Ep. 20 - Benefits of Decentralization in Podcasting with Justin Jackson, Co-founder of Transistor.fm
...also keeping your sanity with slow-tech
“How do I spell Justin’s last name? Is it Jackson or Jaxon?” — I asked Arnab (stupid question, I know) and he said “like Michael Jackson.” It was thrilling indeed when I did find Justin, co-founder of Transistor.fm, a podcast hosting platform, that hosts lots of great podcasts like our favorites Indie Hackers and some unexpected ones like the CIA’s Langley Files.
This was one of the more insightful industry-specific conversations we’ve had on the Metacast podcast. Justin shared his views on decentralization in podcasting, the unrealized hype created by Spotify investing $1B into podcasting, and the benefits of friction in leaving comments.
I would prefer the friction than having people just being able to mindlessly troll me on YouTube comments. More friction isn't always worse. Sometimes it's better.
We also dug into how the Transistor.fm business is run. They’re 5 people (two co-founders and three employees) based in Canada, the US, and the UK. Justin shared how they approach hiring, profit margins, and how long it took for the business to start making enough money for both co-founders to go full-time.
One of the more interesting parts for me was when Justin told a story of how RSS feeds became part of the podcasting tech stack. RSS feeds in the olden days were used to subscribe to websites (remember Google Reader?) and they also allowed inclusion of “mp3 enclosures,” so the RSS readers could also play audio files. Those were added to iTunes and Steve Jobs, the man himself, was apparently involved in this. That’s how RSS feeds became the standard for podcasts and that’s why we have a decentralized podcasting ecosystem today.
RSS and other open protocols (e.g. SMTP), allowed multiple independent companies like Transitor.fm and MailChimp create successful business around those.
It's so nice that Microsoft didn't invent the SMTP protocol for email because then we'd be paying for digital stamps every time we want to send an email.
I’ll finish this post with a number.
$20B. Yes. Twenty billion dollars.
That’s the annual ad revenue in the AM/FM radio industry. Compare this with $1B in podcasting. It’s crazy to think about it given that I (and probably most other people under 40-ish) don’t even know how to use radio in my car anymore. Last time I listened to radio was in 2008. I’m not kidding… 15 years ago.
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Every year podcast listenership grows 10-15%. It’s a nice steady growth curve (though one that does not live up to the hype created by Spotify). The daily listening habits of people are also changing — people listen to more and more shows.
There’s about $1B in ad revenue / year in podcasting. This sounds like a lot but compare this to $20B in AM/FM radio!
When listening to podcasts, people seek human connection. In the long form audio (podcast), people reveal a lot more and people connect with that.
What’s your podcast’s job-to-be-done? People “hire” your podcast to do a “job” for them. What is that job (need) that your podcast satisfies for your audience?
With podcasts, you own it. If you want to move to another hosting provider, you can simply redirect the feed URL to your new hosting provider (301 redirect). It works like a charm.
It takes a while for a SaaS company to build up revenue. It took about a year for Transitor.fm’s founders to go full-time on the company.
Everything you do needs a margin — financial margin, time margin, emotional margin, etc. — to keep your sanity.
Only hire when you have to. Transitor.fm hired people to make their lives easier. They’re still only 5 people (which is quite impressive for the product they’ve built!)
Hire people you know. Transistor.fm hired people who worked with them as contractors or who they worked with previously on projects.
Naming is important. If you name your product with a common name (like “transistor”) you’re competing with real-world things made of atoms. People may be searching for transistors for their radios, you don’t necessarily want to compete with them in search. It is good to combine some words to create a unique name (like “Metacast”, nailed it).
Where to find Justin
The 80% Energy Principle blog post by Justin
Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen
This episode was produced by Mike Semashko
Get in touch
We’d love to hear from you! Arnab is a Twitter guy and I’m on Instagram. Use the method that works best for you!
You can also leave comments on this substack post. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already!
Bye for now.
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