Tech and gadgets

Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg: How tech is transforming audio

Gimlet Media’s CEO, Alex Blumberg, on starting a podcast empire and the enduring magic of audio

What was the vision behind Gimlet?

I was making podcasts and seeing the audience grow every year. It seemed obvious that people wanted more of it, and there wasn’t really a place to make more of it. So we started Gimlet. I felt there were so many different kinds of stories we could tell.

How’s it been to go from producing to the business side?

That’s been crazy. When I started the company, I still thought of myself as someone who makes the thing. Now I’m the person who creates the conditions so other people can make it. That’s a profound change and it requires very different skills.

Your podcast Startup is about starting Gimlet. What’s been the biggest challenge?

The minute the company achieves any type of scale, you get thrown into a completely new world. Just expecting and understanding it is really important, and realising that you’ll make so many mistakes and having to be really open to criticism.

Podcasts are the innovation disrupting terrestrial radio. What opportunities does the medium present?

You can target people more closely because you don’t have to rely on everyone being there at the same time. It also has a longer tail, so it doesn’t need such broad appeal. So it means we can adopt types of programming that you never could have imagined before.

Martin Adolfsson

Fiction podcast Homecoming is an example of that. What else are you planning?

Audio drama is having a renaissance. But audio can now also go places that it couldn’t before, with technology that enables you to do new things. This is just the beginning. We’re going to see all sorts of adventurous, interesting, groundbreaking types of fiction.

Many people haven’t discovered podcasts yet. What’s special about the medium?

The intimacy. You’re hearing the actual words but you’re also creating a part of the experience in your mind. It’s some of that active imaginating that you do when you’re reading a book but it’s also blended with what they’re saying. It allows you to inhabit their worlds in a different way so listeners are more empathetic to the message. I think that’s really powerful.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

An early investor told us to get an executive coach. We were going through so much, and my partners and I needed to be on the same team. Without somebody to help you negotiate that stuff, it can be a real challenge: emotions can bounce around pretty quickly, and then it cascades throughout the company. So that was great advice. 

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