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Family, friends remember St. Petersburg's Josh Greenberg, co-founder of Grooveshark

Josh Greenberg
Published Jul. 22, 2015

Even during his startup's final hours, Grooveshark co-founder Josh Greenberg kept his employees' best interests at heart.

In April, as the music streaming service's team gathered to listen to one final playlist before shutting down, the St. Petersburg native met with each of his 145 employees. He asked what they wanted to do next, and brought in every tech company he knew to pitch them jobs.

"He was brilliant," said his mother, Lori Greenberg.

Now, family and friends are reeling after his death last weekend at age 28.

His girlfriend found him in bed Sunday night at their Gainesville residence. She had last spoken to him about 1:30 a.m. that morning.

Lori Greenberg said that Gainesville police told her there was no evidence that her son was injured or was using drugs. She said the medical examiner has not yet determined a cause of death, and toxicology results may not be available for months.

After graduating from St. Petersburg's Lakewood High school in 2005, Greenberg moved to Gainesville. He was a freshman at the University of Florida when he founded Grooveshark with fellow student Sam Tarantino.

Greenberg served as the company's chief technology officer. At its peak, the music streaming service was used by 35 million to 40 million listeners monthly. The founder was determined to keep the company in Gainesville. But in April, the company closed its doors after settling a lawsuit.

The business was hit with copyright infringement lawsuits from numerous record labels including Sony Music Group, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. Grooveshark was facing up to $736 million in damages.

What used to be the website's homepage now shows a letter from Grooveshark explaining why the service shut down on April 30. In it, the company admitted its mistakes and apologized "without reservation."

Lori Greenberg, who still lives in St. Petersburg, said the lawsuits took their toll on her son. But when the litigation finally ended, he felt relieved.

"The lawsuit was hanging over his head for years," she said. "He said, 'Mom, I just feel like a weight was lifted off of me.' "

Greenberg showed flashes of his entrepreneurial talents in high school. His mother used to take him to the Borders bookstore at Tyrone Square Mall to buy coding books. She said he spent day and night teaching himself how to code. Then he started designing websites on commission, making hundreds of dollars.

Despite Grooveshark's early success, Lori Greenberg said her son wasn't interested in the luxuries of wealth. He still drove a used Honda Civic. All of his furniture came from Goodwill, because he knew his three cats would eventually ruin it. He gave himself a modest salary and reinvested the rest into the company.

"He was raised low-income," said his mother, who raised two sons by herself, "and he was never really attracted to material things."

Her other son, Jacob Greenberg, 20, is also a student at the University of Florida.

Former Grooveshark executive Julia Anderson said people gravitated to Josh Greenberg because of the way he carried himself, and his sense of humor.

"He had this ridiculous mix of social skills and natural leadership," she said. "Everyone wanted to be his friend."

Anderson joined the music streaming service in 2011 before it was the subject of lawsuits. She said the company was like a family, that going to work felt like walking into a sitcom. Greenberg believed in a flat leadership model. Anderson said he took the worst desk in the office.

"We had an actual family there," she said. "It was a special place."

Despite the pressures of the ongoing legal battle, Anderson said Greenberg's attitude was always upbeat. He "put his all" into Grooveshark.

"He was always so fearless," she said, "so it kind of spread throughout the company."

Greenberg's most recent project was the Gainesville Dev Academy, which offers computer programming classes to professionals in the area.

Tarantino said a public memorial for Greenberg is to be held Friday afternoon in Gainesville. Details have not yet been finalized.

Contact Shaker Samman at (813) 226-3394 or ssamman@tampabay.com. Follow @shakersamman.

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