I listened to a lot of podcasts in the last year, safely 10x more than I did in all my previous years combined. I found some shows I liked, for sure, but more importantly, I found some people I liked. When I say people, I am not so much talking about podcast hosts. I am talking about the guests.
I frequently listened to several and sometimes more than a dozen podcasts with people who I have now been fortunate to have as guests on my own show. This list includes Balaji Srinivasan, Vitalik Buterin, Keith Rabois, and Aubrey de Grey, just to name a few. I also listened to several podcasts with people who I have not yet had the privilege of hosting on the show. This list includes Peter Thiel, Naval Ravikant, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey, again, just to name a few.
Every person I have listed above is someone I am interested in hearing talk about almost any and every subject they are interested in talking about. While some interviewers and conversationalists may be better than others (there are certainly some who I prefer), I do not very much care who the people I want to listen to are talking to. I just want to listen to and learn from some of the smartest people in the world with whom I share many interests in common.
As such, whenever anyone asks me what my favorite podcasts are, I list a few of the ones I end up listening to most often, but only after disclosing that that is not actually how I go about listening to podcasts. I typically look for an episode to listen to by searching a guest’s name rather than listening to a few shows 90% of the time in what would look like more of a power law distribution. In fact, most of the hosts that I listen to most often are ones I came to like after time and time again finding that I was listening to their show because the guest that I searched for brought me there and I came to be familiar with and fond of the interviewer and his or her style. It is in this way that I come to trust certain hosts and decide to listen to their guests who I am less familiar with once in a while, but this comprises only a small fraction of my overall podcast listening, and there are plenty more ways to discover people you might be interested in listening to podcasts with. I never want to put the entire curation of my podcast listening in the hands of one or a few hosts exclusively. Instead, I want to be able to follow my own interests and go deep into the minds of the people whose perspectives I find most fascinating, and I can only do that by listening to a large variety of different shows.
So, today’s request for startup is fairly simple. I want to be able to use a podcast platform that is structured differently than Apple and Spotify and all the rest. This podcast platform would be somewhat like Twitter in that I would follow certain people and have a feed of podcasts that updates every time one of the people I follow goes on a podcast as a guest. It is a podcast platform organized by guests rather than shows/hosts.
I have a number of ideas around how to make this work but here are a few. The app would have a Twitter import feature so that listeners can instantaneously follow all of the people they follow on Twitter on this new podcasting platform. It would have an internal rating system and an option to sort by rating rather than recency so that listeners can listen to the best of the best of a certain guest and be assured that the ratings are coming from people who listened to the episode for that guest and presumably are rating it less based on whether or not they like the person and more based on how that episode compares to all of the other podcasts they have listened to with that person. The app would have a manual flagging system so that an episode automatically categorized under Elon Musk because it has his name in the title will be quickly removed if it does not in fact feature Elon Musk in the episode but rather a couple of people talking about Elon Musk, his recent rocket launch, or whatever the case may be.
Some people view podcasts as an inferior means of learning versus reading, and while this may or may not be true, what matters to me is not so much which is “better” or “worse”, but what unique benefits each has to offer. I would find it hard to argue that either is entirely “better” or “worse”. It is more useful to think about the advantages of each. Non-fiction reading is great for going deep into a subject, consuming it in an organized manner as the author chose to present it, and highlighting and taking notes, etc., but the benefit of podcasts is that you do not need your favorite people to write a book to be able to learn from them and they can easily do a dozen podcasts a year whereas they may only write a book every dozen years. Most of the people I mentioned in the beginning of this piece have not written books at all. Twitter enabled everyone in the world to follow their favorite people and see what they write about in 280 characters but podcasts have enabled everyone in the world to follow their favorite people and see what they talk about in an hour. The latter is much more interesting than the former to me — we just don’t have an app that makes it easy yet.
More broadly, I think people are suffering from choice overload and corresponding choice paralysis in a number of areas of media consumption. More than just podcast episodes, there are seemingly infinite songs, TV shows, and movies and I am sure I am not the only one who spends a sad percentage of my time on Netflix or Prime Video picking what to watch versus actually watching it. Perhaps those platforms would be wise to let viewers follow certain actors or directors and see what options are available from that view rather than by somewhat arbitrary category or whatever the Top 10 movies are on Netflix right now.
I know it seems that the podcast universe is becoming crowded, and it is, and that there is a lot of crap, and there is, but I am very confident that the world of podcasting remains in its early infancy as an industry. I think it is an awesome medium of media and I am excited to watch it develop. More than that, I am excited to play a part in its development, and hopefully help drive some of it. For example, I think a ton can be done on the visual side without compromising the quality of the audio which some people may prefer to consume on its own. I have another idea I am even more excited about which relates to podcast monetization and using crypto to enable a better distribution of value to the people who contribute. First and most simply, however, all I want is a simple platform for listening to podcasts where I can follow the people I want to listen to and have a much better feed of episodes that are interesting to me than I am currently able to create by following a bunch of shows.
I am no coder, but this strikes me as a project for which a minimum viable product could be built inside of a week. If you are interested in building it or know someone who might be, please do reach out and let me know. I might be able to help in more ways than you know. As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter @blogofjake. Have a great week.