Stitcher Founder Noah Shanok Foresaw the Power of Mobile Internet

Noah Shanok was an early fan of podcasts, but realized that it was difficult to access them. “You had to download and sync,” he says, “and the content (was) only as updated as the last time you did that.”

As an early adopter of music services like Pandora, “I saw that with a two-way internet connection you could just have a much better and more personalized experience.” That revelation lead to him founding Stitcher, one of the most popular app platforms for listening to podcasts and on-demand talk audio.

On episode 70 of The Wolf Den Noah tells host Adam Sachs the history of Stitcher, which began as a plug-in to iTunes and turned into a web platform before finding success as a true mobile app.

He says that, "once we started making pre-packaged playlists (of podcasts and shows), where people could literally come to Stitcher and press play… then people actually started listening to it.

“Then, when the iPhone launched, we were very early to the App Store… and that’s when we started to see the early success.”

The company foresaw the power and potential of mobile internet when a Blackberry was the closest thing to a smartphone, and made a huge bet on it. That kind of foresight led Stitcher also to see automotive connectivity on the horizon.

Noah explains that, “over 50% of radio listening is in the car, and talk radio, in particular, is popular in the car.” So Stitcher always saw bringing their service into the car as “an end game.”

He recalls that early on they heard that Ford was working on a connected car using a Microsoft product called Sync. “I went kind of bananas and stalked everybody I could at Ford, and called in every favor I possibly could,” Noah says.

“Somehow, we were able to convince them–we were a tiny company then–to allow us to be part of that initial integration. And that was a big founder’s moment, because it was announced by the Ford CEO and their team at the Consumer Electronics Show.”

Prior to the Ford announcement Stitcher had been reaching out to other auto manufacturers, too, but with little response. After the announcement, “the dam broke,” Noah remembers. “It was, how many integrations can we actually do with our limited resources?” Now Stitcher is integrated in smart dashboards from Ford, GM, BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Subaru, Jaguar, and Land Rover.

“It’s not yet as easy to use in the car as terrestrial radio,” he admits. Even so, automotive use is growing by double or triple digits every month. Though the absolute number of in-car users is still small, Noah says that it’s moving in the right direction.

One of the continuing challenges is bringing together two different product life cycles, since cars iterate more slowly than apps, and consumers upgrade their vehicles much less frequently. While he was correct about the future of automotive listening, he says, “I was a little bit naïve on the speed it would happen.”

In the next two to three years he does predict there will be a lot more dashboard integrations, and they will be better.

"People will be listening more (to Stitcher) in the car, in general. Even just connecting with Bluetooth is a pretty good experience. But I don’t believe it will overtake listening of terrestrial radio in the next two years.

“Ten years from now I don’t know that there will be terrestrial radio.”

Listen to the whole episode to learn how Noah connected with his technical co-founder on Craigslist, his thoughts about taking venture capital versus bootstrapping, and what drove Stitcher’s recent acquisition by Deezer.

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