There’s no argument that MP3.com built a culture and model that would ultimately impact generations of music lovers. The pioneering company brought online music to the masses by gathering the largest collection of digital music and introducing it to millions of consumers. Led by Michael Robertson, MP3.com raised venture capital from top tier firms such as Sequoia Capital and Idealab (now Clearstone), and then went public in July 1999 on NASDAQ with the largest internet IPO at the time, nearing $400 million. Within four years, MP3.com grew annual revenues to more than $80 million. The rebellious company – which was sold to Vivendi/Universal in 2001 – not only gave us a new way of storing and listening to our favorite tunes, but it also developed a crop of future outside-the-box entrepreneurs who would continue to build a strong tech ecosystem in San Diego. Many MP3.com employees went on to either create or work at local companies. That MP3.com family tree continues to expand today in San Diego and beyond.
Below is a partial list of the extended family and what their jam is today.
Sander van Zoest was one of the original engineers at MP3.com. He moved on to other San Diego tech companies such as Yahoo!, DivX, Metaplace (acquired by Playdom in July 2010, which was acquired by Disney Interactive Media Group), and OneHealth Solutions (recruited by MP3.com colleague Jordan Greenhall, also co-founder of DivX). After the closure of Yahoo!’s San Diego office, van Zoest was offered a permanent position at the company’s Sunnyvale headquarter, but decided to take the six-month severance package offered to San Diego employees to build a new startup in San Diego, SpeedEOrder, which provided a phone and web ordering service for restaurants.
Side Note: “Yahoo! has had a few offices in San Diego, most of them through acquisitions, and over time, has closed them in favor of having things fully run out of Sunnyvale,” van Zoest says. “I had been recruited by Yahoo! on a few occasions, but ultimately decided to join the SimpleNet / Yahoo! offices in the NBC building downtown San Diego by helping them with their Yahoo! Servers, Yahoo! Domains and Yahoo! Websites properties, while at the same time continuing my work on the Apache Web Server through Platform Engineering. Yahoo! early on also had offices in Carlsbad, which I think were some sales offices from their acquisition of search engine company Inktomi. Later, Yahoo! also had offices in Rancho Bernardo when in 2004 it acquired Musicmatch.”
Van Zoest, who is still involved in the San Diego tech scene, currently spends his time as an advisor and consultant for a wide variety of startup, healthcare, and media companies. He also runs the San Diego DevOps group, which is focused on building and operating high velocity organizations; and works with the SwitchCaseGroup, a partnership to incubate lifestyle businesses in San Diego, including InstantEncore, headed by MP3.com alumnus Chris Montgomery.
Chris Montgomery, VP, Subscription Services, MP3.com. After the acquisition, Montgomery was promoted to SVP, Digital Media Management, Vivendi Universal Net (a division of Vivendi S.A.) and moved to Paris, France. Soon after, he took on the role of CEO, MP3.com Europe.
“MP3.com was like nothing I’ve ever experienced – before or after,” he says. “We had a passionate team that knew we were making an impact on the way music would be distributed, marketed, and consumed. I think many of us felt that what we were building would impact a generation (or two) of music lovers. It was a bit of the Wild West for start-ups in general back then. We pioneered many things, which were a bit too early for the market, but ultimately we all made an impact.”
After Vivendi, Montgomery founded San Diego- and London-based Carbon Music N.A. (terms of that private sale were not disclosed). He is currently CEO of San Diego-based InstantEncore, whose SaaS mobile platform powers hundred of performing arts mobile apps, including The New York Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, The Canadian Opera Company, and The Philadelphia Orchestra.
“I love the energy in San Diego, and we are increasingly able to attract better talent from outside of the region,” Montgomery says. “I think that some of the successes in San Diego are also spawning new ventures and the cycle will continue. I’m optimistic in general.”
David Gilby, Senior Director, Partner Marketing, MP3.com. “It was a pretty magical and unique time in San Diego and the tech scene in general,” he recalls. “I joined MP3.com from LA. MP3.com pulled together a very talented team in a short period of time. Many of us came from other cities for the opportunity, so we bonded quickly. We pretty much lived at work. I found the early network in San Diego to be supportive, and so many have gone on to start companies, so opportunities to work with good people have continued.”
Gilby moved on to other sales and marketing gigs at companies such as NaviSite, Naspers Limited, and ChaCha Mobile Search. He is currently the SVP of Sales and Business Development at SweetLabs, which he joined as an early member with former MP3.com colleagues Chester Ng and later Joe Iuliano.
Gilby, who was part of the founding team for a Windows Media digital rights management (DRM), is also on the advisory board at Analytics Ventures.
As for San Diego, there is a reason he’s still here. “I think the next 10 years really hold big opportunity for the region. Twenty years ago if you came out of a school in San Diego and wanted to pursue the startup world you, had to leave. I feel now great talent can stay or move here to start great companies and get the support they need.”
Tom Tarka, software engineer, MP3.com who wrote “Chapter 7 Bringing the Music Industry into the 21st Century: One Lawsuit at a Time” in Beautiful Teams.”
Here is one of Tarka’s favorite excerpts from the chapter:
I don’t remember much open talk or concern about our demise.… To be honest, there was a certain air of invincibility that we carried with us; we had a dream team of engineers assembled, had solved every challenge which faced us, and had revenue streams…. It didn’t seem like anything could affect us. We were changing the world. It was obvious to us that this was a next step for music that the record labels were behind the times and would have to come around sooner or later to the fact that music was going to be distributed digitally, that DRM was dead in the water and always would be, and that here we were providing them with a tailor-made service, complete with top-notch statistical reporting so that they knew exactly how many times a song was played and by whom. The data mining opportunities were endless; the opportunities in general were endless, and really, it would just allow them to reach more consumers. … How could this not work?
After MP3.com, Tarka returned to his roots in chemical engineering and embarked on a career in energy. He currently serves as a Senior Engineer at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, working to develop innovative new energy conversion systems – from power plants to making fuels from plants – and managing a program to unlock domestic sources of rare earth elements. He also served as a Congressional Fellow in the United States Senate where helped to develop All-of-the-Above energy policy initiatives and has been recognized as a “Green Instigator” for his work to transform energy usage in Pittsburgh.
Dan O’Neill, VP of Engineering at MP3.com, co-founded Trusonic, Inc., which was incorporated from a small business unit of MP3.com. Trusonic, which provided background music to businesses, was the first to introduce an Internet-based business music player in July 1999. During the shutdown of MP3.com, O’Neill and Joe Tebo purchased the assets (technology, IP, etc…) of the Trusonic business unit, including the rights to the majority of the MP3.com independent artist catalog. The duo built Trusonic to 50,000 retail locations and then sold it in 2007 to Fluid Media Networks, which later became Mood Media.
O’Neill was also VP of Engineering at Certona and TE2, which was acquired by accesso Technology Group in July 2017 in a transaction valued at more than $80 million.
“My recollections of MP3.com are of a tremendously talented team that worked long hours to create the future. We enabled downloadable and streaming music services in 1999, along with curated and community playlists across 150+ genres of music and served an audience of more than 20 million people worldwide. MP3.com represented a unique and successful convergence between technology and the art of music. I am forever grateful for the friends made and experience gained during my five years with this team.”
Other members of the MP3.com Hall of Fame include:
Robin Richards, Founding President, COO and Director, MP3.com. Richards, who was the lead negotiator in the sale of MP3.com to Vivendi Universal, served as the CEO of Vivendi Universal Net USA. After that, he formed the NTI Group Inc., which was acquired by Blackboard Inc. for $132 million in cash and $50 million in stock. He then co-founded CareerArc, where he currently serves as Chairman and CEO. Richards’ co-founder for both NTI and CareerArc is Paul Ouyang, who was EVP and CFO of MP3.com.
Tristan Barnum, Director User Experience, MP3.com. Barnum co-founded SwitchVOX (which included other MP3.com alumni), an industry leading VOIP PBX service which was sold to Digium. She was also Chief Marketing Officer of Voxox and is currently the co-founder of San Diego-based data analytics firm Tellient.
Chester Ng was a marketing intern at MP3.com who moved to DivX with other MP3.com alumni such as Jordan Greenhall. He then co-founded SweetLabs with others at MP3.com, including David Gilby and Joe Iuliano (VP, Sales, MP3.com). Ng has been an investor/advisor for the past nine years with his latest gig as general partner of San Francisco-based Atomic which is backed by heavyweights such as Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel.
Derrick Oien, COO at MP3.com. Oien went on to be a part of Vivendi, Echo Networks, Low Def TV, Trusonic, Socialthing!, Intercasting, Notify.me, Good Technology, Chumby, and most recently, Scorestream. Oien’s co-founders at ScoreStream are also MP3.com alumni – Josh Stephens (Senior Software Architect, MP3.com who also co-founded SwitchVOX, which was sold to Digium), David Podolsky (Software Engineer, MP3.com, and also co-founder of SwitchVOX), and Bruce Worman (SVP, Finance, MP3.com).
Jordan Greenhall, SVP Strategy at MP3.com. Greenhall’s other companies include San Diego-based DivX, Game B, Swell, Backfeed, and Neurohacker Collective.
Brian Dear, Director of Web Development, MP3.com, founded Eventful, which included a lot of other MP3.com folks, and was acquired by CBS. Dear also founded La Jolla-based Nettle, Inc., and is the current founder and CEO of Birdrock Digital.
Shawn Conahan, VP & GM of Mobile, MP3.com, co-founded San Diego-based companies Intercasting Corp., VeraDoc, and Tellient.
Brian Degenhardt, Engineer at MP3.com. He became a programmer at Sony Computer Entertainment America, and co-founded and served as CTO of Four Loop Technologies. He also co-founded San Diego-based SwitchVOX, which was acquired by Digium, where he served as director of software engineering. Degenhardt was also a staff software engineer at Twitter. According to his LinkedIn, he can currently be found somewhere in a van down by the river.
Sanjay Kapoor, VP of Partner Marketing, MP3.com, who now runs M&A at Google.
Ted Ebel, MP3.com’s VP of Strategic Ventures, came to MP3.com from local biotech star Amgen. After MP3.com, Ebel moved back into the life science arena, working with companies like CancerVax, SkinMedica, VitaMedica, Menlo Therapeutics, and Colorscience.
Greg Kostello, EVP, Engineering, MP3.com, founded San Diego-based VMIX and then Givit, which also included a lot of former MP3.com folks. He is currently the CEO and co-founder of Huma.AI in Palo Alto.
Don Buffamanti, Senior VP, Business Development, MP3.com, founded AutoSpies.com along with Greg Flores, also co-founder of MP3.com.
Ian Miller, Web Development Manager, MP3.com, co-founded San Diego-based VMIX with Greg Kostello and was product manager at Eventful, founded by MP3.com colleague Brian Dear. Miller, who also worked at GoPro, is currently head of products for Wildfire Systems in San Diego.
Jason Wieland, web software engineering at MP3.com, founded Tricord Enterprises and notify.me, and is currently a software engineering manager at Apple in San Diego after working for Emotient, a local company acquired by Apple.
Dave Dudas, Senior Software Engineer, MP3.com, moved to Gizmo5 with MP3.com founder and CEO Michael Robertson. Dudas also founded San Diego-based Eyespot, and worked for Amazon and GoPro. He currently runs his own consulting business in San Diego that provides solution architecture and software development to local startups and enterprises.
Bruce Friedman, VP of Music Services, MP3.com, who moved on to companies like Napster, Eventful, and GoPro, all in San Diego.
Natasha Conahan, SVP Operations, MP3.com, moved on to Vivendi Universal, The NTI Group, Blackboard, and Social Sentinel. She is currently the founder and CEO of San Diego-based BetterServed, Inc.
Clay Elliot, Product Manager for MP3.com, moved on to Lindows and Gizmo5 (both started by MP3.com founder Michael Robertson). Elliot has worked for a handful of other companies, including Tapioca Mobile (acquired by Qualcomm), Tagga Media, Sony Music Entertainment, and currently Gimbal, a Qualcomm spinout acquired by The Mobile Majority.
GK Parish, Product Manager and Director of Web Development, MP3.com. He then moved on to DivX with many other former MP3.com employees. He also founded Groundswell Entreprises and is currently VP of Engineering for Neurohacker Collective in Encinitas.
Rahmeen Shary, Graphic Designer, MP3.com, moved on to Vivendi and then started his own firm Sacredspace Design. He also joined some of his former MP3.com colleagues at Eventful. Shary is currently the director of UX/UI at Zeeto.io in San Diego.
Steve Sheiner, EVP, Sales & Marketing, MP3.com, has worked with several companies and organizations in Southern California, and is founder and CEO of La Jolla-based YFi Marketing, managing partner of Camden Street Partners, and VP of Brain Corp.
Jim Rondinelli, Senior VP, Business Development, MP3.com, moved on to other San Diego-based entertainment-related companies such as Slacker Radio (remember them?), which was acquired by LiveXLive for $50 million in 2017, and PacketVideo (another blast from the past), which was acquired in 2005 by NextWave Wireless and later became a wholly owned subsidiary of NTT DoCoMo. Rondinelli currently runs his own global consulting firm specializing in content licensing, video technology, and product strategy.
For a walk down memory lane, check out this fun Facebook page created by former MP3.com employees, as well as this entertaining video.
Editor’s Note: This is the final part in a multi-part series on MP3.com and the digital music scene amped by the radical entrepreneurs and the culture they created locally. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Big shout out to Derrick Oien for his endless contact list and inside scoop.
We’re sure there are more MP3.com alumni out there doing cool things. Comment below and let us know what you’ve been up to.
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Fun to see how all these great MP3.com folks have thrived! I was the head of the MP3.com legal team when we were acquired by Vivendi. I am now the General Counsel at Activision Blizzard (post the 2008 merger between Activision and Vivendi Games). It was a wild ride!
Hi Terri! Yes it was a lot of fun catching up with everyone. Happy to see you were part of the tribe!