We are extremely excited to share with you our one-on-one with CastPlus CEO, Uriel Zecharia, on building a successful startup in the field of podcasts, being part of an accelerator and leading a strong team.
What does CastPlus do?
CastPlus is a podcast marketing platform; we operate in the podcast industry where we connect with brands, like Amazon or Netflix, with hundreds of podcast publishers to create a native endorsement for their products or services. We also take care of everything that’s related to the operation of the campaign, from scheduling to dynamically inserting of the ads, verification that the ad was published and so on. Castplus is an end-to-end platform for brands, advertisers and podcast publishers to work together.“The whole thing was new for us, and we didn’t want to develop anything that there was no need for.”
CustPlus used a lean startup model since its creation before you even had an MVP ready. Why did you choose to start this way and what did you learn from that?
As a start, we didn’t know if what the publishers needed from us is a technological platform that enables them to do optimization on their catalog – meaning they already have the relationship with the advertisers but they just don’t know or don’t have the capabilities to do things like target ads to specific locations or specific times and to switch ads if needed. Or if they need our help with their relationship with the advertiser. So we didn’t know what are the pain points. This is why we started with one landing page follow by another. Based on the number of people that were subscribed and the discussions that we managed to have with them we decided what to do. At the beginning, we knew that there was a gap in the monetization of podcast advertising, but we didn’t know which part to tackle first. Building something before we have a product that potential customers can see, helped us go in the right direction.
Can you offer any advice for entrepreneurs who want to gauge interest in their venture pre-product, just like you did?
I guess just the usual stuff. I know it’s kind of a cliché, for us, it was important to understand that there is a market because podcasting is a relatively small market. We never worked as podcasters or in marketing or as account managers in a brand or media buyers in a brand. So the whole thing was new for us and we didn’t want to develop anything that there was no need for. The only way that you can know is by having enough indications from the market. One way to do so is to build something and try to make people use it, but this doesn’t provide you too much understanding of how many people would like to use it and what is the friction points. Building a product before understanding the market is actually just skipping the understanding of the market validation and going straight to product market fit. Basically, you have an assumption that there is a big market, and if you have the right marketing intel you will be able to reach them, and you just try and build the product and then see if there is a need for it. So if the product is fitted to the need you have assumed that enough people want it. But basically, I actually don’t see any other way in doing it. In some cases, you must develop something. So a lot of technology companies that no one is sure that they can actually develop what they’re trying to develop, they must build it. In some other situations, people will not understand what your product is all about unless you provide it to them. But in podcast advertising, it’s pretty clear what you will provide. So you can just ask, and if you ask enough people and you ask correctly, you should have a feeling if you’re going in the right direction. I think it really depends on the product that you’re trying to develop. If it’s a product that people can understand without working with it, you definitely should try to have market validation before you start developing.
After having a landing page you created an MVP. Can you tell us about that stage in your product development?
“So you can just ask, and if you ask enough people and you ask correctly, you should have a feeling if you’re going in the right direction.”
I think that the first thing that you have to put a question mark on is what is your product. For early stage startups that are not sure what is the business model, who exactly is the customer, what is the marketing approach, how much money they should raise, you know, the basics of the basics, an accelerator wouldn’t necessarily help you to run faster but it helps you to run in the right direction and ask the relevant questions. , what is the most important thing that the company needs to serve right now?
Is it marketing, is it bringing a new publisher, is it making sure that we’re correct on the business model, what is it? In those questions, you can gain a lot by having conversations with people that have been in the same place several times. The mentoring and the ability to talk and discuss and learn from other people helped us a lot. The second thing that helped us a lot is to actually have very smart people around us. During some conversations with Ido Yablonka and Roy Mann, where they asked us hard questions we found the answers that without them would take us a couple of weeks to answer. They helped us to look at the question and to build a methodology of how we can solve the question and this actually saved us a lot of time.
Your first design partner, who is now one of your clients, was “Osim Historia.” How did you incentivize them to work with you and what benefits did each of the parties derive from the relationship.
In general, when you are building a marketplace, it needs to be very clear to the user what he will gain when working with you. With the publishers of Osim Historia, it was an easy sell. We’re providing tools that they can get 20 to 30 and sometimes 40 percent revenue on. We told them, this is what we can do, we’ll do it for free for X amount of time, and that’s it. What was in it for us—we have a network to help us design a product. To see how they use the product and to ask the right questions in terms of product development, features, all things related to the development side. It also gave us a place to make mistakes before we actually release the product in the U.S. Once we release the product in the U.S. we know we have the capacity to support X amount of publishers and all other aspects are flowing.
Let’s talk about your company culture. Your first intern was a GMBA student at the IDC in Herzliya, who eventually became one of your employees. What do you look for in your employees and in your team, and what does this say about your company culture?
Ideally, in the structure that we are working right now, a small company, every employee has his own responsibility. If he doesn’t do his job, the entire vertical does not operate. Meaning, if we have someone in product, if he doesn’t do the job, there is no product. The same goes if we had only one developer or one salesperson, and any other vertical in that regard. You must have someone that manages to provide value on a daily basis to the company. This is the most important thing: to be able to merge with everyone in a company where you have one worker in Austin, another one in New York and
“Building the SigmaLabs community was something that the accelerator really emphasized on, and I think was one of the top benefits that we gained from it.”
This is the most important thing: to be able to merge with everyone in a company where you have one worker in Austin, another one in New York and team of three in Israel. With this kind of structure where the company is literally in different locations…In most cases, you won’t find me for a full day in the office. In some cases, I will be part of the month in the U.S. and the rest in Israel. It’s a culture that I’m not sure that I like, but this is the way we must operate for now. Everyone needs to be 100% responsible for their own tasks and the entire vertical, and the KPIs that we need to maximize. You need to have a set of people that can communicate things clearly and in a very effective way so you will not spend too much time in meetings. Most of our employees didn’t even meet the entire team face to face, that’s why we decided to look at results on a daily basis and keep our attention close up.
Share a secret with us?
One of the things that I gained from the accelerator that isn’t written as a benefit, in terms of the white paper: we built great relationships with the companies that we spent time with in the accelerator. Some of the people that we met there invested in us, some worked with us, some consulted us. Building the SigmaLabs community was something that the accelerator really emphasized on, and I think was one of the top benefits that we gained from it.