StartUp Podcast: Diversification of Worry (Season 4, Episode 1)
October 7, 2016 6:05 AM - Subscribe

StartUp is back! And we're kicking Season 4 off with an update on what's happening here at Gimlet Media. Since the start of the year, Gimlet has more than doubled in size. And while growth is often the goal for a startup, it also costs a lot of money. In this episode, Alex and his team ask themselves some very scary questions: How are they going to pay for all this growth? And what will happen if they can't? With a larger staff and six new shows launching in the fall, this feels like a particularly pivotal moment at the company. There are big decisions to be made, with potentially even bigger consequences.
posted by ellieBOA (13 comments total)
Medium post by Starlee Kine
posted by ellieBOA at 6:10 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

That post from Kine and the word from Alex are really interesting.

I am guessing that she missed some deadlines and they were paying her more than she was worth related to her output. Yeah, I get that the show takes time but if you can't produce ...

Actually, I had always assumed that they had hired her on a contract basis based on the lack of content.

Personally, I'm irritated it took six months for this to come out. I'm sure there are Reasons but it still feels ridiculous to me.
posted by Tevin at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2016

Active Mefi post on Mystery Show.

She was always really sporadic on new episodes.
posted by ellieBOA at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2016

I was one of the listeners who was annoyed that they just dismissed the DoD opportunity out of hand.

The DoD does some really cool stuff, but I'm usually skeptical of most places that promote them because they do come from a very america-fuck-yeah kind of place. I would have been genuinely interested in seeing what a DoD show filtered through the Gimlet lens might have looked like.

Open for Business was definitely better than I expected a show promoting eBay to be.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:21 AM on October 7, 2016

sparkelmotion - funny, I actually didn't like Open for Business. I think I listened to 2 episodes. IIRC the host really didn't grab me, and I didn't find the stories compelling.

I also think it would be interesting to see what Gimlet could do with a DoD story. But I understand why they passed on it.
posted by radioamy at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2016

I wouldn't call Open for Business the best show in the lineup, but it did work for me.

Part of it I'm sure is because I'm in the process of trying to monetize on of my hobbies (which basically boils down to starting an itty-bitty side business). I appreciated hearing OfB cover topics that I knew I'd need to think about, but at a shallow-enough debt that I wasn't lost for not having already spent a ton of time and energy on it.

I hear you on the host -- though he did grow on me. And I just looked through the episode list and remembered that that first one was pretty much tedtalk nonense. It gets better though -- especially episode 5 which is basically about: Immigrants, We Get the Job Done.

Yes, the interviewees were mostly eBay success stories, and some of the product placement was pretty blatant (hey... did you know that they do Big Data?!). But the content was pretty good, especially compared to what a 6 episode podcast infomercial could have been.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:50 AM on October 10, 2016

I would have liked to hear the reasons for turning down the Department of Defense offer. Was it an ethical problem with working with the military? Or, since many of them left public radio, was it about not wanting to have to deal the issues--whatever they are--that come with depending on the government for money?

Alex and Matt described it as a "headache", which implies it was about the logistics rather than ethics. So what about the deal made it a headache? Maybe there is a non-disclosure agreement, but it is weird to have a podcast about your business and gloss this stuff.
posted by riruro at 8:28 PM on October 10, 2016

A lot of people (both in and out of the US) see the U.S. military as a force for evil in the world. I could see a bunch of listeners causing "headaches" by getting on Gimlet's case for having a sponsor that offends them.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:47 AM on October 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think also the RFP process for doing anything for the government is insane and not worth it for a lot of companies. IIRC Planet Money did an episode on this?
posted by radioamy at 11:19 AM on October 11, 2016

This was a really interesting show. Despite all the slightly nasty things I'm about to say about Gimlet, it's fantastic that they're sharing this with us. I'm a fan.

As someone who usually dismisses NPR News as "those corporate shills who sold out the mission of public radio for paid sponsorships and timid political pandering," I'm clearly coming at this from a very different perspective than many other listeners here. The idea that producing branded content for ebay and advertising it along with their genuine programs is indisputably non-controversial sounds incredibly strange to me. I use ebay. I value ebay. No matter how much evil paypal did while owned by ebay, I'd accept that ebay adds significant value to the world. I'm glad they exist. But, creating custom content for advertisers is pretty creepy no matter how upfront and transparent they are about it. It will certainly keep me from wearing a Gimlet T-shirt. (Admittedly, they stand to earn a lot more from ebay than they will from idealist lefty weirdos buying T-shirts.)

While I can see an argument for the Pentagon-sponsored show - after all, I *wish* the US military spent more money crafting interesting radio programs than just about anything else they do - the degree to which they seriously considered the idea seems really surprising. They ultimately decided in the way I would have expected. (Driven in part, no doubt, by the knowledge that people like me are in their audience.) However, the whole discussion made it unusually clear that the Gimlet heads are not my people. Which is a fine thing. It's great that there are so many different kinds of people in the world producing pretty good radio. But, it was surprising what a radically different world-view these people I've been hanging out with for 19 years (in Alex Blumberg's case) actually experience.

I'm also quite disappointed to hear that Mystery Show is gone. Though I found bits of it frustrating, it's indisputably among the most innovative and interesting things that have happened in the radio and podcast world in a decade. (I love Reply All, but "personable guys chatting about the internet" isn't exactly a ground-breaking idea.)

I don't know anything about what happened to Mystery Show. Perhaps Starlee Kine is awful to work with. Perhaps they had no audience and an outrageous budget. Perhaps they got cease-and-desist letters from the celebrities with whom the program seemed to be weirdly obsessed. There may be very good reasons to cancel the program.

But, from an outside perspective, getting rid of Mystery Show and keeping Surprisingly Awsome is shocking. Surprisingly Awesome has become genuinely listenable since they switched up the hosts, but it's never anything close to surprising. (And don't get me started on the decision to hire Jonathan Goldstein.) Here's hoping Mystery Show falls in with the Radiotopia crowd, or someone similar, and continues to make great radio.

I fear Gimlet is now competing with Maximum Fun and How Stuff Works to become the Discovery Channel of podcasting. But, successful and timid podcasting today almost certainly paves the way for innovative and interesting podcasting in the future, so I shouldn't complain. The future is bright.
posted by eotvos at 7:25 PM on October 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can believe that that listeners were the "headache" then. There was a Metafilter thread a few months ago where several people complained that NPR was too far to the right. Which I think is a silly goose opinion, but appears to be strongly held among the kind of listeners Gimlet courts.
posted by riruro at 4:33 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

It really seems like Mystery Show was cancelled because it wasn't sustainable. It was expensive and time-intensive to produce, and Starlee wasn't getting anywhere with episodes 7+, and they decided to give it the axe and put their resources elsewhere. It's very sad but it's not shocking when you think about the economics of it.
posted by radioamy at 6:47 PM on October 13, 2016

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