Why We Shut Down Gimlet

And how that led to a new podcast pilot: The Hunt

Alex Blumberg & Matt Lieber

Earlier this month, we shut down Gimlet for a week. We stopped releasing our regular shows. We scrambled all our teams. Regular business stopped completely. In place of all of that, we asked the Gimlet team to try something new. Gimlet Mix Week.

At Gimlet- as at any creative business- we live with a tension between being reliable and taking risk. We want to be reliable for our listeners, and to deliver surprising, fascinating stories at a guaranteed pace. If you subscribe to Reply All, you know each week PJ and Alex will feed you (funny, meaningful) stories about people and the Internet. With Surprisingly Awesome, you’ll hear amazing things revealed about topics you once thought were boring. But, we also want to take risks at Gimlet- to invent new formats, and build new kinds of programs. Gimlet’s first show, StartUp, was a huge creative risk for us, documenting all the uncomfortable and personal parts of starting our company. That vulnerability, as much as anything, won us our most ardent fans and launched our business. Risk is part of our DNA.

We need Gimlet to be the place where creative storytellers can aim big, screw up, and try again. But it’s really hard to do that in public. And so, Mix Week was born.

The first thing we did, Monday morning, was pull everyone out of their typical work. We formed new teams, and assigned new tasks across the whole company. Not just the production teams, but also business operations, HR, sales. Everybody had new roles. And, because we’ve doubled in size over the last 8 months, this meant a lot of people would get to know each other essentially for the first time. We had 5 groups, with 6 people each, almost none of whom usually worked on the same project. All this required an owner- we assigned Peter Clowney, our Senior Editor, to be Mix Week Chief, and he did an amazing job.

Starting Monday morning, and ending at 5pm Tuesday, each of these teams had to conceive of, and produce, a new podcast. The pilots couldn’t be longer than 20 minutes. No current Gimlet host was allowed to host a pilot. From start to finish- through planning, recording, editing, and mixing- the teams had about 30 hours before they were expected to present their finished pilot to the company.

That pace was unfair, and inspiringly so. Each team took risks, and bit off ideas they hadn’t tried yet at Gimlet. The projects had rough edges and gaps in plot & pacing- and they were a ton of fun. One team made a children’s show. Another team made a travel podcast. There was a reality show, something else with food… We shouldn’t give it all away here.

But. Even though the Mix Week pilots were never intended to be shared outside the company, one in particular we thought our members should hear. It’s The Hunt: a kind of game show pitting coworker against coworker to complete a real-world challenge. We’re making this episode available to our members. If you’re a Gimlet member- or if you sign up- you can hear it right now, and tell us what you think of it.

Oh, and if you were wondering, Mix Week was more than just pilots — we also had guest speakers like hodgman (standing here with Alex Blumberg):

John Hodgman and Alex Blumberg at Gimlet HQ

Plus, we ventured outside, because sometimes to make great things you have to get out of the studio and into the world:

Wendy’s son sends Brittany Luse and Luke Malone across the city on the subway
Gimlet goes trotting in Jamaica Bay
Wendy Z and Kaitlin R meet the Obamas

Stay tuned for more surprises from our Gimlet team.