Podcast Binge Listen: ‘StartUp’

The first series of ‘StartUp’ podcast is a meta celebration of all things podcast. Having worked as a producer on This American Life and co-founded Planet Money, Alex Blumberg decided to launch his own enterprise, a podcasting network focussing on producing podcasts, with the same focus on quality investigative content as This American Life and Planet Money, but with profit and big media ambition. And since he’s a podcast producer, he decided to make a podcast about setting up his business, the business of podcasting. Throw in the fact that the first episode featured on This American Life and the first episode of a new podcast, Mystery, appeared on StartUp, and you have all the meta podcasting links a girl could wish for. But to reduce it to some sort of in-crowd, friends recording friends situation, would be a reduction indeed. StartUp is not about podcasting. It’s about business, setting up a business, gaining investment, and all the messy insecure parts that are often hidden. It has, played admirably often, Blumberg’s first bumbling pitch to a significant investor. It has a brilliant peak of awkward and Blumberg and co-founder Matt Lieber try to negotiate equity split – what are they worth to each other? It has difficult conversations with Blumberg’s wife, from the light laughter in response to his business names, to the serious discussion of how she has lost a co-parent to their two small children in the wake of his business, as well as a near mutiny from his over-worked staff. A real strength of the podcast is Blumberg’s honesty. It shows his trust in the genre and the audience, that he not only plays his business blooper reel, when he’s made mistakes in pitching, in logistics or negotiation. He goes further, and fully unpicks himself on air. He wonders if his dreams and ideas are too small and modest for his business to succeed. He wonders if he is lacking the single-minded profit focus, the ability, the understanding, to really achieve results. He wonders if the results, should he succeeds against the odds, will produce a life he enjoys, and doubts what he’s signed up for. As someone who works for myself, running a single person business, I love the way he’s unpicked this. It can be difficult to explain that even a business on my tiny scale is not a single decision of deciding to do it, but constant self-negotation of whether you’re able to do it – whatever ‘it’ your business might be at the time. The changes and fluctuations of how a business might run can have you suddenly wondering if you’re still doing what you signed up to, and whether you should have signed up at all. Being asked how business is going, feels the same as being asked, ‘how competent are you as a person?’ To hear someone struggling with these issues, especially when business orthodoxy is generally to always overstate your current successes, is entirely liberating, interesting and absorbing. The second series of StartUp follows a new business, Dating Ring, a dating company that combines technology with old-fashioned matchmaking. In following an alternative business, common difficulties of a start up business are – there’s another awkward equity discussion – and those that might be specific to your circumstances. In this case, there’s the strange science that is setting people up on dates, as well as negotiating the male-dominated start up world as a company run by two women. Anyone setting up a business is thoroughly indebted to the honestly of these companies. I’m not in the heady world of investment and start up businesses, but I can imagine the liberation of finding that someone has clearly recorded the stress, doubt and emotional turmoil that it involves. Even the practical statement of how different waves of funding occur, how investment is turned down in a moment, cannot help but give some solace and solidarity to those businesses in a similar situation. I thoroughly recommend following this podcast. You will benefit from listening to each episode in order, as the businesses move forwards, onwards, sometimes a little backwards, and often in a different direction all together. The tone is always engaging, interested and easy to follow. No jargon or tech talk dictionary required, as we are following each other, one step behind, watching as it all unfolds. If you’d like to begin to judge on whether Blumberg’s business is successful, then start listening to Mystery and Reply All, and judge the podcasts for yourself.


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