How a 15,000-Mile Road Trip Inspired This Cool Radio App
BY Eric Markowitz
A fourth-time entrepreneur set out on the road--and came back with a plan to supplant the satellite radio industry. Here's why he might succeed.
In 2011, J.D. Heilprin, a serial entrepreneur, had just sold his third company--Modern Feed, a Web TV surfing tool--and set out looking for inspiration. Literally.
He got in his car, which he now refers to as his "test lab," and drove nearly 15,000 miles across the United States. He started in California, spent time in Texas, stopped off in New Orleans, drove to New York--and then all the way back to California. Naturally, he spent a lot of time fumbling around with the radio, searching for programs he wanted to listen to--when the idea struck him.
"I recognized that existing, traditional platforms were dinosaurs," he says. "They were linear, not targeted, and they had horrible advertising." He decided to create a solution.
Back in San Francisco, Heilprin assembled a team of about 15 engineers, raised north of $1 million in seed funding, and began working on what would eventually become AGOGO, a free iOS app--which launches today--that curates some of the best audio podcasts on the Web into an elegant, simple, personalized app.
AGOGO is an example of smart editorial curation--there are literally thousands of hours of free, existing audio programming on the Web, but few portals exist to help users find or discover them. The way AGOGO works is simple: you choose from one of several categories--be it finance, news, arts, food, or politics--and AGOGO serves up the most relevant, recent, and interesting audio files on the Web. It's all personalized so that the content you're most interested in is always queued up and ready to go whenever you open the app.
At the same time, it also integrates premium and paid music services like Spotify and Rdio, allowing you to toggle between news programs and music. AGOGO is also launching a dashboard for the Web--similar to Spotify or Pandora--that allows you to listen in from a desktop or laptop. Plus, everything syncs.
For Heilprin, building AGOGO was a somewhat natural progression from his previous business, Modern Feed, which launched as Clicker.com. That start-up--which was acquired by CBS--let users browse different Web TV shows, videos, and save other content into one single playlist. In that sense, both AGOGO and Clicker.com are based on a very similar concept: there's lots of good stuff out there on the Web, but finding it, saving it, and consuming it when you have some spare time can be tricky.
The Business Model
Since AGOGO doesn't create any of its own content, you might think publishers would be turned off by it. After all, it allows users to consume its media without ever having to interact with the publisher's own brand. But Heilprin insists that publishers have responded kindly to the app so far--especially because it doesn't actually interfere with their own revenue streams.
"We started out really early showing the prototype to publishers," Heilprin says. "The response was uniform. It gets people to their programming. We don't touch their advertising. Publishers loved it."
In the short-term, AGOGO won't be generating any revenue--the app is free and there are no ads beyond any ads included in a publisher's original broadcast. But once the app has hit a certain level of scale and attracted enough users, Heilprin believes the service would be an attractive vehicle for brands and advertisers interested in hyper-targeted ads. After all, you could probably tell a lot about a person based on which programs they choose to listen to.
Ultimately, Heilprin believes AGOGO can one day supplant satellite radio as the premier destination for all-things-audio.
"Twenty-five million people pay for satellite radio," says. "The market is tremendous. With AGOGO, the idea is to make it one touch, but it’s also about making the journey to discover new stories."