I’ve listened to NPR on a regular basis for years, but hadn’t gotten into the habit of subscribing to shows using a podcast app until recently. I would typically listen to RadioLab, The TED Radio Hour, and Planet Money, all through the NPR app. And I’d sometimes catch This American Life on the radio. All this probably makes me an extremely typical casual NPR listener.
To me, good online radio has always been synonymous with NPR, and I had never seen a compelling reason to explore further. Not because I didn’t think there was other interesting content out there, but I figured that if it hadn’t found me, it probably wasn’t worth the effort.
That has changed. I’m now a podcast person, and it began with a new series called Startup.
I first learned about it a few months ago when a friend told me about how my business school classmate, Matt Lieber, was a cofounder of a venture backed startup. I asked what they do. He said they are a podcast, but also a podcast platform. I asked him to elaborate.
He explained that it was a bit confusing, and that they might be a technology platform, but they definitely have created a podcast about their startup. And he thought they were trying to make more podcasts, but he was also almost certain there was a tech play, likely with an app. I told him that this made no sense to me. He said he was still trying to figure it out as well, but they definitely had momentum because they raised a bunch of cash. So I was very much confused, but intrigued.
It took me a while to finally look into Matt’s startup. When I did, I understood the initial vision after listening to two minutes of the first episode of the Startup podcast.
-Alex Blumberg used to be involved with This American Life and Planet Money
-He contributed to the success of these shows, and understands first hand what it takes to build awesome audio programs
-While there are many great audio programs out there, he thinks it’s a shame there aren’t even more, as he believes the market could be much larger if there were more organizations innovating and catering to a diverse range of interests/topics
-His vision is to build an ad supported for-profit audio content company that thinks up and produces a bunch of awesome new audio programs
-He decided to document his journey building this company, and so he started Startup, a podcast about building a podcast company
Startup received a good amount of media attention, which ultimately helped facilitate an initial round of funding at a very favorable valuation. At some point along the way Alex realized he needed help from someone with business experience, and he found Matt.
After listening to the first episode, I was hooked and went through the next nine over a span of a few days. There are a few angles to its appeal. To start, it’s a good story. Alex is a talented storyteller, and he’s woven together his experiences taking this company from an idea into a funded business in a compelling way.
It also offers a rare glimpse into the process of raising a round of funding, and getting a startup off the ground. Regardless of the industry, many of the challenges Alex and Matt face – pitching investors, coming up with a name, negotiating equity with a cofounder, hiring employees – are relevant to most startups.
And finally, it’s really honest. Throughout the series, Alex walks through many of their mistakes, challenges, and fears. Botched investor pitches, a bad start to the equity negotiation with Matt, a really embarrassing advertising mistake, burned out employees. Many startups go to great lengths to hide or spin their mistakes and worries, and to inflate their success. Alex and Matt aren’t, and it’s refreshing.
The story also really evolves as their business grows. By episode eight, the company had hired a team to launch another podcast, and Alex introduces their second show, Reply All, which is also worth a listen.
Here’s the first Startup episode, give it a shot: