Will Glaser knows a few things about building and scaling companies and solving hard problems. You might even consider him the godfather of digital music. Soon, you’ll probably be using his technology every day if you aren’t already.
Will and I recently recorded a new episode of the DealMakers podcast together. We talked about emerging technologies, fundraising for startups, patents, and new ways to think about selecting and pitching investors.
Magic Vs. Math
For someone who seems to very much embody magical success, Will Glaser is a very common sense thinker. He just happens to think a lot about things on a scale and timeline most don’t.
Glaser was born and raised in Berkeley. A community of independent thinkers and very smart people. His father was a physics and microbiology professor at the university. For Will, that meant getting away from his dad’s shadow when it came time for college. So, he headed for the East Coast and got into Cornell.
One wasn’t enough of a challenge, so he went for a triple major. Physics for fun and figuring out how the world works. Computer science for making a living. Mathematics for a versatile toolset for making everything else happen.
All of these subjects clearly revolve around problem-solving. There wasn’t much mystery growing up for Will. His parents could answer all the questions the other kids had, in detail. They taught him to find people with the answers and how to figure out the rest.
These are the principles on which this entrepreneur has built some of the most notable and influential companies and technologies we have today.
For two decades, his dinner table conversations with his scientist dad often revolved around the projects his father should take on. He chose those which were so difficult that they probably couldn’t be done. Yet, if he could do it, it would make new progress on the scientific frontier.
For Will, the entrepreneur, it became about choosing a problem so hard most people except him couldn’t do it. Problems that would also make good financial and business sense.
That formula involves a scalable, everyday human problem. One felt around the country and world, not just for high earning tech workers in Silicon Valley. A problem that is solved with math, and which he builds a team with overlapping skills to solve and turn into a product. One which is simplified and shipped.
Return To The Valley
After school, Will headed back to the West Coast. Tech was really just heating up. You could still find empty fields and apple orchards there, in Silicon Valley. He began helping others start and run technology companies.
He would eventually get into turnarounds for tech businesses. Finding them a way out of trouble. Whether that was running over budget, lagging predictions, or getting to market.
Then he started his own venture, Hydra Systems. At Hydra, they reverse-engineered the Apple Mac. Then created a card that would turn the IBM Compatible into a machine that could run all PC and Mac software. All for less than the cost of either of them.
He saw the writing on the wall, and what giant Microsoft could do with Windows. He hired a CEO and tasked him with selling the company. They did. In hindsight, he says it may have been a little early, but they put an exit in their belts.
It’s Obvious Now
Glaser’s next venture became Pandora Media.
The original idea was actually for video like we have with Netflix now. An algorithm that would help consumers find more content they wanted to consume.
Investors didn’t get it. Moving music to digital seemed crazy. They certainly didn’t get machine learning.
Ready To Be Founderized?
Trying to grow a company fast takes money. Will was trying to raise during the economic downturn. It was tough.
He admits they ran out of money. Not once, but several times. Their meetings would include telling the team that they may not raise enough money to cover the next payroll checks. They could quit, or they could be ‘founderized’.
That meant working until they raised money to pay their salaries, and getting stock options and equity as a bonus or interest for taking the risk and sticking with the mission. Those who could do.
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