Tom Mayr – TALKS WITH PETRI
Tom Mayr talks about audio as the last medium without a big platform, how to approach two-sided markets as a startup and why not all likes are the same.
Tom Mayr is an entrepreneur who has been fascinated by sound all his life. He started with music and later moved on founding companies with his old music band members. Currently, he’s the CEO and co-founder of Voicehub that is disrupting the growing audio market with their unique take on the spoken audio.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hey Tom, how are you doing?
Tom: Hi Petri! Good, and you?
Petri: Pretty good. It’s getting hot here. It’s almost like 25 C and without air-conditioning, it’s getting summerish.
Some time ago you stated that podcasting is a product that is still in the MVP state, minimum viable product state, since 2004 and never really got out of this state. What did you mean by that?
Tom: That was a theory I had around the podcasting space because when I looked at it over the last 16 years, nothing really major happened in that space. The space started out really with no intention of being a medium consumed by millions and millions of people and having the scale that it has today.
When you have that in mind and see the development over the last 16 years, you can really see that this medium has scaled on size now that isn’t really capable of providing the analytics that all of these people would need to create better podcasts. It isn’t really able to make it easy and accessible for people that never listened to a podcast.
The whole thing. When podcasting started, they had this objective to see if people want to listen to this kind of audio and content. And it feels more they tried it with like the minimum viable product approach, like setting up RSS feed and just having a decentralised network where everybody can listen wherever they want.
And now podcasting in the last six years has shown that people really enjoy listening to this kind of content, but it never really was a product that got developed any further. Now, the audience size is way too big for what a product actually can do. We should look beyond podcasting.
We should see audio and podcasting audio as a medium type, like YouTube videos or something like that. And maybe see, okay, what else can we do? Podcasting is now the main kind of infrastructure, people that are talking down all kinds of that stuff. And it’s all good, but maybe there are some other kinds of platforms that could use audio content and could provide more suited infrastructure for 2020, and beyond that.
Petri: Are you saying that there has to be some more standardisation for the format? So that it’s easy to consume. Email is still really powerful and it’s getting a come-back with all the newsletters and everybody can read email. It’s so standardised and that’s the power of the email as well.
And that’s in a way true with podcasting as well. There’s the counterforce so to speak, Spotify, which is more like a closed platform. We are in the middle of a content war in audio at the moment. What is your way out of this? What should we do next?
Tom: Podcasting has this underlying structure with RSS that doesn’t really enable any kind of big innovations, just because like how RSS is set up. And the one thing that we could do with podcasting and that what is also happening right now is that there’s one company buying different kinds of podcasting and trying to own the podcasting environment. And podcasting is like this really special format. Most of the time interviews are an hour-long talking about certain topics and Spotify will be the winner and will play a big role in that scenario.
If they start buying up podcasts and the podcast environment, and people just listen to podcasts on Spotify, there are definitely some drawbacks with that. And it’s definitely not the best thing for the community, but I think this is what’s going to happen. But it will help podcasters that are on Spotify to better monetise, to earn more money with their content. Because Spotify, if they own the infrastructure of it, they own the analytics.
They can provide advertisers with the analytics they need to invest more of their money to see if their ads are working out. Podcasting will be Spotify only. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Spotify will play a big role in podcasting.
There are still some other opportunities out there to do funny things and cool things with audio that don’t need to be podcasting. My summary is that podcasting will be won by Spotify. But there are some other platforms and other approaches where you can create cool audio content and have like more variety in that space.
Petri: You’ve been experimenting with voice and audio for some time already. What have you learned?
Tom: Audio is a tough medium. It’s really not that easy because you don’t really have viral effects with audio. It’s not like where we have a cute little video for six seconds or 10 seconds or 20 seconds that can go viral and attract millions, millions of people.
Petri: Haven’t heard of TikTok?
Tom: Yeah, I have heard of TikTok. TikTok really nailed that approach there. It’s difficult with audio. There’s less information in 10 seconds of audio versus 10 seconds of video. And that means like these 10 seconds to really go viral would need to be like super crazy engaging content.
That’s one thing with the audio or one thing that we’ve learned that it’s not that easy to have viral audio content if it’s even possible. It limits the growth there, or it makes it sometimes hard to grow there. The second thing is that it’s also not that easy from a technical standpoint to create audio content. Being a good moderator, being a good speaker and being a good host, being a good guest, whatever that is, it’s really not that easy. You definitely need to have a certain kind of talent to be a great audio creator.
Even though it’s hard to be a master at. But it’s way easier for people that aren’t natural content creators and don’t post a lot of Instagram posts, a lot of YouTube and post a lot of Facebook content there. It’s easier for these people to access it in the first place.
More people are willing to try out to create audio content than starting a YouTube channel. There’s also a quote in that direction that it’s easy to learn, but hard to master. So it’s easy to do, but really hard to be a great guest host, speaker, moderator, whatever.
These are the three things we’ve learned in that space now.
Petri: Coming back a bit to the virality aspect you mentioned in your Medium article, that users need context before they engage and that’s a tough nut to crack. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with that?
Tom: This aspect came from that we saw that there are so many podcasts out there, and there are really a lot of podcasts out there on a lot of different topics. And it’s hard for people to decide which podcast they should listen to. And most of the time, people default into the behaviour that they just listened to the top ones in a certain category they’re interested in and we thought that maybe there is a solution.
If you group a lot of different creators in one group and also the listeners and the creators at the same place. If you have an app or a platform where you have one community that’s dedicated to a certain type of topic and creators and listeners meet in that one place to create and listen to content and make it easy for people or for listeners to search through new content and also give them an opportunity to express what kind of creators and what kind of content they like within that community.
This should help to engage more creators, more people and create more listeners and more engagement overall. The way we want to crack context is basically that we want to provide a topic, provide an area within an app or in a website and for people to come together there, they can search.
If you’re interested in startup content, you search for startups, then you find different communities that are centred around startups, or startup knowledge, investment strategy. All of these different kinds of topics that are related to startups, and you can see what’s going on in these communities.
You can join them. You can scroll through the new content there, you can join conversations there, or you can also scroll through the best content and give your own ratings of how much you like this content. And that way enable new creators to have an audience right away and to give listeners the option to give these new creators feedback.
The context is given by the community itself by the name of the community, by the description of the community. And then you just need to figure out what kind of creators you like the most in these communities.
Petri: This reminds me of the very traditional and old format, a book. It’s the same thing. Everybody goes to the big titles. Most of the money in the industry, at least in fiction goes to the top 10 writers in the world. Even though you would love to have something new, even in non-fiction, it’s quite hard to actually pick up the book and read it. Even though you get recommendations, you read about it. It probably just takes few of your friends, really do kick your butt and say that now you really have to read this. This is really the thing. And then you’re like, OMG, this is really good. Why didn’t I do that early on?
Tom: Yeah, 100%. Books and podcasts are pretty similar in that space. Books maybe have the one advantage that they are all written. You can easily scan through summaries, easily scan the back of a book and see what it’s about. You can do this with podcasting too. But a book is like this static thing. You write a book, you put it out there and people read it whenever they want.
A podcast is like an ongoing developing thing or it’s harder to have static summaries there or static trailers there because there are different guests, different topics or different questions. This makes it a little bit harder for podcasts to be accessible than books.
It’s the same kind of infrastructure books are also pretty decentralised. There were all of these different bookstores where you can buy the same books. That’s the same with podcasting. There are so many podcasting platforms out there where you can listen to the same podcasts.
And then all of a sudden then came a little company called Amazon and centralised much of the book distribution on their platform and now they own a huge market share of the book market. And I think that’s pretty comparable to what Spotify is doing right now in the podcasting landscape.
Petri: I wrote an article a few weeks back or some days back saying that this is the decade of audio. And I’ve been thinking about it for a while. How do you introduce a new song to the market?
That’s what I heard some of the industrial players saying. This probably happened in some 20-30 years back. The trick is that you need to have some familiar elements and it cannot be a totally completely new thing. Because then people will not accept it. It will not go the right way for them.
What do you need to do if you have an artist who is like having a new song and it’s not something that’s been in the market. You have to sandwich that song if you have a playlist on the radio or somewhere. And you can actually put it into a repetitive pattern for a few weeks so people will start to hear it many times. You put the new song between two familiar songs so you are in a good mode and then you’ll get to the stranger thing and then you’ll keep on going. You have to gradually get people to accept something new. And even in the songs, it’s always good to have something that is a familiar or some familiar elements, and that’s the trick.
It’s quite curious to see that are we able to do the same with the audio because the resistance is high and there’s no eye candy with the video.
Tom: You need to make changes and put out new updates and put up new products with marginal changes at a time to really get people used to what you’re trying to do. Putting something out there that’s completely new, most of the time people would like to say that they are open to completely new things, but in reality, and on scale, I think people aren’t that open to completely new things and to completely crazy things.
Every revolution that’s out there. Everything that’s so super new and so super cool right now, most of the time has a history of five to six to ten years when the people that initiated that revolution in any shape or form started with really small steps over time. And then you have this effect that people think it’s an overnight success.
And it’s totally new and totally crazy, but most of the time you need to make small changes and really get people used to what you’re trying to do and get people used to do the vision that you have. And then all of a sudden, at some point you hit like an inflection point and really start growing or whatever you want to happen with your revolution. But for many people out there with will feel like it was an overnight success, even though you’ve been working on it for 10 years.
Petri: You mentioned that we should consider audio as a platform, what do you mean by that?
Tom: This was pretty much like also the summary of podcasting is the MVP. There are four different types of content that you can share and create online. There’s text, there’s video, there’s pictures, and you have audio. All of these four different kinds of media should make it easier to think about them.
You can think about them as platforms. You can think about text as the platform where Twitter was built on or Medium was built on. You can think about video as the platform people used to build on TikTok and to build on YouTube. You can think about pictures as the platform where Instagram was built on or Pinterest was built on. And then you have audio and audio is really like this lonely kind of fourth child from these three that hasn’t really had a platform built upon.
Podcasting is the platform that was built on top of audio, but that’s not even really true because like podcasting’s more like infrastructure and not like a real platform because it’s so decentralised. You could argue that Spotify and SoundCloud are some of the more popular examples, but Spotify is still mainly music. The origin it had and the growth they had was all based around music and SoundCloud really never nailed their opportunity to become this big company. They had a lot of different product changes, a lot of different pricing changes. Some people at some point weren’t really interested in it and its growth slowed down. Audio as a platform, if you think about it that way, can enable so many fun things you can do with audio.
It’s not that you can take all of the examples you’ve seen on video, on pictures and really just adapt these things to audio. It’s not possible to say that you want to build the Instagram for audio or the TikTok for audio. I even had an article out there at some point, I still have a snippet on Voicehub and that’s called We are building Medium for audio.
After some time now, I think that’s total nonsense. You need to think about how you can really use the platform of audio to make great and interesting content. You basically see audio as a platform, then you need to build a tool or a platform on top of that platform to enable great content that can come out of the audio.
That’s the same thing that’s happened with YouTube. YouTube enabled creators to create great things with their platform. People are not using YouTube because of the platform and technical specifications but because of the content that gets created on there. The same thing for TikTok, that’s the same thing for Instagram.
You need to think about what kind of tools, what kind of platform do you need to create the best kind of audio content. And then you can build a platform there that can be successful and also have a platform for people to become successful on your platform.
Petri: Could Twitter with the audio tweets somehow become that audio platform?
Tom: I’m not sure about that. Audio is a really special medium and mixing it into text and mixing it into video and picture content sometimes it’s hard because just to consume audio content, you would need a different kind of feature set than you need to consume video content.
And what they’re doing right now is not that they are not really implementing audio itself, but they implement video. They just make that you can speak and then they upload a video rendered with your picture on it. It will be interesting to see…it’s really early to say how this will be the case, but what they can do is they can really push the format forward and get people to think about the format more openly.
What they really can do is: while we had now podcasting out there and podcasting works and people like to listen to podcasts, but look over here, you can also do this incredible thing with audio. So you can also create small little content there that people enjoy listening to.
Maybe think more creatively about what you can do with audio. That’s definitely something that Twitter can do with their reach and scale they have.
Petri: Audio is so much more. You can have nature sounds. You can do so many other things than simply talk. There’s music, but there’s so many other levels and variety in all together. Is it even possible to put that in one single platform?
Tom: I’m not sure about that. I also think that’s pretty hard to put it in one single platform. What we try to do to enable some different kind of audio content is that we really have these smaller communities and these smaller groups where people can engage. They are in their close environment there.
It’s interesting to see that there are actually two audio companies that are huge, but rarely get talked about when you think about audio companies. Most of the time, if you say, okay, what are the biggest companies in the audio space right now? Most of the time you say SoundCloud and Spotify.
If you think about another company called Audible. They are pretty big. And there are also some other audio platforms, audiobook platforms out there. That’s not all. There is also Calm and Headspace. They are basically also just audio companies. You can find on some, not so legal websites, you can download all of the audio courses that are on Headspace and you can do exactly the stuff that you can do within the Headspace app.
I had a Headspace subscription for some time, so I tried the app and used it. They built a fancy audio player with some different features that are really good for meditation and stuff like that. It’s a great product. I really like Headspace and Calm, but the thing is that it’s basically just an audiobook or audio snippets and they build some features around it.
People enjoy using it and it’s audio-only. So there’re no real videos. There are some graphics there, but there are no real videos. And these are also big audio companies, but they’re rarely talked about or get put into a space of audio.
Petri: They are really specialised. They have one single focus. You are building something which is more generic. Can you describe and explain a bit why you ended up starting this journey and what is it and what Voicehub does?
Tom: We started building something in the audio space last year in September. We played a little bit with snippets and podcast snippets. We cut different Jerome episodes and some other podcasts and uploaded snippets. We didn’t really upload them. We used the RSS feed then technically made some snippets.
We never stole any content from them or downloaded the MP3s and did something else with that. We got the RSS feed, made some timestamps and build a player around it where you can press on different time areas within the podcast. And there are little titles what the guests and the hosts talk about at a certain point within the podcast. And we played a little bit with that, we built a landing page, we got some users on it but we thought that this is something that needs to be integrated into platforms where people already listen to podcasts.
And it’s not something that you can build a new kind of platform because people won’t go to your platform just to listen to some podcasts snippets.
Petri: It’s a feature, not a product.
Tom: 100%. If you are on Spotify and they give you some different snippets and timestamps within the episode, then that’s great, but it’s not a good enough reason to switch a platform.
It’s just not big enough for the user. The only thing that we learned was that the only thing that’s big enough for users to really engage with new platforms is to provide them with unique content that they cannot get anywhere else. Then we started thinking about what are some cool stuff you can do with audio?
And where you can create great content but it’s not happening right now. Or people are not doing this right now. We came up with a concept that you could build an app for people to have live group conversations and meet new people there, talk to new people and maybe do something like a group podcast, record some parts of it.
Then also providing them with an area where they can post some little recordings we call snippets of their live groups or if they have a random thought they want to put into the app. They just come and press record and record it within the app. We built these two features to upload pre-recorded audio and to do life groups around communities. You create a community that has a specific topic and people can join and host live groups and post snippets there. That’s the basic functionality that you can do on Voicehub.
Petri: Could you describe it as you have a community and you provide a platform for the community to communicate with audio, or is it the other way around? Such as I really love to talk to people. Let’s find some cool topics and people to talk with. When should I join or who should join Voicehub? What’s the purpose of Voicehub?
Tom: It’s always the other way around. It’s always that you join a platform because of the content that is there. You get something there that you cannot get anywhere else. You need to have this content for people to join, but if you don’t have this content, nobody will join and you will never get this content.
You have a chicken-egg problem. That’s one of the hardest problems that you as a startup need to solve. But it’s definitely that way that you need to create content in any way you can do it. At the moment, we would schedule events or with some spontaneous live groups or people upload snippets on topics they are interested in.
You need to work hard to get this first user base however possible. And then people join the platform after you got this content, just because of the content and because of the interactions. Because of the community that they cannot get anywhere else. And we just use audio because it’s not an over-saturated market.
Not just because of that, but it’s not an over-saturated market. And there are some really great opportunities out there to create great audio content that has not been created before and also to provide great experiences. In the end, people don’t really care if you do it with video, if we do it with audio, if you do it with texts, if you do it with whatever, they only care about that they have a great experience and that they get great content out of it or that a creator sees an opportunity to create content on the platform. And that’s something that we are focused on and something that we are working on.
The purpose to join Voicehub is really that you can interact with people in a way, and listened to content in a way and consume content in a way that has not been done before. That’s the objective. And in the early days, you need to work very hard to get this content onto the platform.
Petri: That’s probably why Clubhouse, maybe a competitor of yours in some sense, in the West coast, they have all the celebrities in there and, it’s a really exclusive club. That’s the content, access to people you would not otherwise have. And that provides the context and the content and the appeal to go in there.
Tom: Yep. I’m not on Clubhouse and of course, we are in the same kind of space there. From a technical standpoint, they did a genius move to build something super simple to use. And then they had the context and the opportunities to onboard people that are people that you want to have on some podcasts.
I want to listen to podcasts and people that you follow on Twitter. They got really great content very early on, and therefore also had really great growth there. And I really don’t want to participate in any speculations of how this can evolve and scale in the future, but I think they had like a good start.
Definitely a really good start. And it would be interesting to see how they develop in the future. We are focused on our community right now and building great experiences for our community. I think the market is huge. So it doesn’t really matter if there are like one, two or three other people in the same space.
It also helps the space. So if there’s one company or one product that’s successful out there that can help other products to ride this wave. We are focused on our community on what we are doing and the content we want to create and really want to see how far we can get with that.
Petri: What are your thoughts on asynchronous and synchronous talk? First one is like you tweet. And then you reply to the tweet or you record a snippet and then somebody records a reply snippet. You can do that obviously on your own time but you are missing, what are we doing now, the live discussion. What do you think and are there actually different preferences?
Tom: Yep. There are 100% different preferences. And I think to really build a company or a product that can hit scale in that area you need both. You need a synchronous model. You don’t need both, but it’s better if you have both because synchronous content is really magical sometimes. There’re just some things that can happen when you create synchronous content that could not happen if you just sit in front of a microphone alone and try to think about something that you want to record.
But having asynchronous content enables you to build up a library and to build up knowledge and also content capital that really pays dividends over the long run. The longer you have asynchronous content on a platform, the more people create asynchronous content, the more people can consume in the future and the more valuable and unique content you will have.
Petri: So it’s like an investment.
Tom: It’s definitely an investment. On Voicehub right now these live groups are the highlights and then snippets are the working horse of all Voicehub. The asynchronous content is really like the thing that builds up Voicehub over time. The highlight groups and live groups build up the community and this combined can create a pretty powerful product.
And there are definitely preferences for people to listen to asynchronous content whenever they want. It’s great if a platform provides that and there are also some really great use cases. If you just can jump on in a live group and listen to people or just engage in the live group.
These are just two different kinds of approaches. And most of the big platforms out there, all combined both. So you can do live streams on YouTube, but you can also watch videos on YouTube later on. You can watch live streams on Twitch, but you can also watch the live video and clips on Twitch later on.
You can do live on Facebook, but you have also asynchronous content. You can do live on Instagram, but you have also asynchronous content. It’s definitely easier to scale with asynchronous content just because you don’t need to have people on the app at the same time all the time. Synchronous content can really create magical experiences and build great relationships between people. So the combination of both can be very powerful.
Petri: How should I think about or consider, or even, then implement and execute if I wanna start to do audio and I want to start to do snippets and if they are like an investment they are there for the long-term. If I would actually like to make some kind of courses, for example. In the regular way that you do training courses or something. You make the whole course, and then you sell that and that’s a unit. If the snippets are like a few minutes or they’re quite short how should I group them together? Should there be a theme or they are like things by themselves? How should I go about this if I want to plan it a bit ahead of time?
Tom: That’s pretty specific on Voicehub right now. There are definitely also some other platforms out there doing some stuff with short-form audio. But on Voicehub you can definitely think about snippets as mini-podcast episodes.
And you should think about how I can provide a lot of knowledge within the snippet, in a condensed time. We don’t have time limits, so you can record a snippet that’s 20-30 minutes. You can record one that’s one minute. But what I think is that snippets are the most valuable if there’s real content behind them, if you listen to it.
Questions most of the time don’t work with audio well. Just because, if I record a question now that I want to ask the community. Nearly my whole question people can see in the title itself. And then when they listen to like a 6 or 20 or 30-second question, then that’s just not great content. Especially if you imagine listening to multiple snippets. Listening to one snippet and then listen to the next snippet, listen to the next like in a playlist. Then having these six seconds or 30 seconds snippets where there’s no real content within the audio, but it’s more like a question I think that’s complicated.
It’s interesting to consider snippets as many podcasts episode where you want to provide value, where you want to provide knowledge, where you want to provide motivation, where you want to provide anything from these different areas. And then record it and put it out there so people can even get value from it if they listen to it in one year or in one month or one hour. So you really provide something meaningful in a snippet. And we had some examples of that already. Obviously, you also uploaded some great snippets. We had some other users uploading some great snippets. And there are really snippets that go for 10-12 minutes or even eight minutes where there’s really a lot of value in them.
When you listen to them, you have the feeling that you read a blog post or that you read something with real content within it. I think that’s like a good approach to build up a library of knowledge there. They are easier to create than a podcast.
You can do them on your own. You can also host a live group where people are recording that and post snippets from that later on. There are different ways you can think about it. But we think that snippets are really valuable if they have some value and content within itself, and it’s not just a question but if there is something in it that you can learn and say, I didn’t know that before.
Petri: You say that they are having the same rules as an article. Put one topic or one theme at a time in an article, don’t put too many ideas there, be elaborate. Get your point through, stay concise. That’s typically a good article. You just have a few points so that people can really understand it.
Petri: I’m actually thinking that we are practising for the next 10 or 20 years. Because we are approaching a physical limit while it’s always been there, but we just have had just very limited applicability for that one in human history before. I’m referring to Elon Musk and the other guys going to Mars.
We can only talk with snippets. There’s no live communication possible. You don’t want to be the annoying person just like text messaging in with one word or sentence at a time and sending tens of them. Because that’s going to be really annoying receiving every eight minutes or, how long does it take to get one, that it’s like questions, questions, questions in 10 seconds MP3.
You’ve been doing entrepreneurship for quite a long time. You were 18 when you started your first company, how did that happen?
Should we actually go back almost to the beginning of Tom and how you experimented with sound and voice and were banding together with your current team as well?
Tom: My whole life I My whole life I did something with the music of audio content. I had like a little recorder as a kid and recorded some conversations with my brother and my parents.
Petri: Did you post them?
Tom: I didn’t post them because there wasn’t a real option to get this tape then out there. I always deleted it, rewind it, and then started from scratch. These are like the early beginnings. I had a couple of bands as a teenager. I played the drums. I still enjoy making music whenever I can. Audio and using these two areas have always been a part of me.
Petri: Where should I go to Spotify or SoundCloud to find your stuff?
Tom: That’s the good thing that we never really had any money to buy recording equipment. We only had our band practices and some little concerts. My dad maybe has some little recordings, but they are not available online. There’s no album or single with my name on it online.
That’s maybe a good thing because we were just kids having fun, and making some music.
Petri: Now, I’m actually thinking that you have a platform where you can do lives. Why talk if you can make music? I’m totally hearing that there’s going to be some band playing in real life soon.
Tom: I think that would be great content. Definitely, having a hub that’s dedicated to a certain kind of genre or to certain kinds of topics. That’s also something that we haven’t figured out 100% what hubs on communities on Voicehub really are. If it’s that a hub needs to be called rock music, and then you have bands playing there, or if it needs to be called band practice. And then you have bands playing there. Or should the hubs to be called talent rising or music talent rising. And then you have like little contests there and I’m not sure how what like the perfect communities on Voicehub would be. I think that’s something that time will show what will work best.
I can imagine people creating music and creating music content on Voicehub. I think that would be great.
Petri: Now I want everyone in the audience to send Tom some direct messages in Voicehub, email or Twitter and all the other co-founders as well that we will join if and when you do a live concert of your band, all the covers.
Tom: Get the old members together. Yeah. That would be interesting. Definitely. At the moment, unfortunately, I don’t have a band, but like getting the old folks together would also be pretty funny.
Petri: You started to do some importing and selling with drop-shipping, one of the trending things which have been happening for the last 10 years. A lot of people are selling things online. You were practising that when you turned 18.
Tom: The first real company I created and also had like a small little team there was called uStud that and it was focused on universities and giving students the option to share student materials. This was the first step during my graduation time when I was 18. We started this company without having any knowledge about students and what students really want, but we thought this would be like an interesting concept because we would like to have that as soon as we started studying.
We built that. Did a lot of mistakes there, just because nobody really knew how to run a company and how to grow a company. After that, I started with Etienne who’s now also a co-founder in Voicehub a company called Active moves. It was buying gym equipment from China and selling it on Amazon with our own label. This was a pretty fun experience. We also did a lot of mistakes but it taught us a lot about how to really run a business and how to grow it. And after that we started to do some other things too, to play around.
We had earned some money by selling these products. We had some time to play around with different things. We also did some agency work for some companies after that just to build some tech products. And now over the last couple of years, we really developed into a more serious company. We are all full-time and engaged with Voicehub right now and building it.
This was a fun ride over the last couple of years. We definitely made a lot of mistakes. We are still doing a lot of mistakes, but we learned a lot at that time.
Petri: Are there any other lessons you have learned for those who are thinking of starting a new company or already having their startup?
Tom: Probably so many lessons. If you have the opportunity to get somebody mentoring you, but I don’t mean somebody online saying, Hey, I’m gonna tell you how you’re gonna sell $10,000 worth of books or something like that.
Not these shady kinds of mentors, but if you have somebody or that you can reach out to and they can help you to not make some mistakes in the beginning. They can tell you about their learnings. That’s super valuable and saves you a lot of money. Even if you have a mentor, you probably still will make a lot of mistakes and you need to be comfortable with that.
You need to make mistakes but always just try to make mistakes that don’t put you out of business. That’s also maybe a good learning. You need to have a good team. Don’t think that you can do anything on your own. That’s really true. And you also don’t need to do everything on your own.
It’s good to have team members that can help you on certain things and you need to also trust them that they do these things well, and you also don’t need to be a perfectionist. There’re these things that they are always doing that need not to be like you want them to be, so you need to let go there on some tasks. Never tried to be motivated by anything external.
That’s also pretty important because building a startup, building a company, creating a product is really hard. Nobody cares out there until you build something that’s really valuable. You need to have an internal motivation to move forward with your project. Because external motivation is something… There is no money at the beginning. There is no success at the beginning. There are no people shaking your hand and want to be in the same room with you in the beginning. There are none of these external things and you really need to have an internal motivation to keep going because it’s hard.
Petri: What is your favourite word?
Tom: My favourite word in English or in German.
Petri: You can decide.
Tom: In German right now there’s a that’s super niche and also like a little bit cringe probably but there are some YouTubers right now having this greeting they do in their videos and it’s always, moin meister!
It means hey master, but meister in German is a pretty easy word. You say that to some people just like, hey meister, was geht? It’s a greeting that I use often right now. In English, serendipity is my favourite word because that’s something that we don’t have in German.
Petri: You plan everything beforehand in Germany.
Tom: That’s true. There’s no serendipity in German or in Germany, but I like that word. I like what it means. I like how it sounds, even though I’m not pronouncing it right. But, that’s my favourite word in English.
Petri: What is your least favourite word?
Tom: That’s maybe like this filling word where you put in like all the time. I use it a lot and I would love to not use it as much. And sometimes if you’re a German or if you’re European, you sometimes struggle with native speakers using words like great or amazing or fantastic all the time, because in German you don’t use such good words in a sentence all the time. You don’t say super, klasse, mega, find ich geil or something like that in your normal communication all the time, but it’s not like my least favourite word. It’s just something you need to get used to that this just is how the language works. What’s my least favourite word then it would be like, because I would like to use it less.
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Tom: Music. Music is for me the best way to get new creative ideas. And then also landscapes. That may sound a bit lame, but I like to go for a run and enjoy being outside. Having great landscapes that you can look over is something that really triggers my creativity and makes me feel good.
The combination of both. And then music, but music is the best creative trigger for me.
Petri: What does turn you off?
Tom: Silence. I struggle if everything is too silent. I like a little bit of noise. I like some things happening. I like the energy. I like all of these different kinds of triggers that get you going.
I also like to talk, maybe some of you already noticed it. I like noise and silence is definitely a turnoff.
Petri: What is your favourite curse word?
Tom: In German. It will be a Dulli. That’s something you say if somebody is doing something stupid, but it’s not mean. It’s a nice kind of thing. If you say you are, or du bist ein Dulli, that’s like a nice way you, you talk to some of your friends, if they did or say something that was funny and stupid at the same time. In English, I would probably say shit.
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Tom: I love the sound of a good old V10-engine. If you think about an Audi R8 and the V10 sound of that car. That’s a great sound.
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Tom: Scratching on a blackboard gets me out of the room pretty quickly. And if you’re doing your nails with a file. That’s also something that gets me out of a room pretty quickly.
Petri: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Tom: Being a doctor, probably. I love medicine. I love the biology of the human body. And I wanted to actually study medicine. But the thing that turned me off becoming a doctor was how the work is set up. Also, I don’t like to be locked into something too specific.
I like to experiment with different things and being a doctor would have meant for me that I would be a doctor for my whole life. And it’s not that you can switch your profession that easily. I was a good student in school and I also was like a good student in the university, but I didn’t really enjoy it.
I’m not good with sitting down for a long period of time and learning things. I don’t really enjoy it. And that’s something that you definitely need to do if you want to become a doctor. I like the practical side. I like to do things instead of just sit there and learn about it theoretically.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Tom: That’s also something strange probably, but I admire every policeman out there or a policewoman. And I also thought about it when I was young I’d become a police officer. You always are in situations where you have to deal with really hard decisions and also sometimes with complicated people. It’s admirable that people are doing this, but it would be something that I would not like to do right now.
Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup in any era, which one would you choose?
Tom: The easiest answer to that would be Voicehub. I’m pretty happy with my team right now. And I’m pretty happy with what we are doing. Entrepreneurs and humans in general always tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side.
There are interesting companies out there. And to answer your question more directly, I think Netflix is an incredibly interesting company. Spotify is also really interesting. These are some of the more popular ones. I think what Descript does with audio and editing is super interesting and will definitely be valuable in the future. These would be like the external things, but I’m really happy with what we are doing at Voicehub.
Petri: Any final thoughts or words for the audience?
Tom: Maybe a little plug here. We are in early beta with Voicehub, if you would like to come on the platform and try it out and play with it you can definitely do it. Our domain is voicehub.app and you can drop your info there in the early access form to join the beta.
Other than that, if you are an entrepreneur out there. You need to know that it’s hard. You probably know that, but it’s hard and you need to keep going if you really like it.
If you are an investor out there, try to support entrepreneurs as good as you can. Don’t try to be evil, try to be good to you entrepreneurs.
They really appreciate it and we’ll pay it forward over the next couple of years. Most of the time at least you have aligned interests. Try to have good communication. And if you’re just listening and still listening, then thank you for taking the time and hope that you enjoyed this podcast.
Petri: Thank you, Tom, for the sound advice.
Tom: Thank you!