Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg Says Podcasts Qualify as True Startups

Alex Blumberg recently came back from lunch to the office of Gimlet Media and realized that it was full of people the company has hired. “Oh my god, it’s really shocking,” he tells Adam Sachs on episode 77 of The Wolf Den. “And the shock hits me again, again, and again.”

Shocking, because less than a year ago Gimlet Media was just an idea that the former public radio producer with This American Life and Planet Money had for a new podcasting startup. He shared his developing plans on a May 2014 episode of The Wolf Den, telling then-host Jeff Ullrich about his idea for a company dedicated to creating creative narrative journalism in podcast form.

Today, Blumberg is CEO of the company he co-founded with president Matt Lieber, and Gimlet has launched two very successful shows. The first one, StartUp, documented the launch of the company, laying bare the trials and tribulations of pursuing venture capital and the journey of entrepreneurship.

Adam asks Alex if the company is what he was picturing when he started his journey.

“In some ways it matches it almost eerily perfectly,” Alex reflects. “In other ways it’s very different. What’s different about it is that I didn’t envision the space, I didn’t envision what it was going to be like to have a company and to be worried about the welfare of all the employees. I hadn’t thought all that through, and the responsibility that you have, and all the feelings that go along with that.”

Compared to the typical venture-funded start up, “we’re really weird,” he says. The staff consists of one business person–Matt Lieber–and thirteen or fourteen editorial people; there’s no tech person or even a social media specialist. “That’s our entire team, it’s just content creators.”

Season two of StartUp (debuting on April 23) follows an online dating company, founded by women, that is launching with the support of the famous seed-funding accelerator Y Combinator. Having an ear in on this world causes Alex to reflect on Y Combinator founder Paul Graham’s adage that “startup equals growth.”

He tells Adam that, “most of the time the way you get this extreme growth is you have a technology component. But by that standard (of growth) Serial was certainly a startup. Many of the shows you’ve launched (on Earwolf and Wolfpop) were startups. Many of the shows we launched were startups.”

Alex explains, “Our numbers are growing rapidly. A way to scale is to scale audience, and that seems like a path that is open to us. And the path of least resistance, at least for us as I am constituted and our company is constituted, that seems like the path we should follow.”

Listen to the episode to learn why Alex decided to get so honest and personal in season one of StartUp, and how that can be kind of a pain. He also gives a preview of what’s in store for season two, and shares his keen perspective on where the business of podcasting is going.

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