Berlin? Why Berlin out of many other destinations?
A: Before SoundCloud was founded in 2007, Alex and Eric toured a number of cities across Europe and the United States, but Berlin was the right for a number of reasons. Most obviously, the cheap rent and affordable lifestyle helped us get off the ground, and is still a powerful draw when it comes to hiring new talent. But more substantially, Berlin has its own ‘startup feel’; a sort of counter culture vibe of doing things your own way and not being constrained by more traditional attitudes. Eric had a previous history of working here and fell in love with the city long ago, and with some help from some of our early investors, Berlin became our home.

Q: The interior of your headquarters is quite unique, what inspired this style that seems to embody the "Berlin aesthetic"?
A: Our move to Factory Berlin was the product of years of careful consultation with our employees about their work styles and preferences, which was then translated into reality by our architects and designers. The state of the art interior has been designed from scratch in line with the company’s needs and values, offering an environment to learn, collaborate and share knowledge. Sound is naturally a priority for our working environment, so top AV equipment and a dedicated recording studio take pride of place, to help ensure our new home sounds as good as it looks. We regularly host events such as hackathons, talks, and meet-ups in order to foster collaboration within the surrounding Berlin tech community.

Q: What prompted the use of a brewery? Were there other locations seriously considered in the Berlin area?
A: As well as being a former brewery, the building is also on the site of a section the Berlin Wall. SoundCloud has its roots in Berlin and operates globally, and overlooking the memorial site of the wall is both a symbol for openness – one of our core company values – as well as a reminder that the web has no borders. Having worked out of offices all over the city, the search for a permanent home was a long process, but once we found the Factory we knew we were ready to set roots down here for years to come.

Q: How can SoundCloud make itself stand out in the increasingly crowded music market? Are there plans for any expansion into other types of media, such as movies, or videos?
A: SoundCloud is the world's leading audio platform and we have no plans to move into offering other media at this time. While there are a number of fantastically well realised services available on the web today in the audio space – some of which do overlap with our platform’s functionality – we maintain that SoundCloud’s combination of audience building, discovery, and collaboration puts it into a unique category online. After years of development and consultation, in 2014 we launched the next iteration in our platform’s development, ‘On SoundCloud’. Our partner programme gives creators the opportunity to earn against their creative works for the first time, and while we are currently still at very early stage with its implementation, we have big plans to roll it out across our community as soon as we can.

Q: The interface of SoundCloud has been very influential, what inspired the Tablet/mobile app like interface?
A: SoundCloud’s design has always been a big part of our identity, and we’ve been lucky to have a very talented design team on board since day one. Our now iconic waveform player is quintessentially SoundCloud and is recognisable across the web, whether on the platform itself or embedded in Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook or the myriad other services that support it. We launched the redesigned version of SoundCloud at the end of 2012, which incorporated a number of features such as reposting, continuous play, and our explore pages. Since then it’s been a granular process of tweaking features and the overall interface inline with feedback from our community.

Q: Any advice for the intrepid entrepreneur on starting a successful business, both internationally and here in Berlin?
A: If you have a truly a great idea – and more importantly you believe it to be one – then just go for it. There’s never been a better time to start a company online, with the vast amount of tools and services available, many of which are free or very affordable. Even if you fail, you’ll learn so much along the way. My only word of caution would be to be prepared to put in the hours; there are no shortcuts to success and running a startup is often more than a full time job, wherever you choose to establish yourself.

“On SoundCloud” the new partner programme, lets labels and creators monetize their products using minimally intrusive advertisements. At this point it is invite only, but it looks to be the path for the platform to start generating revenue. This is the most expensive of SoundCloud's three tiered service. While some users have been annoyed by the use of automated copyright infringement technology for songs they have licensed and the appearance of advertisements in the partner programme, these do not seem to have turned away too many users and creators. It is still the source many users prefer for podcasts, live sets and mixes, and of course a simple and elegant way for creators to upload.

SoundCloud is a huge part of the Berlin community, and not just in the tech start-up scene. The deliberate choice of a former part of the Berlin Wall as HQ indicates that they want to be a part of the city's past and its future. The company anchors the Factory, an innovation incubator for Berlin. Increasingly cosmopolitan, the Berlin area is seeing an influx of tech talent and bright-eyed immigrants, assimilating into the independent culture with a whole bunch of crazy dreams. All of this bodes well for the burgeoning capital and the search for startup glory. Going forward, SoundCloud is in a great position to grow, with a revised freemium model and legions of unique listeners and loyal users and Berlin will continue to be a premier tech hub of growing renown.

Daniel Whitfield is interested in all things startup, business, and technological in Berlin. When he's not geeking out he likes to enjoy the food and spectacle of Berlin. He can be reached at
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