Gretta on making a social media interface for podcasts.

Kim Hansen
Jun 15, 2017 · 6 min read

Hi there! I’m , Chief at for podcasts, started in Vancouver, Canada way back in the summer of 2015 with my cofounders and . Our mission: to bring podcasts in from the cold—to finally make them socially shareable.

Why? While podcasting’s popularity (there will be 43 million podcast listeners in the United States alone by 2020, with an estimated market size of ), is broken. Unlocking the social sharing and discovery loop for podcasts is central to growing the medium, maybe even to fundamentally disrupting the space.

But even way back then, we could also see there might be something even bigger over the horizon. More and more, we’re becoming used to speaking to our devices. Voice interfaces are being adopted at an . And at the end of the day, most podcast content is spoken-word audio. What if we could get really good at making podcast audio—voice—social? Today, being “social” on the internet mostly means typing at each other. What if a future existed where “being social on the internet” meant talking?


We have to admit; we didn’t get off to an especially auspicious start. Coming into the summer of 2016, after most of a year working on a social podcast-creation platform, we hit (read the story ). We knew we couldn’t afford to make the mistake of building the wrong thing (again). So we began a series of small releases aimed at failing fast.

This is when one of my former co-workers, the , joined us. With his help, we quickly spun up an experiment around podcast transcription — . This looked encouraging. Richard Campbell, , , and one of the , came on as our first investor, giving us a huge back-catalogue of content to work with. We began to test hypotheses rapidly.

An excerpt from Gimlet’s

We started to play with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) transcription.

By now, it was obvious that our “kinetic transcripts” were evocative. You could remember a phrase you heard on a podcast a few weeks ago, type it into search, and be linked straight to it. The internet is made of links. Content that cannot be linked doesn’t “exist” on the internet. With these transcripts, podcast audio could now be deep-linked—the key to social sharing, and discovery.

We also sort of knew that vanilla machine-learning generated transcripts wouldn’t cut it unedited (introducing some questions around scale), but it felt promising.

More experiments…

This one was interesting. Fellow Olds may remember for Playstation 2, in which players were invited to roll a ball around the world to pick up random junk. Getting to a spotless floor was incredibly satisfying.

Because the automated transcripts were pretty good (but not perfect), cleaning up the transcripts felt a little like playing Katamari. It was actually, well…fun. Looking at the flawless transcripts afterwards felt great. Hm.

NA-NAAAAAA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NAAAAA Katamari Damacy.

More…


On the business side, things started to go right… along with , we were joined by The Good Doctors—former bosses from my and . They brought with them the experience of having built an . Our first investors outside Canada were and , who kicked our asses on roadmap (for which we were very thankful). We made it to the final stage at the , hosted by the lovely . And , Jim’s ex-business partner and Gretta’s former landlord, came in as our UX engineer.

We started to form partnerships with podcasts. Richard’s and . took a chance on us. . . . . All told, we had access to more than 600,000 listeners as we continued to run experiments.


Then we were invited to join visionary accelerator , an opportunity for which we’re profoundly grateful.


With that, you’re basically current to where we are. We’ve built a lot, but we have a lot more to build, test, rebuild, and test again.

In the near-term, we want to . There’s a huge amount of work to do on our machine-learning transcription pipeline, and on our player UX. We have to to do that. Although we have a pretty good idea of where to go with this, we still need to prove a revenue model (or models).

And it’s going to require resources to get there! We’re extending our pre-seed so we can hire an extremely experienced C-level resource (and because San Francisco is expensive). If you’re interested in joining us as an investor, .

There’s also the larger vision. The more we build, the more we realize that what we’re doing is hard…really hard. We also know that we’re onto something. Here’s where we think we’re headed:

  • Folks go nuts over the prototype interface. It’s a sea-change improvement in navigation, deep-linking, SEO, and sharing over traditional consumption. And hey, that spells network effects! Better discovery for listeners, better adoption for podcasters. The more we polish the UX to support everyday podcast consumption, the more true that will be.
  • Correction is sort of fun; we can . By feeding human corrections back into our speech-to-text corpora, we can improve our transcriptions, getting even better results for podcasters. And because we’re dealing with power-laws—we’re only trying to solve for one podcast at a time, not all of human speech—we might even be able to get there faster than some of the bigger players.
  • By doubling-down on machine learning, we can start to link podcasts up in a social graph. Imagine being able to follow your favourite hosts, no matter which podcast they’re on. And that’s just the beginning. Once voice audio and transcript are fungible, we can perform on voice audio any operation that today is only possible with text.
  • There are a lot of places we can go from there :)

Maybe most importantly, we believe that: (1) Speech, the most essential form of human communication, is key to improving understanding, empathy, and accessibility of discourse on the Internet. And (2) solving for podcasts can help us solve more generally for the human voice. And that Matters. We feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work on this.

Thanks for reading! Follow our progress . And don’t hesitate to anytime; we’re friendly. Looking forward to talking to you again soon.

Love,
Kim & the rest of the Gretta family: Kelly, Rainer, Jim, Cam, Sam, Safiyya, Richard, Ray, Greg, David(s), Javier, Justin, Jacques, Karj, Jenn, Clifford, and Daryl.

P.S. Hello to Jason Isaacs, David Morrissey, Stephen Fry, Fairport Convention, and Roman Mars #HTJI.

A Matter-Driven Narrative

This is where the Matter community gathers to tell stories on their journey to building the future of media using a human-centered, prototype-driven process. You'll hear from our entrepreneurs, mentors, partners, and us. Learn more about Matter Ventures at www.matter.vc.

Kim Hansen

Written by

Is the chief and cofounder at Gretta, a community marketplace for podcasts.

A Matter-Driven Narrative

This is where the Matter community gathers to tell stories on their journey to building the future of media using a human-centered, prototype-driven process. You'll hear from our entrepreneurs, mentors, partners, and us. Learn more about Matter Ventures at www.matter.vc.