My fascination with Podcasts

“Broadcasting is really too important to be left to the broadcasters” – Tony Benn

I’ve started a 30 day blogging challenge (more about it here and please fo sign up to receive the newsletter). This is day four. Early conclusion: It doesn’t get easier in day four.

Today I’d like to talk about one of my new favourite media formats: Podcasts.

The reason podcasts captured my imagination today, is a podcast I listened to (very meta) by Recode’s Peter Kafka, and Nick Quah, journalist and curator of HotPod.

The show starts with the history of Podcasts and ends with where they may be headed. Interestingly, Podcasts are starting to become a big business too. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, podcast industry ad revenue will reach $220 million in 2017, up 85 percent from 2016’s $119 million (source).

My own fascination with podcasts began with a warm recommendation from Pablo (founder of Antidote). I was on an Android phone then, and quickly realised the first barrier to adoption for podcasts?—?you need an app that streams podcasts (Apple has one by default). The second level?—?they’re anonymous. As podcasts are a (relatively) new media format?—?their brands are less developed, so most people would struggle to name a show. Third, podcasts are not very easy to find. Discovery is poor, largely limited to the ‘top charts’ on the various apps, making it hard to discover ‘rising stars’ before they hit the mainstream.

So, let’s start with some definitions. What is a Podcast?

The source of the word comes from the combination of iPod (who has one of those these days?) and broadcast. It was first known as “audioblogging”, but the term “podcasting” was created by Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley.

It was popularised by a few unsung heroes: Dawn and Drew of The Dawn and Drew Show, Kris and Betsy Smith of Croncast, MadPod and Dan Klass of The Bitterest Pill contributed to the early emergence and popularity of podcasts, as well as former MTV VJ Adam Curry, in collaboration with Dave Winer, a developer of RSS feeds.

Wikipedia describes a Podcast as follows:

A podcast is an episodic series of digital audio files which a user can download and listen to. It is often available for subscription, so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user’s own local computer, mobile application, or portable media player.

The third wave of podcasting

Podcasts have been around for some time. In September 2000, the first system that enabled the selection, automatic downloading and storage of serial episodic audio content on PCs and portable devices was launched [6] from early MP3 player manufacturer, i2Go.

It was only around 2003 that the first podcasts appeared, but actually what made Podcasts mainstream, was the show Serial, an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig, which started as a side project of the National Public Radio’s (NPR) show “This American Life”. Serial exploded in popularity and spread virally. It also established a formula for podcast success: (1) Strong narrative focused on unsolved crime, (2)great storytelling and (3) high quality production, (ideally by radio professionals from NPR).

Serial – the catalyst

The success of Serial, inspired a new wave of entrepreneurs. One of them is Alex Blumberg, founder of Gimlet Media. Alex was an award-winning radio journalist at NPR, where he produced This American Life, and co-founded Planet Money.

Planet money and This American Life —two classics of the medium

Gimlet is self-described as “narrative podcasting company that aims to help listeners better understand the world and each other”. Founded in 2014 and based in Brooklyn, it has already produced some of my favourite podcasts:

StartUp — Gimlet’s first podcast, documents the process Alex Bloomberg went through to found Gimlet Media with his partner, Matthew Lieber. It’s excellent, doesn’t really get more meta.

Crimetown follows the Rode Island organised crime evolution. It includes interviews with inmates, old recorded speeches… amazing job.

Reply All is a show about the Internet’s quirky corners. For example, a service that enables your message to be delivered in real life by a person, in the desired ton of voice.

Podcasts are much easier to consume than books. You can listen to a Podcast in your commute, wether you are driving or standing in a crowded train. You can listen while you exercise (who would have thought you could lose calories and learn something at the same time?). But a bit like books, there’s genres. Here are a few additional podcasts, that while each is a different genre, they’re equally addictive:

TED Radio Hour— probably my favourite in the non-fiction category. Superbly curated, and Guy Raz is just a pleasure to listen to.

The James Altucher Show— James makes a long conversation feel short. He invites his friends (authors, hedge fund managers, marketers, etc) for a chat in the studio, and the lively conversation rarely disappoints.

Masters of Scale—Reid Hoffman delivers Silicon Valley gospel with an impressive roster of guests, but doesn’t take himself too seriously while sharing important information for founders.

This Much I know— Carlos Eduardo Espinal, a friend, and partner at Seedcamp. Carlos fosters a very honest, natural-flowing conversation (he also kindly had me on the show and gave me an embarrassing nickname).

A few additional honorary mentions would include the Tim Ferris Show, Harry Stebbing’s 20Min VC, about the ins and outs of venture capital, Bloomberg’s Masters in Business and many fascinating lectures and public speakers offered by University podcasts. A few worth mentioning are HBR Ideacast, Building a Business by Oxford University and London School of Economics’ Public lectures and external speakers. So many podcasts, so little time.

Which podcasts do YOU recommend? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Update: Some of you sent some great recommendations, and it would be wrong not to include them as they quickly climbed to the top of my list.

How I built this (NPR)

Guy Raz again (from TED Radio Hour) interviews entrepreneurs for a candid chat on how they started and built their business. Stories like Blake Mycoskie (Toms shoes), Miguel McKelvey (WeWork), Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Troy Carter (Lady Gaga and Atom Factory). And the list goes on. Simply Superb.

Mogul (Gimlet Media)

Mogul, the life and death of Chris Lighty, starts at the funeral of this hip hop producer and founder of the label Violator. Chris was a huge deal in the music industry, managing artists like Foxy Brown, Fat Joe, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, 50 Cent. The podcast is really well done, and the story of Chris is tightly connected to the story of Hip Hop.

Other recommendations include Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

And the Side Hustle Show by Nick Loper:

Eze Vidra
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Eze Vidra

Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote
Eze is the Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote, a startup helping patients search and match to clinical trial, to accelerate medical breakthroughs. Previously, Ezewas a General Partner at Google Ventures Europe. Before GV, Eze founded and led Campus London, Google's first physical hub for startups, and was the Head Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He's an experienced product manager and startup mentor. In 2012 Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for profit supporting children education in developing countries.
Eze Vidra
Follow me

Eze Vidra

Eze is the Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote, a startup helping patients search and match to clinical trial, to accelerate medical breakthroughs. Previously, Eze was a General Partner at Google Ventures Europe. Before GV, Eze founded and led Campus London, Google's first physical hub for startups, and was the Head Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He's an experienced product manager and startup mentor. In 2012 Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for profit supporting children education in developing countries.

4 Comments

  1. I’m hooked on Undisclosed, Beautifyl/Anonymous, Dear Sugar and The Stuff Yiu Should Know podcasts. Slate has good ones too.

  2. I love Gimlet podcasts too, they are mostly excellent. One of the single best podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to is the belt buckle episode of the now discontinued Mystery Show. If it had been written as fiction you wouldn’t have believed it. I can also recommend some of the Gimlet Creative podcasts, those produced on behalf of corporate clients. In particular I like Open For Business, produced for ebay, and DTR, produced for Tindr. I have two core groups of podcasts I listen to, lighthearted and current, and strong narrative-based.

    Also try; The Tip Off, a British podcast about investigative journalism; Casefile True Crime, a crime podcast that is researched in incredible detail; and The Modern Mann, a magazine style podcast.

    The very first podcast I listened to, and still listen to today, is Answer Me This. It’s been running for over 10 years. Big recommend if you like something a bit silly.

  3. I’m a big podcaster as well. Some other favorites – Digiday, WSJ Media Mix, Revisionist History, Israel Story, This Week in Startups, a16z, Freaknomics, and of course This American Life.

    The two major problems in podcasting still to be figured out –
    1. Monetization – there’s still no mature industry-standard marketplace for audio ads
    2. Discovery – there’s still no way to serendipitously discover content like you would do on Netflix, or proactively search for content like you would do on Google

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