Josh Greenberg’s most well-known work is helping found the now-defunct music streaming website Grooveshark, but family and friends say his contributions to Gainesville go much farther.
The late entrepreneur was honored on Monday with a small celebration, the first annual Josh Greenberg Day, at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce on University Avenue. The event was one day after what would have been Greenberg’s 29th birthday.
“He really helped to transform the city of Gainesville and to make it a technology hub,” Lori Greenberg, his mother, told WUFT prior to the event. “His contributions were huge.”
The day was created by a proclamation from Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy a few days after Greenberg died in July 2015.
“Josh left an indelible mark on the future of Gainesville that will continue in perpetuity in the work and passion of those he touched,” the proclamation says.
Greenberg founded Grooveshark with two college friends, Andrés Barreto and Sam Tarantino, in 2006 while they were freshmen at the University of Florida. At the time, Gainesville wasn’t the place of innovation it is now.
“He got to transform the music industry,” Lori Greenberg said. “He transformed Gainesville.”
Josh Greenberg had a hand in several local startups outside Grooveshark, such as the Gainesville cleaning service Student Maid, which requires its student employees to have at least a 3.5 GPA.
He was also a founding member of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s technology council and helped develop computer-science programs for local high schools and the computer-engineering program at UF.
His mother said he didn’t receive money for his mentoring and had no interest in being a partial owner in the businesses he helped create.
“He had long been a mentor and adviser to startups,” she said. “He wanted to have … many businesses succeed in Gainesville.”
But his impact was felt beyond business contributions and inspiration.
“A lot of people have written in and talked about how he affected their lives personally,” Greenberg’s uncle, Scott Greenberg, told WUFT before the event. “He changed people’s lives single-handedly for the better.”
Lori Greenberg said she cried when her son told her he wanted to move to Silicon Valley to start Grooveshark as a 19-year-old freshman.
But she said she was glad he changed his mind and stayed in Florida.
“Part of the reason he did what he did was so he could make Gainesville into the Silicon Valley of the East Coast,” she said.
One of her favorite memories of her son was during a visit to the family home in St. Petersburg in March 2015. During a walk in a park, Josh found a tiny egg near a tree.
“Big shot, co-founder of Grooveshark, during one of his monthly visits home, found this egg. … It was probably a lizard,” Lori Greenberg said. “He transformed the city of Gainesville, but he was so excited about this tiny lizard.
“That was Josh. That was who he was.”
Tarantino said at Monday’s event that he, Greenberg and Barreto completed each other as friends and colleagues, and Greenberg instantly became a good friend.
To get their Grooveshark project going, they slaved away in a small, three-person studio office in downtown Gainesville.
Their first several code attempts didn’t work, Tarantino said, but they kept trying. Greenberg lived and breathed computer coding and refused to give up on it, he said.
“Josh always said there are no mistakes,” Tarantino said.
Friend Ryan Jenkins said at Monday’s event that Greenberg was coding before they attended Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg together. One time in middle school, they stayed up all night and built their own website in a matter of hours.
The website was about acronyms for immature curse words and dirty jokes, Jenkins said.
“He really mixed seriousness and irreverence,” he said.
After the initial struggles, Grooveshark soon took off. Forbes named Greenberg one of America’s best young entrepreneurs when he was 21 and one of the top 30 under 30 in the music business from 2012 to 2014.
In April 2015, Greenberg and the rest of the site’s leadership agreed to shut Grooveshark down instead of paying hundreds of millions in copyright lawsuits.
Lori Greenberg said her son wasn’t devastated about the company’s end but that a part of him didn’t want Gainesville to lose the startup.
She said she now reflects on the times he helped fellow Gainesville entrepreneurs.
“He lived to incubate,” Lori Greenberg said. “He wanted to see people succeed.”