Leading Shazam: an interview with Andrew Fisher

Shazam Executive Chairman, Andrew Fisher
Shazam Executive Chairman, Andrew Fisher

Over the past 20 years, Andrew Fisher has led the successful growth of various technology companies in the UK. From founding TDLI.com which was acquired by InfoSpace Inc with a valuation of $400 million, to more noticeably becoming the CEO of Shazam, the music recognition app, used by more than 750 million people around the world.

The Worldly’s Business correspondent, Oliver Gaziano, discovers the secrets of Andrew’s success as he shares his invaluable advice to budding entrepreneurs and students thinking of setting up a business in today’s challenging environment.

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OG: Your career success has led you to become the Executive Chairman of Shazam. How did you do it?  

AF: After graduating I completed a two-year general management training course.  At the end of this, my first job was to create a catalogue on CD-ROM for RS Components.  This enabled me to gain fairly unique experience at the time in digital publishing and I subsequently joined Thomson Directories who had a similar challenge with their printed directories.

I became General Manager of a new division called Business Ventures and subsequently went on to found TDLI.com which provided branded content to online destination sites when the world wide web was just getting established.  The company was acquired by InfoSpace Inc. and I became their European Managing Director. In the role, I led the company’s European growth focusing on content syndication, search and mobile value added services. After three years, I was approached to become CEO of Shazam.

OG: Have you always been an entrepreneur at heart?

AF: I always had ambitions to become an entrepreneur but thought when I was younger that I would most likely follow a career as a graduate employed by larger corporations.

I was given a lot of encouragement to start up my first business by the initial investors and received a great deal of support.  Without this I don’t think I would have taken the risk and started the company. Today I am involved in both start up businesses and very large corporations.

In every case I try to help businesses act in an innovative way and with an entrepreneurial attitude and culture.

Facing challenging situations is so much easier when you have people around you: whether that be the team that you work with, your friends or family

OG: You graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in Economics. How useful has this degree been in your career and in contributing to your success?

AF: I use what I learnt on my degree every single day and I have to admit that I have been continually surprised by how relevant the course content has been throughout my career.

Just as impactful was what I learnt from being a student at Loughborough.  At the time it was hard to appreciate how much of an influence extra curricular activities would have on my personal development but I learnt so much from my time as Chairman of my Hall, as well as trying new activities from skiing to hand gliding.

OG: Failure is sometimes an inevitable part of life. How do you deal with challenging situations and what advice would you give to anyone facing challenges or setbacks in business?

AF: Facing challenging situations is so much easier when you have people around you: whether that be the team that you work with, your friends or family.

The most important thing that I have learnt is the importance of the people that you work with

Often you will be introduced to others who have confronted exactly the same issue that you face and can offer advice and share their experiences as to how they dealt with it. The most important thing to recognise, particularly if it is your first major set back, is that you are not alone and if you are willing to ask for help, very often others will go out of their way to support you.

OG: Which one attribute or skill do you believe has been the most important throughout your career?

AF: The most important thing that I have learnt is the importance of the people that you work with. I spend alot of my time building and working to retain the very best teams. I also have an amazing business assistant who works with me every day.

OG: What, if any, are your biggest regrets in life so far?

AF: I don’t have any regrets but if there is one thing I would do differently it is to make difficult decisions more quickly. Often you know instinctively what needs to happen, but for many reasons you delay making the decision and when you do make it you wished that you had made it earlier.

OG: How crucial would you say networking and connections are in business? Do you think that ‘who you know’ and not always ‘what you know’ matters more?

AF: ‘Connections’ enables collaboration and personal development, which is invaluable in business irrespective of your position, where you are in your career or the business and industry you work in.

As an Emeritus member of the European CEO Collaborative Forum I help more than 100 CEOs of rapidly growing companies achieve their vision through collaboration.  Similarly, being a member of the Founders Forum has helped Shazam and myself through the ability to network and learn from my peers across all industries.

I would encourage everyone to get talking, ask questions and listen in your most relevant networks – whether that is by going to key industry events or through online forums.

OG: How much of your success would you attribute to luck and/or simply being ‘in the right place at the right time?’

AF: Timing and luck always has its part to play.  I could never have envisaged the impact of the internet taking off and the value of my experience in digital that I had gained prior to this.

If you take Shazam as an example, it originally started as a text service – you dialled the four numbers down the middle of your phone ‘2580’ and received a tag result with the details of the song.  It was not until 2007 when Apple launched the first iPhone that we partnered with them and in 2008 become one of the top apps in the world.

My advice is to decide what is most important to you – not just now, but also what you feel may be important in the near and more distant future

Today there are over two million apps and it is a challenge for new ones launching to compete in that market.  The timing of being at the start of the smart phone generation has helped us, but all the experience we had gained prior to this and by being flexible has enabled us to take advantage of this change by pivoting the business and modifying our strategy.

OG: One of the hardest things for people of all ages to overcome is how to strike that elusively desirable balance between work and leisure. You have several non-exec roles as well chairing Shazam, how do you manage to do so?

AF: My advice is to decide what is most important to you – not just now, but also what you feel may be important in the near and more distant future.

Working hard and prioritising work now, or potentially compromising to provide greater freedom to pursue other interests. The majority of today’s students may well live for over 100 years. As a consequence, the traditional three stage life model of education, work and retirement may no longer apply or be sustainable over such a long period.

Leisure time and balance may therefore become even more important to achieving a fulfilling, enjoyable life and from my perspective should be carefully considered whilst keeping an open mind in order to be able to adapt and change.

Be curious and embrace change in order to stand the best chance of success

OG: Given the rise in big data and rate of change in technology over the last decade, what emerging careers do you believe will be in high demand over the coming years?

AF: It is exciting to see new careers and jobs being created that never existed even a few years ago. Against this it is also important to consider that technology will continue to create career casualties and automation presents a considerable risk.

Staying flexible and current with training and attitude will help everyone to mitigate the risk of our skills and attitude becoming obsolete.

Software Engineering, big data and analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are skills that are all currently in high demand and hiring the best talent in this job market is extremely competitive and therefore challenging for businesses.  My advice is to be curious and embrace change in order to stand the best chance of success.

OG: What ambitions in life would you still like to realise?

AF: I have just joined the Appeal Board of The Royal Marsden’s Clinical Care and Research Centre (CCRC). Our task is to raise £50 million for a new world class cancer research and treatment centre in Sutton for The Royal Marsden Hospital.

A role like this, is one that I have wanted to undertake for a long time. I am excited to be starting a new challenge, one that feels very different to my other roles and should have such a positive impact.

Great businesses, no matter what they do, are built and run by great teams

OG: Finally, what single piece of ‘worldly’ advice would you give to a student or young entrepreneur on the verge of launching their first business?

AF: It is always very difficult to give just one piece of advice.  Great businesses, no matter what they do, are built and run by great teams. You cannot ‘do it all’ yourself.

Recognising your strengths and those of others and hiring or collaborating to fill the gaps, will give you a much greater chance of success.

I would advise people, particularly students and young graduates, to not have regrets in what they choose to pursue. You can always try something else and what you have learnt will always be of value.

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