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Shazam: Avery Wang Presents a Journey to Discovery

Shazam hasn't always gone by the catchy name that now borders on a verb. In fact, when the song-recognition service was founded in 2000, it was called Aardvark and functioned as a call-in service operated by chief scientist Avery Wang and his three MBA cofounders. In front of a large crowd on Friday, November 14, Avery detailed the evolution of his wildly popular song identification app from the early call-in days to its present-day ubiquity.

When Avery and his cofounders first started out, their team’s approach was hopeful and, it turns out, wildly unrealistic: “We decided we would sell some magic, hopefully fund it, and then hopefully backfill it with actual stuff,” Avery recalled. The dot-com bust, however, made soliciting funding much more difficult. Investors were very wary of committing to companies based solely on the promise of magic.

Shazam has experienced all of the highs and lows that come with starting your own tech business in the 14 years since its inception. In 2005, for instance, they had to sell their patents to stay solvent. When the iPhone app store opened in 2008, their fortunes shifted once again. Simply, says Avery, “life got better.” Today, in 2014, Shazam has approximately 300 employees, counts Universal, Warner and Sony among its investors and is the #4 app of all time. The next phases of Shazam’s evolution will include fashion item recognition (i.e. Shazam will be able to tell you what an actor is wearing on TV) and TV programming integration.

Avery described his initial Shazam breakthrough as a moment of magical discovery. As he traced the complex research, trial and thought process that led him to his remarkable algorithm, it really felt like magic. 

Check out some of our tweets from his talk below.

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