#70 Alex Blumberg

James Altucher interviewed Alex Blumberg (@abexlumberg) to talk about his podcast StartUp, his startup Gimlet Media, and media’s changes. If you are interested in the story, as it happens, Blumberg will tell you the story. Histories have biases that weigh in on all things that travel through time. The StartUp is the show with less of them.

The pair start by talking about how Altucher binge watched StartUp and it’s a good demonstration about how media has changed. You can’t actually watch Blumberg’s podcast, but it comes through Altucher’s TV. There is no appointment viewing, things need to be evergreen. It’s a podcast, something that didn’t exist like this a decade ago. Even my daughters who are growing up in a cable free house view commercials as mini-episodes. The times they are a changing.

The reasons for Blumberg as the interviewee rather than interviewer is that he’s started a company, telling Altucher that “podcasting is having a moment.” His experience with podcasting couldn’t be much stronger, and he says, “this skill that I’ve worked and slaved for now has value.” He produced This American Life and co-hosted Planet Money. He’s won awards for his work and tells Altucher that this is a rare opportunity for him. He’s one of the few people in the world with a set of specific skills he can capitalize on.

Shane Snow might suggest that Blumberg is taking a Smartcut, and writes:

“Conventional thinking leads talented and driven people to believe that if they simply work hard , luck will eventually strike. That’s like saying if a surfer treads water in the same spot for long enough, a wave will come; it certainly happens to some people, once in a while, but it’s not the most effective strategy for success. Paradoxically, it’s actually a lazier move.”

Blumberg might have stayed at NPR, won more awards, and gotten a similar job to the one he has now. Maybe.

Instead Blumberg is the podcasting version of Bryan Mills.setofskills

Another line on Blumberg’s resume is his role producing This American Life for TV. About that he tells Altucher, “(it is) such a gigantic pain in the ass to make TV.” Blumberg says that the crew thought because they were good at telling stories on the radio, they would be good at telling stories on TV. Not so, they found out that it was a different form of delivery, radio was about what happened, TV about what was happening. The same idea is shared by comedians that Altucher has interviewed; about writing stand-up and writing for a TV show Carol Leifer said “they are two different animals.”  Ditto for Dave Berg who said Leno’s monologues and stand-up were two different styles of jokes.

In Blumberg’s podcast you hear all the good and bad (that they deem as good for radio) and it shows Blumberg’s awkwardness. This is a testament to how hard starting a business is. He’s one of the most polished, awarded, and successful people on radio that tells stories and in some episodes he comes off sounding juvenile. One of which was episode 3, “How to Divide an Imaginary Pie” where he wonders about finding a partner. It sounds like the last period of junior high where boy likes girl. But maybe it is, Altucher tells him that there are “no rules” in doing this.

Finding a partner and giving up equity in his business seems like a bad idea and Blumberg didn’t want to, but in the end it was easy to divide a company that was only that in name. The value was his idea plus his experience, he was like a cook without a restaurant. While no one could make ratatouille like him, he knew almost nothing about getting a building, hiring staff, and running the books.

In an episode of Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary gives advice that may have helped:

“You know, when I was in the basement back in the late ’80s starting The Learning Company, after I’d get a $12 million order for “Reader Rabbit,” it would blow up behind me, the logistics. I couldn’t deliver. I met a guy named Mike Perik. I gave him half my equity to solve my problem. We sold the company for $4.2 billion five years later. Best investment I ever made.”

Other sharks from the show and even Altucher have said that giving up equity for someone to be invested in time and money can often be a good thing.

In episode 1 of StartUp, Blumberg is asked about his unfair advantage and says the advantage is him. Mr. O’Leary from Shark Tank wouldn’t like this answer (wondering what would happen to his investment if a bus hit Blumberg tomorrow). Blumberg is talented, but not alone. Later in the episode he mentions that Serial is being run by three of the best and smartest people in radio and Roman Mars has a nice show in 99 Percent Invisible. Even podcast networks aren’t new. He’s closer to someone who climbed Mount Everest, very talented but not the only one.

The pair talk about how podcasts make money and Blumberg says that Mailchimp paid $6,000 to sponsor an episode. Altucher mentions that he knows Freakonomics and Entrepreneur on Fire are profitable podcasts.

Talking about money though sours some of his former colleagues Blumberg says, but explains that in his move from public radio to startup he’s seen the degrees of for profit. “Since I’ve entered the for profit world, every single actor in that world is driven by profit to varying degrees.”

About becoming profitable Altucher says, “Once you start making revenues you have more than one thing to do.”

The pair talk about podcast models and Blumberg says that the best are the most heavily produced. He tells Altucher that he probably has 50 hours of audio for the 3 hours of show they’ve made so far. On Quora a produce of Survivor says they capture 2,000 hours (84 days playing nonstop) of footage for the 15 hours in a season.

Blumberg tells Altucher that everything is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Carol Leifer would probably tell him that this is good. She told James that “you shouldn’t be relaxed” doing stand-up. She also said that if you aren’t failing then you aren’t moving forward enough, and Blumberg got a chance to do that. On episode 9 his podcast company made a mistake of collecting an interview for an advertisement but not making it clear. It’s an example of the awkward, unsteadiness in his journey.

Altucher asks him about getting all his work done and Blumberg says that because of certain boundaries he just can’t. “My kids don’t give a shit about email” Blumberg says and he doesn’t worry about constantly working because he can’t.

We all need more time, But constraints help us focus, On the biggest stuff.

The haiku is one of the pinnacles of poetry because the constraints.

Their interview wraps up for Blumberg telling Altucher that each problem he solves is like building a problem solving muscle and that his muscle has gotten stronger.

If you like these posts let’s connect on Twitter, @MikeDariano. If you are a regular reader and would like to donate you can do that here.

23 thoughts on “#70 Alex Blumberg”

  1. […] Alex Blumberg was deep in radio before his startup Mark Cuban memorized user manuals before he sold anything. Gary Vaynerchuk knows the ins and outs of every social network. Dick Yuengling moved kegs throughout the factor to learn the ins and outs. You have to go deep to learn the most valuable parts. Hobson does this too. […]


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