Paul Vogel is new to the role of Spotify CFO, but not to Spotify—or to the relationship between finance and the tech/media industry. For the last four years, he’s been at Spotify heading up Investor Relations and leading the FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) and Treasury teams. Prior to that, he spent 20 years in various positions on Wall Street. Investing wasn’t necessarily his primary passion, but the media and internet companies he was working with were.
“I loved having the ability to understand the changes and the strategies that were going on in those industries,” he said. “I was always excited to meet the executives who were running those companies and understand how they thought about growing their businesses and sharing my opinion on where things could go.”
So in 2016, after a stint as a CFO at a startup and then some time back on Wall Street, Paul found his way to Spotify, uniting his passion with his career. And as we recently announced, after nearly four years at Spotify, Paul has been appointed our new CFO. We sat down with Paul to welcome him into his new position.
Spotify has gone through some significant changes since you joined in 2016. What have been the two to three biggest that you’ve noticed?
The most obvious change is the growth of both the platform and the number of people listening. When I started, we had just passed 30 million subscribers and 100 million users, so to turn around and end 2019 with more than 100 million subscribers and about 250 million users, that’s insane growth.
The second would obviously be the increase in the number of employees and offices within Spotify. That growth is just, again, amazing. I’m not sure I would have predicted we’d grow so quickly. I think we had about 1,500 employees across the globe when I started, and now we have more than tripled in size.
But although the company culture has evolved with its size, the ethos of the company hasn’t changed at all. When I came here, it was about empowering content creators to share their talent and creativity with the world and enabling billions of users to enjoy it. That hasn’t changed. But now it goes way beyond music. We are talking about all of audio, and so our opportunity is even bigger.
And of course, the IPO was a big change as well. What was notable about that, from your point of view?
With the IPO, we were doing something unprecedented by taking the company public in a way that had never been done before, and that was really exciting. Our ability to attempt this unique approach dovetails nicely into another one of our strengths, Spotify’s ability to think about things differently, take risks, and innovate. It stems from Daniel’s leadership and the way the company is set up. Of course, it would have never been possible without Barry McCarthy (Spotify’s prior CFO) and his vision for re-inventing the process of going public.
What I think was great about the way we went public was that we wanted to be fully transparent, giving all investors—not just the big investors, but all investors—the same access to information. It was having an investor day before we were public where we could share the company’s vision widely to everyone at once, and it was having that message delivered by the senior leadership team. This is quite different from a traditional IPO where only select investors can have that access to your senior management. So all of the transparency we talk about internally, we lived it. Going public via our direct listing was one of the most rewarding moments of my time at Spotify and also crystalized our commitment to transparency with our employees and investors.
Now it’s a new year, new decade, new role. What excites you most about the road ahead, whether it’s long term or short term?
The opportunity to expose even more artists and creators, and not just music, but now all of audio, to even more people is massive. The opportunity is even bigger now than I thought it was when I first stepped in the door. I think we’ve only just scratched the surface of our potential. There is still tremendous opportunity to expand our user base. There’s no reason why every smartphone in the world shouldn’t have a streaming music/audio service on it. And there’s no reason why that service shouldn’t be Spotify.
What are some of the challenges or headwinds Spotify may face in the next 12 months or so?
Long term, as you get bigger as a company, being able to continually act as fast as you’d like is a challenge. I think it’s incumbent upon the leadership team to make sure we dedicate resources efficiently and effectively to allow us to innovate, grow, and take risks. That’s number one.
In the short term, we are making big investments in podcasting. We’re investing in the medium and are confident that, over time, it will drive more value for users and increase subscribers and engagement on the platform. We believe the opportunity for us here is vast. Part of my job is giving proof points to Wall Street to help tell our story and provide context and clarity on our financial results, forecast, and priorities.
What do you think our readers would find the most surprising about the general role of CFO?
While the role is obviously about understanding the finances of the company, it’s really about analyzing the numbers to help set strategy, allocate resources most effectively, and set up the business for long-term success. When done right, our jobs can really add a lot of value into the ecosystem. At Spotify, for example, our job is to make the engineer’s job easier and more efficient. It allows the creative team to go out and sign deals and have the resources to actually execute against the plan they have. While to some people what we do may seem like a black box or just about the numbers, it’s really about asset allocation, asset utilization, and analyzing how the business is performing. This actually allows the people who are creatives to be creative and enables engineers or data scientists to thrive in building new products, tools, and services.
If we were to take a look at your recently played music and podcasts, what would we see?
At a high level, I seem to be pretty aligned with the rest of Spotify listeners. My 2019 Wrapped most-listened-to artist was (drumroll) Post Malone, which I think is probably not what some people might expect from a 46-year-old CFO with three kids, but I love Post Malone.
I have been listening to a lot of country recently—Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs—and I love Andy Grammer. There’s something about Andy Grammer that just makes me happy. When I need to just kind of zone out, I listen to the things that I’m guessing a lot folks might expect of me: Grateful Dead and Springsteen—I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.
On the podcast front … in the mornings it’s a lot of news-oriented stuff. I listen to The Journal., the Wall Street Journal/Gimlet podcast, which is great. I listen to The Daily from the New York Times. So I listen to those two every morning on my commute in, and that’s kind of my thing. I really like using my Daily Drive as well. Recently, I’ve been listening to Spittin Chiclets, a Barstool Sports one. As a huge hockey fan, it’s a fun escape listening to hockey players just talk about the sport for two hours. They actually interview current players, which can be quite entertaining.
Stay up to date with one of Paul’s go-to morning podcasts, The Journal.