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Changing the podcast user experience: with Paul away, Rich Ziade is joined by Postlight’s new partner, Gina Trapani, for a conversation with developer Leah Culver. They discuss her career trajectory, from embracing computer science in college to moving Silicon Valley to founding startups Pownce and Convore to becoming an engineer at Dropbox. They then discuss her newest venture, Breaker, an “end-to-end podcast company,” and the podcast space in general, from the fractured digital spaces for podcast listeners to Apple’s recent announcement to share user data with creators.

Transcript

[Intro music plays for 16 seconds, ramps down]

Rich Ziade Hello, everyone. I never introduce the show. This is Rich Ziade, a cofounder of Postlight. Paul Ford is not here. I kicked him out of the business and he is no longer at Postlight. That’s! a joke. Paul is not here today. He is at a family gathering of some sort and I’ve got someone else here with us, Gina Trapani, a partner at Postlight. Recent partner. Congratulations on that. I wanna sneak that in.

Gina Trapani Thank you, Rich. Hello.

RZ Welcome. And [thank you] this might end up being better than other podcasts.

GT You think?

RZ Paul will have to deal with that—

GT He’ll have to reckon with that reality.

RZ Yes.

GT Once this episode is done. For sure.

RZ Absolutely. Track Changes is the podcast of Postlight. Postlight, we are a [sic] adorable little products studio located in New York City. Paul loves to give the address: 101 5th Avenue! We build—design and build all sorts of stuff. From platforms to apps and by apps we mean all sorts of apps from the web to anything else. So, we have a really cool guest today. I have seen your name just pop up in like articles and news feeds and probably for about seven or eight years. Leah Culver is here with us. Did I pronounce that right?

Leah Culver Yes, you did. Thanks, Rich.

RZ Welcome to Track Changes. I’ve looked over your history . . . this morning. ‘History’ sounds intense [others laugh] um uh but uh it’s really interesting and varied. And I want you to kind of walk us through it from the quote/unquote, “When I got started.”

LC Sure! Well I got started programming in college. I took one programming class as a [sic] art major—I thought I’d be like a web designer, maybe, when I was younger, and I just fell in love with it. I loved writing code; I loved the challenges; I love that it was hard. And so switched majors and got my computer science degree in 2006 and then I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area, not because I knew that it was the centre of tech but because it had nice weather and there were lots of jobs there [laughs].

GT That makes sense.

[2:27]

LC Yeah, coming from Minnesota, my thought process was very much, “Get away from snow.” So [chuckling]—

RZ What year is this? Where are we?

LC 2006.

RZ 2006. Ok.

GT Art major turned com sci major. Ok. Ok.

RZ Yeah! Escaped to the Bay Area very not intentional. It wasn’t, you know, like nowadays people are very intentional entrepreneurs, very international programmers, things like that.

RZ Did you have a job when you went or did you just go and see—

LC I did!

RZ Ok.

LC I had a job at a small startup in San Jose and then I got a couple other jobs at small startups before eventually, maybe within the next year or two, starting my own first startup which was Pownce.

RZ Give us a timeline there. How long before—Like you were at that job—

LC Like a year before I started Pownce.

RZ A year?!?

LC Yeah. Yeah. I was young. Yeah.

RZ You went for it! You just [yeah]—you did a little work and you said, “You know, I can do this.” And then you just went for it.

LC I had nothing to lose. I had nothing to lose and what happened was I had met Kevin Rose and Daniel Burka, my other two co-founders, and they were looking to build something new and I was maybe one of the only developers that was kind of not working at Dig at the time or any of the other companies they were affiliated with. I was kind of more of a free agent. And they said, “Hey, can you build this?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never built anything like this before. But sure! Yes! I can build [laughing] this.”

[3:44]

GT And Pownce was the hot ticket. I remember like invites to Pownce where getting one of those was a really big deal.

LC Yeah that was crazy. So I built the invite system. So it was really weird to be like, “Oh people are paying money for something that’s, you know, like ten lines of code.”

GT Right! Right! They were like eBaying invites to Pownce [Rich laughs]. It was really—everybody wanted in there. It was the hot place to go or to be.

RZ [Over Gina] I remember. Yeah.

LC It was super surreal. I think I was 25 at the time.

RZ That’s awesome! So you had it in the—You weren’t thinking, “Ok, let me be somewhere for a while, save up for a condo.” You just said, “Let’s go.”

LC No, that would’ve been smarter. If I had been [others laugh] smarter [laughs].

RZ Well, I don’t know about that! Let’s keep going with the story. Let’s see where it ended up!

LC Yeah uh no, I was just—I figured I was young, I had no money anyways, I had nothing to lose, right?

RZ Right.

LC Like the worst case scenario: go move back in with my parents in Minnesota and they’d be thrilled.

GT Best part of being 25, right?

LC Yeah! [Others laugh] Yeah! It was very freeing. Pownce, we kinda that 2008, 2009 kind of housing market crash. Investors weren’t really looking to keep funding things and so we were sold to Six Apart, a blogging company—old time blogging company.

RZ Yeah. Ok, so you sell it! Now, when people hear, “I sold my company,” that’s usually big awesome outcome. Did you go to—

LC No.

RZ Ok.

[5:06]

LC No, it was basically a—what they call an acquihire.

RZ Ok, so you went to work at Six Apart.

LC Went to work at Six Apart.

RZ Which was, at the time, the player in terms of blogging tools and blogging software, if I’m not mistaken.

LC Oh yeah! Yeah, very innovative; always trying to do interesting new things. Yeah, it was actually a really great learning experience. It was the first company I felt really a part of the company and the culture and was really into blogging. So it worked out pretty well.

RZ Right. Ok, so you’re at Six Apart how long?

LC About a year, maybe a little longer.

RZ You got antsy again!

LC Well it’s actually a cause of a lot of people leaving or joining jobs. All my managers left. So the folks who I—

RZ So a lot of change was happening at Six Apart.

LC A lot of change was happening and for various reasons. I don’t think it was the fault of Six Apart at all. I just think there had been people that’d been there a long time and were looking to try something new [mm hmm] and it’s hard when the people you know at a company all kinds of leave at the same time. So I felt a little bit lost so I had a friend who needed an iOS app built in a month and said, “Hey, I’ll pay you to build an iOS app,” so I left [chuckling] my job and built an iOS app. I didn’t know anything about iPhone apps [laughs].

GT I was gonna say! iPhone is pretty new at this point, right? Like iOS app development is a new thing—

LC Oh yeah this was 2009. So it had been maybe two years since the iPhone came out. One year since they allowed you to build apps for it.

RZ Ok.

GT Wow! So had you done any iOS development at Six Apart or this was completely you’re just like, “Oh I’ll just take up Objective C.”

[6:40]

LC No, I don’t know. When I was young I just said, “Ok, I can do it.” It was crazy!

GT That’s good!

RZ So wait, they gave you a month?

LC Uh yeah I had to build an iOS app in—and ship it in a month.

RZ And you don’t know Objective C?

LC And I don’t know [Gina laughing] Objective C.

RZ Ok. And did you pull it off?

LC I bought a book. Back then you could still buy physical books.

RZ Ok. That’s not good enough, Leah! [Others laughing] Just buying the book doesn’t get you there! Ok. So, ok, so you ate the whole book in like three days and then you started building the app?

LC Yeah! I mean, I read the book, I followed the tutorial, I don’t think I showered for several days at a time [others laugh].

RZ Alright, let’s call this out: this is kind of badass in tech. Like that’s crazy! I mean that doesn’t happen. So you’re just like this sort of, you know, run of the mill resource that’s getting bounced around companies. That’s impressive!

LC I thought it was fun! [Laughs]

RZ That’s also great! You could’ve come out of that miserable! [All laugh] Say, “Why did I commit to this?”

LC No! No! I liked the challenge! The deadline was, to me, then, you know, in my early twenties, exciting.

RZ Right, ok, so, you pull that off.

LC Yeah.

[7:46]

RZ And that was freelance, it sounds like.

LC Yup, yup!

RZ Ok, and then?

LC More freelance work, and then I started my second company when I was approached by another friend who wanted to build something and I said, “Yes!” I was only a contractor at the time, nothing to lose, so we went for it and we applied to YCombinator and got accepted. And that company was Convore, which is a group chat site.

RZ And this is—what year are we?

LC Oh. 2011.

RZ 2011. So, group chat is a whole world now.

LC Oh yeah.

GT It’s like Campfire is the leader at that point. Is that true?

LC Campfire was the big name. We were doing something that was more public, more consumer. And Campfire was business at the time. We ended up pivoting to do business things and rebranded as Grove and we did IRC for business, so more focused on the IRC protocol. For good and bad. It appealed to IT departments but not a lot of other people were willing to try IRC [laughing] so—yeah.

RZ Well, what happens to this company? Where’d it end up?

LC So, this company, my co-founders ended up leaving cuz they wanted to stay doing consumer things [ok] and it really wasn’t working as a consumer product, wasn’t getting the traction that we wanted. And mostly it was used by business, like businesses were using it, creating private groups and then running with it. And I was like, “Oh. We should actually have them just pay for this.” [Laughs]

RZ Ok, so you went in that direction?

LC Yeah, yeah.

[9:12]

RZ Sort of like a subscriber, subscription model.

LC Yeah, so we had an amicable parting over the direction of the product.

RZ Now lemme guess: this is 11 days long, this startup, and then you moved onto the next thing.

LC I wanna say it was a couple months. This all seems—you make it sound like my career goes by so quickly [Gina and Leah laugh].

RZ So how long was this startup?

LC Um. Two years. Total.

RZ Ok. That’s your first serious commitment. You hadn’t done anything for two years at that point.

LC That’s true. That’s true.

RZ Ok, so you’re settling down [Rich and Gina laugh].

LC Yeah! It gets longer! There’s longer and longer stretches.

RZ What’s next?

LC Um . . . In between I worked for a couple of startups as an iOS developer. Those startups did better and worse, I guess you could say. And I ended up landing at Dropbox.

RZ Cool!

LC Yeah.

RZ That’s gonna be recognized. That’s a serious company nowadays. A huge company.

LC Yeah, when I joined it was 500 people, it’s now up to 2,000 employees.

RZ Wow, yeah.

GT Wow, yeah. Were they also YC?

[10:15]

LC Yes. They were YC. So I ended up, after doing YCombinator, what’s nice is you can sort of apply to work at other YCombinator companies.

RZ Interesting.

GT Yeah, I imagine that it’s incredible networking.

LC Yeah, it’s a good network and if they know if you’re a solid engineer or designer or someone who can work at one of the companies as well, they’ll kind of try and keep you.

RZ Right.

GT I heard that you interviewed at like 30 companies before you chose Dropbox. Which is—

LC I did!

GT Like I—such admiration. Good for you! I love that. I love being choosy.

LC You know I was just taking the opportunity that was in front of me instead of seeking out what I wanted to do. So it was really an opportunity to explore what was out there, so I said no to more companies than said no to me.

GT [Laughs] Nice!

LC In early days too before—

RZ I imagine that.

LC Yeah, yeah. Before I even finished interviewing I’d often say, “You know I’m just not into this [you’re not feeling it] company or this job.” I could be picky cuz I just applied to so many places.

GT Also you want a candidate [laughs] to make that decision that way. You know what I mean?

RZ Sure.

GT Most candidates aren’t doing that. They just want an offer. But I think that’s really smart.

LC I would recommend it. I mean, it takes a little bit of a think skin because I did get rejected a lot as well cuz I just reached out and applied, like I applied online to some companies who never got back to me [laughs]. So.

RZ Ok, you’re at Dropbox, if you can share what you did there.

[11:40]

LC Sure! I was at Dropbox for three years. So I actually stuck around for awhile.

RZ Ok.

LC I was a Developer Advocate . . . which is kind of an interesting role in that it’s—at Dropbox you have a technical background, you’re working on their API team and with their APIs, promoting their APIs to other developers. So really selling Dropbox’s APIs to other developers.

RZ Other developers outside of Dropbox.

LC Outside of Dropbox. So third party applications, getting them to try using Dropbox APIs and doing that through a variety of ways. So, writing blog posts; writing documentation for the APIs; going out and speaking about the Dropbox API; helping to sponsor hackathons and events. [Ok] So really different. Not just engineering all the time.

RZ Yeah, I mean, that’s probably one of the ways you built your profile. I mean if you’re out there and talking—You’ve always kind of had a voice, even before Dropbox as I remember it.

LC Yeah [laughs]. Yeah, I remember when I first moved out to Silicon Valley, everyone’s like, “Oh, you have to start a blog.” [All laugh]

RZ It’s like a requirement!

LC It’s a requirement! It’s a requirement of the job. So I had a blog. I was on Twitter. Things like that. So.

GT Yeah, I mean, it’s such good practice though for telling stories and communicating and writing. I mean, and it sounds like the Developer Advocate job was more about evangelism and relationship building and marketing, maybe, than, you know, a straight engineering job.

LC Right. And I wanted more experience doing those types of activities. I thought it was interesting. I wanted to learn how to be a better blog post writer.

GT Mm hmm.

LC Which is a skill you practice.

RZ It’s interesting that that’s not the today. Like if you’re coming out, you’re 25 today, you start the Twitter account—

GT Yeah.

[13:18]

RZ Maybe you start Instagram. But it’s not, “Oh, I gotta get my blog posts going.” That’s not the mindset today.

GT Yeah it’s different. It’s true.

RZ Maybe you write on Medium every so often because you feel compelled but a blog is more, “This is me. This is my identity. And I’m gonna continue to talk to you through this place,” and there’s a feeling of like, “Ok, I should go write something.” I had that feeling. I blogged for like six years and if I didn’t write something in like 45 days, I felt like, “I gotta go write something.”

GT Yeah and your blog was like your online identity.

RZ It was your identity.

GT It was this unfolding narrative of your life or your thoughts, yeah, it was very different. Even Medium just doesn’t quite have that because you’re just kind of in the . . . pool of all the Medium writers.

RZ Exactly it’s a pool. Exactly.

LC Would you now say it’s your Instagram? Or your Twitter? You know if you were starting out today would you just go to those as your way to be present online?

RZ I guess. I’ll see someone that I think is interesting and they have, you know, you go to their site and it’s, you know, the classic . . . Twitter, Instagram, like the icons are at the bottom. And then you hit Instagram and it’s just them showing you how like some ice cream melted on their hand.

GT Yeah [Gina and Leah laugh].

RZ And it’s just I don’t know if that’s really giving me the backstory [laughs]. Which is great. It’s like their living life and their happy and that’s great but it’s not a blog. It’s not a blog by any means. You can pick up not just the knowledge they’re sharing but sentiment as well and where they’re at and their position on things. And such. I don’t know. I think that’s more interesting. I’m sounding like nostalgic here for a second but I’m always—

[14:56]

LC Well you could think there’s some benefit too because one of the reasons I wanted to learn to write better was in case I did another startup and another company, to become a more effective communicator. And you look at some of the companies today and they’re not communicating effectively. The founders aren’t trained in how to speak with the press.

RZ They’re really not.

LC Yeah.

RZ You hear about them—the bigger startups, you hear about them through other channels. You know? There’s rumors that kick in and—or they go to like, you know, those conferences where they just put two couches or two loveseats in front of everyone and they just talk about life and their startup. But that’s about the only channels you get. I mean you get announcements and press releases but that’s not a blog.

LC Yeah. It’s hard. Do companies today control their own narratives in the way that they used to?

RZ Yeah, right, right. Ok. Dropbox, three years. We’re making it through this. Where are we now? So it’s 2014?

LC I left Dropbox in December.

RZ Oh! This is extremely recently.

GT Very recent.

LC Yup. So we’re caught up.

RZ Ok. So. Somewhere along this timeline you got involved in defining a couple of standards.

LC Yes.

RZ Which we wanna talk about.

LC Yeah, we glossed over those a little bit.

RZ We did.

LC Yeah, both of them were when I was working at Pownce. So at my first startup. Yup, the two well known ones are OAuth and oEmbed.

RZ Ok. And tell us what OAuth is in as plain Enlgish as you possible can.

[16:26]

LC Sure, I always say, “Have you ever pressed the button that says ‘Connect with Facebook to login’?” That’s probably the easiest way to explain it. Anytime you click ‘Login with Facebook.” Yup. Yup. That is based on OAuth.

RZ Ok.

LC Yup, it’s—in this situation they’re using OAuth as an identity provider but what it was originally intended  for was a way to identify a user when they’re logging in for an API. And also to sort of let them choose which permissions they want the third-party application to have. So, if you’re worried about clicking that ‘Login with Facebook’ and then, “Oh! It might post something to Facebook!”

RZ Right.

LC Or on your behalf and you don’t know about it! That’s scary, right? So, also part of the OAuth specification and process is letting the user know sort of what they’re opting into. Like, “Hey, we are not gonna post to Facebook without your permission.”

RZ Yeah, you get that list of things: here’s what you’re letting us do.

GT I didn’t know that was part of the OAuth spec.

RZ I didn’t realize that either.

GT I thought the app itself kind of can see your friends lists, cannot post Tweets for you. I thought that was something that Twitter defined versus the OAuth spec itself.

LC They do define it, the technical term is scopes, OAuth scopes. But each application can choose which scopes they wanna have.

GT That’s right.

LC And it depends on the application, right? So, not every application you can post to, for example.

GT That makes sense. I’m having a total fangirl moment, by the way, I mean I’ve implemented OAuth in the apps that I’ve built and I’ve pressed the like ‘Authorize with Twitter’ or ‘Connect my GitHub’ or ‘Connect with—’ Like . . . I’ve done that ten times a day! And that’s your work! That’s gotta be amazing to feel like.

LC Well it was a group of 12 people. So [laughs].

[18:08]

RZ I mean still [Gina laughing]. You were in the room. I mean this is something that has had a pretty impact, not just on the web but beyond the web.

GT Huge impact.

RZ Um so, I mean, congratulations on that. Did you get any money out of this?

LC Thanks. No. [All laugh]

RZ Ok.

GT No congratulations on that.

RZ That’s a helluva thing to put on a—

LC It was done out of the love of, for me, user experience. So, allowing users to quickly login to sites, and to sign up for new things, it’s a huge pain point. Right? So I was trying to get people to use my app, Pownce, I was like, “Ah—” You know? It’s hard! You have to create whole accounts.

GT This came out of figuring out auth for Pownce.

LC Yeah, well, for our API specifically like how can third party applications use our API securely? Um and then it kind of morphed into this login identity thing and that’s great. I think that’s such a nice use.

RZ I remember when it took hold initially cuz, you know, you look at the path of like standards through W3C and things like that. That’s a process, right? And then this thing, it took hold and it was so simple. That it kind of caught fire in the development community, in terms of, “Wow, this is—this is a pretty simple, straightforward way to do it. And we need it!” And then it just I felt like, I may be wrong on this, I felt like it took six months and then you started to see it trickle out in a lot of different places. I think for some it was if anything it was the bureaucratic walls and the bigger companies, in terms of getting through, but it’s just simplicity around something like—That’s I think was the stroke of genius there.

GT And when you think about the different authorization protocols now, I’m sure you have so many feelings about things like Two Factor and Touch ID and those—I mean Two Factor Auth, I mean shee . . . talk about . . . complicated and annoying user experience. Like compared to OAuth. You can tell you all were thinking about user experience and not about security and barcodes and ughhh.

RZ Yeah, there’s a necessary evil aspect to Two Factor and [Gina sighs] others out there just cuz it’s not just about convenience, it’s about security.

[20:12]

LC It’s about security but what’s really interesting, have you guys been hearing these stories about stolen phone numbers now? So if you get your Two Factor as a text message, it’s actually easier to steal someone’s phone number than pretty much anything else.

RZ To get the message? To get the six numbers?

LC Yes, to get—So you wanna steal someone’s phone number so that text message comes to your phone instead of their physical phone.

RZ Right, right.

LC So, now everyone’s recommending you use like an app on your phone instead of your phone number.

GT Right, like Authy or Google Authenticator, getting the push notification—

LC I mean isn’t that crazy that that’s the weak point? The weak point is the cell phone providers—

GT Like calling Verizon and faking them into sending—

LC They ask you some easy security questions, “What’s your birthday?” “Ok. Here’s your phone number.”

RZ Right. That’s insane [Gina laughing]. I mean round and round we go here. I mean it’s just constant.

LC Security’s always a game of Whack-a-Mole and [Rich laughs yeah exactly] learn to protect your accounts.

RZ Exactly. Alright, so, you left Dropbox, we’ve arrived. We’re coming to present.

GT The new thing, the new, exciting thing!

RZ [Laughs] It took us a bit but we’re here! It’s another startup. Tell us about this new startup.

[21:22]

LC Sure! So the new startup is Breaker. It’s an iOS app for listening to podcasts and for discovering new hot podcasts going on right on. And, specifically, we’re interested in podcasts at the episode level. So, if there’s a really great interview or a specific topic that is really good episode, [uh huh] we surface that the best, better than any other podcast app out there because when you listen to podcasts, we take note of that you listened to it, you get like credit so you can say, “Hey, I’ve listened to, you know, 36 episodes on Breaker.” Other people can follow you, see your profile, see what episodes you’ve listened to, and you can like episodes. And that for us is a big signal of, “This is a really cool episode,” so we show you episodes that other people have liked a lot in the past 24 hours. So you can kinda see hot episodes as they come and go.

GT So you’re adding a social layer [yes] to podcast listening which is really needed. I mean podcasting is such an amazing medium like it’s—there’s just this intimacy and this closeness. I wrote a blog, a very popular blog for many years and then I hosted a podcast for a few years and I just got this response from listeners that you’d never got in kind of the written word. There’s just something—there’s a connection about hearing someone’s voice but it’s also like I talk to friends and they’re like, “Oh! I listened to this amazing episode on the way to work today.” But there’s this disconnection because I haven’t, you know, I haven’t maybe even heard of this show, or I haven’t heard the episode yet. It’s that problem of the kind of asynchronous listening. So it sounds like you’re solving this problem. I feel like podcast user experience has sooo many problems so I’m so glad that you’re trying to fix this problem space, adding that social layer I think really is huge. It would be huge.

LC Yeah, thanks. We think so too. I mean when we first started running it we were just—had like a hundred of our friends beta testing it and it’s so fun. I was just like, “Hang on, what are people listening to? What are they [Rich laughs] listening to everyday?” [Laughs] I would snoop. And I would steal. I’d be like, “Oh! This episode looks good. I’m gonna listen to that.”

RZ So, the app is—it’s all you need to listen to podcasts.

LC Yup.

RZ It’s not just a recommendation engine and then you go over to your favorite podcast—

LC Yeah, you can listen to podcasts in the app, you can subscribe, we send you really nice push notifications with like the episode description and episode art. So if you wanna know when the episodes are coming out—

RZ Now is it free?

[23:36]

LC It’s totally free in the App Store.

RZ iOS?

LC iOS only.

RZ Ok. The podcast world is a strange world.

GT It is.

RZ I’m backing up a second into how it materialized. One of the stories I love hearing—because Apple it’s sort of been this thing that’s been on like the top shelf that they notice every so often in the dining room and I think of the Odio to Twitter story is hilarious to me.

LC Oh yeah.

RZ They’d raised a bunch of money and then Apple put a podcast directory—they just threw it into iTunes I think. They said, “Oh, we’re done!” [Laughs] They just ended that startup. So, the impact—I feel like it’s almost this inadvertent impact that Apple has had on podcasting is kinda bizarre. That story is fascinating. And they just announced some changes actually, recently, around how they’re gonna handle podcasts and I saw some articles floating around, I was like, “Welp, that’s the end of podcasts. No more podcasts.” You’re obviously in this world right now, tell us—well both in terms of how you see the ecosystem and also what’s happening more recently.

LC Yeah, well Apple’s been the dominant player, like you said, because they control the devices, right?

RZ Right.

LC First it was the iPod, now it’s the iPhone. They control the thing that’s in your pocket that you most often listen to podcasts on. Like maybe you listen in a car but for the most part it’s the device! So when Apple puts out anything related to podcasting it has a huge impact. And recently, at this year’s WWDC, they announced a few changes. Some more controversial than others. Added some extra fields to their feeds, not that exciting. But what really got people worked up was that they’re gonna start exposing metrics and listening data based on their app, so they have a podcast app on your phone. They are gonna start tracking what users are listening to and sharing that data with podcast creators.

RZ Ok so Apple drops this sort of stock sort of part of app package there’s a podcast app, right?

LC Yes.

[25:49]

RZ And that’s I think people gloss over, you know, the power of default apps for anything. Like I downloaded this really great new camera app recently, and I wanna use it cuz it has this amazing ability to control exposure before you take the picture. And then I realized that I can’t swipe from lock screen, I can’t do a lot of things [others chuckle] [right] [yeah] that are privileges for the stock Apple Camera App. That’s the steep hill here, right? For a lot of independent apps and independent developers around this. So what do you think—where does this go? Where do you see this going?

LC Well what’s interesting about Apple’s podcast app is they don’t really have a ton of access to things that third party developers don’t have access to which is exciting as an independent developer of a podcast app. They don’t have that like lock—We have access to the same lock screen APIs that they do.

RZ Right.

LC Pretty much the same stuff. What—of course we still have the disadvantage of it’s the default one that comes on your phone versus, you know, having to go download Breaker in the App Store. But yeah so what’s interesting about this new announcement is that currently podcasters don’t have a lot of insight into data and who’s listening to their podcast because as a podcast publisher, you guys know, you just publish a feed.

RZ Right.

GT Right.

RZ So where is Breaker going? First off, you’re out. Let’s clarify that it’s in the App Store today.

LC It’s in the App Store today, we launched about two months ago publically.

GT New, brand new. And Breaker was on screen at WWDC this year, was it not?

LC It was! Oh! So we got an email—

RZ Woah!

LC The Friday before Monday was the keynote and the announcements at WWDC. The Friday before we get an email from Apple asking for our permission to use our artwork [Gina laughs] at WWDC! And I was like, “Maybe we’re going to be like in one of these posters.” You know? Or like you know how they have walls of ads? That show all the icons.

GT So that is a very vague and broad request. Were you and Eric just like jumping up and down at that point?!

[27:54]

LC We just said, “Yes!”

GT [Laughing] Cuz that’s what you say when Apple asks.

LC Yeah—when Apple asks anything you just say yes [others laugh]. You sign it away. “Yes. Ok. Take it. No big deal.” But then I was like, “It’s too late to be printing things. Like they’re not printing on Friday, what are they doing on Friday that they want icons?” And what ended up happening is the new App Store, the new Apple App Store splits apps into apps and games. Gets the games out of, you know, messing with apps. Cuz right now all the top ten lists are—it’s all games. It’s all games.

GT Right.

LC Right? And it’s so hard to get through as an app that’s not a game. So they recognized this and said, “Hey, games are great. We still want to surface the best games but you know games are quite different from productivity apps or a photo app or a music listening app. Like we wanna give them some space as well.” So now the main tab is apps. It’s not full of games. And they were looking for just, you know, people to put in that—or apps to put in that screen and they picked us which was great. I think probably cuz we have a nice icon [all laugh].

GT I’m sure! I’m sure! So the context was just like, “Here’s the new App Store,” and there was Breaker right there in the little lineup.

LC Yup, we were just—they scrolled by it. [Gina laughs] We were in the keynote for like one second.

RZ Take it in.

LC What’s even crazier is we were on apple.com for like a day.

GT Woah!

LC We’re kind of below the fold so there’s just kind of a tiny sliver of the icon on apple.co—But I sent it to my parents, I was like, “Look at! We’re on apple.com! A tiny little sliver.”

GT I feel like this is the new Apple. They’ve got like a competing podcast app on screen at WWDC! That’s amazing.

[29:30]

RZ I mean they know about you, right? So there’s that.

GT I have a dumb question though about listener stats.

LC Sure.

GT Are those—I’m just gonna assume that you are not—like Breaker isn’t able to point like—post to that API, to send Breaker’s listening information—

LC To Apple. No.

GT Ok. Ok. I just wanna make sure.

LC So what’s interesting is that they have listener stats because they control one of the listening clients [right]. So as a podcast host you don’t have a lot of insight because you don’t know who’s hitting that feed. Like you don’t know if it’s a bot, you don’t know if it’s a real person listening to it, you really don’t know who’s looking at your data whereas in the app you know who plays a podcast, right? You know, “Hey, this user actually listened,” versus—

GT Download is meaningless, lots of clients auto download.

LC Right, Google crawls it and downloads—

GT Right, right. I had this moment where I was like, “Maybe they opened up this API and other podcast apps could post to it,” but that’s crazy talk!

LC I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. It’s not coming out til this fall. So.

GT Ok.

RZ Have they ever done that? For anything?

GT I mean the icon was up on the screen at WWDC! I feel like there’s hope.

RZ There’s an opening here! [Others laugh] I would go stand at like just outside the spaceship for a while and—

LC See if anybody walks out that I can talk to.

[30:44]

RZ Well it’s probably sliding doors. Like when someone goes in just scoot in behind them and—

LC I feel of the thousands of Apple employees, there’s maybe like ten that work on podcasts.

RZ I think that’s right! [Laughs]

LC I mean the odds aren’t good [laughs].

RZ [Laughing] That’s right.

GT So does this mean that creators are going to ask their listeners to use the Apple Podcast app to get those stats? Because it’s true—I mean, honestly Rich, I don’t even know where we look to see how Track Changes is doing in terms of listening. So maybe Apple’s listening stats are just one statistic—

LC One source of data.

RZ Yeah.

GT—that a publisher can use to point to.

RZ Exactly, I think there are a couple of services out there that collect the stuff for you.

GT And then Breaker hearts could be the other stat.

LC Yeah, we are tracking stats. We’re not really exposing them to publishers yet. I mean you can see how many subscribers you have and how many likes you get but we wanna really package that data a little more nicely in the future. So Apple’s gonna do that as well. So it is kind of coming from many different sources right now but see that’s why I don’t think it’s like the end of podcasting, right? If you’re collecting it from multiple sources.

RZ Yeah, it’s been incredibly resilient, right? In terms of how it’s grown. I feel like it’s one of those things where usually there’s a commercial motivation or motivations that drive trends and podcasts never really had that. It was just sort of this phenomena that sort of lived over on the side and yet still thrived. I don’t know growth. Like do you have an idea of growth of podcasting more generally? I think it’s—there is growth. I just don’t know what it is.

GT I mean, Serial, right? Was just a huge like, “Oh this is a thing!” That was a phenomena! That was a cultural phenomena, in a way that no other podcast had been, right? I mean—

RZ It broke through and people were talking about it who didn’t know what podcasts were.

GT Yes.

[32:26]

LC Yes. Yes, it is very content and hit driven. There’s been studied linear growth over the past few years and it’s actually going up quite a bit in the past year, so estimates are that 20% of people—21% something like that in the past month have listened to a podcast. Up from in the teens and the tens in past years.

RZ That’s incredibly high.

GT It is.

RZ That ain’t nothin’.

LC Yeah, yeah.

RZ Where would you love to see Breaker go?

LC So, what is interesting to me is not just the iOS app for listening, what I think is really driving podcast listening right now is the proliferation of new devices for listening. So that’s things like home devices like Google Home and Alexa and, you know, Apple just announced their speaker system. So these new home speaker smart speakers are gonna be a big driver. Cars. Cars getting smart, having sort of built in stuff. Like why would you listen to the radio? The radio is like watching cable television, right?

GT Yeah.

LC Wouldn’t you rather have the control of Netflix? Which is what podcasts are. You can pick which podcast you wanna listen to. You have control.

RZ So it’s not just biking and commuting to work, it’s in other places and it’s starting to permeate other places.

LC Oh yeah, commutes are the big driver of podcast listening [laughs maniacally].

RZ I imagine. I imagine they are.

LC We have the data! So I’m a runner and I listen while I run. So I thought, you know, Saturday, Sundays, we’re gonna have all this podca—No. Like—

GT It’s 30 minutes in the morning [yup] and 30 minutes in the evening.

LC Yup! Yup, yup, yup, yup.

[34:00]

RZ I mean if you’re social [other chuckling] and your friends are telling you to come out to brunch, like, “No, I’m gonna hole up and listen to two podcasts.”

GT I do like to listen while I’m cooking or at home but yeah the commute is the—or the gym.

RZ It’s the driver.

LC Yeah, it’s the big driver. And then the other—one other technology that’s worth mentioning is headphones. So, earpods, new Bluetooth technology and making it quicker to connect to headphones. Cuz that was a pain to be digging around and untangling those chords and like plugging it in [yeah] [yeah] and then like yeah so making it just super fast. So there’s a lot of stuff going for podcasting right now.

RZ That’s very cool. Leah, this was awesome. This was really a pleasure to have you here. I look forward to hearing about your next four or five startups over the next [others laugh] 20  years or so [laughs].

LC I swear! I swear this is my last one. Every time I say it.

RZ You’ve said that every time. Ok.

LC This is my last one.

GT This isn’t a bug. I think this is a feature.

RZ Yeah, I agree.

GT I love that your career has spanned so many different product types and I think it’s great. I think it’s awesome. I wanna see Breaker do really well.

LC It’s so crazy, though they do share kind of a common thread in that I’m always really interested in social—like online social, how people interact with [yes] each other and self expression. So, I was doing blogging, now it’s podcasting. I feel they’re very similar.

GT Definitely.

RZ Very cool, very cool. Well, thank you again for doing this. This was great. [Music fades in] This has been an episode of Track Changes. I thought this went great, Gina.

GT I do too—

RZ I think it might be one of the best ones we’ve ever done.

GT This might be it for us.

RZ [Laughing] Let’s close it out!

GT Mic drop [laughs].

RZ Right here. Right here. Thank you for listening. Paul will return next week and if you have questions or anything you wanna tell us about anything, we’re hello@postlight.com. Have a great week! [Music ramps up, plays alone for six seconds, fades out to end.]