Startup Spotlight: Podyssey

Posted: Jul 24, 2019

Danny Mathews and Melody Ma are the cofounders of Podyssey, an online community hub for podcast lovers to share and discuss their favourite podcasts. Podyssey participated in Cohort 8 of the recent IDEABOOST Accelerator  here at CFC Media Lab, which just wrapped the last of its four sprints on July 5, 2019.

Matthews and Ma shared some of their favourite podcasts, the challenges and joys of establishing a new startup, what’s next for the company, and what being a member of the IDEABOOST community has meant to them.

Headshot of a man and a woman.

How did the Podyssey odyssey begin?

Danny: I started Podyssey about two years ago. I just wanted it to be a community and a place to share my favourite podcasts with my friends. Then about six months ago, Melody and I connected in Toronto randomly on a trip – we’re both from Vancouver – and I was telling her about all the issues I had with building a community and building a product. So after she gave me good advice, I also gave her access to the code. She started working on the code and we started working on it together, and the partnership naturally evolved from that.

Melody: Danny and I knew each other from Lighthouse Labs, which is a coding bootcamp. Danny was an instructor in the iOS program, and I was a web development student. I used to be a product manager at Moneris solutions, which is a FinTech company in Toronto, but I was on the business and marketing side. Then at Lighthouse, I transitioned into a development role. Before I started working on Podyssey with Danny, I redeveloped the website for Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Danny: I went to school for Biochemistry in Vancouver, but after one year of working in that field, I wanted a career change. I applied to a startup, and started an unpaid intern. It turned out to be a really good startup, and eventually they needed help on the coding, so I started learning coding there. Two years later, I wanted to build my own app, and I talked to an iOS developer. Instead of building it for me, he sent me a couple links. He became a good mentor, teaching me how to code, and that’s how I learned to code and built my first app.

Melody: The startup that Danny is talking about was Hootsuite.

Danny: It was great. It was almost like an MBA program, learning how small companies can grow and scale.

How does Podyssey work?

Melody: Podyssey is an online community where podcast lovers can discover and share their favourite podcasts with each other – like Goodreads for podcasts. They can do several things: track podcasts to which they have listened; find really cool podcasts by episode, based on friend recommendations among a community of like-minded listeners; and open episodes and listen to them on either Podyssey or other podcast players of choice.

Overall, it is meant to enhance your existing podcast listening experience. We have just launched a new feature that allows people to curate lists of their favourite podcast episodes and get creative. So if you want to send your friends your “top 10 podcasts on the future of media,” you can curate an episode list and share it with them really easily. Some notable Podyssey community members include CBC Podcasts and the Podcast Brunch Club, which is like a book club for podcasts, and they have more than 60 chapters around the world.

Has anything about how the Podyssey community members use the product surprised you?

Danny: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the friendships formed by people who have met on Podyssey, from people recommending episodes to each other and then talking about the content, or from discussing what they learned after listening to something. If there is a genre someone likes, and they listen to that podcast, then they can talk to about that with their friends in life or now, in this online group of people who share their interest – people with whom they can form a community.

Melody: To add to that, audio is one of the most intimate mediums – especially now, when everybody’s listening to things on headphones, on their own, walking to work or doing other things. It’s often a very solitary experience. I found that when I finish bingeing a podcast series I really loved, I couldn’t find anybody to talk to about it. On Podyssey, though, I can find other people who are fans of that podcast, who have listened to episodes, and then we can have conversations. I can also find more interesting content, because we obviously have similar interests.

A man and a woman standing in front of an audience sitting in black chairs. There is a large tv between the man and woman.

Since we’re talking about loving podcasts: could you possibly pick a favourite? Or a top three?

Melody: I’m opening my Podyssey app right now to see what I’m listening to.

Danny: I have different favourites for different interests in my life. I love a podcast called Black on the Air by Larry Willmore. He’s a very thoughtful man who talks about a lot of social issues, but comes at it from a different perspective than I’m used to hearing. I’ve really been enjoying his monologues, and then he interviews people. I also love This American Life, which is the most popular podcast but for a very good reason. They really know how to tell a great story, a touching story that changes your perspective. And I love basketball podcasts. I was just listening to a podcast about a random basketball player getting traded. It’s just “easy listening” if I don’t want to turn off my brain for a bit.

Melody: I really like Caliphate, by the New York Times, which is a podcast by one of their journalists who covers ISIS. She interviews a member of ISIS who is in Toronto – that one’s really good.

Danny: I feel like everyone I’ve talked to who has heard it, loves it.

Melody: I really like The Dropout, which is about the Theranos scam. It’s by ABC and it took three years [of investigation] to prepare. I like The Dream, which is a serialized podcast – really a deep investigation – into multi-level marketing. A smaller podcast I enjoy is Sweet and Sour, which explores different facets of Asian-American life.

You’re both people of colour working in tech, and Melody, you’re a woman working in tech. Do you think that you’ve faced any particular challenges related to your backgrounds?

Danny: One thing that is frustrating is how many people advise us to interest investors by getting our friends and family members to invest in our company. That sounds good, and our friends have contributed in some ways. But it reflects where [the person giving such advice] is in life, and presumes one’s friends and family can afford that. It was frustrating to hear that was something investors really care about, because not everyone has the opportunity to do that.

Melody: It reinforces privilege. We haven’t gone into fundraising mode yet, so we’ll see what the other challenges emerge. Personally, as a woman in technology, when I switched over to development I noticed that I was often the only – or one of very few – women in the room who was a developer. Often people would think that I was a designer, or that I don’t code every day. For me, it’s very rare to see a woman [tech] founder, and even more so a startup founder who is a woman of colour. I can sort of name them all, count them on my two hands.

Some of them are in the IDEABOOST network, too, here at CFC Media Lab. You were a part of the recent IDEABOOST Accelerator’s Cohort 8, which just wrapped up its last sprint in early July. Can you talk about how being in the IDEABOOST Accelerator has been good for your startup?

Melody: Joining the Accelerator came along at a perfect time for our company, to set us on the right course. They provided us with a network of mentors in the media space, which was necessary for our company. They are also mentors with deep expertise in their areas of specialty, which made us feel extremely comfortable about being able to tap them when we needed to.

Having that ability to reach out to advisors and mentors, even just getting their opinions, has been very valuable for us. It’s kept us accountable as we move towards our milestones, especially with the weekly check-in calls. We use those dates when we go to Toronto every month to make progress with our product and the company. As we moved through the program, we gained increasing clarity about the direction we should take our company, and how to do that. It really gave us all the equipment we need to be successful at this stage.

We would have been able to figure out some of this stuff on our own, but it would have taken a much longer time, and in an environment without media expertise in the room. We don’t have that environment here in Vancouver, so that was a definite advantage of participating in the Accelerator. It’s also just great seeing all these inspiring founders of other companies – connecting with other founders at similar and different stages, and being able to talk about issues we all have. That shared understanding is really valuable.

A man showing an app on his phone.

Obviously fundraising is the next stage, but beyond that, what’s your vision for Podyssey?

Danny: We want to build a place where if you love podcasts, this is the place to connect with friends as a listener – or a creator. We want to build tools for creators. If we create this community where everyone loves podcasts, we want to build tools for creators to solve some of the issues they have: finding more audience and monetizing their amazing podcasts.

Melody: The number one issue we hear from podcast creators, whether they are independent or big network-based, is reaching new audiences. Right now you have to get on the Apple podcast top charts, and it’s difficult, even if you have millions of people in your audience on are on other platforms like YouTube. So we want to help build the audience, so that podcast creators can easily target the listeners that are specifically interested in their genre or niche. They can access those listeners right away, and the listeners will get great content. I always joke with Danny that I would love to have something like Oprah’s Book Club on Goodreads: Oprah’s Podcast Club. Or Bill Gates’ Top 10 Summer Podcasts.

That’s a great idea! Have you tried reaching out to Bill or Oprah?

Melody: [laughs] We’re working our way towards that.

Photos by Brian de Rivera Simon.

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