During high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, Josh Greenberg noticed student clubs were raising money by selling candy bars for $2 apiece. One day, he asked his mother to drive him to Sam’s Club, where he bought the same candy for 50 cents, jammed all the bars into his backpack, returned to campus and sold them to hungry students for just $1. “He still made 100 percent profit,” recalls Lori Greenberg, Josh’s mother. “He was undercutting the sales of these clubs, and the administration told him he had to stop.”
That was how Greenberg, 28, who died of unknown causes Monday at his home in Gainesville, thought about business — why not make money providing a service more efficiently than everyone else? He was the co-founder of Grooveshark, a Gainesville-based music-streaming company that had to shut down in April after settling with major record labels for violating their song copyrights. Greenberg was the coding expert who implemented partner Sam Tarantino’s vision after they formed the company as 19-year-old University of Florida freshmen in early 2006, a few years before Spotify and YouTube transformed streaming into the future of the music business.
“He coded so much of the early Grooveshark, but he moved into management and was the natural leader on the product side,” Chris Blackburn, a SoundCloud account executive who joined Grooveshark in 2009, tells Rolling Stone. “He could understand people, and frame the conversation in a way the whole team was moving forward.”
Echoing the original Napster, Grooveshark became an incredibly popular service, reaching 40 million monthly users at one point, but Greenberg and Tarantino were never able to convince top record executives to make lasting content deals. The stress weighed on Greenberg, but in recent months he felt unencumbered, his mother says in a lengthy phone interview from her St. Petersburg home.
“Grooveshark was very, very exciting and very, very stressful, because they didn’t fully know what they were doing. This was uncharted territory,” Lori Greenberg says. “Then, of course they got in trouble with the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America], and he had the lawsuit hanging over his head, and they just weren’t big and powerful enough to fight the RIAA.
“I was very concerned when he lost Grooveshark: How would he react? Could he be depressed?” she continues. “Finally it ended, and they closed Grooveshark, and simultaneously the lawsuit vanished. He was relieved, not depressed.”
Lori Greenberg says her son’s autopsy shows “they found absolutely nothing.” A rep for the Florida medical examiner’s office turned down an interview request, and official autopsy results generally take three to six months to complete. Greenberg’s friends, including Blackburn, are planning a Gainesville memorial this Friday.
Greenberg made a “basic, middle-class salary” throughout his Grooveshark years, his mother says. He drove a used Honda Civic, bought his furniture from the Salvation Army and owned three cats. He also bought a Gainesville house in 2014, where he was living with his girlfriend, Abby Mayer, who discovered him dead in his bed Sunday evening.
The Gainesville Sun reported that Greenberg had been working on another music service and spent much of his time working on the Gainesville Dev Academy and Grooveshark University, helping local residents improve technical skills. “There was nobody more employable than Josh Greenberg,” Blackburn says.
“People think Grooveshark was so successful that they made a lot of money. They kept reinvesting the money back in Grooveshark. He never had a lot of money,” adds Lori Greenberg. “I didn’t get a sense he was depressed or suicidal. Last week, he went with three of his friends to Asheville, North Carolina, for a four-day vacation. They went hiking. They saw a bear. They had a great time. He was quite happy. I don’t understand.”