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On Seeding Upstarts

Notes on PodFund.

I wasn’t around to cover the PodFund news earlier this month — Caroline did a fantastic job with that — but that isn’t to say I don’t have feelings about it.

First things first: I like any initiative that’s designed to broaden the kinds of people who can make podcasts and the type of podcasts that can operate within the marketplace. Indeed, there’s a connection you draw between PodFund and sister organization PRX’s efforts with the Google Podcasts Creators Program, both of which can be arguably couched within a mindset of help boost individuals and teams who would ordinarily face abnormal friction launching or scaling up a podcast relative to everyone else. Sure, PodFund is being presented in more explicitly capitalistic terms (I mean, it’s a banking proposition at its core) while the Creators Program has a certain arts grant valence to the proceedings, and the two things are positioned as attacking different points in the early development pipeline, but they strike me as driven by the exact same sensibility.

The sensibility appears to be grounded in a particular assumption of the case: namely, that more money can solve more problems — from a production, monetization, and/or enterprise-building standpoint — at the early stages of a publisher’s development. From that perspective, there are three relevant questions to ask:

(1) Are the early stages of a podcast publisher’s life-cycle actually the most existentially pressing?
(2) What, exactly, are the ideal outcomes for the businesses seeded by PodFund?
(3) What’s the best metaphor to understand PodFund? Film and television production studios? An early stage venture firm?

I am, of course, particularly fixated on the second question, because it touches on something that I’ve been wondering for as long as I’ve been writing this newsletter: do we still have a clear sense of an independent business model that works at scale in this business?