When the pop superstar decided to pull her entire catalog from Spotify in 2014, citing issues with how the company compensates artists, it looked like a massive blow for the world’s largest paid music streaming service.
More than a year later, Swift’s music is still nowhere to be seen on Spotify. But the streaming service experienced its biggest growth year ever in 2015, adding 29 million active users. There’s no specific star or revolutionary business plan behind this success: In large part, its growth is thanks to the Echo Nest, a music data start-up that Spotify acquired just months before Swift’s exodus. Echo Nest alums have conceived and shepherded virtually every major product update Spotify has rolled out over the last year, from Discover Weekly to its Running mixes. These features, centered on personalization, are part of Spotify’s big bet that crafting killer, user-friendly playlists will keep its followers loyal.