SoundCloud Founder Alex Ljung Encourages Company-Wide Sound Hacking

SoundCloud founder Alex Ljung
SoundCloud founder Alex Ljung during the first annual 2012 'We Hack' Weekend
Courtesy of SoundCloud

Last Friday and Saturday, over 80 SoundCloud employees spent their day hacking the SoundCloud API in the company's Berlin headquarters. For the first annual Weekend Hack (#WeHack), SoundCloud founder and CEO Alex Ljung encouraged developers, designers and every other department to work on a non-company-related project as a way to foster innovative thinking and team-building at the music streaming startup.

"Hacking is usually associated with developers cracking away code," Ljung told Rolling Stone. "But I believe hacking is more about learning by doing. We had people in marketing working on content hacking and storytelling."

Some of the projects that came out of the two-day event include a toy that plays back custom SoundCloud noises in reaction to its physical surroundings, a program that turns written text into music by pairing words with melody and an online calendar that includes a play widget for SoundCloud tracks.

Although most projects involved sound, employees were also able to step outside the main SoundCloud zone. Ljung himself, for example, spent two days working on a hovercraft named H.O.V.A. that eventually took off the ground.

"No one thought it was going to work," Ljung said. "But we proved them wrong."

Similarly to Google, SoundCloud developers get to spend 20 percent of their week on a creative project. At Google, this company policy famously gave birth to Gmail and Google Earth.

"It's impossible to look at the stuff that's come out of this 20 percent time and not try to figure out how they could evolve into an actual SoundCloud feature," Ljung said about being proactive in plucking out promising projects. "But I try not to analyze their potential the day of the hacking event."

According to Ljung, the company is currently focused on the Next player of the SoundCloud program, and he doesn't plan to venture the company into video streaming or hovercrafts.

"Sound is integral to the human experience and there's been so little exploration of that on the web," he said. "Right now, that's enough of a challenge for us."

Currently in beta, the Next SoundCloud player has no official launch date.

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