Historically, podcasts have been focused on appealing to as many listeners as possible. But Artifact, a new YC-backed company launching today, has a different idea.
It all started when co-founder and CEO Ross Chanin lost his grandfather. He found himself wishing he’d spent more time asking him about his life. At the same time, he was mulling the audio revolution underway in the tech world after having co-founded Reputation.com and serving as COO at Euclid (acquired by WeWork).
Over a beer with his friend George Quraishi, a journalist, they decided to try out the idea of a more personal podcast for a specific, smaller audience, starting with Chanin’s Aunt Cindy. They did audio interviews with three of Aunt Cindy’s closest friends, who shared intimate details about their friendships with Cindy, from how they met to their favorite memories to what they love most about her.
“When Chanin’s cousin got out his phone and played the mp3 for Cindy on her birthday, she started crying,” wrote Quraishi. “And laughing. Later, she said, ‘You know, you just go through life, you don’t really think about somebody recalling what’s important to them about you, or what you mean to them.’ ”
This was the glimmer in the eye of Chanin and Quraishi to build out Artifact. They teamed up with Moncef Biaz (CTO) to handle the technical back-end infrastructure.
Using professionally contracted interviewers, Artifact conducts short interviews with a person’s closest friends or family and turns them into a personal podcast. Some of these interviewers are journalists like Quraishi, and others are simply great listeners, such as a bartender, a few actors and even a comedian.
Interviewees either call a phone number for their interview, or the more tech-savvy among them can dial in via their computer for a higher-fidelity audio quality.
After the interview, Artifact handles the editing and polish to offer a higher-quality final product that is delivered to the recipient via the web.
“On the one hand you have your purely user-generated content, and then you have this high-production content,” said Chanin. “Our general sense is that there is a pretty large missing middle. We’re getting to 80 or 90% of what a studio-produced podcast would sound like. And no one cares about that extra 10 or 20%.”
One of the things that is most special about Artifact also happens to be a big challenge for the product: It can be used in almost any way. This can make it difficult to define and leave the ball in the court of the user to dream up what they want their Artifact to be.
The Portrait, which focuses on stories from friends and family about a single person, is an obvious use case. But Artifact is also used by couples for their wedding, with annual podcasts for each year of their marriage. Folks can use the service to reflect on huge milestones in their lives, or to catalog the growth of their child from the kid’s point of view. Businesses are even starting to use Artifact in this COVID-19 world to get to know their colleagues better during remote work.
“Our customers are not the product,” said Chanin. “They are buying a product. We think that Artifact loses a lot if the default assumption is that millions of people are going to hear this. Certainly, Artifacts can be used in that way, but the primary sharing is to close friends and family.”
Chanin added that the average Artifact episode is listened to by about 30 people.
Artifact generates revenue by charging users per episode, with each episode allowing up to two interviewees. One episode costs $ 175, two episodes costs $ 325 and four episodes costs $ 625.
The team is comprised of four full-time workers, with 12 interviewers contracted on the project. The full-time team is 100% male and 50% of employees are people of color. Fifty-five percent of contractors are people of color and 35% are women.
The company has raised a total of $ 500,000, which includes $ 150,000 from Y Combinator, as well as funding from David Lieb (founder of Bump and director, Google Photos), Sander Daniels (co-founder of Thumbtack), Eric Kinariwala (founder and CEO of Capsule) and Sean Bratches (former managing director, Formula 1; former EVP, ESPN).
Podcasting continues to see a strong trajectory in the world of streamed audio content, and today comes the latest development on that front. SiriusXM, owner of Pandora and backer of Soundcloud, said that it is acquiring Simplecast, a podcast management platform used by creators to publish and distribute podcasts, and subsequently analyse how they are consumed. SiriusXM plans to integrate Simplecast with AdsWizz, a digital audio advertising company that it acquired in 2018 for $ 66.3 million in cash plus shares to power ads on Pandora .
The company is not disclosing any of the financial terms for the Simplecast acquisition but we have asked and will update if we learn more. As a startup, New York-based Simplecast, which will continue to be led by its founder and CEO Brad Smith, had raised a modest $ 7.87 million in funding from investors since launching in 2013, per PitchBook data.
The deal is interesting because it is bringing one of the more popular independent platforms and set of tools used by streamers under the wing of a platform. Simpleccast’s many podcasts and users today include Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, Netflix, Maximum Fun, Cloud10, QCODE, Anna Faris is Unqualified, Blue Wire, Revision Path, and (disclaimer) TechCrunch, who use it to distribute content over multiple, and sometimes competing, networks, including Apple, Spotify, Google and Overcast. (Business plans currently range in price and start at $ 15/month and go up to $ 85/month or more depending on podcast size, number of users, and features that you need.)
Pandora (with help from SiriusXM, which has a large and popular stable of talk radio shows on its channels) has been building up its own spoken-word content, of course, so there is a direct opportunity to push more on-demand podcasts to that platform in particular, as well as offer more interesting terms for doing so, as well as bring in a much wider spectrum of podcasts to run AdsWizz’s inventory, which currently is seen by more than 100 million people each month across the US and Canada (SiriusXM’s and Pandora’s footprint in vehicles, online and more).
We have asked SiriusXM if the plan will be to keep all of Simplecast’s services as-is after the deal closes.
What’s clearer is that, with SiriusXM also making a key investment in Soundcloud last year, the company is — like Spotify (which acquired a Simplecast competitor, Anchor, last year) — building up its music-business tools to complement its position as a content provider: this is a key role to play in the brave new world of digital music, where monetisation remains a challenge for most, and the tools to distribute, analyse and (yes) monetise one’s creative content continue to get more sophisticated, so much so that getting that part of the equation right can make or break an artist or wider creative or media endeavour.
“Our goal is to provide audio publishers with state-of-the-art platforms and give them everything they need to be successful,” said Alexis van de Wyer, CEO of AdsWizz, in a statement. “Empowering podcasters of any size to create, distribute, analyze, and monetize their work is the next natural step in pursuing our vision.”
“From the beginning, Simplecast’s mantra and mission was to remain laser-focused on podcast creators – building the best tools for publishing and insights,” said Brad Smith, the Founder & CEO of Simplecast, in a statement of his own. “The opportunity and alignment with AdsWizz allows our product — and our customers — access to a powerful monetization platform. Two best-in-class platforms are now able to align with the shared mission of helping publishers succeed, while each team continues to focus on their respective areas of expertise.”
- Starting Greatness
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- How I built this with Guy Raz
- The Twenty Minute VC
- Masters of Scale
- The Knowledge Project
- The EntreLeadership Podcast
- This Week in Startups
- Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
- Outside Voices with Mark Bidwell
- A16z Podcast
- The Top
- The Startup Playbook by Sam Altman
Some of these haven't been producing their normal content lately because of the pandemic so you might have to scroll a bit to find episodes that you're interested in. Some of my favorite episodes, not in any order, from these shows have been:
- Kevin Systrom on Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
- The Startup Playbook by Sam Altman – all episodes
- Sara Blakely #23 on Masters of Scale
- Bob Iger on The Tim Ferriss Show
- Matt Mochary on The Twenty Minute VC
- Gary Keller #401 on The Tim Ferris Show
- Eric Schmidt #451 on The James Altucher Show
- Both Safi Bahcall episodes #364 and #382 on The Tim Ferris Show
- Joe Gebbia #301 on The Tim Ferris Show