In March this year, Spotify’s head of special projects Shakil Khan – a key player in the company’s global expansion, and a confidante of CEO Daniel Ek from the streaming music service’s earliest days – left the company to take up a similar role at social location startup Path.

Why, given that Spotify is thought to be heading towards either a lucrative IPO or a mammoth acquisition at some point in the next year or two? Khan explained today at the LeWeb London conference.

“Before Spotify I’d done five startups,” said Khan. “I spent four years there, and we took it from a very early startup, where we’d go to people and I’d say ‘I’m from Spotify!’, and they’d say ‘Spot-who?’ We took that country by country, and you used to get the same buzz every time: you’d go in and be the underdog. And I’ve always enjoyed being the underdog.”

What changed? Spotify got big, not to mention finally launching in the US – a project Khan had been working on for some time, seeding the service with key influencers, bloggers and journalists as Spotify built a team there.

“In 2012, the company has over 600 employees, 15 offices and tens of millions of users out there… And I didn’t have the buzz that you get when you walk into startups. I longed for those butterflies in the stomach,” he said.

“There’s a certain feelign about being an underdog where you’re challenging yourself, and when you’re top dog the natural reaction is to get complacent.”

Note, Khan was talking specifically about himself there, rather than suggesting Spotify as a company is getting complacent. He remains the best of friends with Ek.

Khan is now getting those butterflies from his special projects role at Path, which now has 3m users of its app, which enables people to share photos, locations, updates and music data with their close friends and family.

He won’t miss out if Spotify gets to that lucrative exit, though. “I invested in the company very very early,” said Khan.

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