Entrepreneurs Gather for Baton Rouge Week with Insights from Shazam Co-founder and Black Ambition CEO

This year’s Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week theme, “Stayin’ Alive,” resonated deeply with entrepreneurs striving to launch and sustain their fledgling businesses. Keynote speaker Dhiraj Mukherjee, co-founder of the popular song identification app Shazam, embodied this theme as he recounted the journey of building Shazam from a startup to a global phenomenon.

Mukherjee, who co-founded Shazam in 2002, shared the company’s evolution with the audience on May 9, 2024, at Mid City Tower. Initially, Shazam was a rudimentary service where users dialed a number on their mobile phones, allowing the service to listen to a song for 30 seconds before sending a text message identifying the track. This innovative idea predated smartphones and was a testament to early mobile technology's potential.

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Shazam’s big break came with the launch of the Apple App Store in 2008. The app’s ability to quickly identify songs played on the radio or in public spaces captivated users, propelling it to immense popularity. Mukherjee noted that Shazam’s growth was monumental, achieving a billion users in ten years and then rapidly accelerating to another billion in just a year, followed by two months for the next billion.

Despite this success, Shazam’s early days were fraught with challenges. Mukherjee and his co-founders had to be resourceful, developing a digital signal processing system to create audio fingerprints of songs. They negotiated with a major U.K. music distributor and painstakingly built a song library by ripping millions of CDs. Financial constraints forced them to build makeshift servers from cheap components to store their growing database.

Mukherjee emphasized the importance of perseverance and financial prudence in entrepreneurship. “We were stayin’ alive, doing whatever it takes not to run out of cash,” he remarked, highlighting the critical nature of cash flow management for startups.

Today, Mukherjee channels his entrepreneurial experience into investing, supporting over 250 companies across diverse sectors, from geothermal technology to initiatives aimed at reducing racial biases in hiring.

Felecia Hatcher, the other keynote speaker, echoed Mukherjee’s sentiments about resilience and ambition. As CEO of Black Ambition Prize, a program initiated by pop star Pharrell Williams, Hatcher has significantly impacted Black, Hispanic, and HBCU founders. Under her leadership, the program has funded 100 entrepreneurs, awarding prizes ranging from $25,000 to $1 million. Hatcher’s work with Black Ambition has provided her with invaluable insights into fostering ambition and resilience in minority entrepreneurs.

Hatcher emphasized the importance of belief in oneself, quoting Tom Ford: “If you believe that you can do it or you believe that you can’t do it, either way, you are right.”