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10 Questions for Cecilia Qvist, the Woman Leading Spotify’s Global Expansion

5 minute read
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When music streaming company Spotify launched in India, the company made a promotional video with artists from across the world welcoming local users to the platform. One of the videos caused a social media frenzy in the country. It was of Korean boyband BTS uttering the Hindu greeting “Namaste.” BTS mania, it turned out, had made it to the subcontinent.

When Spotify launched its audio streaming platform in 2008, it revolutionized the way people listened to music, offering them millions of songs at their fingertips. It first listeners were in its native Sweden, but Spotify quickly branched out to the U.K. in 2009 and arrived in the U.S. in 2011.

Today Spotify, named one of TIME’s Genius Companies of 2018, has 217 million listeners and 100 million subscribers around the world. In 2018, Cecilia Qvist, Spotify’s global head of markets, led the company’s expansion into 17 new countries, including Romania, Israel, Vietnam and several places in the Middle East and Africa. The Indian launch, which came earlier this year, gave it potential access to another 400 million smartphone users.

Here’s what Qvist has to say about the company’s growth plans, what’s trending musically, and the all-conquering power of K-Pop.

What are you listening to right now?

I’m very much on back catalogue at the moment, so Fleetwood Mac. And given my role, I often try to listen to the artist or playlist that is trending, so “Señorita” by Shawn Mendes.

Spotify operates in 79 markets. Which of those was the most challenging to get into and why?

For bigger markets like India, in which we launched in February, we spend more time researching because of the size and complexity of the market. I’d define India as more a continent than a country. We launched in five languages, we also made sure the narrative was localized and appealed to the local audience.

When you’re entering new markets, how do you ensure the offering is relevant and culturally appropriate?

Being culturally relevant means that you have to have people on the ground. We have more than 100 editors around the globe that make sure we lean into what is happening in the market and resonate with users.

What’s the most unique feature you’ve offered in a new market?

The karaoke feature in Japan. It’s a great example of leaning into something that was trending. It was a must have.

Can you tell us about plans for your podcast business?

We acquired Anchor, Gimlet and Parcast. We announced a partnership with Higher Ground, the production company of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. We have more than 250,000 podcasts right now. Over time, we expect that 20% of the content on our platform will be non-music.

You just launched Spotify Lite, an Android-only app that runs quickly on older phones and slower networks. Tell us about that.

As we saw our business expanding into more emerging markets, we came across new types of users where they have a variety of phones, where network was not as good and where data plans are expensive. That’s why we created Spotify Lite.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of tech companies in regulating harmful content online. How is Spotify looking at the issue?

We don’t allow any hate content on our platform, period. We’re always enhancing our technology and will continue to invest to discover anything that is related to that type of content on the platform. For us, it’s a continuous improvement. It’s not a challenge unique to Spotify, it’s an industry challenge across the board. There are a many industries that have gone through this and come out on the other side.

Read More: Spotify Ends ‘Hateful Conduct’ Policy That Banned R. Kelly From Playlists

What have you learned as you’ve expanded across the world?

Now streaming is a global phenomenon, this technology that doesn’t respect any boundaries. I think that BTS, Blackpink and a few others, how they travel on the platform, has been interesting to see. That’s the cool part, we can help artists spread the word around the world.

Right now, the rising story is K-pop around the world. When BTS was at the Grammys I think everyone wondered “Who are they?” But for us, it was like “There they are.”

What’s the most listened to playlist globally?

Today’s Top Hits currently has 23.7m followers. Discover Weekly is the one that everyone uses and genre playlists like K-Pop Daebak are growing like crazy too.

What has surprised you about a country you’ve launched in?

In the Philippines, Christmas starts almost in the summer. The Christmas music comes on in early September and it just keeps going. The Philippines loves Christmas.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Write to AMY GUNIA / HONG KONG at amy.gunia@time.com