Interview with Shawn Fanning, Founder of napster

Shawn Fanning
Founder of napster 

Ever wonder what it takes to make the cover of Fortune at nineteen?  As part of our Insights series, we sat down with napster Founder Shawn Fanning to discuss his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Coreen Kraysler, CFA | CFO ValueSetters, September 23, 2017

Q. Shawn, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs today?

A. Don’t be afraid to fail. Use failure as a learning experience. Great leaders recognize the reality of what needs to be done and are willing to pivot when necessary. Putting together the right team and creating a culture of honesty, with people who have the courage to express themselves, is also critical.

Q. What are the key drivers that differentiate a successful start-up from a failure?

A. Culture, outlook, and attitude are the key drivers of a successful start-up. You need people who don’t shy away from problems but focus on solutions instead, people who derive a clear sense of joy from solving puzzles and are highly motivated to achieve success.

Q. If you could do one thing over again, what would it be and why?

A. I wish that I had known more about start-ups in the beginning and that I had had the courage to stay on as head of napster after the venture capitalists became involved.

Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned about business?

A. Trust your gut. Most of my personal mistakes trace back to not doing that.

Q. If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

A. Don’t start a company too quickly. Let it choose you. I felt compelled to do the serial entrepreneur thing, and I wish that I had not started my next company after napster with no time between the two.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I am most proud of napster and the impact it had. I am also proud that I was able to make the decision to walk away from tech for a while to spend more time with my family.

Q. What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

A. My biggest failure was Snocap, where we built an infrastructure to take acoustic fingerprints. We created an elegant solution for something that people did not really perceive as a problem. It was arrogant on our part.

Q. How do you see technology impacting our lives 10 to 20 years from now?

A. Technology will become more deeply integrated into our lives. With augmented reality, there will be systems that understand context and presence, and the social networks experience will become more authentic, less curated.

Q. Who has had the most influence on you and why?

A. That’s easy. My uncle, John Fanning, has had the most influence on me and my career. He believed in me when nobody else did. His business experience and his ability to make things fun were essential to my success.

Thank you, Shawn!