Halt and Catch Fire and Why It’s So Hard to Tell Stories About Making Things


Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 3  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan in Halt and Catch Fire. Photo: Tina Rowden/AMC

There’s something odd that can happen to TV series that are, at their cores, about the process of making something. Take Entourage. (I understand that maybe you’d rather not, but bear with me.) When you set aside the bro atmosphere and Jeremy Piven’s troubling mania, that show was really about making Vincent Chase’s career. And from one episode to another, following that arc felt like living in a tiny hamster wheel that looped endlessly from obstacle to resolution and back again, a regular wave of near-catastrophes that were always about to sink the ship until, suddenly, they weren’t.

The same is true for Silicon Valley, a much better and more interesting show, but one that nevertheless follows the same underlying “TV series about getting something started” grooves. In their quest to make Pied Piper into a successful tech company, Richard and the gang are perpetually falling into holes and scrabbling their way out again — starting the company in the first place, battling against competitor products, battling for funding, battling an internal dispute about how to drive the company, battling for more users. When you step back and look at the trajectory from the show’s beginning, you see some progress from one guy’s little algorithm into a real company. But on a micro-level, the experiences of each episode look pretty similar. A problem. A fix! The fix works, but actually we’ve just created another problem! Rinse, repeat.

That rinse-repeat structure is familiar to us from everywhere on TV — if Law & Order’s not your thing, it’s also the essence of every HGTV show, and 90 percent of medical shows, law shows, etc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a procedural structure! It’s so soothing. The trouble, of course, is a show about making something is exactly the wrong place for this type of structure. We want shows like this to demonstrate progress, to move forward — David Schwimmer’s got to open that restaurant eventually, right? Instead, structures like the ones in Entourage feel like they perpetually spin their wheels, starting over again and again without ever going anywhere. When it comes to the story we want, long-form, open-ended serialized TV and narratives about starting something are uneasy storytelling bedfellows.

Which brings me to Halt and Catch Fire, a show that’s struggled with this fundamental problem and made some deft maneuvers to avoid it. Its first season followed a classic “show about starting something” arc, moving Joe, Gordon, and Cameron through familiar trials and tests. Build a team, try to build a computer that meets seemingly impossible spec goals, hang in while everything constantly falls apart, until, with a couple of eurekas and Hail Marys, they pull it all together at the end. And, as we all knew was coming, they’re crushed in their moment of victory. In season two, they have to start again from the beginning.

When Silicon Valley returned for its second season, it came back to the same group of people all working on the same project — it works because its comedy elements are so strong, but it’s hard not to feel like we’ve made it all the way through a full season of TV, and nothing’s changed. In comparison, Halt and Catch Fire’s uneven first season created an opportunity to mix things up. When it reset the loop to put its characters back at the beginning, it also reoriented its storytelling around Donna and Cameron, and put its major innovative energy behind a new company, Mutiny, with a different set of goals.

Mutiny allowed Halt and Catch Fire to walk a useful line — it wasn’t a full reboot, and it didn’t turn the show into a Ryan Murphy–style anthology series. But in shifting its focus to a new set of characters, the show distracts the eye from the underlying loop it’s enacted. The show is still running, so it can’t allow the characters to reach any kind of happy completion plateau yet. Instead, it shifted the potential for growth onto a different set of characters, creating a new buy-in for someone else’s success and cannily tying it all up in a story about two women in the tech industry. Sure, we’re back to square one, but we’re rooting for someone entirely different now, and conveniently, they’re a lot more fun to root for.

The relocation to California in season three performs the same function. It’s a way of moving the goalposts, and of allowing HACF to once again reset the expectation for what “making it” looks like. Sure, Mutiny became successful enough in Texas, but that no longer matters. They’re starting from scratch again, but now it’s on a much bigger stage. At the same time, the California setting introduces a different background, a new set of characters (hopefully — they haven’t been particularly noteworthy yet, but I’m sure they will be), and enough novel material that it’s easy to avoid the fatigue of the narrative hamster wheel.

There are some real-world parallels going on here, too. HACF is contending with the historical reality of the nascent digital revolution — it’s not plausible to tell a story about tech pioneers without writing them into California at some point. The California move needed to happen eventually, but its placement at the beginning of the season signals how simultaneously useful it can be at acting, once again, like a soft reboot for the show.

The most important real-world element is something that’s much more fundamental about storytelling generally. Stories about starting something are always different than reality. The point of stories is that they end, after all, and they impose celebratory finality on things that too rarely have it in our lived experience. This is why marriage-plot novels end when they do (in spite of the entire marriage that necessarily follows), and why sports stories can be so satisfying narratively (there’s a winner!), and why we like to tell stories about making something. In a story, you invent it, you struggle through the trials of getting it made, and then you did it! Congrats! The end!

In reality, as we all know too well, you make something, and then you manage it for a while, and then it fails and you start over. Or it succeeds and you move on to the next goal to make it grow. In reality, the goalposts move constantly. In reality, the lived experience of trying to make a career or a company is exactly like Entourage, looping endlessly from one obstacle to another, regardless of what bigger “progress” might be barely perceptible in the background.

This, as much as anything else, is why it’s so frustrating when stories about starting something just keep starting over. We want the story to end with some finality, because that’s precisely what’s so hard to find outside of a constructed narrative. And in this sense, long-form TV is actually perfect for telling these kinds of stories — perfect for telling a real-life story of making something, that is. Unlike so many other forms, it actually has the length and structure to reenact that too-familiar perpetual loop. But just because TV’s uncannily good at mirroring the Sisyphean struggle to create something new, doesn’t mean that’s a story we actually want to see: TV’s endlessly circling do-overs don’t always make for satisfying escapism.

This is the real genius of Halt and Catch Fire’s California reset. Like life, it stays true to the experience of making something, where you start it and start it and start it over again. And also like life, moving everything to a new place gives that repetition meaning and novelty that might otherwise have been hard to find. Sure, we’re starting from scratch one more time. Sure, this is the same thing all over again. But it’s also different. And this time, maybe we’ll finally, really, make it.

How to balance a startup with family life




Podcasting Blossoms, but in Slow Motion

The New York Times   6/17/2015   by Farhad Manjoo

Is podcasting in the middle of a long boom or a short bubble? The future of radio, a medium already being buffeted by streaming music, may be riding on the answer.

Podcasting — a terrible tech insider’s name for delivering radiolike shows directly to your phone — has long been prone to cycles of hype and doom. While the medium is more than a decade old, from the moment the very first pods were cast, people have been calling podcasting either the world’s next great media revolution, or another failed byway in digital experimentation.

The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. The breakout success last fall of “Serial,” a true-crime investigation spun off by the public radio show “This American Life,” attracted serious mainstream attention to podcasts, and set off another storm of boosterism about their place in the future of media. Now, the hype has cooled, but podcasting is still chugging along.

The largest podcasting operations are attracting sizable audiences and advertising revenue. The ads work. Large and small advertisers report a significant upside to the campaigns they run on podcasts, and ad rates on top-tier podcasts approach $100 per thousand listeners, which is many times what it costs advertisers to reach audiences in most other digital formats.

Alex Blumberg, left, and Matthew Lieber, co-founders of Gimlet, on the roof of their office in Brooklyn.

Yet the overall audience for podcasts is growing very slowly. In February, Edison Research reported that 17 percent of Americans had listened to one podcast in the previous month. That is up just slightly from Edison’s 2012 survey, when 14 percent of Americans had done so. The business also has some problems, including a labor-intensive ad-buying process, a shortage of audio producers and the inability to accurately measure who is listening.

So don’t call podcasting a bubble or a bust. Instead, it is that rarest thing in the technology industry: a slow, steady and unrelentingly persistent digital tortoise that could eventually — but who really knows? — slay the analog behemoths in its path.

One company worth watching is Gimlet Media, a podcasting start-up founded last year by the public radio star Alex Blumberg and his business partner, Matthew Lieber. Gimlet, which raised nearly $1.5 million from investors and employs 18 people, now shows three production-heavy narrative podcasts — programs that, in their sound and journalistic integrity, are analogous to “Serial” and “This American Life.”

The company has found a substantial audience. Gimlet’s shows attract four million listeners a month, a number that has doubled since the beginning of the year. (Gimlet counts one download or stream of a show as a single “listen”; as I’ll explain below, this measurement may not necessarily be accurate.)


Gimlet is betting that high production values will win the future of podcasting. Gimlet’s shows also suggest that podcasting can foster new kinds of programming that might never have taken off in traditional radio.

For instance, the premise of “Mystery Show,” Gimlet’s newest production, which began playing last month, sounds a bit like a stunt. On each episode, Starlee Kine, a longtime public radio personality, solves mysteries for people. But Ms. Kine does not investigate the kind of serious mysteries addressed by the producers of “Serial.” Instead her inquiries are the sort of ridiculously fun questions that no journalist would ever get paid to answer. Why, for example, was Britney Spears once seen carrying a book by a writer that no one ever reads?

“Until podcasts blew up, I was about to leave radio — there didn’t seem to be a place for this show,” Ms. Kine told me.

Mr. Blumberg said that he couldn’t imagine the show running on traditional radio. “It feels so new,” he said. “It’s sort of like comedy journalism. We follow the rules of journalism, but the purpose is to make you feel something. The purpose is amusement and entertainment.” (Speaking of comedy journalism, I do a weekly tech-commentary podcast with a friend who works at Business Insider.)

“Mystery Show” has also proved Gimlet’s thesis that a network of shows can create a self-sustaining audience. With the possible exception of “Serial,” podcasts aren’t really part of the viral web. They don’t get chatted about on Facebook and Twitter, and the sharing and discovery features of many podcasting apps are limited. For the most part, people hear about new podcasts from other podcasts they already listen to. And once people start listening to podcasts, they keep listening to more podcasts.

The share of podcasts in Americans’ diet of audio programming grew by 18 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Edison. People who listen to podcasts daily spend about two hours a day, on average, with podcasts, a larger share than for any other form of audio, Edison reported.

For Gimlet, listeners’ willingness to try new podcasts has translated into instant audiences for its newest shows. “Startup,” the company’s first show, took 30 days to reach 100,000 listeners a week. Its weekly audience is now more than 500,000. “Mystery Show” took four days to reach 100,000 listeners, mainly because it was being promoted by Gimlet’s two other shows. By its fourth episode, its audience was about 250,000 weekly listens.

Banking on a similar effect, in February, the parent company of the web magazine Slate — which has been producing podcasts for years — created Panoply, a network of shows it produces with media partners, including The New York Times. Matt Turck, the chief revenue officer for Panoply, said the audience for Slate’s own podcasts grew from two million downloads a month to six million downloads a month in 2014. By combining many shows into a single network, Panoply hopes to sell a single large audience to advertisers.

Neither Panoply nor Gimlet would discuss revenue or profits in detail, but both said the advertising business was booming. Podcast advertising has been dominated by a regular cast of mainly tech companies looking to attract a relatively wealthy audience with an affinity for technology. Firms like Audible, Stamps.com, MailChimp, Squarespace and several apparel and food companies are regular sponsors. More recently, podcasts have also begun to attract large entertainment marketers — movies and TV shows now advertise on podcasts — and even large national brands like Ford and Acura have sponsored shows.

Several advertisers told me that podcast ads had proved to be tremendously effective. They can’t be easily skipped, and because they are often read by hosts, audiences are often convinced of their authenticity. “We feel it creates a deep personal connection to our brand,” said Ryan Stansky, the marketing manager who runs podcast advertising at Squarespace, which currently sponsors hundreds of podcasts.

Even though rates are high, selling ads is still a laborious process and top-tier shows limit the number of ads that appear in each show. The more ads that appear, the less each advertiser will pay, a dynamic that may limit the upside of the business. There are also technical problems to be solved. Podcasters can count their downloads, but it’s difficult to tell if downloads translate to listeners, and it’s nearly impossible to tell who is listening, and to figure out what sort of ads listeners may like. There are also few standards in the business, which means podcasters and advertisers are often suspicious of one another’s claims.

“I’ve heard directly from sales reps in casual settings that numbers get lied about,” Mr. Stansky said. “I’ve heard that from the other side — sales reps that I’ve worked with saying, ‘Yeah, we lied to you about numbers.’ And to me, that’s the most scary part of it all, that you’re paying for something that you’re not actually getting.”

Podcasters concede that dodgy numbers are a problem, but they argue it is one that will be solved as the business matures and technology improves. Several advertisers, including Squarespace, create “offer codes” or specific web links to promote as part of their ads — a way to track how many customers podcasts bring to their sites. Larger advertisers like Ford said their investments in podcast marketing are small, so the numbers aren’t being watched closely. And the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an online ad trade group, is creating standards for podcast audience measurement.

In other words, there is a lot about this business that still needs to be worked out. This will most likely happen eventually. Podcasting is destined to be huge, both as a medium and a business. “It’s the future of radio,” Mr. Turck of Panoply said. Just don’t expect that future to come tomorrow.


7 Ways To Enjoy The Process Of Starting Your Own Business

Find your passion, take your time, and hold on. This and more tips for starting your company from an entrepreneur with 30+ years experience.

   Fast Company  

Entrepreneurship is an amazing ride. I’ve had the satisfaction of building a communications company that teaches leaders all over the world how to communicate. We now have 40 employees and revenues of many millions. Our instructors regularly travel the world—to India, Asia, Latin America, and North America, and it has been an exhilarating experience that has far exceeded my greatest expectations.

But not all companies flourish. Many remain small, with no employee other than the owner. Most are short-lived: In the U.S. only 50% of small businesses are around more than five years, and only 25% survive 15 years or more.

How can you create a successful business and enjoy the ride? The following seven pointers will help you, as they helped me in building my company:

1. Start With Love

Start with something you love—you’ll be spending a lot of time with the business so you have to love its product or service.

Before launching The Humphrey Group, I had been a PR specialist in several large companies, working with executives, preparing their speeches, and helping them become inspiring communicators. This gave me a buzz, and I was excited about what a business could deliver in the field of executive communications.

2. Take Your Time

Eight years before I started my company, I dreamed of launching my own business. During those eight years I honed my skills, developed strong relationships with top executives and their firms, and strengthened my reputation. I even piloted my business by offering in-house seminars to executives.

I prepared for so many years that many of my friends began to say, “She’ll never do it.” But all that thought and careful planning increased the odds that my company would flourish as it has.

3. Find A Unique Idea

Have an idea that creates a new space in the marketplace. It’s a concept elaborated in the book, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant.

So what was my big idea? It came to me when I was at lunch with the actor Marshall Bell, who was in Toronto to help train executives to present with greater flare and conviction. We were both lamenting that executives could be better communicators if they had our combined skills. Suddenly it dawned on me that we could start a company in which I would teach executives to create strong scripts, and Marshall would show them how to bring those scripts to life.

The idea of The Humphrey Group was born in that conversation. And we created a new space: leadership communications.

4. Dedicate Yourself

Be prepared to pour yourself into the business. I have always had a deep passion for what I do. Our clients see that, respond to that, and want to work with us because of that absolute conviction.

My dedication took the form of late-night work in the office—I lived on candy bars monogramed with “H” for Humphrey that we bought for client events. And I made myself available to clients any time they wanted. I’d prepare speeches or rehearse executives any time of the day or night, weekdays or weekends. They always knew I was there for them, and we hired employees who showed the same devotion to our clients.

5. Develop A Sales Mind-set

You need a sales mind-set to be successful. It’s not enough to offer a service: You must sell it. In those early days, as I drove to work through the financial district, I’d say to myself, “There’s a potential client…there’s another one….and another.” I saw life through a sales lens. I was convinced that anyone who had our training would be better off. In fact, I saw our training as a gift to clients. That made it easy to approach them.

6. Hire People Who Share Your Passion

I’ve always hired people who shared my passion. I looked for authentic and strong communicators. I didn’t work through search firms or draw up elaborate job descriptions. Some individuals I met at parties or networking events, and I would ask them, “Would you like to work for The Humphrey Group.” Many of these women and men have been with the company for decades and have been dedicated employees and brilliant coaches.

7. Hold On To Your Equity

Once you have established a business, hold on to it until you are ready to exit. If you’re like me, you will get offers from folks who want to purchase a portion of your company—or all of it. I have had at least three such offers—for 100%, 50%, and 10% of the company. If I had sold to those potential buyers while I was still building the company, I would have had to share decision-making and would not have reaped the return I got when I was finally ready to bow out as I did two years ago.

Keep control of your company and hold on to your equity until you no longer want to be in the driver’s seat.

Startup founders describe how they got through the hardest part

Apr. 24, 2015   The Business Insider   by Matt Weinberger

If you want to get a tech company off the ground, there are no hacks, no shortcuts, and no substitutes for hard work and scrappiness.

That was the message, time and time again, at today’s second annual Hustle Con event in San Francisco. As you might guess from the name, Hustle Con celebrates the non-technical side of any tech startup — The pluck and grit that can mean the difference between a successful start-up and roadkill.

While the details changed from speaker to speaker, the message was the same: When it comes to getting your first customers, get ready to roll up your sleeves.

Here are some stories from the morning Business Insider spent at Hustle Con.

General Assembly

“Focus your early efforts on building a powerful core of true believers,” says Matt Brimer, who co-founded General Assembly, an international coworking space and tech education program with locations in 14 cities.

Brimer says that when General Assembly was getting off the ground in 2009, New York City’s startup scene was only just getting off the ground. Any founder he met was put on his email list, Brimer says, and he gave personal office tours before its first space was even ready just to make sure people were  on board when General Assembly launched.

Those first startups to use the space became General Assembly’s best assets: When General Assembly needed funding, instructors for its classes or just some good old advice, Brimer was able to reach out to that network of first-generation users.

“If you do well by them, they’ll do right by you,” Brimer says.


For Nerdwallet, a credit card comparison site, the path to accumulating users began with focusing on what it was good at.

Chen did what most startups do, trying to solicit press and build word-of-mouth. But in 2010, a mention in Money magazine only turned into $300 in revenue, while a story in Lifehacker resulted in $5,000. Both were better than nothing, but neither was great.

That led to some changes. Chen realized he had to shut down product development, resigning himself to the fact that for the time being, Nerdwallet would look as pretty as it ever would.

“You have no idea how horrible that feels,” Chen says.

Instead, Nerdwallet doubled down on SEO. That didn’t bring in a huge amount of users, but those who came, via Google, were far more likely to open a credit card.

It wasn’t great, Chen said, but as a founder “you better let stuff burn if you want to do what you have to do.”


“There’s no silver bullet for user acquisition,” says Teespring founder Walker Williams.

When the t-shirt service was first starting, Williams recalls, the company would go all-out on customer service to make sure everybody was happy.

The time cost was tremendous. But by focusing on those early users instead of worrying about scaling up, Teespring created a wave of repeat customers who recommended the service to friends.

Those first months are precious, Williams stresses. You can’t afford to lose time doing it over and over again, so it’s better to stay in touch with users and figure out what they want. Otherwise, it’s two months later and you’re dead.

“In startups, you’re kind of living in dog years,” Williams says.

Meanwhile, Thirdlove, a company that uses a mobile app to measure and deliver more comfortable lingerie to women, found its own success via hiring a PR firm that knows how to work with reporters (whoa, meta), says founder Heidi Zak.

One last thing

Hustle Con is, without a doubt, one of the stranger conferences this reporter has ever been to. Check out the Hustle Con “code” below:

The Hustle Con code.

And on Twitter, a reporter for the Verge mentioned an afternoon session included a lesson in “focus” which involved handing out prayer beads to all 500 attendees.



Slack’s CEO: This is the best time in world history to raise money for a startup

4/20/2015   Vox   by Timothy B. Lee

The office communications app Slack is less than two years old, but the company behind it recently raised an incredible $160 million dollars in a deal that valued the company at $2.8 billion. In an interview with the New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield argued that this might be the best time in world history to raise money for a startup:

I’ve been in this industry for 20 years. This is the best time to raise money ever. It might be the best time for any kind of business in any industry to raise money for all of history, like since the time of the ancient Egyptians. It’s certainly the best time for late-stage start-ups to raise money from venture capitalists since this dynamic has been around.

Why do investors have a seemingly insatiable appetite for technology companies like Slack? In trying to answer this question, I think a lot of people focus too much on characteristics of the technology sector itself. Silicon Valley companies are pioneering a lot of important innovations right now, but the same thing was true 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

Rather, I think the increasingly favorable environment for fundraising in Silicon Valley is a reflection of broader macroeconomic trends. Inflation-adjusted interest rates have been declining for decades, a sign that businesses are finding it more and more difficult to invest available capital in things like factories or research and development in ways that will produce high returns.

Silicon Valley is one of the few remaining bright spots. The worse the returns on other investments get, the more willing investors become to take big risks in pursuit of higher returns.

It’s certainly possible that this will prove to be a bubble that pops in the next few years. But it’s also possible that this is just the new normal. If interest rates stay low, any industry that shows a potential for rapid growth could be flooded with cash from investors desperate for higher returns.




The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 In Media

From the science of viral content to a magazine preserving the Middle East’s humanity, the media outlets changing how we communicate.

Fast Company

1. The Washington Post

For regaining its strength (with a little help from Jeff Bezos). When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post in 2013 for just $250 million, it wasn’t clear whether the tech maven could breathe new life into a 140-year-old print newspaper. But nearly two years later, The Post is thriving. The change has been largely driven by both an infusion of new talent (more than 100 new employees have been hired) and greater focus on the publication’s digital presence, including the announcement last fall that the Post’s app will come preloaded on Amazon products, and the hiring of 25 engineers to create eye-catching interactive web stories. Already the newspaper is seeing the positive effects: Just one year after Bezos’s purchase, unique monthly visitors to the Post’s website increased by 61%, setting an all-time traffic record for the paper.

2. BuzzFeed Video

For making viral video seem easy. For nearly 10 years now, BuzzFeed has set the standard for viral content, boasting user engagement that other web publications can only dream of. Now the site is taking that magic and applying it to video, where it connects to an under-30 audience better than anyone. When it launched in 2011, the BuzzFeed Video channel featured little more than video versions of its listicles, but in the last year, the channel has taken to producing side-splitting original videos with titles like If Disney Princesses Were Real (23.5 million views and counting) and Things You Do in Video Games That’d Be Creepy If You Did Them in Real Life. The results: 4.6 million subscribers and nearly 2 billion views for BuzzFeed’s YouTube channel alone.

3. Livestream.com

For putting live video streaming into the hands of the people. As tensions brewed in Ferguson, Missouri, late last summer following the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Livestream.com became an invaluable source for live coverage of the protests for those increasingly living without cable television. The site, which allows users to both create and watch livestreams, hosted a channel by Argus Streaming News, an on-the-ground, St. Louis-based live news program. Thousands tuned in to watch the tension boil over into all-out confrontation, and Livestream found itself functioning as a nationwide middleman. On a more day-to-day basis, the site functions as a platform for live streams from producers like Facebook, The New York Times, and TEDx, but the company is increasingly positioning itself to become the go-to platform for enterprising news hounds working in an increasingly cableless world. As a result, the company has added 67 new jobs since 2010, brought in $25.1 million in revenue in 2013, and continues to launch innovative features like live broadcasting for GoPros.

4. The Business of Fashion

For meaning business when it comes to fashion. Online fashion coverage is mostly done in photos—pretty Instagram feeds, and slide shows on Refinery29. But The Business of Fashion is telling a deeper story; it’s a news website dedicated to the less exciting, but all-important numbers side of the fashion industry. Founded by Canadian-British fashion expert Imran Amed, the site pays as much attention to Alexander Wang’s Spring/Summer collection as it does to Gucci’s years-long struggle to raise its stock prices. And the fashion world is tuning in with big names like Tory Burch and Oscar de la Renta chief executive Alex Bolen publicly citing Amed’s site as a power player in fashion industry news. In response, investors put $2.1 million into the website in 2013, allowing Amed to recently launch BoF Careers, a jobs site for those looking to break into the ever-inclusive (and highly profitable) fashion industry.

5. Public Radio Exchange

For breathing life back into radio. As Serial blossomed from a podcast into a cultural sensation last fall, radio’s future seemed to be fully defined: Although fewer Americans own an actual radio, audio programming continues to be an important part of American storytelling. That’s why, since 2003, the nonprofit Public Radio Exchange has positioned itself as a key player in the online distribution of public radio programs, curating and distributing tens of thousands of high-quality indie broadcasts to listeners throughout the U.S. In 2014, PRX celebrated its biggest coup to date when This American Life, one of the most popular public radio programs of all time, ended its 17-year relationship with Public Radio International to give distribution rights to PRX, whose business model allows producers to distribute their shows on the web on their own terms and provides a great platform for creative minds in public radio to share their work with a public increasingly interested in great storytelling.

6. Digiday

For proving that virality is a formula and not a passing fad. Digiday is to digital advertising and media what AdWeek is to television, magazines, and other traditional communication. The site has become an important resource and authority in the world of digital media, where what works and what doesn’t isn’t always clear. This includes exploring sometimes troubling new trends like Facebook’s position as the main driver of traffic to media websites, or the emergence of Snapchat as a favorite of Madison Avenue’s old guard. The publisher and platform also regularly hosts summits on the future of digital advertising for companies eager to compete on the web, bringing together innovators like Zappos and Google to share their views on the ever-changing world of web marketing.

7. Medium

For making blogging beautiful again. Ev Williams has mastered the art of blogging not once, but twice. His first popular platform, Blogger, was acquired by Google in 2003, and after a brief layover in the land of Twitter, Williams returned to the world of blogging in late 2012, creating the breathtakingly elegant Medium. The site, which functions as both a platform and publisher, democratizes online authorship, allowing users to publish their own work and share it seamlessly while Medium’s staff develops great content on their site and a series of web magazine spinoffs. The platform has become a hit among the creative crowd, earning a 2014 Webby Award for Best User Experience and Best Visual Design, and two American Society of Magazine Editors (the Oscars of magazines) nominations for its magazine Matter, in the categories of public interest and feature photography.

8. The Guardian

For letting their readers have a hand in their redesign. While most of the Guardian’s positive press in the last two years has been based on its Pulitzer Prize-winning work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, more subtle and amazing changes have taken effect on the publication’s website. Over the course of nine months and with the help of 40,000 user comments, the British paper has revamped its U.S.site, carefully highlighting stories that appeal more to its overseas readerships and upping the site’s loading speeds across all devices to a new record-setting standard. All these changes further enhance the publication’s already excellent coverage, up-to-the-minute live blogs, and wonderful visually driven stories (like last year’s Techspolitation: A Graphic Novel). And the publication’s ever-growing U.S. audience is responding in kind, driving 40 percent readership growth year over year.

9. Gimlet Media

For setting the standard for great podcast content. Podcasting has undergone an explosion of quality and visibility in the past year, and newcomer Gimlet Media is neither the largest nor best-known producer of that content—but it has emerged as the podcast revolution’s spokesman. That’s largely due to its origins: Alex Blumberg (formerly of This American Life and Planet Money) launched a podcast, called Startup, to chronicle his efforts to launch his own podcasting network (which eventually became Gimlet). It became some of the most insightful, human business reporting of 2014. In the process, listeners also heard Blumberg and his eventual cofounder Matt Lieber (formerly of MTV and WNYC) raise $1.5 million in funding, $200,000 of which came from a crowdfunding campaign in record time. It soon launched a second podcast, Reply All, which is about the Internet, and will continue setting the bar for the kind of quality, highly produced narrative podcasts that are coming to define the medium.

10. Brownbook

For putting the modern Middle East in sharp perspective. News coverage of the Middle East is clouded by warfare, intolerance, and seemingly endless tragedy, which makes the U.K’s Brownbook critically important. This bimonthly magazine with a visually driven website covers the Middle East and North Africa, and selects inspiring stories (and breathtaking photography) on subjects like Niger’s Wodaabe tribe—who consider themselves the most beautiful people on the planet—and the well-dressed farmers of Iran’s Golestan region. These subjects may seem trivial, but at a time when the region’s humanity seems most at stake, Brownbook reminds readers that at the eye of the storm there is still happiness, creativity and, above all, an unshakable resilience.


Doing things different – Lessons learned in starting a startup.

3/30/2015   Medium   by

Startups are hard. Really hard. They’re also exhilarating, fun, rewarding, and occasionally depressing. In 2011 I started Hyphos Inc, a web-based platform for connecting like-minded people offline. We ultimately launched At The Pool, went mobile, and pivoted into a local discovery app called Yeti. In the four years that we launched and grew these products, we touched members in more than 120 countries across 3,500 cities, raised capital from some pretty amazing investors, and had great press coverage without hiring a PR firm. We’re now in the process of getting acquired and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would do different next time. In no particular order, here are the top 11 things I would do different next time:

  1. Business partner — I’ve worked with some incredible people, but it never felt like I had a business partner. In the early days we had 5 students all working part time. When I raised a small round we hired 2 full time, and over the years the team grew (and occasionally shrank). There were some incredibly tough times and our early advisors and investors helped tremendously, but next time I would definitely work with a business partner from the onset. This is someone you must trust absolutely. They should compliment your skills, push you to be better, and it’s imperative they go all in. Startups are hard, both technically as well as emotionally, and next time I’d like to have a partner in crime.

2. Recruiters  — I don’t know how they find you, but when you launch a startup recruiters start calling. They’re relentless, expensive, and downright deceptive. In the beginning they’re easy to ignore (but trust me, they will keep coming). At some point, however, you’re going to be desperate to hire an engineer and you’ll say something like, “Ok, if you find someone who’s a really good fit I’ll agree to your fees”. Unless you’re sitting on $10M in funding (and even then, be careful), it’s a slippery slope towards draining the bank account. Fortunately we rarely took the bait, but when I did I always regretted it. Recruiters are a bad idea because (1) they’re downright expensive(about 20% of a hire’s first year salary), (2) the results and quality aren’t guaranteed, (3) as a founder you need to be selling, recruiters make you lazy, (4) once they get you they will keep calling, and (5) they will waste your time and energy.

3. Raise enough capital — Startups take capital. A lot more than you think. And there are only really a few times you can raise: friends and family when you start, a seed round when your product is just hitting the market, and a Series A when you have significant traction. Unfortunately most companies don’t make it to the traction step and are forced to raise a second seed round or go under. When we pivoted from At The Pool to Yeti we decided to hold off on raising more capital until we got traction. That meant building a world class app with pennies, cutting corners, and taking longer than would have been ideal. Sometimes this is necessary, but it’s certainly not fun and it puts you at a major disadvantage. Next time, I plan on doing this differently. I plan on raising enough capital to execute on the vision from the onset, understanding that fundraising is tough without serious traction and traction is hard without the resources to build an amazing product.

4. Simplify the Design  — Beautiful design is more important than ever. That said, it’s easy to go overboard and get too creative with the UI and UX. Looking at the most successful products in the last 4–5 years, it’s amazing how simple and obvious most of them appear. Contrast that with the unnecessary complexity that plagues most bad products. Good design is easy to use and obvious to the user, and we weren’t always good at putting function before form. While I still believe in novelty and aesthetic beauty, next time I intend on reducing complexity and focusing on ease of use.

5. Build Something People Love  — With startups we get caught up in the design, the legal work, the mission statement and the press releases. At the end of the day, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is building something people love. While there’s no simple way to guarantee this outcome, it’s certainly the first thing I will think about for the next product I work on.

6. Technology  — There are an amazing number of “technology” companies today that don’t actually invent new technology. While this isn’t necessary for all companies (a pizza shop doesn’t need to invent new technology, per se), it’s important to me. I would argue we got caught up in the social media hype of creating new user experiences and design patterns to enable a slightly novel interaction on the web. While this could yield high dividends, in my next pursuit I plan on focusing more heavily on innovative technology.

7. Do less —no matter how many times we’ve heard it, we need to hear it again. It’s amazing how we start with a simple idea, then we add a little feature, then another, and next thing we know the product is bloated and convoluted. It’s hard keeping a product simple because it takes conviction in the few features we choose to leave in. I plan on being particularly careful of this in my next venture.

8. Forget about partnerships —The number of discussions we’ve had with huge Fortune 500 companies is staggering. These are exciting, the idea of partnering with Coke or Wal-Mart could catapult your business, but they rarely materialize and when they do, they are rarely worth the effort. It’s a huge distraction, and one that I’ve seen destroy startups. Large companies don’t move fast, don’t like to spend money, and don’t like to take risk. If you’re building a consumer product, my advice is to forget about partnerships until you have serious traction.

9. Don’t Chase Investors —The worst time to raise capital is when you need it. We wasted a lot of time going after investors we thought would be a fit. We justified their experience, background, portfolio, etc. The reality is, by focusing on our product and engagement, getting coverage and delivering a great service, we were able to get investors to come to us. If you want to raise capital, I highly recommend starting with a great product and getting people using it. Once that happens, investors will come.

10. Don’t Expect Much  — I’m sorry to tell you this, but entrepreneurship is a lonely road. Having investors, advisors, employees, and other entrepreneurial friends is great, but be prepared to fight most battles on your own. If you expect hand holding, or you believe your investor when they say “Give me 2% more equity as an advisor and I’ll REALLY help out”, don’t believe them. It’s not that they don’t mean well, they do, but the reality is you have to make the business succeed. I know this and I understand this, but it doesn’t change the fact that I am working on a Sunday night well past midnight with a look that Johnny Depp depicts well.

11. Make Money  — Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… The startup community is plagued with “successful” companies that took years to turn a profit (if they got there at all). The problem with this model is it relies on investor capital. The more success you have, the more capital you need. It’s a vicious cycle. Next time I plan on focusing more heavily on monetizing early in order to build a self-sustaining venture that won’t require outside capital.

All that said, we also did a lot right.

I am proud of what we accomplished and would definitely do a few things the same again. Here are 5 things I wouldn’t change:

  1. Sell the vision  — The reality is, all this hard work isn’t worth it unless the vision is big and bold. More importantly, a big vision gets employees excited, gives the press a solid anchor, excites investors, and keeps you motivated. I feel we did this well and I certainly plan on doing the same moving forward.

2. Press —Some would argue the importance of getting good press, but I believe it’s invaluable. Besides users and new customers, press helps to tell your story and motivate your staff. It’s a great validator for social media, and adds legitimacy to your business. We were fortunate to get some great press coverage over the years and it’s definitely something I think we should continue to do in the future.

3. Work with Amazing Advisors  — advisors make all the difference. They helped us think through technical and recruiting problems, business opportunities, investing and acquisition discussions, and so much more. I feel honored to have had a number of truly helpful advisors in this venture and hope to establish the same with future projects.

4. Build Beautiful Products —With this company, we always had design at the forefront of what we did. From business cards to apps to email newsletters. If your product isn’t emotionally captivating and delightful to use, it’s unlikely to make an impact. I am proud of how our products look and plan on making that a major focus on future endeavors.

5. Stay Scrappy —  A single $50k investment lasted us 14 months. This wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t fun, but it made all the difference. Operating lean and figuring out how to keep costs down was a major contribution in this venture and it will serve me well to do the same next time.

Entrepreneurship isn’t a battle. It’s not a war. It’s also not glamorous and it’s certainly one of the hardest things you can do. That said, it IS a community and through the help of those who have come before, we can avoid making the same mistakes and help each other build world changing innovations. If I can ever be of help, feel free to reach out at ac@alexcaps.com or on twitter at @alexcapecelatro. Stay tuned to hear the exciting news about what’s coming next ☺

— Alex Capecelatro, CEO of Yeti


26 podcasts you should be listening to

3/29/2015   Vox

Podcasts have been around for a decade. But all of a sudden, people are sitting up and taking notice.

In the past few months, at least two media companies focused on podcasts have launched — Gimlet Media, which chronicled its own early days on the podcast “StartUp,” and Slate Magazine’s Panoply. It’s starting to feel like a golden age of podcasting is upon us.

But with hundreds of fascinating podcasts out there, getting started can feel intimidating. So here’s our best attempt to sort through them. There are podcasts to listen to on your commute, while you’re cleaning the house, while you’re cooking dinner, and even when you’re trying (and failing) to fall asleep. The only criteria for inclusion is that they have to have an established archive of at least five episodes, so 1) it’s easy to tell what you’re getting yourself into, and 2) you can binge-listen if you want. (And yes, categorizing podcasts is tricky, so most of these could fit into several categories.)

Interview podcasts

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin is also the host of an interview podcast. (Stephanie Keenan/Wireimage via Getty Images)

Bret Easton Ellis podcast

The writer and screenwriter and a different guest each week talk about entertainment and the creative life, often about movies. They’re long, interesting, and analytical conversations. It hasn’t been updated since November, but there’s a deep archive of nearly 50 previous podcasts to dive into.

Episodes are around an hour.

“Here’s the Thing” with Alec Baldwin

In “Here’s the Thing,” Alec Baldwin interviews mostly boldfaced names — Ira Glass, Lena Dunham, Billy Joel — but people rave about his interviewing style. This is the podcast I hear about most frequently from people who don’t generally listen to podcasts. An interview with the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals “brought a perspective to extreme movements and their role in changing society that I still think about probably a year later,” says Vox engagement editor Allison Rockey.

Episodes used to be an hour but are now running slightly shorter, around 45 minutes, and are released every two weeks.


“Love+Radio” features long interviews, many with people you’ve never heard of — an at-home strip club manager, a black man who befriended the KKK — produced into long audio stories. The production values are amazing, and the result is an incredibly intimate look at other people’s lives. There really isn’t anything else like it. “If you like hearing other people’s secrets, you’ll probably like listening to this,” says Vox video editor Joe Posner.

Episodes are around half an hour, released about twice a month.

“You Made It Weird” with Pete Holmes

Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein described this podcast so well I’m just going to let him take it from here: “Comedian Pete Holmes talks with people — mostly comedians — for absurdly long periods of time. Episodes routinely blow past the two-hour mark. It sounds horrible. It’s actually awesome. Holmes is a fantastic interviewer who recognizes the most interesting thing about interesting people is rarely their work. So instead, Holmes tends to talk to them about the subjects he’s interested in: religion, pain, death, family, shame, confidence, dating, insecurity, sex, etc. It’s basically a podcast about the core questions of human existence. It also convinced me Dana Carvey is pretty much the wisest man alive.”

New episodes are released weekly.

Conversational podcasts

Recording radio podcast


“Call Your Girlfriend”

Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow are writers and long-distance friends who catch up with each other every few weeks on “Call Your Girlfriend.” “You’ll enjoy this podcast if you like listening in on candid conversations about everything from Beyoncé to how to make friends as an adult to Shine Theory,” says Vox social media staffer Lauren Katz. “And if you miss your long-distance best friend, you can listen to this podcast together and feel slightly better.”

Episodes are around 40 minutes.

“My Brother, My Brother, and Me”

“My Brother, My Brother, and Me” is a comedy advice podcast starring three brothers that comes highly recommended by several Vox staffers as one of the funniest podcasts out there. Hosted by Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy. (Griffin and Justin both work at Polygon, a Vox Media company.)

Episodes are around an hour, released weekly on Mondays.

“Yo, Is This Racist?”

Andrew Ti uses a question about racism that an anonymous listener sends via voicemail to jumpstart a very candid conversation about the issue. “My favorite podcasts are usually really entertaining people talking to each other as if they were getting drinks at a bar,” says Vox motion graphics designer Estelle Caswell. “This is that type of podcast.” She recommends you start with this episode about the narrative of white privilege.

Episodes are under 15 minutes and are released frequently; there are more than 300 in the archive.

Podcasts about life

Ira Glass

At this point it’s basically cheating to recommend This American Life, but most of these podcasts owe a debt to Ira Glass. (Todd Oren/Getty Images Entertainment)

“99% Invisible”

“99% Invisible,” hosted by Roman Mars, is a podcast about design, told in a medium with no pictures. It’s been getting attention for a couple of years for the innovative ways it tells stories. There is an episode about the musical groans emitting from Metro escalators, and about “hacking” Ikea furniture, and about Wonder Bread — all kinds of everyday things you’ve never thought twice about.

Episodes come out weekly on Wednesdays and tend to be pretty short, less than 10 minutes.


“Criminal” is a true-crime podcast with episodes exploring everything from famous murder cases (including the murder featured in The Staircase) to little-known true crime (a Venus Flytrap theft ring).

Episodes are between 15 and 20 minutes long and have been produced about once a month so far.

“Reply All”

“Reply All” is a podcast about how we live on the internet from Gimlet Media, a new podcasting startup. It’s sort of the This American Life of the internet, telling stories about an app that lets you send a stranger to deliver a message, or about both sides of an internet dating scam.

Episodes are usually between 20 minutes and a half hour, and usually come out weekly.


A former producer for This American Life and Planet Money, Alex Blumberg started a podcasting company and did a podcast about it while the business was getting off the ground. Its first 13-episode series focused on Blumberg’s own startup; future seasons will look at different businesses. It’s a great insight into both the world of startups and the world of media.

The first season is over now, but there are 13 episodes available to listen to. They’re about half an hour long.

“The Sporkful”

A fun podcast about food, hosted by Dan Paschman of the Cooking Channel, “The Sporkful” covers everything from what’s inside the CIA cafeteria to the science of why greasy food is delicious to which kind of potatoes make the best hangover cure. Don’t listen on an empty stomach. (Another food podcast I’m looking forward to trying is “Burnt Toast,” from Food52, but it only has a few episodes out so far.)

Episodes are around half an hour, released weekly.

Weird and highly recommended podcasts

Welcome to Night Vale podcast

Actor Cecil Baldwin performs a live version of “The Librarian” episode of his podcast “Welcome to Night Vale.” (Adam Berry/Getty Images Entertainment)

“Welcome to Night Vale”

“Welcome to Night Vale” is a scripted, fictional podcast about the weird goings-on in Night Vale — a sort of creepy parody of small-town community radio. It’s one of the most consistently recommended podcasts, even though — or maybe because — it doesn’t have much in common with the roundtables, interviews, and reporting that dominate podcasts today. And it comes highly recommended by culture editor Todd VanDerWerff.

New episodes released (about 20 to 25 minutes long) released twice a month. Start from the beginning.

Podcasts about popular culture

the americans

You should be watching The Americans and also listening to the podcast about it. (Patrick Harbron/FX)

“Rebel FM”

A gaming podcast recommended by Vox staff writer German Lopez: “It’s probably one of the most informative dives into video games and the game industry each week, usually with a personal touch so it’s not just mindless droning about what makes some video games great. It also sometimes has special guests from the game industry.”

Episodes are long — up to two hours — and released weekly.

“Pop Culture Happy Hour”

The important thing about a roundtable podcast is that the people you’re listening to feel like good company. NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” is a lively discussion about books, TV, movies, comics, and just about everything else hosted by Linda Holmes and a rotating cast of regulars. It helps if you’ve read or watched what they’re discussing that week, but you certainly don’t have to. It’s like listening in on a dinner party discussion that’s way more interesting than your dinner parties.

Full episodes, released weekly, are about 45 minutes; small-batch episodes are often under 10 minutes.

“Song Exploder”

On this podcast, musicians talk about how their songs were made — from the Postal Service on “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” to composer Alexandre Desplat on his score for the movie The Imitation Game. It gives insight into the creative process, says Winston Hearn, a front-end developer for Vox Media.

Episodes are released every few weeks and are about 20 minutes long.

“The Americans: Slate TV Club Insider”

Okay, a podcast focused on a TV show with a tragically small audience is a bit of a niche recommendation. But if you love FX’s story about Cold War spies in the 1980s — and if you’re not watching it, you really should be — this podcast from The Americans‘ showrunners makes watching an even richer experience. Even if you don’t watch the show, though, the podcast is worth it for its candid, in-depth discussions of what it takes to make a great TV show — from acting to stunts to production design.

Episodes are released weekly on Thursdays and run about half an hour, though some have been longer.

Podcasts about policy and the news


Unfortunately, you can’t see any charts while you’re listening. (Shutterstock)

AEI’s “Banter”

A fun, chatty podcast recommended by Vox’s Tim Lee: “Run by two smart young staffers at AEI, it’s a great way to keep up with what’s happening in right-of-center policy circles.”

Episodes are under 25 minutes and come out a few times a month.

“Arms Control Wonk”

A podcast recommended by Max Fisher, who oversees Vox’s foreign coverage: “It’s funny, pithy, conversational, and super-nerdy. They discuss major foreign policy issues that relate to arms control, which these days is a lot of them. The tone is approachable and lighthearted enough that anyone who follows basic foreign news can enjoy it, but also gets in-depth enough that you end up learning a lot.”

Episodes can run up to an hour and come out a few times a month.

“Inquiring Minds”

A science and public health news podcast that brings in experts and researchers to discuss the biggest science topics of the week. Recommended by Vox’s German Lopez, who says it’s a relatable way to get science news.

Episodes are about an hour and come out weekly.

“Do You Like Prince Movies?”

Grantland’s pop culture podcast, from writers Alex Pappademas and Wesley Morris. A little more news-focused than NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” with segments on recently released movies and the pop culture news of the week, and great banter.

Episodes are released weekly and are slightly over an hour.

Podcasts about history

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

(ullstein bild/Getty Images)


“BackStory” is a podcast where three historians — one each for the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries — trace one theme through American history, whether it’s how we tell time, how we shop, or how we define the middle class. It’s hosted by Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, and two history professors at the University of Virginia, Peter Onuf and Brian Balogh. Every episode feels like it could be adapted into a fascinating book without too much trouble. If you’re at all interested in history, every episode is packed with fascinating facts.

Episodes are usually about an hour and come out weekly, although many are rebroadcasts. Archives go back to 2008.


Every week, “Revolutions” takes you inside a political revolution — right now it’s focusing on the French Revolution, the archives include the English Civil War, and Haiti is up next. It’s very detailed — so far, the podcast has spent 31 episodes on the French Revolution alone — but gets rave reviews for being engaging. Recommended by Vox editor Tim Lee.

Episodes are around half an hour and come out about every week.

“The Memory Palace”

“The Memory Palace,” hosted by Nate DiMeo, tells stories from the past that you’ve never heard — the history of eating lobsters, or the riots that started in 1964, or about historical fears of being buried alive. (The last one, full of real-life ghost stories, will haunt you for a long time.) They’re beautifully written and elegiac, read in a relaxing voice, sort of like bedtime stories from the world’s most fascinating history book.

Episodes come out infrequently (monthly at best) and are short, but there’s a vast archive if you’re a newcomer.

“You Must Remember This”

Stories from “the first century of Hollywood” — from silent films up to the present day — are featured on this podcast by Karina Longworth, a former film critic for LA Weekly. Many episodes focus on stars from Hollywood’s studio system era (Hedy Lamarr, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall) but some include more recent memories, including a two-episode feature on Madonna. The podcast gets rave reviews for its production values and insight.

Episodes come out weekly and run from half an hour to 45 minutes or so.

WATCH: Radio of the future — welcome to the podcast era


Correction: This post originally stated that “Revolutions” covered the Glorious Revolution, rather than the English Civil War. It has been corrected and updated.




Nonprofit accelerator funds tech startups to solve social problems

12/4/2013    San Francisco Business Times    by

Tumml founders Clara Brenner (right) and Julie Lein.

A new nonprofit accelerator is hoping to use the power and influence of technology startups to solve pressing urban problems.

Through a four-month program, Tumml offers a select group of civic-minded entrepreneurs $20,000 in seed funding and the chance to learn from some of the brightest minds in local government, tech and socially conscious organizations and companies.

“Our mission is to expand how people think about solving problems,” said Clara Brenner, who co-founded the company with fellow MIT Sloan MBA graduate Julie Lein. “We think tech companies can really step in and augment what people can do.”

Launched only last year, the nonprofit has received backing from Common Angels managing director James Geshwilder, the city of San Francisco chief innovation officer Jay Nath and Revolution Foods co-founder Kristen Tobey, to name a few — all of whom serve on its mentorship board to choose and guide entrepreneurs.

Tumml already has helped five organizations in its first cohort successfully get off the ground. Since completing the program in September, companies in the program have raised about $1 million in follow-on funding, creating media buzz.

They include WorkHands, a networking service for blue-collar workers, which has grown to over 5,000 registered users in the skilled trades since September. There’s also HandUp, a crowdfuding platform for the homeless that launched with 50 members and is now averaging $200 donations per active member per month.

Other companies include KidAdmit, an online program that helps parents search for and compare preschools, and Earth Starter, an all-in-one garden system that helps city dwellers grow food and flowers in small spaces.

Now, Brenner said, the nonprofit is on a nationwide search for its next batch of entrepreneurs attempting to tackle big issues in their communities and looking to scale their services from city to city. Brenner said the group is searching for entrepreneurs in small and mid-sized cities around the U.S. that have, for the most part, not had as much access to urban impact companies.

While Tumml is currently backed by a number of corporations and foundations — including the Blackstone Foundation, Accela and Nixon Peabody — Brenner hopes the organization will soon be self-sustaining by taking equity in return for the money it grants participants. As of now, it’s on track to end its first fiscal year with a budget of $500,000.

The application deadline for Tumml’s next cohort is fast approaching, and Brenner said the organization has received more than double the number of applications it took in last year.

“We take this as a great sign that we are reaching a larger and larger audience with our urban impact entrepreneurship message,” Brenner said.

The deadline for applications is Dec. 8.