Exploring a Real-Time Case Study with Fatima Zaidi of Quill
Today on the show, Bryan Barletta speaks with Fatima Zaidi, founder and CEO of Quill inc., a full-service podcast agency that makes it easy for brands and publishers to create, launch and grow successful podcasts. Quill is launching a hosting service, Co-Host. After years of trying to work with existing hosting solutions, Quill found that their clients desired different and more complex KPIs, so, they decided to build a solution that could track them.
- How and why Quill decided to build a new hosting platform in this seemingly saturated space
- How Quill has built a tech team after running a production company for a few years
- P.s. they’re still looking for a developer
- A discussion on the hype around VC and angel funding
- Why we should celebrate bootstrapped companies
- A playbook on real-time beta testers
Here’s our favorite idea from this conversation: Fatima believes in the concept of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” But she and her team still came to the decision that the existing solutions weren’t hitting all of the needs of their clients. Ultimately, they had to put their clients first.
- Hosted by Bryan Barletta
- Hosted by Arielle Nissenblatt
- Audio engineering and transcriptions by Ian Powell
- Executive produced by Evo Terra of Simpler Media
- Special thanks to James Cridland of Podnews
- Sounds Profitable Theme written by Tim Cameron
See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Bryan Barletta: Building a software solution for a unique set of hosting and ad tech use cases and using their customers as a case study along the way. That's what we're talking about on this week's episode of Sounds Profitable, ad tech applied, with me, Bryan Barletta.
Arielle Nissenblatt: And me, Arielle Nissenblatt.
Bryan Barletta: Advertisers and podcasters find the perfect ad placement at Lipson's AdvertiseCast marketplace. Enjoy huge inventory and full service. Get started@ advertisecast. com.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Special thanks to our sponsors for making Sounds Profitable possible. Check them out by going to soundsprofitable. com and clicking on their logos in the articles. How are you, Bryan? How are things?
Bryan Barletta: I'm good. We're recording this the day after we announce that Tom Webster's joining Sounds Profitable as a partner. So, I am running off of pure caffeine, checking my email-
Arielle Nissenblatt: Riding high.
Bryan Barletta: ... and social feeds too much. Yeah. And, not a lot of sleep. But, I'm so excited. The response has been really awesome. We're really, really excited for the things coming and I don't want to spend too much time on that because next week you are going to interview Tom all about that.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Yeah. We don't want to give too much away.
Bryan Barletta: Yeah.
Arielle Nissenblatt: I'm very excited to talk to Tom. I do want to say that if you ever need a boost, you should just read through the comments that people left for you on your LinkedIn post. Because, people are pumped, giving you compliments left and right, you and Tom. People should check that out and become friends with Bryan on LinkedIn. Especially like our page, Sounds Profitable, on LinkedIn. We share all sorts of helpful information about the podcast space.
Bryan Barletta: Yeah. It was definitely, really uplifting and exciting. I mean, we've been doing Sounds Profitable now for just under two years and I'm really proud of what we created. But, sometimes, it's hard to see the positive impact. So, getting that outcry of support has been phenomenal. I'm really, really pumped. But, enough about that. How are things with you? You've been at a bunch of conferences recently.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Yeah. And, more to come. I was at Outlier Podcast Festival last week. MCed the thing. Really fun to be in front of people again. I love a microphone. Put a microphone in my hand, let me have the stage. I am too happy to do it. And then, this past week I was at Sounds of New York, which was a really cool opportunity from Paradiso Media, where they brought seven French podcasters to town to learn about the US podcast landscape. I got to moderate two panels and it was such a blast.
And then, I got to talk to French podcasters about things that I have taken for granted as a given in the podcast space here. They had questions about what is dynamic ad insertion. If I go to Germany for the weekend, are my ad's going to be in German? Things like that. It was really, really interesting and fun to meet new people. I'm grateful for the opportunity. But, Bryan, I want to do a quick check in about the news that came out this week, that podcast advertising will be a $ 4 billion industry by 2024. I would love your thoughts on that.
Bryan Barletta: I think it's really cool. I think that's really exciting to see the massive growth that we've seen be actualized in a report by the IAB and PWC. It shows that a lot of this hard work is really paying off, that the amount that they said that we hit for 2021 was 1. 4 billion, which is really cool. That's just for the US, because that matches what the estimates were for worldwide, I believe, for 2020. That's a big jump. These numbers, now we were talking previously, I think, about 3 billion by 2023 or 2024 originally. They're definitely increasing. We're seeing that growth.
Now, it is a scary time. We're going through some economic turmoil in the United States. A lot of podcasting is direct to consumer advertising. So, people are concerned about what the rest of the year looks like. However, I would say that we've proven podcasting as a safe and structured format that doesn't need to be an experimental budget anymore, that provides great results, measurable results that are easy to work with while the rest of the ecosystem from Facebook and app based targeting and digital and video programmatic are being jumbled around in how you target and how you measure it. Podcasting has stayed tried and true, and has only continued to drive better performance and grow. So, this is a great time to stay in podcasting.
Arielle Nissenblatt: More on that in the coming months. As more news comes out, we will absolutely keep you updated. Bryan, let's get into today's episode. In just a moment, listeners are going to hear a conversation between Fatima Zaidi and you. Fatima is the CEO and founder of Quill, which is a Toronto based award winning production agency that specializes in corporate audio. I met Fatima in Los Angeles in the before times. And then, she spoke at Outlier Podcast Festival in Salt Lake City in January, 2020, right before everything shut down. She is an incredible speaker, not just because she's dynamic and interesting, but because she loves and utilizes numbers and data. And, you will absolutely hear that in today's conversation. Bryan, how did you first come across Fatima?
Bryan Barletta: I think it was the Quill Awards, which we got to participate in as Sounds Profitable and vote for the best technology company. That was very fun this year. But, I'd come across it previously. I believe it might have been something that you shared. And, we started connecting and talking about all of the ideas that happen in the branded space and how sometimes the tools aren't built for the branded space. I think we dig into that in this conversation here.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Oh, you do.
Bryan Barletta: I think this really highlights what we've really spent a lot of time working on. Yeah, I actually think it was related to something you shared. So, thank you for helping us get connected.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Absolutely. Listeners in this conversation, you'll hear Fatima talk about how her company's podcast production arm served as a catalyst to create a new product that's being released pretty much as we speak. We will be back after Bryan and Fatima talk to break it all down.
Bryan Barletta: What made you decide to build a hosting platform this far into the podcast industry's life cycle?
Fatima Zaidi: Thus far, the amount of times that people think that it's a saturated industry and I'm like, "We're so early in the hype cycle. There's only 2. 5 million podcasts and only 18% of them are active." But, Bryan, as you know, we've been creating podcasts for brands for a few years now. Our team of experts have noticed a lot of gaps within the industry, gaps that I'm sure you're familiar with all too well. The fragmented data, the lack of consolidation, helping pro- podcasters really understand the ROI of their podcast.
A lot of that information isn't really out there. So, we decided to build a product for ourselves and the professional podcasters we work with. We were our own case study and that's why we decided to build CoHost. There wasn't really anything out there that was really servicing our needs and the needs of our clients. We decided to build a very consolidated tech platform that you can host your show, but you can also get the analytics and data that is required to continue justifying the creation of new production budgets.
Bryan Barletta: You're right on that on so many points here. We're not that far. 2. 4 million is not that many when you compare it to blog posts or books or movies or TV shows. I probably need to improve my language on that a little bit. But, it's so funny because there was such a push for everybody to build their own technology. Or, just companies. People are like, " I don't know a lot about podcasting, but I think I can build a hosting platform. So, I put one together and why don't I have market fit? Why aren't I competing?"
It sounds like you have it. It sounds like, not only did you realize that there were holes and that the technology isn't one size fits all for everything that you're doing, but you were able to source the engineers and the group needed to actually build this tech internally. Can you talk a little bit about that? Everybody right now is struggling so much to find tech talent, especially with podcast knowledge.
Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. It takes a village. I'm still struggling. I mean, I think to answer your earlier point, which is we're still so early. You're right. 30 plus million YouTube channels, 600 plus million blogs, 500 hours of content being uploaded every minute. However, I'm still really glad that we started with a production agency because it provided really two big benefits. One that we could bootstrap our business and fund the product side of our business and be cashflow positive.
But, I think the biggest reason that I wanted to start a production agency first and a product second, is because that's where the learnings happened. We were in the trenches with our customers. So many product companies out there in podcasting who have never launched a podcast a day in their lives. It's like, " How do you know what the pain points are if you've actually never been through the process?"
In terms of the challenges of building a tech team, you're right. Supply and demand is extremely tough out there. Developers, product designers, not only are they extremely rare unicorn hires, they can afford to go work at companies like Shopify for double the paying. So, what you're really trying to do is find those unique hires who are motivated by working at a startup or a scale up and less concerned about maybe the money where we can't really compete with those big corporations. And, more looking to contribute to business' bottom line and innovate. That's, I would say, what's unique to our entire dev team, our CTO, our product folks. I mean, Bryan, you've met them.
Bryan Barletta: Yeah. They're great.
Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. They're amazing. They're really energized by moving this industry forward and making a difference. It's definitely been a bit of a grind. I mean, we're currently on the market right now for another full stack developer. That would be the seventh CoHost hire on just the product side. I've been looking for almost five months.
Bryan Barletta: Wow.
Fatima Zaidi: I've emailed you. I've emailed everyone in the world. I'm like, " Does anybody have a full stack developer? We don't care if you don't have podcasting experience." But, at the end of the day, I would say that the team is small and scrappy and nimble, and we've been able to push out features very quickly. We also have this beautiful agency to supplement the work we're doing on the product side, and we're our own case study. So, that's been really great.
Bryan Barletta: That's so smart. A lot of the companies that I've worked at in this space have not had people actively go through the process of launching a podcast or launching a campaign or making sure they understood what their end users were doing. Even shadowing it for a week would make or break someone's understanding of how to do it. But, I like what you said there. As we're trying to pull people into the space, teaching people about podcasting should be the easiest thing possible. We all should know it. Sounds Probable is working on an education course that's going to be freely available. And, I'm excited to help people with that because, like you said, the goal here isn't to compete with people that want to go work at Shopify. It's to give room for people who are smart and are motivated and want to build something very cool and want that opportunity.
I mean, I'm a college dropout and I've never gotten a product management certification. But, I was a product manager for a substantial portion of my career because I had the opportunity to dig into a field that needed people and needed someone to really care about it. When there were companies out there paying people with certifications and degrees twice what I was making. But, it led me to where I am now. So, everybody in podcasting looking to hire on a technical level, be open to finding that young person, that person with a little less experience at that point, and give them the chance.
Fatima Zaidi: I couldn't care less about if you've gone to university or college or what your degree or certification is. I basically don't even look at resumes. The fancier the resume, usually the less of a culture fit, I would say. I like scrappy, innovative people with great work ethic who are looking to make a difference. I would say that I think not enough importance is placed on the characteristics and traits and the values that somebody possesses.
It's so much about their experience and where they've worked and the bells and whistles of their resume and experience. I think one of the reasons our team is just so incredible and such unicorn hires is I have pulled together very diverse people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds. A lot of them don't have university and college degrees. Actually, our CTO doesn't. He dropped out of university.
Bryan Barletta: Awesome.
Fatima Zaidi: He is so innovative and scrappy. He's the best problem solver I know. And, also not motivated by the money. He cares about troubleshooting and making a difference and innovating. I think that's the one commonality between everybody in our team. That's why we've been able to... I get asked all the time. Quill is such a new company, but they've done so much in such a short period of time. And, I would say that is the secret sauce.
Bryan Barletta: Well, I mean, you have. The branded side of the agency, the production agency that you've done, was the first thing you focused on. And, that launched when?
Fatima Zaidi: We incorporated in 2019, but we officially launched with our first agency client in March of 2020. So, right before the pandemic. Fast forward two years, we work with corporate Fortune 500 brands like PWC, Expedia, Microsoft. We have almost 22 full- time employees, 10 contractors. So, we have grown really quickly. I would say that the agency is so important to me because, what you said earlier, that's where I realized the gaps. Where they all focus group for the product.
We have this continuous discovery program where we're constantly tapping into content creators. And, we have this whole pipeline of people where we can tap into to figure out what's working, what's not. The advertising and growth challenges. How do you know if your show was successful? How do you measure the ROI of your podcast? None of that would happen if we didn't have an agency. So, to me, if you don't have some sort of a program or channel where you're working on creating podcasts, I don't know how you would know what product to build.
Bryan Barletta: That's a really smart point. You didn't set out to build the technology. You found a gap. You decided to build it. I mean, let's be fair here. The branded agency, the way for growth there, the way you're building that up has a clear growth path. This is a risk. It's a cool risk. I think it's very awesome because it's going to drive the industry forward. But, the agency empowers your ability to invest in this technology.
Fatima Zaidi: Totally.
Bryan Barletta: And, the reason it's able to grow and turn around. So, two total years for your entire company exists and you have the hosting platform going live very shortly.
Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. May 16th.
Bryan Barletta: Well, that's amazing. Because, what that means is that when you have a new feature, you have something new to test. You immediately have people who can check it out and say, " Oh, this can't go public." You have people who are going to really stress test it before anyone outside of your company does that. Because, simulated environments only do so much.
Fatima Zaidi: Totally.
Bryan Barletta: My favorite part about getting access to any platform is how quickly can I use it in a way someone didn't intend?
Fatima Zaidi: Absolutely. I mean, we are launching on May 16. So, a couple of weeks away from launch. But, we already have a hundred brands, corporate brands, using our product. We actually don't even launch features unless we've been told to through the data that we're collecting in our user feedback. We have a lot of inherent biases. I mean, we're so close to the industry, the data and the analytics, and the content, that we may think that we want to move in a certain direction and that's what people want. But, ultimately, the data speaks for itself. That's how we laid out our entire roadmap and all of the features. To your point, it's been a game changer to have this pool of people that we can tap into that validate what we do and then help QA test it. So, I'm really excited about launch and bringing it to the world.
Bryan Barletta: That's awesome. In the past six months, every question I've gotten for companies in your situation is how do I start a technology side, or should I start a technology side to my business that wasn't technology focused. What is your advice to someone contemplating that? How do you know= when to make that move? How do you know when it's worth it to build out a whole new division of your business?
Fatima Zaidi: I would say, first and foremost, I think the importance of knowing if or when you need investors. We're a completely bootstrap company. We haven't taken a lick of VC or angel funding. From day one, we were cashflow positive because of the service side of our business. I think the challenge is we live in an industry where everybody really champions raising funding. You're front and center and every publication. It's ra ra ra if you get funding.
But, we don't sit there and profile the companies that manage to bootstrap from day one. Takes an enormous amount of hustle and having to be scrappy and the whole new set of challenges. But, what it allows you to do is, rather than spending your time in front of VCs and investors pitching your business and trying to get some funding to extend your runway, you're actually spending that time in front of customers and your users. Not only closing sales, but understanding the pain points and challenges that they have. I mean, my first piece of advice would be, if you have a part of your business where you can use the funding to invest in your tech, do that. You don't need to raise capital. It's not always the most glamorous way to go, forge your own path, which is what we did.
I would say the second thing is, it shouldn't initially be about the money. It should be about solving a problem and a need. I know that sounds cliche, but there's so many different resources out there in the industry. Don't fix what isn't broken. We went out to build out a product that we couldn't find. We looked for it. We talked to other hosting platforms. We knew exactly what we wanted and what we needed, and we couldn't find it. So, we decided, " All right, it's not out there. Rather than waiting for these hosting existing platforms to finally turn their attention towards what we need, why don't we just build it ourselves?"
It was a problem that we were solving first for ourselves. So, don't just build another network or another recording software or another microphone just because you want to be in the tech space. Think about where the gaps and challenges are. And, really, you can only do that by speaking to your customers.
Bryan Barletta: I love that so much. I am so adamant about the fact that there is technology that solves almost every problem today for everybody in this space.
Fatima Zaidi: A hundred percent.
Bryan Barletta: If someone just wants to build for building's sake, I highly recommend signing a six month or a 12 month contract with something that does just enough. And, you succeed and you grow based on that. And then, you hate how much you're cutting that check for every month. That should be the driving force to build something that isn't completely unique, but you want to own. But, on your end, you found a hole. There was something that was stopping you in this path.
You knew that this would be something that other branded podcast creators would be very interested in. It would be a new perspective. While it could be a feature of some of these other hosting platforms, ones that are driven specifically by dynamic ad insertion and other methods of monetization that are different than what your client base needs, they're not going to be prioritized because the hosting platform is not going to land enough clients at a download rate to make it worthwhile when advertising dollars are worth chasing.
Fatima Zaidi: Absolutely.
Bryan Barletta: Killer reason. Killer reason to make your own product there.
Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. I would say that everybody who's listing in this industry knows that one of the biggest challenges we have is the fact that it's such a green space. It's the wild, wild west. The amount of information that you have at your fingertips if you're doing social media advertising, or running ads on Google, Google analytics, you have access to so much data and user activity behind what's happening on consumption. We don't have that information readily available to us in the podcasting industry. It's just so fragmented. Which... Pros and cons. It's really exciting working in this space because you can make such a difference.
But, every day we work with clients who are asking us for XYZ KPI, or XYZ metric. It absolutely kills me to turn around and be like, " Well, we just don't have that. We don't know why we don't have it." Eventually, we were like, " Okay, instead of giving that response, let's proactively work on changing it and finding that data and figuring it out." That's really why we built CoHost. It was to find all of the (inaudible) KPIs and data points that would help professional podcasters understand the ROI of their podcast. Is it successful? And then, to justify the creation of new production budgets.
Bryan Barletta: I love it. That's where the future of this industry needs to go. We need to start looking at our tools and we need to remember that the client's needs have to be put first.
Fatima Zaidi: A hundred percent.
Bryan Barletta: There's no better way to do that than being both the client and the creator of the technology.
Fatima Zaidi: I couldn't agree more. It's a great story. I really hope that the industry will give us a shot. I'm really excited about what we've put together. We're in the process of going through IAB compliancy. Really respect the standards that the industry has put together. It's been a really fun process and a year in the making. So, really feels surreal being so close to launch.
Bryan Barletta: A year to build a hosting platform during a pandemic in the second year of your business. I'm very, very excited to see how this grows because I've had a chance to look at the tool. I think it's an incredible perspective. I really hope more people check it out. Because, we need more innovation like this.
Fatima Zaidi: Thank you.
Bryan Barletta: As we continue to grow as a space.
Fatima Zaidi: Thank you, Bryan. And, also, thank you so much for being such a huge supporter of our company and being such an ally. We definitely need more people like you in this industry.
Bryan Barletta: Thank you.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Okay, Bryan, ready for my takeaways?
Bryan Barletta: Always. This is my favorite part.
Arielle Nissenblatt: All right. First of all, I just want to say that I am definitely guilty of thinking that the hosting space is overcrowded. It sounds to me like Fatima and her team identified needs that were not being fulfilled and they're attempting to fill them with CoHost, the new product.
Bryan Barletta: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I think I even walked back a lot of my sentiment on that too. We think about how we're seeing mergers and acquisitions. We're seeing all of that shift in this space as we're so far along. In it from the start of podcasting. But, that's a bad mindset. I mean, if there is a whole, if there's a feature that can't be built, if there's an audience that's not being tailored towards, that's a great reason for a product to exist. And, she did exactly that. The team built something unique for that.
Arielle Nissenblatt: I think what's interesting is it's not just a hosting site like Buzzsprout or Blubrry or Podbean. It's a hosting site specifically made for corporate podcasters who are looking for particular KPIs that Fatima and her team were not able to find on other hosting sites. So, she mentioned this, but instead of saying, " Oh, I'm so sorry. We don't have that KPI." She said, " What would it take to build it?"
Bryan Barletta: That's a hard question to ask. Especially when you don't have an engineering team. And, it takes a lot of guts to build a team around that. You can know what your needs are and you can articulate them. But, being able to get someone on the engineering side to understand it, understand enough about the space and execute on it, is a big jump. That's a huge undertaking.
Arielle Nissenblatt: It's not just guts. It's also a lack of people in the tech space. I mean, Squadcast also is looking for an engineer and Fatima said, " We've been looking for an engineer for a while. We've been looking for full stack for a while." Not only is it hard to find engineers, it's also very hard to find engineers who have experience in the podcast space. I think you mentioned this, look beyond people who have experience in the podcast space. But, instead, look for people who have a desire to work with startups, a desire to work with, and she said this, a term that I hadn't heard before, scale ups. I like that idea. People who want to work in this space and learn about this space. You can train them to know what they need to know about this particular industry.
Bryan Barletta: Hundred percent. The most accessible thing we have to teach in podcasting is how podcasting works. I'm really excited because the education course we're working on will premier this summer.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Plug.
Bryan Barletta: Right? I'm so pumped. And, it's freely available. Because, I want to help more people do that. We're moving so fast that sometimes to sit down and explain to someone the difference between a download and ad delivery versus ad impression, or why dynamic ad insertion can have host red ads. Instead of confusing that baked in and dynamic ad insertion are delivery methods versus who the creative voice is.
Arielle Nissenblatt: That's what one of the French podcasters asked me yesterday.
Bryan Barletta: Yeah. That's the type of education that we need to focus on. That foundational growth stuff that we all know, but we just need to slow down. That is what we can teach anybody. We can bring anybody into the space as long as we can commit the time to teach them about this space.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Here's another takeaway. VC and angel funding is overrated, especially in podcasting, especially in the tech space. I think this really came on display with the Elizabeth Holmes trial. People who are raising money are encouraged to essentially fabricate stories or make them sound more grand than they are. Say things are fixed. Say that there's a solution for something when there isn't necessarily a solution for it yet.
With that, you're getting promises of money. You're even receiving funds for something that you don't necessarily know how you're going to fix. And, I think we don't pay enough attention to the companies that bootstrap from day one, like Quill, like Squadcast. There are a bunch of companies in the podcast space in the tech space that are bootstrapping and it is hard. It is difficult to make sure that you've got funding and make sure that you can especially pay salaries for the people that work on your team and that their work is being valued. I really like what she said, and I also really like that Fatima said that her company was cash flow positive from day one. They are using their learnings to create another product that will continue to make them financially solvent.
My last takeaway is that we need to start looking at our tools in the podcast space and understanding that our clients' needs need to come first. I see this all the time when we're working with the Squadcast community. We want to build something, but we sometimes think about building something before we know that it is a need of our clients. That's why we have a really robust beta program. I recommend everybody doing that because there's really no substitute for actual, real, on the ground usage of a product to make sure that it is fulfilling the needs of the people who are paying for it.
Bryan Barletta: I agree. As someone who's had a lot of product management experience, the amount of times I've had to move us away from building something just because we're excited to build it, to actually get client feedback to justify it, to actually make sure that we're solving their needs. It's tough. Sometimes, it can feel unfulfilling on the product side. But, that's how a company thrives and survives. You cannot always build towards your desires, especially when you start getting customers at scale. Or, when you want to have customers at scale.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Yeah. Just to bring it full circle, Fatima and her team were working with enterprise clients, corporate clients, who wanted specific KPIs from their podcast hosting site. Maybe listen through rate, maybe demographics on the listeners. And. They were not able to find those things with the existing solutions. So, they built it themselves. While they're building it, they are testing it out. I think that's such a great way to build a product.
Bryan Barletta: Thanks for the great recap, Arielle.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Hey, Sounds Profitable listeners. What do you think of the show? We want to hear from you. Please, reach out if you have any questions or comments. We're on Twitter @ SoundsProfNews, @ BryanBarletta or @ arithisandthat. If you want to send us an email, that's podcast@ soundsprofitable. com.
Bryan Barletta: This show is recorded with Squadcast, the best place to record studio quality audio and video for content creators. I use Squadcast for every interview and product deep dive I do. And, I encourage you to check it out. Go to squadcast. fm for a free seven day trial. And, definitely let me know what you think.
Arielle Nissenblatt: Do you want more from Sounds Profitable? We have two more podcasts that you can explore. First up is Sounds Profitable, the narrated articles. And, next, the Download, our podcast about the business of podcasting. Both of those are available in Spanish. You can find links to them in the episode description. Thank you to Evo Terra and Ian Powell for their help on this episode.