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Vurbl Launch Episode | Behind The Scenes With The Vurbl Team

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Duration: 43:40
On this episode we bring on the core Vurbl team to talk about where we've come since late 2019, what it took to build the platform, what we're excited about most for the platform and what creators and listeners can expect.
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Listen to real people. Broadcast your voice.

Vurbl is a streaming audio platform giving listeners more of what they love and creators the power to grow a highly engaged audience.

Launching with over 25 Million individual pieces of audio, listeners can discover thousands of free audiobooks, all available podcasts, guided meditations, speeches, lectures, old-time radio, sound effects and more.

Creators will find a new home for their audio, with never-before-seen distribution and audience engagement tools. Simply claim your podcast with your RSS feed, distribute your YouTube channel audio, or upload directly to your Vurbl station.

On this episode we bring on the core Vurbl team. Our CEO, Audra Gold. Head of Content & Search, Baron Ginnetti. Chief Architect, Jerry Boonstra. Head of Design, Justin Labaw-Rivers. Get to know the Vurbl Team by listening to our Audio Bios:

We talk about where we've come since late 2019, what it took to build the platform, what we're excited about most for the platform and what creators and listeners can expect.
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Yeah, What do you recall was the first thing you ever heard. Perhaps it was your mother's voice, maybe a muffled noise at home or a sibling calling your name as humans, we have a rich history of listening. We were given two years and one mouth for a reason. Right? And that which we hear may even resonate through our entire bodies, at times allowing us to feel sound. These sounds can cause a torrent of emotions, and what's more is that sound begets ideas, ideas, which can move society towards action. No audio isn't just another marketing medium for suits to sell us something we don't need. It's a mode of understanding, of connecting and sharing something uniquely human. Luckily, we're listening even more These days. Millions of us find escape through a riveting audio fiction series. We listen to guided meditations to find inner peace or played background sounds to stay focused during work. Our news broadcast, social commentary, gossip and sports stories are delivered straight to our ear buds, and now our methods of education are being disrupted and audio has become an important component of our Children's curriculum. What we're launching here at verbal is a thoughtful tool in this continuum of audio, a platform to explore the boundaries of this medium and amplify those voices we so desperately need to hear. We invite you to discover millions of pieces of audio you never knew existed or broadcast your own creation. So the world may discover your beautiful work. Start listening or claim your station today. Hey there! And welcome back to another episode of verbal voices. If you've listened to other episodes, you'll know that the intro you just heard is brand spanking new, and the reason we're leading with it today is we finally made it to launch Verbal. The platform for audio listeners and audio creators is launching today, and we'd love for you to be an early user. What I thought we do for our launch episode is have our core team on to do a bit of behind the scenes discussion. We talk about where we've come since this time last year, building the platform, designing new features, bringing on new team members and, of course, what you can expect from the platform and from us. You'll hear from our CEO order Gold, our head of content and search barren Geneti, our chief architect Jerry Boonstra and our head of design, Justin Labonte Rivers, who you've heard from before on our episode titled Uncovering UFO Podcast Mysteries. We plan on doing more of these behind the scenes discussions with the teams. So if you have any questions about the platform ideas around features and creator engagement or just want to be part of the podcast, somehow go ahead and tweet at us at getting verbal on a personal note, I'd like to invite all of you audio creators out there to discover verbal as soon as possible. We're really going to cater to the early adopters and we can't wait to see how big you can grow. Your audience is on herbal. So without further ado, let's jump right in with Audra, Gerry Barone and Justin. Yeah. Hey, everybody. How's it going? Hi, Paul. Well, I've got my studio set up here in l. A. So, uh, yeah, we're over. We're in L. A Milwaukee and Jerry, Where are you again? Yeah, Mid City L A. Mid City L. A. So, across the country, at least, uh, West Coast and Midwest here. But, uh, Audra, let's just start with you could you give us a brief origin story of this idea around verbal? It was an accumulation of many things that came together like it kind of all hit me at once. Maybe, but But it definitely the idea came to me just over a little a little over a year ago and I was reading about Spotify is new fund, that $500 million fund they started last year and about how they were just dumping it all into podcasting. And then I was like, Why is it why just podcasting like, Why is Spotify so focused on just podcasting? Should they be focused on all audio like there's, You know, I couldn't understand why this crazy VC focus on podcast. So I just started digging into the market, and the more I looked at the audio marketplace in general, I realized how much it looked like Video looked online more than 10 years ago. Maybe 15 years ago, Audio looked a lot like the old school ways that we used to do distribution of video advertising around video, and I was like, interesting. We innovated and video over the last 15 years and brought it to where as we all know it a streaming medium and we advertise around video in real time. For the most part, it's all mostly programmatic Digital And And I was just wondering why we never did that with audio. So then I was like, We gotta fix audio. We gotta make audio, look a lot more like video in terms of distribution, advertising, user experience and all of that. So that's where I landed. I was like, OK, why hasn't this been done? And then I started figuring out who, who I could get to work with me on this to see if it was a real opportunity or not. Yeah, what were those early early discussions like with with the team here? You know, when you spoke with Baron and Jerry and Justin about this idea of bringing audio into the 21st century, what what were the hurdles of getting them on board? But also, what were those early conversations like? Yeah, well, Jerry and I were working together on some projects with my last company product End, which is a consulting firm, we good product and consulting and built software for for early stage startups. For the most part, and Jerry was working with me on a couple of those projects that we were doing, so he was a no brainer. He was the first person I went to on the technical side just to say like, Hey, listen to this idea, that something you think you would want to work on and I think he got pretty excited about it early on, but he can speak to that. And then, of course, I knew because this was such a big undertaking that we're, you know, we're going after all of this audio content because we want to become the YouTube of audio. We need a lot of content. So naturally I knew. Okay, we're gonna need someone who can deal with massive data, sets of content and organizational content. And, oh, by the way, it needs to be totally searchable. So I thought of Baron for that No brainer. I worked with Baron for 15 years in S C O and beyond, and, uh, wouldn't can't imagine anyone else who could have done this on the content front. So So I went and pitched Baron, uh, we basically I think I pitched. Did I pitch all of you guys the same weekend in Palm Springs. I kind of told everyone about it. And then I invited them all to my house in Palm Springs for the weekend. And then I did like the full pitch the whiteboard session and told him kind of like a to Z what I thought this could be, and that was barren. And we had Jerry there. We had a couple other people. But between all of us, we just you know, I kind of laid out the big picture. And then together we all kind of filled in the hole, So Barren had a lot of thoughts and ideas around the S, E O and content strategy. And then Jerry started imagining the ways that we could set up the infrastructure and the actual platform, And so we just kind of kept going down, you know, the various big problems that we needed to solve and try to put together a framework. Can we solve these problems together? Yeah, so we kind of put a straw man together, but we thought the company could look like and we, of course, had to find a domain name. And that's the hardest part of the start of these days, it's finding a decent domain name. Uh, it's almost impossible to find anything under six letters. For the most part, I personally have always had a hard time finding short, great domain names. But somehow you just were spitballing all day long, just throwing different words out in different you know, phrases. And we were researching. And I was sitting on Go Daddy, just punching everything. And as people were yelling things out and then Baron, I don't know where it came from, but he spit out the word verbal and I was like, What? No way, That's perfect. And I was like, There's no way it's available. And so we tried. It spelled a couple different ways and found the V R B L was available for 100 and $90 which was another miracle. And when I found out to remain for 100 $90 I knew it was meant to be. I was like, this domain has been gifted to us from the Internet gods. We have to do this company. We have to make this work classics. Uh, yeah, having this team to get having the larger part of the team that's still here together. Kind of like throwing paint at the wall and brainstorming just throwing words up in the sky. I mean, if you think of verbal, you know, verbal, and these words are just lobbing up and she's dropping them in the go daddy. And then finally this, you know, verbal comes out into the sky and becomes a part of it. It was an example of like how this team can, you know, ultimately execute now that we look back on it. So you had the team, you had the problem in a very large market. What are the first steps with A with a play like this, with verbal essentially becoming the YouTube of audio, you have to have the massive library at launch. You have to, you know, have something available for people to listen to. And obviously, you know, podcasting with RSS feeds is easy enough to launch a host, if you will, and convert it to streaming if you really wanted to. But Verbal is launching with over 25 million pieces of audio. So how did how did the team approach? Discovering so much what we call orphan audio so much audio that available to the masses that just doesn't have a player doesn't have a way to be found. Besides Google Search, which doesnt, you know, you know, display the right things a lot of the time, you know? How did how did you approach discovering all of this orphan audio and and really creating this huge library available to us? Yeah, well, I mean, I think you asked about first, Like, what was our first step? It's like, Okay, we had this small team together. We validated that we we all wanted to work on this and figure out if it was if it was a real thing. And so after that, that was like, I think last I want to say what's in September. October. I can't remember when we were all out in the desert together. Um, the first thing we knew we needed was Okay, This is gonna take a lot of money. So? So the first order of business was just to do research to research the market, so kind of quantify what the real market size could be. You know, we kind of all took a little He's We all broke off a piece of the research that needed to be done. Baron, of course. Dove Inches Search. I think we've been started searching for audio that weekend, and we had noted, are all of these like, horrible responses to our queries? But if you dig deep enough and you kept clicking through Page two and Page three and Page four, we just kept finding these fairly large databases of audio that was open source. You know, it's free or public domain. I was like, Wow, so there's a lot of stuff just laying around out here. No one's really organized it. So then we started to think like, Oh, this could be like a great go to market. What if we just We don't have to go find users first to bring audio to us? Let's bring the audio to the users and, like, that's how we're gonna go to market. That's how we're gonna get get traffic. From day one, we'll put all this content together, we'll organize it. And then Baron started doing a lot of research. You know, all the s e o kind of stuff that anyone would typically, you know, do. But he went down the rabbit hole on audio and started to find a whole lot of underserved queries in this space. And so then we started to put together a real business plan. So we said There's this much demand There's all this product out there that's kind of an organized in a mess. No one's really curating this stuff in a meaningful, scalable way. And then we said, Oh, and by the way, let's go look at the audio ad market and the ad market in general and just saw a huge disconnect in demand for audio and then actual inventory for that demand. And I saw a massive, massive gap compared to all other types of advertising. That's a huge signal, right that there's something wrong when you see these huge anomalies in a space where everything is pretty consistent and has a very consistent pattern, you find the one thing what doesn't fit here. Oh, that's because it's broken. Okay, it's broken. Do we know how to fix it? Yes, we know how to fix it because we've done this with video and display and mobile and all these other ad formats. We've all interacted with Baron about the discovery and search. What did you discover early on about all these audio libraries Not having the visibility that they needed? There had to have been a lot of long tail opportunity there, right? Yeah. I mean, when we kind of opened up a handful of search demand tools and then we started, like, manually clicking on the results, it was clear that, like, you know, in order to discover, I mean, we went out of our way to find these things that were, like audio of Jack Benny or audio of space sounds and then seeing what was in the top, which was kind of just raw luck, that it was there. And then there was no data around it. No one had thought about what was in there. It was just basically, they took files out of, you know, nasa's, you know, closet and then just uploaded them wrong and said, Yeah, this is NASA, like outer space. And that was all that was there for the user to understand. For Google to understand. And there are millions of files. Whether it was like Alfred Hitchcock speaks about night Walker, it didn't even have that much data. I'm talking about data that we've added to it. So it was just hollow audio files that we had to work to discover, either with human strategy and research or with some really robust crawlers that are following the instructions that we figured out manually. So all these files are essentially living on the Web with crappy titles, no tagging structure, no categorization, all of all stuff that needs to happen for any type of file to be found easily. And for discovery to be fixed within within the ability to market, no ability to stream, either. I mean, all these sites that were like they were all downloads, right? So if I want to consume this piece of audio, have to download it to my computer and my phone and then actually play it in a player like it's just like this is so clunky. And but we knew people were looking for it because we saw people querying and we knew we knew that this is content people are actually searching for and wants, but they cannot find it. If they do find it, it's really hard to consume. And then the last piece. Of course, if it's not findable and it's hard to consume. Well, they're certainly not going to be any advertisers around wanting, you know, wanting to be around it. So, yeah, it was just like 11 problem after the next that we were bumping into Kind of summarizes that. I think Justin said it a few weeks ago. Really, really well was unlocking the vault of audio on the Internet, and that has to do with adding content and metadata around it, adding a player where people can consume it and then a design where people can engage with it. All those things unlocked that vault and bring it to the surface for users. And that's what we're really looking to execute on for launch. So millions of pieces of audio brought to millions of potential listeners that have never known that this stuff exists, or they had the opportunity to consume it in their daily audio listening habits. So that to me it is super exciting about the diversity of audio plus giving this to the masses. Yeah, that's really the trick. I mean, when you think about the presentation layer right, it's like, Okay, anyone can build a database right? Anyone can make a database, even searchable. But, you know, we've all been in the content game for so long. We know that you can't. You can't simply just make things available to people, right? You have to actually put things together for people, frame it, make it nice, and it nice and easy, right, and make a very understandable and very contextual. And then people come and will consume at scale. So we knew the curation part was going to be huge, right? So the organization, the taxonomy and the and I'm curating it so we can elevate this this audio in a way that it is appealing and consumable. And then we knew the U. S is so important, which is where Justin comes in to the picture. You know, he's the only person I ever imagined for. This business actually was at the very beginning when I I I One of the major reasons I had confidence So we could pull this off is that I knew that that Justin could design this in a way that was gonna be mass appeal. And I've just seen so much of his work and I've worked with him for years. So if Justin wouldn't have. Wouldn't have said yes to this. I don't know what would have happened, but the presentation layer was going to be a very important part of this. Always. We're going to talk about building the platform and designing the platform in the second. But one last thing about the obscure audio that we're bringing to the masses barren Audra and Jerry and Justin Have you found any really obscure stuff that you're excited to see how people engage with it? What's the craziest stuff we're bringing to the masses here? I find cool stuff every day. Honestly, like I can't believe how much cool stuff we have already on our platform before you even open it up to the to the world. So I mean, I love the old time stuff. I love the old news stories like some great concert footage, fundraisers, conversations. I got one of my favorite, uh, interviews. I found. It's a Gloria Steinem interview from the seventies, and it was just like I never would have, you know, encountered something like this. But it floated up on because of one of our content partners, you know, past daily at had it and so It's just been so much fun. I literally, every day I find it's like something obscure and awesome like. And then the curation, obviously the playlist that the Baron's team is coming up with, like a lot of really clever stuff, you know, and look very fascinating stuff, and it's like, really kind of addictive. Like I go to our slash playlist page and, you know, I just kind of go down the rabbit hole on that thing because there's, like, all this weird stuff like, Oh, that sounds interesting and they just keep going and going. So in terms of sourcing audio for playlists and just refining it, you know, as we go back, we can run into stuff. If we're looking at a Nightfall radio episode because we want to refine that, we might also find a commercial. And remember, the other week I found this Camel Cigarettes commercial that was four out of five. Doctors say that studying 150 people who smoked 1 to 2 packs today, the tongue feel the taste and tongue feels great and there's no effect on your throat. So there's a lot of stuff that we come that's like ridiculous, but also expresses how we've changed as a society, whether it's, you know, science in medicine or socially or politically. And it kind of paints a picture of like how we've evolved since audio. You know, the dawn of radio started. You can connect the dots from then until now, and that's That's an interesting point, though. We have a back catalog of written word, but there's never been a library of our audio world that we've grown up with. We've only had the radio for maybe 100 20 years now. Now we have streaming and podcasting where people are producing audio content, audio news stories, audio fiction, uh, radio. But we've never gone back in our audio history very often. But Verbal essentially gives people that opportunity to go back in audio history rather than the written history. Just the interesting thing to think about a use case for verbal that. So let's talk about building the platform designing the platform Jerry and Justin. The only place to start is how do you approach building a huge index, huge library of audio, and then Justin, how do you approach designing the user interface that actually fix his discovery ability and gives people a way to listen easily. Yeah. You want to go first? Sharing. Want me to go? No, Go ahead. Yeah, well, here's a question. What comes first? The tech or design? We started the tech way before the design. Okay? Yeah. I mean, they really do play. They really do have to play play with each other fairly well. I mean, from from a design point of view, from a perspective of where do we start at building Verbal? I mean, obviously, we have to know who we're building for before we even really get into all the fun stuff and the nuts and bolts and wires and stuff. So, you know Audrey myself, um, and a few others spent, you know, spend a good amount of time at the very beginning of the process and identifying who this verbal was going after who we think our audience is going to be. Obviously, you know, with the understanding of like, a lot of people are familiar with using platforms such as a soundcloud and Spotify and other media platforms. How are we going to differentiate ourselves as a brand, but from a platform point of view. There's typically a long line of best practices you use and just the overall experience of, like discovery media, playing media, all that kind of good stuff, right? Like we're not going to reinvent the wheel and how the media player works and functions. Now we can take a look at different approaches as far as the styles of buttons go in the designs and how the actual interaction between the media players work as an example of just one of the many components on our site. But before you even actually jumped into the design, we really just got who it is. We're really going after and then understanding what their user behaviors and their user patterns are and all that kind of stuff. Right? So, you know, we started there and then, you know, just kind of took a very, uh, the nature of the startup beast. Right? Um took a very rapid approach towards getting from concept what you see now, Um and so yeah, it's been it's been amazing process so far. I mean, I think the thing with design especially given our stages, that it's just a constant evolution and, you know, ultimately, our success is going to hinge upon how fast we're able to iterate on feedback from our users and being able to take a lot of that qualitative and quantitative data from them and being able to actually then feed it into the product. So, you know, I think we're really excited about the next stage, which is just having people not around on the site. You know, it's not perfect. It's going to be like various holes and things we gotta plug in at the beginning of it. But you know, the heart and soul of it's beginning to take shape. And, you know, I think that's where we're kind of most excited about. What was the most challenging thing you designed for the platform so far? Probably the most. The most challenging things so far. Probably the snippet feature. I would say I mean, that's gonna be one of our highlighted, um, one of our highlighted features that we think can differentiate ourselves from other platforms. So, you know, being able to design that stupid feature across Web and also mobile Web Um, and it's it's, you know, again it's going to constantly evolve, but that's probably been the most challenging thing is being able to really understand how users can use a feature where they're having to highlight specific parts of the clip and being able to share preview everything within one sort of mental construct. Right? Like, that's kind of the things that we ultimately want people to be able to do this in their sleep. And we want them to be able to think of a snippet and all three steps as one. So they clip it, think about that, share it all with in one fell swoop. And so we're, you know, working on how that user experience works. Um, unknown territory, really mobile web. That was the one area we didn't have any best practices to copy. Yeah, that was like, we don't know how. It's invention, not reinvention. So yeah, that was that's the one layer of I just knew for it to be successful. It has to be so simple like that. You know, I would use my parents. That's kind of the test. I'm like this like I'm feeling good about a good idea. We're going to have a parents day. I was like, shocked. I couldn't figure out how we were going to make it simple enough. And I like when Justin came up with the even the first comp, so I mean, I would say he kind of nailed it early on. We didn't iterate that we didn't go on that many cycles with that stupid design, but I think it's so easy and obvious, and I'm really well, Audra don't have. We don't have scale data, interactive data, but I've watched a lot of people use it, and I haven't seen any red flags so well, now that we're talking about the snippet real quick, what does that do for the platform as a whole? What does the snippet actually accomplished for the listener? But also, you know, what is the possibilities for it? Well, I mean, that whole idea came out of like us watching how people share audio today and one of our problem sets was like God, it's so hard to make audio go viral. Why does everything have to go viral in the form of a video? Even if it's a video with like a placeholder image, like everyone's having to force this, they're whatever they want into this video media, and it's like Okay, Well, what makes it a video go viral? Well, it's got to be short form. It has to be highly portable, right? It has to have, like, a payoff in it. Those are all things you can't do with, Like, let's say, go back to podcast. Well, when I was watching people share and promote their podcast, I was watching them put links to an entire file and told me to go to one of five places, you know, one of their five preferred podcast platforms, and then go download it. And, you know, the whole regular role of just getting into, like, Oh, they said it was a minute 25 was so great. Okay, so now 10 minutes later, you're lucky if I've gone through all those steps. I'm probably a tiny percentage of people that would actually do that. And then, you know, you know, you scrub to this point and so we're like, What if you could just, like, take out that point and the way they've been the long form audio and share it out. So it's socially friendly, and it's portable and papa and so so that was like, Oh, yeah, we got to make it easy for people to share this stuff, so we got to make it easy to clip it. So we got to make it easy to share it. But it's there to clip it. Whatever it compounds the number of pages that will be indexed on the site, it compounds the number of ads that can be deployed on a creator's piece of content. So there's a ton of, like, interesting possibilities that the simp it can push the platform to greater heights. So I'm excited about that part, but let's go back to the platform. Jerry, I want to tell you in here because you're building something massive from the start. But then it also has to scale to millions of people. How do you approach architect ng platform like this of the library? Something that needs to be mobile friendly, streaming high quality, high, high, high. Everything really from the get go. How do you approach that? Yeah, well, we knew we needed help. Um, you know, So, um, we leverage a bunch of partner technology, and, um, really, a big part of it all is depending on content distribution networks. So having systems that are deployed out all over the whole world, points the president's for delivering our streaming content. What the goal is is you know, instant starts for the for this audio. So user instantly gets their play and being able to do add insertions on this content we collected, you know, widely over the Internet as Audra mentioned public domain and creative comments, freely available stuff that's its own challenge in that you can imagine that storage is a big thing to control the quality of the experience. We really need to have our own copies of all of all the media. And we need to be able to deliver that ourselves to the end user in a form that does meet those standards is, you know, immediately playable and things like that. So, yeah, we're really using content distribution networks. A lot for that. And then we have our own infrastructure to ingest new content and always be following what's newly available. So it comes down to the mailing costs around the band width and the storage and the ability
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