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The Sound of Success

Jake Sigal’s approach to entrepreneurship spurs development in Ferndale

Page 30-31

 

Jake Sigal is the founder and former CEO of Livio, a music and technology startup that he created out of his guest bedroom in Ferndale. A fan of being his own boss, Sigal developed the first WiFi branded Pandora Internet radio and quickly earned millions in funds from investors and venture capital firms. In 2013, he sold the company to Ford Motor Co., where Livio is making a large impact in developing technologies for the automotive industry.

In 2008, you quit your job at Delphi to create the radio software company Livio. What obstacles did you experience while developing the company?

The largest obstacle we faced at Livio was ignoring the obstacles and focusing on the opportunities. Obstacles in business, as in life, are easy to spot and hard to miss. Comparatively, opportunities typically are only seen by the select few and easy to miss. Good entrepreneurs know which opportunities to go for and how to ignore, bypass, or just push through any obstacles along the way.

What were the reactions from your peers?

In 2008, it wasn’t cool to start a business. Everyone told me they were supportive, but it wasn’t until we successfully launched our Livio Radio featuring Pandora when I learned how crazy everyone thought my decision was back then.

How would you describe your philosophy as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, there are a few basic things I try to pass on to new entrepreneurs looking for advice. First, understand that being an entrepreneur is a decision. And like any decision, there are costs. Second, be passionate about what you are doing. The work is beyond difficult. The salary is minimal until you can get customers. Entrepreneurs find salvation through solutions for passionate problems. And lastly, help the people you work with. The Livio crew was more than a team, we were a family. Be a mensch.

What lessons have you learned from your experience founding Livio and later selling the company to Ford?

There’s way too much to cram into this article. All I can say is that it was a hell of a ride. A ride that ended for me with partnering with an amazing company that continuously changes the way that transportation and mobility are defined in the world.

How did the “One Detroit” movement come about?

Common sense: We are all in this together. We all fly out of the same airport. When I leave the state, and tell someone where I’m from, I start off with, “I’m from Detroit.” After one of my friends who moved to Detroit from Royal Oak tried to correct me that I wasn’t from Detroit, I responded that we are all “One Detroit!” Not everyone agrees with me, but the concept is picking up momentum.

How would you describe the collaborative culture in metro Detroit?

Improving. There is still quite a bit of one city vs. another. I’m starting to see economics driving the collaborative culture. There are some great organizations focused on collaboration including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Automation Alley, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Detroit Venture Partners, to name a few. The list of companies and the overall collaborative culture is growing.

What are the advantages of founding a startup in metro Detroit compared to Silicon Valley?

Cost and talent. My first office in Ferndale for Livio was less per month than a parking spot in New York. I believe that Michigan has the strongest talent opportunity in the Midwest for STEM jobs. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Kettering and Lawrence Tech graduate some of the top engineers and scientists in the country. Hiring graduates in Michigan from Michigan is an easy sell. I also have a theory that getting people my age who want to come back to Michigan to be close to their families (as they are starting families of their own) is a big opportunity for businesses in One Detroit.

How important is it to break the rules as an entrepreneur?

I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how many rules I’m going to break. I just focus on the solution for the problem I’m trying to solve. I don’t care how it was done in the past or what my competitors, peers or industry, say about my solution. I just follow my beliefs. For example, in 2008 investors told me not to manufacture a radio for Pandora. Pandora would be out of business in a year, and it would never take off. We know how that turned out.

What advice do you give to other entrepreneurs or those looking to develop their startup?

At a macro level: Know what you’re signing up for. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to win. Never conform. Never quit. At a micro level: Focus on getting your first customer instead of raising cash from investors.

You plan to create a mixed-use facility in Ferndale for residential units and second-stage companies. What are your goals for this project?

Create jobs in Ferndale. If we can do that, we’ll create more business from those jobs in Ferndale and do our part to contribute toward the greater One Detroit.