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Product Hunt Podcast

Product Hunt Maker Stories Episode 43 w/ Peter Diamandis (October 22, 2015)

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud.

In this episode, Erik Torenberg from Product Hunt interviews Peter Diamandis, author of the recent book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. Peter is also a co-founder of the X Prize Foundation and Singularity University, and is involved with many other companies across multiple industries.

Peter explains what his new book is all about:

"If you want to become a billionaire, help a billion people. The world's biggest problems are the world's biggest opportunities."

Bold is a follow up to Peter's previous book, Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, which sought to show that the world is getting better at an extraordinary rate. Peter cites some of humanity's accomplishments during the past 100 years, including tripling the per capita income for every nation on the planet, doubling the human lifespan, and reducing the cost of food (13 fold), energy (20-50 fold), and communications (1000 fold). Bold is meant to show entrepreneurs how they can solve the world's biggest problems in this rapidly improving world. The modern era is unique in history because entrepreneurs have access to capital and to the world's most powerful technologies: "Literally, as an entrepreneur today, you have access to more capabilities than the United States government and top corporations had 20-25 years ago."

Peter thinks many people shortchange themselves by thinking they can't do something big and bold in the world. He says, passion for an idea is the only prerequisite: "That is probably the scarcest resource—the passionate and committed human mind." We live in a hyperconnected word where "if you've got a vision" you can find great coders, designers, mathematicians, or physicists who are brilliant at what they do but cannot raise a dollar, come up with a product, or market themselves. You can pull a team together.

How did Peter become who he is today?

"If you're not super passionate about what you're doing, you're gonna give up before you succeed."

Peter's parents were both immigrants from Greece. They were doctors and Peter grew up expecting to become a doctor as well. He never practiced medicine but did complete medical school. Space was his true passion. He grew up during the Apollo Program and the era of Star Trek: "I drank the Kool-Aid, or should I say Tang?" Peter's entire career has been driven by his passion to be part of humanity's expansion beyond the Earth. His question for other entrepreneurs is always: "What would you be doing regardless of your parents, your teachers, your employer?" "Find what you would die for and then go live for it."

Erik jokes that when he was 17 he would have answered "basketball". Peter says "you can make a career out of anything, including basketball—just not, probably, playing basketball." Peter talks about his friend Richard Garriott, who's father was an astronaut aboard Skylab and in the shuttle program. Richard, meanwhile, barely graduated high school and was only interested in playing video games, which worried his father. Richard never went to college, but instead started designing and building video games. He eventually sold one of his gaming companies for north of $100 million dollars. After the sale, Richard bought himself a private ticket to the space station, becoming America's first second-generation astronaut.

Peter describes the failings of our modern education system:

Peter has twin four-year-old boys. He wants to help them find a passion and develop curiosity by exposing them to as many things as possible, without having pre-expectations. "In a world where we've got artificial intelligence, and Google, and 3D printing, and robotics—memorizing facts and being an expert in solving equations isn't going to be the differentiator." The skills that matter are being able to ask smart questions, be curious, and work with technology. Peter thinks there's too much structured, rote learning in schools: "100 years ago, you would go to school, you'd get a degree by the time you were 22, and that would serve you for the next 25 years because nothing would change that much until you died [around age 50]." He contrasts that to today, "where by the time you graduate college, what you started learning in the beginning is out of date, and our life expectancies are going to double and triple again."

Peter says the cost structure of paying over $50,000 per year to attend university is "abhorrent." The educational component of attending college will be done better 10-20 years from now by virtual reality or AI. He compares the way he learned medicine, with cadavers and textbooks, to what will be possible in the future when students can put on a headset and explore human cells from within.

Peter provides an overview of the startups he's actively involved with right now:

  • Singularity University: A 10 week program in the Bay Area for graduate students to study all of the world's exponentially growing technologies. They have 5-8 thousand applicants per year and select 80. Students pick a major problem that's faced by at least one billion people and then create a new product or service to impact that problem.
  • X Prize FoundationX Prizes are global competitions where the first team to solve a specific problem wins an amount of money, usually around 10-30 million dollars. The first X Prize was for a three person spaceship to reach an altitude of 100 kilometers twice within two weeks. It was won by Paul Allen and Burt Rutan.
  • Human Longevity (HLI): A company focused on adding 30-40 healthy years onto everyone's lifespan using machine learning and big data. Peter started HLI with Craig Venter and Robert Hariri. They've built the world's largest genome sequencing facility in the world and have sequenced more human genomes than the rest of the world combined. They're also sequencing the genomes of the bacteria that comprise the human micro-biome.
  • Planetary Resources: A company building cheap, capable, deep-space drones that can go out and mine near-Earth asteroids for fuels and for precious metals like platinum. These asteroids contain "trillion dollar assets." Chris Lewicki, who was involved with the Mars Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix missions for NASA, was their first hire.
  • PHD VenturesPHD manages Peter's speaking engagements, books, and events. Peter runs Abundance 360, an annual coaching retreat for about 250 CEOs.

Peter discusses the lessons we should learn from today's tech luminaries:

  • Elon Musk: Elon founded SpaceX and Tesla not to compete with the Defense Department and Detroit, but because "their products sucked" and he wanted something better. Elon takes a "first principles" approach to solving problems. He looks at the boundary conditions of physics and tries to figure out what is possible. He'll look at batteries and ask what's the supply of lithium on the planet? What is the cost of taking it out of the ground?
  • Richard Branson: Richard is extremely good at "reducing risk." When he sold Virgin Music and spent the money to start Virgin Atlantic, people criticized his risk taking. What he did, though, was buy a 747 from Boeing and negotiate the rights to sell them back their airplane a year later if his new company wasn't working. Thirty years later, when Richard bought the rights to Paul Allen and Burt Rutan's X Prize-winning spaceship technology to create Virigin Galactic, he immediately turned around and sold one third of his stake in the company to Aabar Investments, thus recouping his entire upfront capital exposure.
  • Larry Page: "He's a massive optimist... He believes the world is getting better and there is no problem that can't be solved." Larry always asks the question: "How can you go bigger?" At Google X, the mindset is "where can we go 10x bigger, when everyone else is going 10% bigger?"
  • Jeff Bezos: Jeff always talks about the "importance of experimentation." Amazon's success is dependent on the number of experiments they can do per year, per month, per week, and per day. Experimentation leads to lots of failures, so you need to be tolerant of that.

Is going "bold" ever the wrong direction?

Peter says "we live in a very dystopian mindset" where "the job of today's news media is to deliver their drug—which is negative news—to everybody's eyeballs in high definition in their living room." People don't realize how much better the world is getting. One place he's less optimistic is in the realm of politics and government: "They've been designed to be self-perpetuating." In politics, "fundamental change requires revolution, so it's really hard to do." He thinks many services we used to rely on the government for will soon be done by private companies for much cheaper.

Does Peter's vision of the future scare him at all?

"Nope." Peter is more excited and optimistic about the future than he's ever been. We're on a trajectory over the next 20 years to "get rid of extreme poverty on the planet completely," he says. Also, he doesn't worry about overpopulation because when countries get healthier and wealthier, their growth rates go negative.

Peter predicts we are heading toward a world of brain-computer interfaces, in which humanity will be able to share thoughts with each other. He believes this world will enable "intimacy" beyond what we have today. He thinks people could end up much happier in the future. He's working on an X Prize that will challenge teams to build wearable sensors that can reliably measure how happy a person is at any given moment. If we can better understand the things we enjoy doing, we can do more of them. A company CEO could test a policy change in the workplace and receive instant feedback about how it is affecting happiness among employees.

"There are so many extraordinary, fun, billion-person, off the charts, Star Trek universe opportunities out there—I think we should never be bored."

Some quick thoughts:

What Peter would be doing if he was 25 years-old: "It's not just becoming an expert in AI or 3D printing or synthetic biology—it's the convergence of these technologies where the interesting stuff lays." Machine learning and blockchain technologies are huge areas of interest.

On finding the right people to hire and partner with: "The best predictor of someone's future is what they've done to-date." What kind of risks have they taken? How hard have they worked? Peter says surround yourself with people with a positive mindset. "You can stop hanging out with the person who's bumming you out all the time and you can identify who in your circle of friends are the ones pushing you and opening your mind."

On balancing his time: Peter often helps start companies and finds great people to run them. He tries to figure out where he'll be the most useful. He's typically not the person studying budgets. He loves brainstorming, solving big problems, and bringing people together. Peter believes in focusing on strengths instead of shoring up weaknesses: "You can always find a partner that's great and passionate about the areas you're not."

On raising capital: The key thing is "really, truly believing in what you're doing." Someone deciding to invest in you "is a transfer of confidence." You have to be a great storyteller in the positive sense of being able to capture a person's imagination. In Bold, Peter discusses how to succeed using crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The SEC is also opening up avenues to equity crowdfunding, which Peter finds exciting.

OTHER PODCAST RECAPS YOU MAY ENJOY:

Product Hunt Maker Stories Episode 42 w/ Tucker Max (October 20, 2015)

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud.

This episode was a recording of a conversation that Erik Torenberg from Product Hunt held with author/investor/entrepreneur Tucker Max, back in March 2015. Tucker Max is the author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Assholes Finish First, and recently Mate: Become the Man Women Want. He was also an angel investor for nearly five years before recently giving up investing to focus on his own startup: Book in a Box.

Before diving in, Erik alludes to the fact that Tucker Max is "widely hated" in some corners of the internet. Erik thinks that's unfair: "It's weird that you can judge people who you've never met, based on something someone else said, who you've also never met." He proposes an analogy that in the same way we ought to "buy locally" we should also "judge locally". "Judge what you know so you can judge with authority... Meet the person to confirm whether or not they suck."

How Tucker Max got into technology investing:

Tucker has lived in Austin, Texas for the last five or six years. He's been investing in tech companies since around 2010. He's invested in about 50 companies to-date. He says, "the obvious, easy way to get into investing is to have money." Also, people knew him for his writing, so it was easy to get attention. He points out that rappers like Chamillionaire and Nas have taken a similar approach. People from other fields are moving into tech. Once you have an audience, people in tech want to talk to you. The tech world is good at a lot of things, but struggles at marketing, branding, selling, and telling stories, which are the exact skills that Tucker possesses.

Erik asks, what is Tucker's "ultimate dream or vision" behind his decision to become an angel investor:

Want me to make up some story about ‘oh I’ve got this long term vision’? I don’t fucking know. It’s fun to me. It’s interesting.
— Tucker Max

Tucker says he's lucky to have sold enough books to not have to work if he doesn't want to. He's always just followed what he finds interesting and he felt that people in tech were doing awesome things: "You have this community of people who are builders, and optimists, and positive, and are willing and able to make changes to the world that help people." For him, it's fun to simply be a part of that.

Tucker's first exposure to technology:

No one was willing to publish his writing in 2002 so he learned HTML and put up a website (before MySpace or Friendster existed). He built his own online platform and audience before anyone was talking about either of those things. After a few years, he realized he was better at using the internet for self-promotion than any author in the field.

Tucker's investment thesis:

I have a very complicated thesis: If I think the company does something really awesome, then I put money into it.
— Tucker Max

Tucker tries to stay in his "lane," and only invest in areas where he has expertise. He talks about passing on investing in Bohemian Guitars because he doesn't "know shit about guitars." He contrasts that with an investment he made in Partender, a company which makes inventory management software for bars. He grew up in the restaurant business and was a bartender for many years. He says, "I called them and said I want to put money in right now. I want to be an advisor. Here's everything I can bring. I knew immediately it was going to be a hit."

Tucker's thoughts on the book industry:

"Nobody reads." Tucker says half the people who bought his books didn't read them. People buy books for social signaling or other reasons. Companies can track how people read e-books and most people don't finish the books they start. According to Tucker, 80% of people quit reading The Goldfinch by page 200. He says his own books have a relatively higher finish rate because "they are meant to be funny and entertaining." His books are entirely designed to keep your attention. Most academic or intellectual books are written for the author to signal something to the world, not to actually captivate readers.

Erik points out that Goodreads sold to Amazon in 2013 for a reported $200 million and asks if Tucker see's other opportunities for tech companies in the book industry:

Tucker brings up this post by Ben Thompson as a way to think about the current state of content industries. There are three places for technology to focus: creation, distribution, and discovery. He says no one is doing book discovery right. Everyone has bad incentives. Authors and distributors are trying to sell books, not help people discover the best ones. Book recommendations needs to come from a trusted source and discovery needs to be about matching people to their tastes, not telling them what is "good" or "bad". "I think 50 Shades of Grey is terrible, but 100 million women disagree with me."

For this reason, Tucker thinks Product Hunt's book discovery channel could work, but he wouldn't structure it exactly like Product Hunt's main channel. Book discovery has to be curated to fit the user. Product Hunt was built with Ryan Hoover literally curating a list of products that fit an aesthetic, which a lot of people shared. What is that aesthetic going to be for the books channel? He worries "people will say, oh I'm supposed to like this book, and they'll upvote it, and it will be a boring crappy book."

Tucker explains his new startup:

Tucker had just launched his new company, Book in a Box, on Product Hunt and says he probably made $70,000 off of Product Hunt alone. "I owe you guys drinks or dinner," he jokes. Book in a Box provides "writing and publishing as a service." If you have an idea for a book but you're either too busy or just not a good writer, they will do everything for you. They charge $15K and spend a few hours on the phone with you, gathering ideas for your book and organizing them into an outline. Next, they conduct and record a lengthy interview with you. An editor converts the transcript of that interview into book prose. Book in a Box handles the entire publishing process and presents you with a finished book.

The company started because Tucker met Melissa Gonzalez at a dinner, an entrepreneur in the retail industry. She had an idea for a book but she was dyslexic and didn't have time to sit down and write it. Tucker says he laughed at her when she asked him how she could publish a book without writing it. It sounded like: "I want to be in the NBA, how can I do that without being good at basketball?" After he lectured her "like an asshole," she rolled her eyes and said, "In my job, I solve problems. Are you going to solve my problem, or lecture me about hard work?"

Tucker obsessed about that conversation and realized she was right. "A book is about getting an idea out of one person's head and into a medium where it can go to millions of others." Writing is a skill that is distinct from thinking. Why couldn't he help Melissa transmit her ideas from thoughts to speech to page? He decided to test this thesis with Melissa and help her write a book. Tucker says the book ended up getting a lot of media attention which helped her retail consultancy acquire business. "She's gotten a 1000x return on her book."

Could a Y Combinator model work for the publishing industry?

Tucker says "A YC model is really fucking stupid for content." He's referring to the way YC takes an investment in companies and agrees to help them grow for a stake in their success. Book in a Box instead takes an upfront fee and does not get a share of any of their book's profits. He says it's too hard to pick winners in books, especially in non-fiction because authors aren't solely motivated to sell lots of books. Books can help authors generate leads, establish authority, raise speaking fees, etc. Melissa only sold 500 copies of her book, but made millions of dollars off the direct impact on her consultancy. For Book in a Box, there's no way to really share in this less tangible upside. Tucker says, "Every entertainment business in the business of picking winners is going to be beaten out by the company that's in the business of managing the process for creators."

Could Tucker's past persona negatively impact his success as an entrepreneur?

I’m not going to chase people down and convince them I’m a good person.
— Tucker Max

Tucker says his own books are about the "stupid things I did in my 20s." His attitude is that if people don't like him, they don't have to work with him. "There's a lot of reasons not to like me, and that's fine." He accepts both the good and bad consequences of the choices he's made in the past. Tucker is now married with a kid and a big night out for him "is going to a wine tasting."

Some final thoughts:

On deal flow: "It's really easy to get deal flow if you're famous in a separate area." Tucker went to tech conferences and built relationships. "I'm really good at building relationships with good people... even though I'm an asshole."

On being a writer: "I don't think being a writer is a status symbol anymore. Saying shit people care about and doing things that matter is a status symbol." Tucker says the people best positioned to do well publishing books are people who have learned something in other fields, not literary novelists. He says Erik and Ryan could write a book teaching people how to build internet communities, for example.

On tech advice: Tucker doesn't blog or give out too much advice because whenever he comes up with something he "sees that Paul Graham wrote the same thing better, six years ago." His biggest advice is "learn how to pitch... Entrepreneurs tell terrible stories even when they have great stories to tell."

On Shark Tank"I would love to be on Shark Tank, except I would never take any of those terrible fucking deals."

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Product Hunt Maker Stories Episode 41 w/ Keith Rabois (Oct. 9, 2015)

Erik Torenberg sat down with investor Keith Rabois in front of a live audience at the LAUNCH conference earlier this year as part of Product Hunt's ongoing "Maker Stories" series of podcasts.

Keith was an early executive at LinkedIn, PayPal, and Square and has invested in YouTube, AirBnB, Quora, Palantir, and Yelp. He is considered a member of the infamous PayPal Mafia.

Keith started out as a lawyer and litigator before jumping out of the legal world at age 30 "sort of without a parachute" in early 2000 (the height of the Internet bubble). He joined PayPal right after Elon Musk had been fired as CEO and replaced by Peter Thiel.

What PayPal was like when he joined:

He didn't know PayPal was going to be a huge company at the time. It had ~4.5 million customers then, which was a lot, but it was "bleeding money", losing $10 million per month (a huge burn rate for the time, though now that's "almost common"). "It was a complete mess." PayPal was not obviously a rocket ship. It was a brand people had heard of, though. The company had gone through three CEOs in six months.

Peter Thiel started fixing things. The company went from very unprofitable to profitable, then filed an S1 to go public the day after 9/11. PayPal ended up going public in early 2002, then soon sold to Ebay. It was two years from "complete mess" to IPO to acquisition.

At PayPal, Keith was working at the intersection of business and regulatory problems. Payments intersects with all kinds of regulations. His job was to "keep all these evil companies like MasterCard and Visa from killing us and Ebay from killing us". He describes wielding the law and regulation to his advantage. He had 17 full-time lobbyists in D.C. working for him offensively and defensively. At one point the Treasury Department wanted PayPal to collect a social security number from every buyer, which would have really killed the company. "I had to stop that."

Keith describes how the PayPal Mafia became influential:

Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman were the only ones investing in consumer internet companies during the "nuclear winter" in the Bay Area after the Internet bubble. Every consumer-focused entrepreneur went to them and it turned out some of those ideas were decent. Some were potentially interesting but crashed and burned, like Friendster.

What happened after PayPal:

Elon tried to recruit Keith to join SpaceX, to help with regulatory complexity, but Keith didn't want to move to LA. Instead he got involved with LinkedIn. LinkedIn was growing fairly linearly and did not look like a rocket ship at the time. After a year and a half it had 1.5 million users "which for a social product, a viral product, it is very very low." But, it was always growing and had a "monopoly characteristic" despite not having an exponential curve. It was the only professional database for normal people. It was obvious that it could be "pretty valuable" but not totally obvious that it was going to be massively valuable.

Keith describes his hiring philosophy:

Keith says he was bad at interviewing people at PayPal. He was 50/50 on bringing in good new people. His poor hiring record was interfering with is career. He decided to focus on recruiting stars within the company to join his team. This later lead to lots of good investments, as these people went on to start companies. He tried to look for common denominators in these people that he could look for in interviews. "Almost all of the best people I've hired went to fairly random universities with non-technical backgrounds that had never worked in the startup world before, all 21 to 23 years old." But it's a lot like drafting athletes, you're going to be wrong. It shouldn't be "zero-defects". If anyone tells you that, they're not hiring fast enough.

Peter Thiel taught him that you can't recruit people who have already established themselves and accomplished things. Everyone is going after these people.

To describe the qualities he looks for in candidates, Keith cites this post by Paul Graham, writing about people who are "relentlessly resourceful". He recounts a story about an intern at Square who managed to do something dozens of people at the company had tried and failed at: delivering cold, refreshing, tasty smoothies to the engineers who were working late at night. The task was mundane, but it was complicated to solve because the smoothie shops were all closing before 9PM and the drinks were always arriving late and at room-temperature.

Keith says, start your employees off with a mundane task. For those who thrive at it, increase the complexity and sophistication of tasks over time until they actually show they can't handle something. You'll find talented people in pretty random places and "those are the people you build companies around."

Keith talks about his approach to job search:

Keith and Erik discuss the advice about joining high-growth companies that Sheryl Sandberg has become known for. To paraphrase: When you get an offer to board a rocket ship, don't ask which seat. Keith says, at these high-growth startups there are always new problems and you can't hire people fast enough. There are so many opportunities for career growth. At PayPal, "new things Peter was annoyed with, he'd just throw them at me."

The hard part though is picking a rocket ship. Keith says it's not a good career decision to try to pick a rocket ship before it's a rocket ship. The best investors in the world at that stage are right only 30% of the time. That's a bad approach for most people deciding where to work. If you want to work at an early-stage firm, Keith says, pick based on your boss. Ask whether this is someone you can learn from and assume that your equity value is zero ("like literally zero").

Keith explains what his new company, OpenDoor, is all about:

OpenDoor is a company which let's you sell your home online instantly. If you input your address, his company will buy your home, sight unseen in about three days. This contrasts with 84-90 days for most people to sell their home in the US. Today 20-25% of people who list their homes end up not selling at all. The site is live in Phoenix and is hiring for data, engineering, and business roles.

Keith says the residential real-estate market is still mostly unaffected by technology. Zillow has had only a small effect. Trillions of dollars exchange hands in residential real-estate and 5.75 million Americans sell their home each year. Real-estate agents earn $76 billon in fees in the US. The market is massive and illiquid and painful. "Anytime you can add liquidity to a massive market, it's quite successful."

Some final thoughts:

On tech becoming more mainstream: It's probably better that people spend their time in software fields than financial services or on Wall St., for example. However, the celebrity culture and the Hollywood version of startups, "where everything's going to be easy and we're going to make a lot of money", attracts people with the wrong motives. "This stuff's actually really really painful."

On tech in government and education: There are long arcs of history working in this direction. Tech and innovation will eventually apply in these areas, but there is a lag. You can't accelerate that necessarily. Education will be radically different. Credentials matter more than people realize. It's not just substance. Most companies attack only one side. Some company will cleverly fuse together a new credential that conveys certain things with the reality that this person is smarter, more thoughtful, or more capable. Many people go to Stanford for the perception, not what they learn there.

On investing: Keith is a "bottom-up investor." He wants entrepreneurs to explain the future to him, so he can decide whether he believes that to be a plausible outcome. Others (including his partners) have stronger views of the future and then go looking for consistent opportunities.

On trends: Math will replace humans in every field. OpenDoor replaces your view or your real-estate agent's view of what your home is worth with an algorithm. Doctors are just as fallible as every other human expert. In the future you won't get a diagnosis by talking to a doctor. A machine will calculate what you should do. Keith has an investment along these lines in the legal profession. One day algorithms might start drafting legal briefs for you based on what rebuttal is most likely to be successful. Humans will do 1% of the work and machines and math will do 99% in all parts of society. Self-driving cars are the most obvious example. On what to do about the corresponding decline in jobs, Keith is unsure. He cites this post by Sam Altman about how technology tends to impact jobs and what can be done.

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Product Hunt Radio Episode 39 w/ Nick Quah (Oct. 8, 2015)

Ryan Hoover and Erik Torenberg host a video call with Alex Carter, a brand new hire at Product Hunt, and Nick Quah, a "podcast connoisseur" and the writer of a popular e-mail newsletter called Hot Pod that reports on the podcast industry. Nick is also Head of Audience Development at Panopoly, a new podcast network run by Slate that helps publishers produce shows based on their existing content.

Alex will be heading up a new vertical on the Product Hunt website dedicated to podcast discovery, where you can post/upvote/discuss and listen to podcast episodes. Alex sees podcast discovery as a major problem in the space and he hopes the Product Hunt channel will provide more "social proof" around podcasts.

How Nick started his podcast newsletter:

Nick was "super bored" working at a job as a business reporter at a digital media company. In 2014, when Serial was becoming a massive thing, reporting on podcasting was close to nonexistent. Nick wanted to change that. And also because people were e-mailing him frequently for podcast recommendations. Ryan mentions that Product Hunt actually started as an e-mail newsletter.

Nick gives us four podcast recommendations:

"This is kind of like picking favorite children."

  • Longform - Interviews with magazine journalists, reporters, and content creators. Tightly edited.
  • Criminal -  No other narrative podcast is doing work that's as "socially, anthropologically intelligent."
  • Limetown - Audio fiction. Many have described it as "Serial meets the X-Files." There are lots of ideas here that "lay down the foundation" of how audio fiction is going to work over the next 10 to 20 years.
  • Vulture TV - The finest podcast discussing television.

Alex's recommendations:

  • Millennial - Serialized show about a millennial, authentically documenting the post-college struggles of growing up and finding a job.
  • Waking Up - If you like getting into deep philosophical conversations, but probably not for everybody.
  • Nerdist - As an "unapologetic" Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, Alex recommends the recent interview with Sir Patrick Stewart.

Erik's recommendations:

Ryan's recommendations:

  • This Week in Startups - I love Jason Calacanis' interview style; great guests.
  • Startup - They make it super intimate. "They include real life conversations... mixed in with produced narrative."
  • Mystery Show - Super unique. It's about mundane mysteries, like a guy trying to find out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is.
  • Quick hits: Freakonomics RadioSerial

How Nick and Alex discover podcasts:

Nick scours through the iTunes charts and goes really deep, picking out four or five shows he's never heard of before. iTunes is the dominant gate keeper for discovery in podcasting. Nick listens to 25 hours of podcasts per week or more.

Alex checks out the "new and noteworthy" section on iTunes and finds out about shows on Twitter. "It's easier to find out about new shows, but harder to know where to dive in, unless the show is serialized." The future of podcast discovery is going to be less about shows and more about episodes, "in the same way we discover articles, not by checking Buzzfeed, but by seeing which individual articles propagate and get upvoted on social networks." On Product Hunt, they'll have episode-focused discovery, allowing people to have conversations about individual episodes on the site.

How social sharing can work for podcast discovery:

Nick says excerpting clips from an episode and posting them on social networks can work for some shows and not for others. He laments that the context is stripped away. Ryan says that audio doesn't go viral in general and podcasts are still a relatively niche, enthusiast medium.

Nick views media on a spectrum. On one end you have haiku poetry or short tweets, which are the most "snack-able" and require the least cognitive load for the human brain to process. On the other end you have things that require a specific, full context, like film, or maybe virtual reality. Nick sees audio as living closer to the film side of the spectrum. Alex talks about how TV shows like "Game of Thrones" have viral elements but it's tweets, conversations, and articles about the shows that go viral. This was also the case for "Serial", which has seen over 97 million downloads over the full 12 episodes.

How can technology improve in podcasting:

Ryan looks for ways to enable communities of podcast listeners to interact with each other. He points to the popular "Serial" forum on Reddit as an example. Nick thinks some of the tech plays are trying to make podcasts "lean back" experiences, which is a "complete misunderstanding" of the medium, which should be "opt-in" and "lean in". His personal dream is to create audio content that becomes the center of your attention, though he acknowledges that the medium has proven very adept at filling up empty spaces in people's lives (during exercise, travel, cooking, etc.).

What's next for podcasts?

Alex points to Reddit's new Upvoted podcast as an interesting direction. In the podcast, Alexis Ohanian finds fascinating stories on Reddit and tracks down those users to let them elaborate on their posts. "Lots of companies could do something like this." Twitch could do human interest stories about video game players, for example. TV could release more existing content in podcast format. Stephen Colbert or Charlie Rose could release their interviews, for example.

Ryan asks whether Meerkat and Periscope will impact or change podcasting, given the live nature of those apps. Erik says there is tension between good live content and content that lasts and can be consumed later. "There's a difference between what's great in the moment." Ryan agrees saying it's two different mindsets.

Nick points out that there is always "cultural warfare" being waged on what is or is not a podcast. Many people in the community are currently angry that traditional public radio shows sometimes dominate the conversation (This American Life, for instance).

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