Amira Valliani decided to launch a podcast-focused startup after listening to a podcast that is, fittingly enough, named StartUp.
Valliani is the co-founder and CEO of Glow.fm, an early-stage company based in Seattle that recently raised $2.3 million in seed funding to continue building its service for supporting podcasters.
Glow’s story traces back to 2015, when a friend of Valliani’s recommended Gimlet Media’s podcast StartUp to her. Valliani was then attending business school at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was hooked immediately,” says Valliani, who had previously worked in the White House on press and communications affairs around national security. “At that point I knew: this is everything media should be, and I just want to be involved in it. If I can contribute to this ecosystem, I’ll be doing something that helps media make more money.”
StartUp’s first season details the efforts of Alex Blumberg, a journalist and newly hatched entrepreneur, as he pitches venture capital investors on the concept of a network of podcasts and podcast hosts. Blumberg’s idea led him to co-found Gimlet Media in 2014, and in subsequent years he helped build a stable of popular podcasts such as the technology-focused show “Reply All.” Recently, his team’s efforts paid off. In February, audio streaming giant Spotify (NYSE: SPOT) agreed to acquire Gimlet Media for a reported $230 million.
The deal suggests that sizeable fortunes can be made in the podcasting world, with the proper vision and execution. But the landscape looked a lot different four years ago, Valliani says.
“Back then, no one knew where the industry was going,” she says. “The business model was completely unproven.”
Nonetheless, Valliani took a chance and founded Glow earlier this year.
Podcasts have been surging in popularity in recent years. Close to one-third of people in the United States listen to at least one podcast every month, up from about one-quarter of Americans in 2018, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Edison Research and Triton Digital.
Nevertheless, Valliani believes we are still in the early days of podcasting. Glow’s mission is to help podcasters sustain their shows by providing a convenient payment system that fans can use to subscribe or otherwise support the effort financially.
After launching an initial version of its platform in June, Glow now allows users to support more than 100 podcasts.
Glow leaves it up to podcasters whether, and how much, to charge listeners. Some shows are completely free, some are only available to paying customers, and some have a hybrid “freemium” model, she says.
For example, Glow’s first podcast customer, Acquired, which is about tech and venture-backed startups, releases two free episodes per month, along with two bonus episodes that require a paid subscription ($5 a month).
The idea is to help podcast creators bring in revenue directly from listeners, on top of the fees some creators already charge advertisers. Patreon, a service for streaming podcasts and consuming other types of media, is among the other businesses podcasters can use to try to monetize their followings.
Brian Elieson, Glow’s chief product officer and a former manager within Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Alexa voice assistant division, is Glow’s only other full-time employee, Valliani says. The startup plans to use some of the proceeds from its seed funding round to add a third member to its team, who will manage Glow’s relationships with the podcasters on its platform, she says.
New York-based Greycroft led the investment. Other participants include Norwest Venture Partners, PSL Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, WndrCo, and angel investors.