Ola Sars is a Stockholm based serial entrepreneur active in the music-tech space.
He is the Founder and CEO of Soundtrack Your Brand, the world’s fastest growing music-platform for B2B, which he co-founded together with Spotify back in 2014.
Before founding Soundtrack, he was the co-founder and COO of Beats Music, acquired by Apple and transformed into Apple Music, as well as the co-founder of Pacemaker, the world’s first DJ driven music platform.
Ola’s driving force behind his repeated efforts in transforming the music market comes from his conviction that music is undervalued as an art-form and that the music industry offers significant opportunity for value improvement and growth. Through his multiple start-ups in the music-space, he has focused on unlocking that intrinsic VALUE, both in B2C and now in B2B.
Ola has been featured in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Bloomberg and is a regular in music and technology publications. In 2021, Ola was included in Billboard’s prestigious International Power Players list.
Where did the idea for Soundtrack Your Brand come from?
My background is in music streaming, where I have built multiple consumer interfacing companies in that space, including Beats Music, which was acquired and transformed into Apple Music. When building Beats, I was constantly being approached by brands and businesses that wanted to engage in the music streaming revolution, that wanted to expand their brand experiences with music streaming, so a seed started growing in my head. When discussing the idea with fellow Swede Daniel Ek at Spotify, it became apparent that they were experiencing the same demand. We decided to set up a joint venture to go after the global “Audio for Business” market, and Soundtrack was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up early in the morning and focus on my family. We hang out, have breakfast, send the kids off to school, take the dog out etc. Focusing in my family in the morning gives me peace of mind and helps me focus before starting off my hectic day as the CEO of a high growth global scaleup.
I walk to the office, even if it’s snowing, raining or freezing, which is a critical ritual for me in order to produce a super efficient workday. During my walk, which takes about 20 minutes, I go through our strategic and tactical focus and plan exactly what to focus on during my workday in order to make the day count in terms of progressing our business. Nothing is allowed to disturb me during this walk. When I reach the office, I start by writing down my execution plan for the day and follow that plan to every extent possible. I actually write it down on a piece of paper, which allows me to avoid opening my computer before having a plan of action, because we all know what happens once you open your computer…
Because I work in a global context, I structure my day around being able to serve different time zones but with an acceptable daily workload. In the morning, I usually deal with internal tactical and team related work tasks. In the afternoon and evening, I deal with external stakeholders and more strategic tasks and perspectives. I apply, both to myself and the team, a ruthless requirement specification for meetings. I will attend no meetings that lack a crystal clear objective and logic. They should almost always be able to be concluded in 30 minutes.
I usually leave the office around 4 p.m. for my 20 minute walk home, which is equally important as my morning walk. During this walk, I go through my daily execution plan, update it and plan for the remaining tasks that need to be completed before shutting the lights.
When I get home at around 4:30 p.m., after picking up the dog at the dog daycare, it’s family time again. The kids are home from school, my wife has made it back as well, and we all try to have an early dinner together if possible. Then, almost every day, it’s time for soccer practice or other activities, which I engage in on different levels, training my youngest’s team 3-4 times a week. I also include my own workout during this time slot, which is also critical to keep my head clear and stress level under control.
After concluding the family routines in the afternoon, I log on to conclude my day, mostly dealing with US related topics. Being 6 hours ahead of EST provides for a productive evening from my home office. Priority is always on completing my daily execution plan, but I also allow myself to take more “open meetings” with for example partners in the US, investors, journalists etc.
I always strive to be in bed before 11p.m., allowing me to get 6-7 hours of quality sleep, which is an absolute necessity for a productive coming day. I am a huge believer in sleep and all the science points towards its importance for a more productive workday.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas are great, but filtering out the right ones and prioritizing which ones to bring to life is what separates the thinker from the doer. Throughout my years of experience, I live by the thesis “Execution is Everything.” Very seldom are specific ideas unique and game changing. Very seldom are you the only one who has thought about that idea.
The main challenge lies in inspiring and cultivating the most relevant idea for your business at this specific stage in your lifecycle, hence you need to structure your ongoing ideation. I do this by defining what key challenges I need to focus on for now, and then I plan for openings in my schedule to stimulate and cultivate thinking around those challenges. I do not believe in random inspiration or unfocused thinking. I believe in helping your brain be creative with certain frameworks. For example, if I am challenged around an organizational challenge, I tend to read up or network on that specific topic, and then I dedicate a time to think about it in a different environment, for example a walk or the gym.
When a solution approach is identified, it’s all about execution planning. That’s where 80% of the success of a problem solving idea comes from.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The “Audio Trend” is something that completely blows my mind! For a long time everyone has been talking about “eyeballs,” but think about “Eartime” or “Mindspace.”
Audio is being consumed in completely new ways. Just think about how people are listening to different information or inspiration flows all day, through headphones, in your home, in your car, in your office, or in your local restaurant or cafe.
Audio impressions are scientifically proven to affect the human brain significantly in many different ways. The most interesting part is you can experience audio in parallel to doing something else. This makes the window for audio experiences vastly bigger than for any other input to the brain.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Avoiding travel to the largest extent possible. Almost anything can be done through digital channels.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay focused on the things you love, and turn that focus into an asset in life.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People and businesses will pay more – maybe even 5x more – for legally licensed music once they understand why it’s important to do so. The average consumer these days is paying $10-$20 a month each for 3-4 different TV and movie streaming services, plus their regular cable/internet providers. But sometimes only pay $5 for one music streaming service or even worse – it’s FREE with ads that only the provider makes money off of. Businesses know what it’s like to get taken advantage of – they in return don’t want to do the same.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Structure your ideation, turn it into a routine.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My entire thesis for my professional life is to find an industry that both excites me and provides a major opportunity for improvements ,or actually is dysfunctional. Then learn everything about that industry and become the best in that vertical. Soundtrack is my 4th start-up in the digital audio/music space. Never give up on a market thesis that you truly believe in.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have had many many failures as an entrepreneur. The rule of thumb is always, when you are going all in, which I always do, have a plan for failing. A plan that avoids making failure be the end of the world. A plan that provides you with a chance to come back. Realize that you will fail in certain instances in your mission, but view them only as instances and learnings in a longer game towards winning.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I actually use a lot of micro-mobility solutions such as electric scooters etc., and I would really want an aggregator service for all the different options around mobility. An app that provides me with a holistic solution for micro transportation, takes me from a to b solution.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A good night in my local restaurant & bar Rådhusbaren in Kungsholmen Stockholm with close friends, having great home cooked style food with great wine, nothing fancy, just local quality hospitality and old school friendship.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Calendly. I don’t have a PA, I plan my schedule all by myself, hence Calendly is a top notch productivity tool for me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
My vote still goes to “From Good to Great” (James. C Collins). It’s still super relevant, small and big.
What is your favorite quote?
“Don’t cry for money, Ola.” (My Italian-American neighbor when living in the US (NYC) as a Swedish immigrant kid.
- Execution is everything. Ideas are great but learn how to prioritize the right ideas and focus on bringing them to life.
- Plan your day. Begin each and every day identifying what you want and need to accomplish and structure your day with those goals in mind.
- View failures as an opportunity to learn and make a comeback.
- Structure your ideation. Make it part of your routine.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.