Countless startups launch and flame out, but entrepreneurs Steve Krenzel and James Reggio have a few factors that tip in their favor. Krenzel sold his first startup, Thinkfuse, to Salesforce; Reggio was one of the company’s first engineers. Their combined work histories span more than a dozen tech companies, including Microsoft, Twitter and Airbnb, exposing them to varied approaches to engineering and user experience.
Now the two have created Banter, a Seattle-based startup that launched last year and is focused on the rapidly expanding podcast sector — a market they personally love, describing themselves as “podcast fiends.”
“We simply want to make it easier for people to share podcasts they’ve enjoyed and have conversations around them. We’re building out an entire platform around discovery, publishing and monetization, but at the end of the day our guiding principle is ‘a story for every audience and an audience for every story,'” Krenzel said.
The challenge for Banter’s 33-year-old CEO and co-founder is establishing their business in a field that’s crowded with startups such as Chorus and Breaker, and big names including Google, Apple and Spotify.
“Banter is much more about discovery,” Krenzel said, in contrast to many of their competitors. He would love to see Banter do for podcasts what the site Medium has done for expanding the exposure of bloggers, allowing readers to easily share and promote content they like, however obscure the original source might be.
“We believe that if we build the right platform and make it easy enough for people to publish their own shows and build communities, we could amplify that,” Krenzel said.
An aspect of the project that interests Krenzel is the opportunity to build a consumer-app business in the Northwest, which has been dominated by enterprise, cloud and retail tech companies.
“When it comes to pure consumer apps, Silicon Valley is the only place we see them coming out of,” he said.
Banter will soon move out of beta mode and is being used by about 300 people. Over the next year, Krenzel and Reggio hope to grow the number of users and will put more energy into helping people publish their own podcasts. They’re considering different strategies for generating revenue with the site, but haven’t settled on a model.
Krenzel’s personal podcast favorites include “99% Invisible,” The New York Times’ “Caliphate” and “Radiolab.” He deliberately avoids tech-focused offerings to give himself a little well-roundedness and isn’t ready to grab the mic himself — at least not yet.
“I think it would be fun to do a podcast,” he said. “But right now I’m having a good time being a consumer.”
Explain what you do so our parents can understand: Banter is a place to enjoy podcasts, share them with friends and have conversations around them. And it’s the first piece of software I’ve built that my mom uses, so it definitely passes the parent test.
Inspiration hit us when: I’ve listened to podcasts for years and in any given week will listen to dozens of hours of content. People would regularly ask me for podcast recommendations, but sharing specific shows and episodes was oddly difficult — doubly so when the other person wasn’t also using an iPhone. I began keeping a spreadsheet of recommendations, but it was a very poor experience for others to then get those recommendations into their own podcast app. Every time I added something to the spreadsheet, I thought, “This is ridiculous. There has to be a better way.” There wasn’t, so we built it.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re bootstrapping for now, but will likely raise soon. Bootstrapping is great for maximizing flexibility while you explore a domain and hone in on what you should be building. And we’ve done that. We’ve got a really great beta going with hundreds of users who have allowed us to validate (and reject!) many of our hypotheses. We’ve built a solid foundation and we’re now at a point where we’re ready to fuel up the rocketship. Raising money is great for that, so it’s the next logical step for us.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Execution. James and I can (and often do) run circles around much larger teams.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Deciding to go cross-platform from the start. It’s 2018. You shouldn’t build a social network that excludes half of the participants from day one. This choice makes Banter the easiest way for listeners to share podcasts with anyone, regardless of which phone they use.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Deciding to go cross-platform from the start. Even with all of the modern tooling at our disposal, it’s still a lot of work.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Gates is busy saving the world, so I don’t want to interrupt him from doing that. Bezos has proven himself quite savvy with media (Audible, Prime Video and Twitch, to name a few) and I’ve personally witnessed his incredible clarity of thought. Most importantly, he bans PowerPoint in meetings, which is how I know that this is a guy who has his head on straight. Bezos would be my pick, but if Zuckerburg ever tries to acquire us, I’ll deny that I said that.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Sharing a meal together. Breaking bread is a great way to change the scenery, unwind and catch up on life.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Will this person take pride in their work? Sure, we want brilliant people who are passionate about podcasts, but at our size we don’t have time to micromanage. If you commit to something, we need to trust that you’ll get it done and will push yourself to do it well.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: In all likelihood, the startup you’re creating won’t be around in five years, but the relationships you’ve built and the people you’ve interacted with will be. Be mindful of this. Startups aren’t a one-shot game.