Stitcher CEO on the evolution of podcasting and his company’s Android success

by Brad Spirrison

Read about Noah and his team at Stitcher.comA pioneer in weaving talk radio programming within the mobile web and applications, San Francisco-based Stitcher operates hit apps for the Android and iOS platforms.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, Stitcher founder and CEO Noah Shanok discussed how podcasting can flourish amidst “a more usable mobile Internet,” how his company drives downloads on multiple platforms and app stores, and why today’s mobile media boom is nothing like the dot-comedy of the late nineties.

Appolicious: While the term "podcasting" was all the rage between 2005-2008, its pop-cultural significance waned with the rise of the app frenzy. Describe your experience incorporating this very important medium within mobile applications.

Noah Shanok: Podcasting was one of the inspirations for me starting Stitcher. It was the first embodiment of talk programming on the Internet, and its emergence made it easy for tons of individual creators to produce hours upon hours of content and deliver it on-demand.

But it quickly hit a consumer adoption hurdle because most people simply were not willing to deal with the hassle of downloading and syncing their iPods or other devices every day to access fresh content. Like most new media trends that arrive slightly early in a growing economy, podcasting got a very hyped early reception, was then written off when the economy weakened (and it didn’t live up to the hype), and is just now rising from the ashes in a slightly different form, riding better technology. In this case, the better technology is a usable mobile Internet.

We started Stitcher based on the assumption that the mobile Internet was coming in a big way. And that people wanted to hear whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted and also be introduced to new content. With over 5,000 choices of audio programs from podcasts to radio shows and over 20,000 new episodes available each week, Stitcher was created to offer a wide variety of audio programming on-demand. And Stitcher’s mobile apps allow users to listen to their favorite podcasts and radio shows on-the-go without the hassle of downloading or syncing.

APPO: After debuting a pioneering podcasting application on the iTunes App Store nearly three years ago, Stitcher Radio came out with its Android app in late 2009. How has user adoption on Android compared to iOS devices?

NS: It’s been fairly comparable -- the app has been very well received by users on both platforms. The user base on Android tends to be younger and is therefore interested in somewhat different content. But both applications have quite high engagement and retention.

APPO: What are the advantages and (if any) disadvantages of being carried on Android-based devices that don't feature iTunes?

NS: We haven’t seen either advantages or disadvantages.

APPO: What are the unique development challenges and opportunities that exist while creating an app for Android as opposed to other platforms?

NS: Each platform has its own unique challenges. Android has a wide footprint on multiple manufacturers, form factors, operating systems and carriers which adds complexity to development and to testing. The opportunity is obviously their implicit growth.

APPO: After the initial publicity pop during the launch, what are the best ways to drive downloads on Android devices over time?

NS: The best way to drive downloads on any device is to build a great product and then continue to make it better and better. The rest will fall into place. Users will tell other users about the app and give it good ratings and reviews - which will in turn, increase the apps popularity. The platform teams will take notice of the best apps and promote them.

APPO: How are you approaching Honeycomb and the ubiquity of Android-based tablets? How does this compare to your experience developing unique apps for the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch?

NS: We’re very excited about the Android tablet market. Until this year, it’s been an iPad-centric tablet market. We expect to take our learnings from the iPad, which obviously has a different use paradigm, to the Android tablet market. There is so much great content out there -- and discovering it is sometimes the biggest challenge. Taking advantage of the screen size and more active use paradigm, we will continue to push the active discovery envelope on tablets in general.

APPO: What are the three things in the mobile media space that keep you up at night?

NS: In the early days of Stitcher, mobile apps were in the beginning stages of consumer adoption. We were a bit ahead of the curve and that most definitely kept me up at night. Now that the mobile Internet is here, all is groovy. Now, the only thing that sometimes wakes me up at night is the “droid” notification on my DroidX.

APPO: Stitcher Radio has raised nearly $9 million through two rounds of venture capital financing and was one of the first developers in the space to raise significant money in 2008. Do you think we are living through a mobile bubble? How do you think this current period maps to the dot-com boom of the late nineties?

NS: I certainly wouldn’t compare the market today to that of the late nineties when companies were doing IPOs with absolutely no traction. It seems as though, right now, valuations for seed stage companies may be somewhat high. I think this is more of a result of an influx of professional angel investors into the market. We raised money in late 2008 and then again in early 2010 and the market has certainly improved some since then.