20 Minutes with Nicolaus Berlin

We talked about the rise of podcasts, start-up mentalities and new passions with the head of Podimo Germany

After more than a month in social-distancing-land, probably most of us have found our way into the world of podcasts – whether it’s Corona-News, True-Crime- or Drinking-formats. Podimo is a Danish-German start-up that wants to reinvent the ecosystem of podcasts: By using algorithms it is able to detect your personal taste, the app allows you to download your favourite episodes, and it creates financial value for the podcasters. While other apps buy existing formats, Podimo creates podcasts on its own and therefore lays the foundation for a more sustainable podcast-culture. The man behind the German project is Nicolaus Berlin, a podcast-believer since the first hour, start-up prodigy and lecturer – we talked with him about the rise of the trend, why it’s more important to have the right heart than a huge market-advantage, favourite formats and Nicolaus’ newest passion.

"The early day audio bloggers
were joined by ex-radio people,
then by influencers and other
content creators and now a whole
industry is growing up around
podcasting that is investing large
sums in sophisticated

Nele Tüch: Podcasts are a relatively new phenomenon but they are also the (next) big thing. How did the podcast-industry change from the beginning until now?

Nicolaus Berlin: Podcasts have been around for quite some time now. It was almost twenty years ago when audio and video files were first attached to an RSS feed. A few years later those RSS feeds could be imported to iPods and then it did not take much longer until the term ‘Podcast’ was formed. Before that, it was referred to as ‘audio blogging’. This term describes the roots of this medium quite nicely. For the majority of the last 15 years, podcasts were used as audio blogs where people were often hanging out in front of a microphone. You could say that the most recent wave of podcasts popularity was sparked by the launch of the American true-crime podcast “Serial”. The release of every episode was covered by many US media outlets, which did essentially two things: First, it educated many Americans about podcasting and taught them what a podcast is. Second, it got many listeners hooked on the show and served as a gateway drug. People were craving for more and started to look for more interesting formats to listen to. This really sparked the listenership and in parallel catalyzed the production. The early day audio bloggers were joined by ex-radio people, then by influencers and other content creators and now a whole industry is growing up around podcasting that is investing large sums in sophisticated productions. This is what I love about this format, it is so incredibly diverse. You get everything from a super authentic home-produced podcast to a high-end production that costs many thousand dollars, and both types can be extremely value-adding and fun to listen to.

From a commercial perspective, podcasting has also gone through an interesting development. At first, the majority of the content was not monetised and creators did not get anything for their work. A bit later some creators started to ask for donations to support their craft and again a few years later the first advertising dollars started to come in. Advertising has been the main way for podcasters to earn money with their content in the US, while in China podcasting grew up as a paid medium – users are paying to listen to great content. Europe is still in its early days of podcasting. With Podimo, we are building an eco-system that makes it a lot easier for podcasters to earn money with great content. We encourage some of our App users to pay a small fee to unlock exclusive content. Their membership fee is then shared with all the podcasts they listen to, whether they’re exclusively on Podimo or not. With this revenue-share system, we also want to make it very easy for listeners to support the podcasts they’re listening to.

NT: Podimo uses algorithms to create a selection of podcasts for one’s individual taste.How does this system work for someone who has never been in touch with podcasts before?
Nicolaus Berlin: Podcasts are very individual and it requires a great editorial understanding to recommend the right podcasts. Hence we have an algorithm that tries to understand a users personal taste as much as possible, as well as a content curation team that adds the human touch by personally selecting and recommending content. When users first open the app they’re encouraged to select their interests, ie. sports, politics, true-crime, etc., as well as some demographic data. That serves as a first baseline from where we are building up our recommendations. The more users listen to podcasts the better we understand their interests and the more accurately we can then recommend content that might interest them.

NT: In times of Corona, there are winners and losers. Podimo seems to be one of the winners: At the beginning of March, you had around 50.000 users, at the beginning of April it was the double amount. What does it mean for a start-up to get such a big push in growth?
Nicolaus Berlin: Since our start in November we have been growing quite a bit and we are very lucky that this growth has continued over the last weeks. Having more and more users join Podimo every day allows us to learn much faster and to get feedback on specific Podcasts and our product. This fast growth does not only push us to learn faster but also to produce and release more great content every single day. This has certainly become a bit more challenging due to Corona, but we have a phenomenal team and great partners that are very quick at identifying new ways and safe ways of producing content.
In general, I would say that fast growth requires a strong infrastructure and strong processes. On both fronts, we are learning very fast and we are very lucky to have such a strong team that is capable of building and optimizing these on a daily basis.

"Building a company from scratch
is like boxing. You get punched in
the face every single day and you
need to be able to get up again
and again. So I always ask myself if
the founders have the grit to get
back on their feet day by day."

NT: You’re an expert on the field of start-ups – how do you know an idea is worth your
time and investment?
Nicolaus Berlin: That is a great question. When evaluating ideas I personally ask myself a few questions:

  1. How large is the market and opportunity behind the startup? Does it match the founders’ ambitions?
  2. How is the team behind the startup? Besides the required intellect I believe it is much more important to have the right heart and guts. Building a company from scratch is like boxing. You get punched in the face every single day and you need to be able to get up again and again. So I always ask myself if the founders have the grit to get back on their feet day by day.
    Many people also want the founders to have a unique advantage over other market participants. I don’t believe in that. I believe that if a founder has the right heart and stamina and really gets married with his business, then he/she is also capable of succeeding without an unfair competitive advantage.
  3. I ask myself what I can contribute to the venture and in what role I can make the biggest difference.
  4. Lastly, and I think many people overlook this, I ask myself if I really want to spend the next 10 years of my life thinking and dreaming about this topic. It takes a very long time and a lot of energy to build a successful company and many people forget that. I ask myself that question to avoid getting blindsided by something that might be an interesting business opportunity, but nothing that would drive me for the next 10 years.

NT: How would you advise someone who wants to build one’s own start-up?
Nicolaus Berlin: Make sure you have a plan and get started already!

NT: If you would have to bet all of your horses on one creative industry-trend – would it be podcasts?
Nicolaus Berlin: Of course! That is exactly what I am doing right now :)

NT: What are your favourite podcasts?
Nicolaus Berlin: Currently, I really enjoy listening to Beyond Victory by Nico Rosberg, the German Formula 1 champion. He has great guests and I particularly like the close and intimate setting that he creates. It feels like being part of the conversation. From our productions, I really like In extremen Köpfen where the psychologist Dr. Leon Windscheidt speaks to people who went through incredible challenges in their lives and explains them from a psychological perspective. It’s a combination of breathtaking stories, paired with great storytelling and high-end audio production.

NT: People are listening to podcasts to relax, what do you do for balance?
Nicolaus Berlin: When I’m in Berlin I love to clear my mind by doing sports and going for a run. However, being Austrian I also love the countryside and the mountains. Hiking up mountains, going on ski-tours and spending time outside is what really gives me balance. It only takes a weekend in the countryside to fully recharge my batteries.

"There is a lot more science to
great storytelling than one might

NT: What topic is currently on your mind and dominates most of your conversations?
Nicolaus Berlin: Besides Corona and Podimo, I am currently digging into the whole world of storytelling, which fascinates me. I have a business background and quite a rational, numbers-oriented mind, so I always thought that great stories are a complete art and nothing for my numbers-driven mind. I am just learning now that this is far from true. There is a lot more science to great storytelling than one might think. Currently, I am digging through the books of Michael Hauge, one of Hollywood's greatest storytellers.

NT: Personal leeway (=Freiraum) - what does it mean for you and where can you findit?
Nicolaus Berlin: Freiraum for me means to be free in my thoughts and actions. I love to spend my time on things that I truly enjoy and that provide me with a lot of energy. Usually, this entails creating something – be it a new business or anything else. When I put my mind to something I usually get lost in it and spend most of my time on it. Almost too much time. Hence, I am extremely lucky that I found a way to work on something that gives me all that and pays my bills at the same time.

You can find our podcast selection here: Freiraum Favourites

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