You might have missed it a couple weeks ago, but Sonos has a new CEO: Patrick Spence. In what, by The New York Times account, was a planned and straightforward transfer, Sonos founder John MacFarlane stepped aside to hand the reins to Spence, who came to Sonos four years ago, after a VP stint at BlackBerry. And the new CEO has a new mission: keep the independent company alive and kicking as it faces a wave of disruption coming directly from the biggest technology companies on the planet.
Sonos makes home speakers — precisely the space that’s getting upended by Amazon’s Echo and (to a lesser extent so far) Google Home. It’s perhaps not entirely fair to say Sonos was blindsided by the rise of digital assistants in the home; but it is entirely fair to say that the company hasn’t reacted quickly enough to their sudden importance.
We’ve obtained a slightly redacted copy of the memo that Spence sent to his company immediately after taking over, and it reveals some of what Sonos is going to do to face those new challenges. Namely: it’s going to try to get everybody to play nice with Sonos.
“We know that life at home requires the support of a variety of services,” Spence writes. And rather than partner with a single company, he says Sonos will work with everybody just like it did with music streaming apps: “We are going to do the same with voice services, bringing all the services that matter to every home.”
Sonos is already planning on some integration with Amazon Alexa, but it seems like other services are going to follow — assuming Sonos can somehow remain independent and somehow convince all of these potential partners to share space on its speakers. Spence references this new balance and says Sonos will enter “the big leagues – partnering and competing with global leaders like Amazon, Google and (likely) Apple.”
There’s more to Spence’s memo, reproduced below, including a need to have “bias to action” when it comes to dealing with those issues and “more product innovation.” It paints a picture of a CEO that knows exactly what his company needs to do in order to remain both independent and profitable — the trick now is that Spence and Sonos need to get to it, and fast.
I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to serve as your CEO. I joined Sonos four and half years ago for two reasons:
First, I was a passionate Sonos customer – it changed the way my family and I enjoy music around our home. It was awesome to see my friends sharing their favorite musical memories around our dining room table and to see my two kids dancing their hearts out in the kitchen. Our company matters because music matters, and bringing that into more homes matters more than ever.
The second reason I joined was because of the people. The first person I met was John, and he was even more wonderful than the product. And then I got to meet the talented team and was blown away. Every day I leave work inspired by the passion and ideas I see from all of you. My passion for why we’re here, for what we build, and my love for all of you has only grown over that time. For these reasons, taking on the CEO role is incredibly exciting, and I’m all in.
I’d like thank John for his leadership in bringing Sonos from an idea to a company of more than 1,300 people that has filled millions of homes with music. He’s done it by leading with clear mission and strong set of values. He has taught us what is possible when all of us show up every day ready to pursue our mission and carry out those values. John is a special entrepreneur, and one of the most selfless and high integrity people I know. We will build on this great foundation and relentlessly pursue the mission he set the company on fifteen years ago.
With the full arrival of streaming, the advent of voice, and the promise of the connected home, we are at a pivotal and defining moment – this is our time. The next few years will define our future as we step into the big leagues – partnering and competing with global leaders like Amazon, Google and (likely) Apple. It requires new thinking and a different pace than we had in our first fifteen years.
We know that life at home requires the support of a variety of services since each family member has their own preferences. We have already proven the ability to do this in an elegant and reliable way with music services. We are going to do the same with voice services, bringing all the services that matter to every home. This, combined with our strength and breadth in music streaming services, our commitment to building a software platform that partners can easily build on, our variety of awesome products that fit every room (vs. a one-size-fits-all approach), and sound quality that makes music come alive unlike anyone else, sets us up for a strong future.
We must challenge ourselves to stay ahead of the curve. Being great doesn’t always require being first, but when it comes to the home music experience, we must be the pioneer. More companies are jumping into our space because they see the big opportunity ahead. What got us here won’t alone get us through the next phase. Given this, there are two important areas we need to evolve:
First, we must have a bias towards action. You are all talented and bring diverse perspectives. You have ideas. Please share them freely – especially before they’re “perfect.” Take a risk and share them with others. Listen to the new ideas of your colleagues with the goal of learning about what could be, and help them make them better. Apply yourself to putting ideas into action and being nimble enough to adjust along the way. The pace in which we do this must be faster than the rate of change in the world, and the world is getting a lot faster.
Second, we must innovate boldly. When Sonos began, it was all about product innovation– and while we need more product innovation and pace than ever, we also need to expand our innovative thinking to the way we market to customers, the way we sell to customers, and the way we service customers. We need to be bold about where we believe the world should go, and then we need to lead it there.
I’m fired up to go after the opportunity in front of us, and bring the joy of Sonos to millions of new homes. I look forward to doing it together with all of you.