The number of podcast listeners in the US is expected to top 160M by 2023. With this increase in demand for a captivated audience, advertising dollars are flowing in. In 2024, podcast ad spend is expected to grow to $1.7B. As advertisers are increasingly including podcasts as a part of their media strategies, Sounder.fm is an audio intelligence and hosting platform that provides insights and tools for podcasts creators and publishers to understand, grow, and monetize their audiences. As a versatile solution, the platform providers everything needed for hosting, distribution, content preparation and optimization, tracking, and even monetization with its own proprietary ad infrastructure and marketplace functionality. Sounder starts at a mere $12.99 per month for unlimited podcasting, making it accessible for those in the industry that are looking to supercharge their podcasting businesses with data-driven insights and best-in-class technology.
AlleyWatch caught up with Sounder.fm Cofounder and CEO Kal Amin to learn more about how a few notes written on a napkin turned into the business, the company’s strategic plans, latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $11.7M, and much, much more…
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $7.7M in Series A funding from new investors iHeartMedia, TechNexus, Diverse Angels, and Adventure Fund, and existing investors Xoogler.co Syndicate, the Abrahamson Group, and Studio X.
Tell us about the product or service that Sounder.fm offers.
We help independent creators, media publishers, and audio platforms accelerate their content’s discovery, engagement, and monetization through actionable Audio Intelligence. We offer creators of all sizes access to our platform to manage, grow, track, and monetize their shows. We also have an enterprise product called Audio Data Cloud that media publishers are using to generate rich insights about their content to drive growth at scale.
Sounder started with a set of beliefs of a napkin (yes, cliché, but that’s what happened). We wanted to build a company that would support the fast-growing open audio ecosystem and help it thrive. We wanted to impact the lives of creators by helping their content reach billions of listeners around the world and ensure their voices are heard. We wanted to improve discoverability and navigation in audio–just as it exists for text and video. We wanted to support changes in consumer preferences as society pivots to a screenless future. While we wrote down many of these beliefs three years ago, they are still the essence of what makes us excited to get to work each day.
How is Sounder.fm different?
Sounder is audio infrastructure for creators of all sizes built on the power of Audio Intelligence—the use of data and insights to accelerate audio’s discovery, engagement, and monetization potential. As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to permeate every industry, audio has been left relatively untouched. Until now. We fundamentally believe that the data layer has been missing in audio. Through Audio Intelligence, creators of all sizes can experience rapid audience, engagement, and advertising growth. We’re putting audio on par with all other forms of media.
What market does Sounder.fm target and how big is it?
Sounder is focused on supporting every creator who wants to break into audio. Right now, it’s estimated that there are ~50 million Americans who call themselves a member of the creator economy. We also support a fast-growing podcast advertising market that’s worth around $1.6B+ as of this year. With global traditional radio advertising worth $30B, we expect the opportunity to help creators and media publishers monetize their digital audio content to drastically increase.
What’s your business model?
Sounder has three business lines geared towards helping creators, publishers, and platforms accelerate the growth of their audio content.
- First, we offer independent creators Sounder Plus for $12.99/month. With this premium creator product, podcasts have access to create and host unlimited podcasts, automatically upload content to YouTube, share visual episode snippets, customize the design of their web player, in addition to a whole lot more.
- Second, we offer audio advertising services—helping creators monetize through programmatic, direct, and sponsorship ads.
- Third, we offer media publishers and audio platforms access to our Audio Data Cloud. Our enterprise product offers automated, industry-leading solutions including brand safety and suitability analysis, topic analysis, content summarization, and dynamic segmentation. Together, these new technologies aim to increase the supply of monetizable audio inventory dramatically.
What are your post-COVID office plans?
In New York City, we are actively searching for a place for our team to gather a few days a week. Sounder’s core, however, will always be to support remote work for any member of our team. Our team in Serbia has an office where many on the team work in-person a few days a week.
What was the funding process like?
It was relatively straightforward. No major surprises.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Fundraising takes up a lot of time. The biggest challenge was time management between focusing on the business and platform development vs spending time pitching investors.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Our core technology is all proprietary—we’ve built our own automated speech recognition and NLP technologies to provide value to audio creators and publishers of all sizes. Specifically, there is an opportunity in audio advertising that is nascent. Automated brand safety and mid-roll marking solutions haven’t existed before our Audio Data Cloud. With them, publishers will be able to better monetize their content with reimagined ad tech solutions.
Our core technology is all proprietary—we’ve built our own automated speech recognition and NLP technologies to provide value to audio creators and publishers of all sizes. Specifically, there is an opportunity in audio advertising that is nascent. Automated brand safety and mid-roll marking solutions haven’t existed before our Audio Data Cloud. With them, publishers will be able to better monetize their content with reimagined ad tech solutions
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
First, we plan to grow the team significantly over the next year. We are actively hiring all over the world, with a focus on building out our teams in NYC and Serbia. By year end, we hope to nearly double the size of our team. Second, we are looking to onboard lots of new customers—big and small—onto Sounder, leveraging the best of our Audio Intelligence tools to drive rapid growth. Finally, we plan to continue building out the solutions and capabilities of our Audio Data Cloud so that every creator and publisher have the tools they need to thrive.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
It’s important to understand your cash burn and where you are deploying your capital. The goal is to extend your burn as long as possible so that you can further develop your product, find product market fit, and raise additional capital.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Immediately, the team is focused on three key areas with our new round of funding:
- Building an A+ distributed team across the world — In addition to hiring in our current European and US regions, we are hiring podcast lovers globally to help us organize and shape the future of audio.
- Doubling-down on ML/AI technology — We will be building Audio Intelligence tools at scale to help empower creators of all sizes to be more successful in their craft.
- Reimagining ad tech solutions for podcasting — We will be building a complete ad system that supports publishers and advertisers of all sizes. This will reimagine the ad tech stack for the audio industry.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC?
Wayla is a terrific spot in the Lower East Side. They have great outdoor booths.