The caricature of the tech startup founder is a familiar one. Black mock turtlenecks, stressful venture capital fundraising rounds, hubris, and going public. And then, in some story arcs, comeuppance arrives: tales of fraud, scandal, and discrimination. It’s a path so well understood that the popular HBO show “Silicon Valley” aptly parodies the lack of self-awareness that often accompanies American start-up culture.
When I met Neil Mody, co-founder of Headliner, he didn’t seem to have any of these qualities, parodied or otherwise. He and his co-founder, Oliver Wellington, were relaxed. They had the energy of indie band that had made it big in the indie world but weren’t chasing mainstream fame. Maybe that’s because they’re not on a mission to change the world. Their scope is smaller, and perhaps more effective. “We don’t have God complexes,” Wellington joked during our interview. My indie band theory was mostly right: Wellington played in a band, loves Charles Mingus, and of the duo, he is the more avid podcast listener. Mody was more like the band’s manager, leaning back in his chair, fingers steepled.
Mody and Wellington have been in their line of work — content discovery — for roughly a decade. Simply put, it’s placing the right content in front of the right consumer at the right time. While Mody was in graduate school for philosophy, reading extensively on philosophy, he and Wellington built a company that recommended other written content based on what you’re currently reading. The company became so successful they were bought by IAC around 2012.
Sometime after this, Mody started getting into a different kind of content: podcasts. “There was amazing content in the podcast ecosystem, but it was hard to get started,” Mody told me. “It was this hidden part of the internet.”
One of the biggest reasons it seemed that podcasts were hiding was because there hasn’t typically been a way to share audio content as easily as a tweet or an Instagram post. Putting together their past experience with content recommendations and applying it to this new content problem, a new company was born. Headliner a tech company that pairs user-made visual content with podcast clips, began in 2018.
Podcasts are still a largely unexplored universe of content. Wellington and Mody both mentioned to me that only 32 percent of Americans have listened to podcasts in the last month. “Most people are out of the know,” Mody said. The clunkiness of sharing a piece of audio content is virtually eliminated by being able to post visual content.
After the interview, Mody and Wellington showed me how their product worked. You can take a clip of audio from the podcast and add pictures, video, moving text, or some combination of all three. It’s faster and more efficient than using Adobe or paying a graphic designer to create a visual representation of audio content. And most importantly, it’s shareable. If you’re hanging your own shingle, that’s a huge bonus.
Andy Wang, a financial adviser at Runnymede Capital Management, has been hosting his own podcast on personal finance and other money topics, called “Inspired Money” for two years. He’s used Headliner to grow his audience, and he has found it essential to getting the word out and making his content more accessible, especially since his content covers a number of broad topics. “As a content creator that’s audio only, we’re really looking for ways to repurpose our content and get better engagement on social media channels that are built for images.” He continued, “viewers retain a higher percentage of the message when there’s video as opposed to audio only.” Wang stressed to me that he finds it helpful when posting his podcast to social media, he has a variety of options, including posting teasers like you would normally expect on television.
“The possibilities are endless,” Wang said.
Mody sees himself as a modern-day librarian, helping people connect to the content they want. But it’s also more than that. Headliner seems to be helping content creators themselves contribute to an ever-expanding library of content, including both visual and audio. As more and more content goes up into the cloud, it’s important to use it to connect with users, build audiences, and create demand, and not let extremely good content lie fallow.