Behind the scenes #5: Async communication in a tech startup
...and also Google shutting down their podcasts app
In this issue:
Communication in a startup. We’ve made some intentional changes about how we communicate. Today, we’re breaking down our new async communication process.
Google shuts down Google Podcasts. This is an opportunity for Metacast. If you were a Google Podcasts user, it’s an opportunity for you to try something new too.
Latest podcast episodes. Episode 36 with 3x bootstrapper Melissa Kwan and episode 37 about product & engineering functions in a startup and AWS are out. Listen to “Metacast: Behind the scenes” wherever you listen to podcasts.
If you know someone who will enjoy this, please forward the email!
Behind the scenes, vol. 5
TLDR: We’re building a podcast app that we aspire to be the best podcast app for those who love long-form audio. We want to build a “calm” company and we love sharing how that goes in a “build in public” way. This newsletter and our Behind the Scenes podcast is where we share our entrepreneurial journey with anyone who’s into storytelling about entrepreneurship and product development.
So, what have we been up to since the last newsletter?
Communication in a startup
As of this writing, our startup is just the two of us (soon to be three!) doing all the work to get Metacast off the ground. Arnab is in code most of the time, and I’m writing code a few days a week too. Recently, we noticed that our communication has become a bit chaotic and even disruptive.
We use Signal for most 1:1 conversations, which often leads to distractions and losing some threads in the sea of messages. Some of our comms also happen in GitHub issues, pull requests, and more recently on Slack. So, we’re trying to make some sense of it, especially that we’ll soon have another developer joining the company.
Async dev chatter
We created #async-dev-chatter channel in Slack and made it our default communication channel for all things coding. Both of us have notifications for this channel turned off — we only check it at specific times when we’re not doing deep work. An asynchronous comms channel helps us avoid distracting notifications.
One of the primary reasons for doing this is that I’d get blocked writing code, ask Arnab on Signal, he’d get distracted, and we lose engineering productivity. With the async comms mode, the trade-off we’re making is that I can stay blocked for a few hours (while doing something else) but Arnab can stay in the flow. In other words, CTO’s productivity in a pre-product startup is more important than the productivity of a junior programmer role played by the CEO.
Another trade-off is that we use free Slack for now and after 90 days all those messages will go away. It’d have been better to have those convos in GitHub issues, but there’s a lot of friction in writing a quick note in comments, because psychologically we expect that comments should be written well. Slack allows us to be quicker and nimbler.
Also, basic things like inserting pictures, quoting, and adding reactions are so much easier in Slack. No offense to GitHub (we love it), but Slack feels more delightful.
We used to have sync meetings twice a week and it worked well when we had to make many decisions.
When we switched our email and calendar to Google Workspace, we didn’t port those meetings over to the new calendar and started syncing ad-hoc instead. Sometimes, we went an entire week without speaking much. That was helpful for deep work, but also left us in a state where we were not sure what’s happening and what progress is being made.
So, we did a retrospective on that and established a new process.
Bi-weekly retrospective. Every other Friday, we now have a retro meeting where we look at what we’ve done in the last two weeks, assess what’s working/not-working, and plan the next iteration. As part of the retro, we also figure out what updates to send to our closed beta users in a bi-weekly email.
Bi-weekly syncs. We realized that topics (especially, small ones) accumulate and if we don’t have a time slot on the calendar, we keep procrastinating our discussion of those topics. So, we’re back at having a standing sync every other Friday. Those tend to last about 2 hours.
Deep work days. Every Tue & Thu we have no meetings or podcast recording — they have to be scheduled on other days. It’s non-negotiable. To get the work done, we have to protect the deep work space.
Ad-hoc syncs. When we get blocked or have an urgent question, we jump on a call. We try to keep those to 30 minutes though they often stretch into a full hour-ish chit-chat in addition to pure business topics.
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Google Podcasts and Stitcher opportunity
A few days ago, we found out that Google is shutting down Google Podcasts and will be moving all its users to YouTube Music.
Google states some data showing that people use YouTube a lot and Google Podcasts not so much, therefore it’s ok to deprecate an app. It’s not clear if the YouTube usage data is for podcast listening specifically or for watching videos as well. Like, I’m using YouTube a lot, but I don’t want to use it for podcasts.
This matches what listeners and podcasters are already doing: according to Edison, about 23% of weekly podcast users in the US say YouTube is their most frequently used service, versus just 4% for Google Podcasts.
This is typical Google (4% of users is acceptable collateral damage) and we believe it opens an opportunity for us to capture at least some percentage of Google Podcasts users that will be looking for a new home.
We were bummed about the timing of SiriusXM shutting down Stitcher earlier this year. We’d have loved to use that as an opportunity to offer Metacast as an alternative as well.
People have asked us why we’re building yet another podcast app and what’s our differentiation. The answer is that we don’t believe any of the incumbents are doing justice to long-form audio, especially the incredible library of evergreen audio content that’s barely discoverable on platforms that look more and more like TikTok.
We are passionate about podcasts as an audio-first medium and are cooking up something incredible for people like us — podcasts connoisseurs. You’ll immediately know why we say this when you see Metacast. If you’re into information-dense podcasts, we’re sure you’ll love it.
We’ll soon stand up a landing page to collect emails of people who want to try out Metacast when it launches. For now, you can subscribe to our newsletter and you’ll be the first to find out when the app is available for download on app stores.
What we need help with
Next week, we’ll stand up a landing page for Metacast. If you can recommend a good landing page website builder please add it to comments.
Our requirements are:
Easy-to-create, no-code, beautiful designs
A form to collect emails
Latest podcast episodes
We skipped the newsletter last week but never skipped a beat on the podcast. We’ve got two new episodes for you.
Ep. 36: Building a startup with contractors with Melissa Kwan, CEO of eWebinar
We sat down with Melissa Kwan, a 3x bootstrapper, to talk about her entrepreneurial journey, working with contractor developers, getting first customers, developing social media presence, and going to Burning Man in 2023.
Ep. 37: CEO vs. CTO a.k.a. Product vs. Engineering
We're reflecting on our previous episode (ep. 36 with Melissa Kwan) and are talking about the collaboration between business and technical functions in a company - both in our startup as well as reminiscing about our days in AWS.
Coming up next
An interview with a Wharton professor. Next week, we’ll release an amazing conversation with Karl Ulrich, a Wharton professor of innovation, about teaching entrepreneurship and the value of MBA for starting a business.
A conversation with our new hire. Once our new team member starts on October 2, we’ll record an episode and do a write up about the whole process. It’ll be fun.
Support our journey
There are a few ways you can support our nascent business.
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