Headphones for Podcast

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Alex Carter certainly wasn’t the first to see the potential of the podcast. 
But he was willing to sacrifice a management consulting career to bet that the medium wouldn’t be a fad, but a new way of listening to news and commentary. 
Now, with his podcast discovery app Knomad on hold, he’s helping Product Hunt, one of the tech and media world’s most talked about brands, build out a regular stream of content around podcasts
Carter's responsibilities include curating a new user-submitted and upvoted list of podcast episodes for the Silicon Valley startup, encouraging users to form collections of relevant podcasts and episodes, as well as hosting live chats with the biggest names in podcasting. So far, those include Durham’s own Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer of Criminal and Alex Blumberg, the former This American Life producer who launched the podcast business Gimlet Media. Coming soon is an interview with Radiotopia co-founder Roman Mars. Though he makes regular trips to San Francisco, he’s doing it all largely from a home office in Raleigh. 

When we sat down last fall after Carter wrote this piece announcing Product Hunt Podcasts on Medium, he told me the relationship with Product Hunt began like many. His company was a finalist for a media startup accelerator called Matter, and during a January 2015 visit to San Francisco to interview, he reached out to a handful of people he thought might be interested in learning about Knomad. 

One of those was Bailey Smith, a fellow NC State University grad who launched a podcast called LocalHire about the film industry in North Carolina. Now, she’s in San Francisco leading a startup that archives sound-based media and makes it easy to be found and used by journalists and producers. And she's well connected in the emerging field. The pair attended a panel discussion on the future of audio together, and also met Erik Torenberg, a Product Hunt founding team member.

Carter and Torenberg stayed in touch, with Carter sending sporadic updates about Knomad and his perspectives on the podcast world. Eventually, Torenberg came back with an offer. Product Hunt wanted to begin curating podcasts and podcast episodes. The founders hoped Carter would launch and run it.

It was a difficult decision to move away from day-to-day focus on his startup. After graduating from The Startup Factory in May 2014 and several months teaching themselves to code, he and co-founder Michael Crouch launched the Knomad app in October 2014. It was in perfect timing with the launch of Serial, the popular crime saga that has earned more than 100 million downloads, averaging more than eight million per episode. In fact, it was the crime series that got Knomad into top search results and what led to several hundred users early on. 

Alex Carter pitched his startup Knomad at The Startup Factory Demo Day in May 2014.
Carter remains convinced his app will grow in necessity as the popularity of podcasts grows. He's bullish on the medium because they let people listen to content when they want versus when they happen to be in the car driving from here to there. Because our lives revolve around our mobile devices, it seemed only natural that radio would shift there, just like cable and network television are being forced into partnerships with on-demand and mobile television options. 

But while it certainly isn’t hard to learn about Serial with the amount of media attention the series is getting these days, it is hard to find other podcasts that might not have the broad appeal of Serial. And it’s even more difficult to find individual episodes. There still aren't many podcast discovery apps out there, nor ones that allow for easy sharing of episodes. So Knomad will continue to be free for download even as Carter has his attention on Product Hunt. It's got about 3,000 podcasts available for searching and sharing.

He explains the hiatus as "taking a wait and see" approach. 

Meanwhile, Carter is achieving some of his goals at Product Hunt by empowering people in the tech and startup world to share the podcasts and episodes they like best and upvote those on the podcast list. A newsletter goes out daily recapping activity on the list, making it easy for people to listen to a podcast directly. He's also networking with leaders in the field and finding mentors through the live chats and industry events.

Carter is still early in at Product Hunt, which was founded in 2013. He has regular contact with the company's founders and leaders and is privvy to the demands of a venture-backed company. Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Y Combinator, are funders. That means he's getting the valuable startup experience that he lacked when he started Knomad and entered The Startup Factory. 

"VCs look for what you have done before or why you are a world class expert," Carter says. "(At Knomad) we just had our willpower and what we had done so far and our tenacity."

Perhaps Product Hunt gives him the experience to match his will.

So what makes a good podcast?  Carter hasn't ever created his own, but he subscribes to about 80 of them. Here are a few suggestions, and Carter's full list is here.

  1. Your podcast doesn't have to be highly produced as long as it has really engaging conversation. That means great interaction between the guest and the host, really good questions and even some interruptions to the conversation to dig into something interesting. 
  2. Pick great guests. Land someone new, someone who hasn't been on anyone else's podcast. Or, if you have a repeat guest, try to extract a new story that hasn't been told before.
  3. Know your audience or who you hope to attract and be sure your content is relevant to that audience.
  4. Be sure the first two minutes are good enough to hook someone in to listen to the rest. Also, make the first part of the interview the content that is applicable to everyone, and go into niche topics toward the end.
  5. Be authentic. Listeners can hear through the phony.
And here are his top 10 podcast episodes of all time. Click through to listen here

Alex Carter's Favorite Podcast Episodes
Alex Carter, who runs podcasts at Product Hunt, created this collection of his 10 favorite podcast episodes. Credit: Product Hunt