Around the time I started working at my startup, I started hearing about Startup.
That's a podcast produced by Gimlet Media and--bear with me--its first season was basically a near-realtime audio documentary about the launch of Gimlet Media itself. Meta, I know. Still, I got sucked in. My wife and I binge-listened, mostly on five-hour road trips back and forth to New Hampshire to visit her family.
The show starred Alex Blumberg, formerly of the NPR show Planet Money. As he's the first to admit, he was kind of clueless in the early episodes--bungling an investor pitch to Chris Sacca, offering his early cofounder an insultingly small percentage of the company's equity, and making all kinds of other mistakes.
(That's part of what was kind of endearing about the podcast. We all make mistakes when launching businesses. Most of us just don't record them and try to build an audience around them.)
Still, Gimlet Media grew, and the company now hosts several podcasts including Reply All (about the Internet) and The Mystery Show. They did a second season of Startup, and are working on a third, all from a studio in Brooklyn. (By the way, the whole operation is very Brooklyn. I say this as a guy who writes these words two rivers away, in Jersey City.)
I was psyched this week to see that Blumberg and his cofounder Matthew Lieber, who stuck around despite Bumberg's initial equity offer, doing a Q&A session on Product Hunt. Here are the highlights of what they had to say:
1. On the biggest challenges facing the nascent podcasting industry...
In response to a student named Benjamin Peskoe who raised this question, Lieber replied:
"Hey Ben! We're still just at the beginning of the industry. I would say the biggest challenge is distribution. In the US Market there are 200M+ people who should be listening to podcasts, and aren't. We need to get them into the medium."
Liber later added: "Development I'm most hoping for: a universally installed app for listening to podcasts on Android."
2. On whether they'll be the ones to solve that problem...
"We are focused on creating narrative audio, not building software. I think others (including @marcoarment, whose Overcast app I use) are way better positioned to do that," Lieber said.
Blumberg chimed in as well: "No plans as of now to create Gimlet centric software or apps. We're good at making content. There's a hunger for the content we can create. We're going to stick to what we're good at."
3. On whether they'd try to solve the problem if they could team up with a big tech company like Google...
Trick question--they did team up with Google Ventures to do a design sprint on a universal podcast-listening app.
However, as Lieber explained, "the main learning for us was that while we were incredibly tempted to do so, we should not build an app. Which even though it runs counter to prototyping was a very, very valuable lesson."
4. On their next season of programming...
"We've got a bunch of stuff coming," Blumberg said in reply to a question. "Two new shows launching this year, including a project with my former partner in crime [at Planet Money] Adam Davidson. Then a bunch of new stuff in 2016, as well as the return of new seasons of existing Gimlet shows. Also, in just a couple weeks, we're launching a special [S]tartup miniseries. 4 or 5 episodes all about Gimlet."
5. On the podcasting business model...
Gimlet Media is primarily advertiser-supported, although it recently launched a premium service as well. A Product Hunt reader, Danny Henn, remembered that part of the original inspiration for the company was a Planet Money project Blumberg worked on, in which the show raised more than $500,000 on Kickstarter by selling t-shirts.
"The premium service launched is just the beginning, and we plan on continuing to add to that experience. And yes, we do want to do some integrated products/experiences," Blumberg said. "But yes, something like that is coming in the next year or two. Probably. How's that for a hedge?"
6. On how they choose new podcast ideas...
In response to a question by Eric Metelka, Lieber explained:
"One thing we need, a great frame. Like Mystery Show, it's a great frame: personal mysteries, which [host S]tarlee [Kine] solves. It's simple, but there's so much ground you can cover between the posing of the mystery and its solution. But when I say simple, I don't mean simple to execute, because it's very difficult to do what Starlee does. But the frame is simple and easy to understand. But it's flexible and allows you lots of room for surprise and wonder. That's what we're looking for."
7. On the competition...
"There isn't competition yet. Most people still don't listen to podcasts," Blumberg said in reply to a question by Ben Stern of Dropbox. "Every break out hit, like Serial, that raises the profile of the medium helps us all."
8. On how a small podcast can build a big audience...
"Try and cross promote with other similar shows. Invite them on your show, and then get on their's. Good way to swap audiences," Lieber advised.
9. On how to pitch a podcast to Gimlet...
"Very open to outside pitches," Blumberg said. "We need great people with great ideas. We'll take them from anywhere!" (Try their email.)