Feed drop time!
This week, we hand the mic over to SquadPodder, Noah Labhart, host of the Code Story podcast.
In this episode, Noah interviews Zach about SquadCast, how it got started, his visions for the product, and more. This episode is from early 2020, so some things have changed since. But it’s an awesome interview. Think How I Built This but for tech visionaries about their products.
We’re doing a feed drop! For a few reasons:
- To demonstrate the concept of a feed drop. It’s a great option in order to highlight an interview or share a friends’ podcast.
- We wanted to show off Noah’s podcast!
- We had a lot going on this week, what with Zach returning from paternity leave soon, so we need some time to backlog a few episodes!
From Noah’s show notes:
Zach Moreno is quite the renaissance man, being an artist, designer, author, developer… and a loving husband. He has interned on the Chrome team at Google, building extensions of DevTools and as a big believer in AngularJS, he wrote a book about deployment essentials of the language. After attempting to record a sci-fi drama, he found that the conventional remote audio recording tools didn’t produce a good quality recording… so much so, that he decided to build SquadCast – the best way for podcasters to record awesome sounding remote conversations.
- Wendy’s Reinvention Rebels
- Submit your podcast pre-roll ad
- Try out SquadCast’s remote video and audio platform for 7 days free
- SquadCast’s YouTube channel
Our podcast stack
- ATR 2100 Mics
- Apple AirPods Max Headphones
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interfaces
- Adobe Audition
Zach Moreno: [00:00:52] Welcome to Between Two Mics, the podcast that brings you remote recording resources from SquadCast Dot FM. [00:00:59][6.5]
Rock Felder: [00:01:00] I’m Rock Felder, co-founder and CFO of SquadCast. [00:01:03][2.9]
Zach Moreno: [00:01:04] And I’m Zach Moreno, co-founder and CEO. [00:01:07][2.2]
Rock Felder: [00:01:08] On Between Two Mics, we bring you interviews with podcasters, experts in the field of remote recording. We discuss current events in podcasting and so much more. [00:01:17][8.8]
Zach Moreno: [00:01:18] The most exciting part? We’re recording all of this on SquadCast, the best place to record remote audio and video interviews in studio quality. [00:01:27][9.2]
Rock Felder: [00:01:28] So let’s get Between Two Mics. [00:01:31][2.8]
Rock Felder: [00:01:33] Hey, listener, a few notes before we get started with today’s episode. First up, we’ve been putting out some great content lately, if I do say so myself. A few weeks back, we interviewed Arielle and Shira hosts of Counter Programming. They hit a hundred thousand downloads for their podcast without an ad budget with a very, very niche topic. In our interview, Zach and I chat with Shira and Arielle about how they did it and how you can, too. And last week we released an interview with Jess and Elsie of She Podcasts. We wanted to chat with them about their upcoming event, she podcasts live in Scottsdale, Arizona. We’ll be there as sponsors and speakers and we’re very excited. Tune into that episode to learn how that event got started. Next, we want to hear from you. If you’re a SquadCaster and you’re looking for ways to get your show out there to more people, use this link: SquadCast.fm/share. That’s our content submission page. Submit a SquadShot, a voice clip, anything. We want to show your podcast to the world. Again, that SquadCast.fm Slash share. And last, today’s episode is a special one. A while back, SquadCaster Noah Labhart interviewed Zahc, my co-founder, on his podcast Code Story. Code story is like how I built this but for tech founders. In this episode, learn how SquadCast came to be. Did you know that Zach was trying to record a sci fi drama and found that existing recording tools just weren’t cutting it? Hence SquadCast? Noah asked Zach about the MVP or the minimum viable product — that’s startup speak for the first usable version of SquadCast. They then get into how SquadCast has evolved since then. This is an amazing conversation and I recommend checking it out. After you listen, make sure to navigate over to the Code Story podcast and hit that subscribe button. Noah is a great interviewer and we’re super proud to have him in the SquadPod. All right, let’s get to it. [00:03:49][136.0]
Zach Moreno: [00:03:53] With podcasting, there is more of a defined line between creation and consumption, and that’s, I think because of the post-production nature of working with audio and video before it’s published and then consumed. Most of our industries, tech resources go towards the consumption side of the podcasting platform. We are going in the opposite direction and helping empower the creative experience within podcasting. My name is Zachariah Moreno, I’m the co-founder, CEO and CTO of SquadCast DOT FM for. [00:04:29][36.4]
Noah Labhart: [00:04:35] This is Code Story, a podcast bringing you interviews with tech visionaries who share in the critical moments of what it takes to change an industry and build and leave a team that has your back. I’m your host snow lab part, and today, how Zach Moreno was fed up with pod cast recording tools and decided to make them better for you and your squad, all this and more on code story. Zach Moreno is quite the Renaissance man. Being an artist, designer, author, developer and a loving husband, he’s interned on the Chrome team at Google building extensions at Dev Tools and as a big believer and user and angular J.S., he wrote a book about deployment essentials of the language after attempting to record a sci fi drama. He found that the conventional remote audio recording tools didn’t produce a good quality recording, so much so that he decided to build SquadCast the best way for podcasters to record awesome sounding remote conversations. [00:05:45][70.1]
Zach Moreno: [00:05:47] We wanted to do that sci fi audio drama that I mentioned, and we really ran into this challenge of working with remote team, remote voice actors and we were using the conventional communications platforms like Skype or Zoom. And the quality was was frankly garbage from not my perspective, but my brother’s perspective. Who I did mention is, you know, he’s an audio engineer. So these things weren’t made to record audio. They were made to record conference calls. So the government or enterprises can have a recording of that call. And the person who was out sick may be able to listen to it, but not a million people. Right. Not a huge audience of active listeners to a podcast. So that’s really where we found that challenge of high quality recording for people who aren’t in the same location. And that turns out to be a very interesting set of challenges that was, you know, nontrivial to make any progress on and has been a lot of fun to to kind of sink our teeth into over the last three years. [00:06:46][58.6]
Noah Labhart: [00:06:48] Tell me a little bit about the MVP and how long it took to build and what sort of tools you used in the beginning. [00:06:53][5.0]
Zach Moreno: [00:06:55] Yeah, I think it took about probably less than six months. We had set a target for ourself to sponsor and attend a big event in podcasting, the biggest conference of the year and still true to this day as podcast movement. And we got lucky that year that it was in Anaheim because we’re a bootstrap startup. Still to this day, we got lucky that it was in California and we could drive down to L.A., to Anaheim and we had a booth and it was terrifying, honestly, but it gave us that finish line to say, OK, our MVP is going to be at least something that we’d be proud of to, like, show people and get feedback on and try to validate this idea, because at that point, we knew zero podcasters. Like I cannot overstate that. We were purely just like going off of what we wanted and also what we thought would be helpful. And myself and also, you know, our designer and friend and engineer, Alex, we went to art school together, so we knew how to build stuff. We knew how to not violate design best practices. We knew about color and a lot of the mobile best practices, and we knew a lot of that stuff so we could build something that look cool and kind of communicate, you know, visually. And that’s exactly what we tried to do. It did work. It did record audio, but not collaboratively. It was kind of a solo recording experience at that point, but it was enough to communicate to people and we could articulate it well enough to help validate it. And that’s really what we did in that first podcast movement, was it took us about, you know, four or five minutes before somebody was like, I came here exactly because I was looking for a solution to this problem. And, wow, this is awesome. Before that, though, the drive there the night before, you know, all of it was completely probably the most terrifying lead up to that, because we had spent a couple of thousand dollars on this booth. We were totally prepared to stand there for three days and twiddle our thumbs because people told us we didn’t need this and they didn’t need to exist or whatever, and we would have fallen flat on our faces and just gone home and maybe stopped at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle or something like that. But, you know, we did get that validation and also made some some key connections at that point that later turned into our founding adviser and just, you know, could validate and get insights from the community on how to actually build something that people would get used out of. [00:09:15][140.4]
Noah Labhart: [00:09:17] You’re feeling good, built the MVP, what sort of trade offs did you make, though, as you went through that process and how did you cope with those? [00:09:25][7.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:09:27] We built the whole Baida and V1 in polymer. We also decided, because we’re bootstrapped, that we were going to charge for our data and always have a subscription model for our software because we wanted to provide a premium experience and knew that the bar was high from that. So Guy built it in polymer, built the back end on Google cloud platform with with a node micro service architecture. And I had had some experience that I mentioned in the government building APIs, but it was really kind of there was not a need for a micro service architecture. It was more so just like these are our data sets, let’s open them up. This is the endpoints and all of that. But when you’re working for the government, you know what the scale is like. The scale was never going to be more than every Californian connected at the same time. And even that was like, you know, ridiculous. So you can predict what the max scale is going to be. But with Quantcast, this was my first step as a as a CTO into scalability and architecting a system that could scale and still be affordable because because of the bootstrap nature. So that kind of an extra constraint. They’re built out a lot of that that cloud infrastructure, which is still our setup today. It’s been scaled, it’s been improved and modified. But that’s still the architecture that we that we’re rockin today. And then the front end, like I said, we built on polymer and web components. And anybody who’s kind of followed that has realized that polymer has kind of evolved into more into the platform and more into the other Movistar frameworks. And with angular not just but just angular, you know, react and view, we kind of became the clear leaders there as I was building it out in polymer and was like, OK, well, you know, I’m still effective. I can still do stuff, still follow the MVP or sorry, MVC architecture, but within polymer. But it felt like there was a lot kind of missing, like it wasn’t a complete framework. Like I was constantly having to figure out how to get this library to run inside of this Web component or that component or whatever. And then also the flow of data was a little bit a little bit tricky, whereas ANGULAR has something like services to kind of decouple the flow of data from the actual like components themselves or pages or whatever it is that you’re using. It started to feel, and I believe it was Alex that actually advocated for this. He was like, hey, Ionic is something that we had used in the past, which Ionic is a mobile tool kit SDK for mobile development on top of ANGULAR and now it runs on top of Reactant View as well, which is pretty cool for them. He advocated for us considering that and we had a serious conversation was like, are we talking about rebuilding this thing? Because we had some constraints with supporting other browsers. We only supported Chrome and desktop, but we knew, you know, mobile obviously a huge deal. We knew that from the get go. In some sense, we just wanted to solve our core problem and reduce the amount of surface area that we had to kind of variables that were outside of our control. Sure. So we just decided to kind of double down on Chrome, which I get is a weird thing, and I don’t know if I would make that choice again. So we chose Chrome because of the market share and my experience there, we knew that it could do the things we needed it to do. And yeah, Alex advocated in the saying, hey, let’s let’s rebuild this and let’s do it on Ionic and let’s get it into mobile. So our our big design constraints from the beta turned into V1. We launched that in January of of this year. Twenty nineteen. And then as soon as we launched it, we immediately opened a new branch and ripped out polymer, just completely started from scratch and scaffolded and ionic app and started, you know, we knew what pages we needed, we knew what components we needed, we knew what the architecture was going to be and we just started moving stuff over. That’s really where kind of fell in love with Times Square and fell in love with that developer experience, again, with Angular. And it felt kind of cool coming back full circle from like I think it was angular jasta when we picked it up, it was like angular seven. [00:13:41][254.6]
Noah Labhart: [00:13:43] So you mentioned starting out with a node micro service back in architecture from the get go. Right. Yeah. So that’s, that’s really interesting because I think a pretty common path is monolithic and then convert to macro services over time. But you saw something ahead of time. Tell me a little bit about that and what you saw. [00:14:01][18.4]
Noah Labhart: [00:16:15] Are you using now or do you plan to use services like Couvreur Nettie’s or is there something like that in Google Cloud? Can you talk to that a little bit? [00:16:23][8.8]
Zach Moreno: [00:16:24] Yeah, absolutely. So we were actually going to we used Carbonetti fairly early on. And I remember being on my honeymoon, which I got married right after we started SquadCast. So I don’t necessarily recommend starting starting a startup and then getting married. But we were already engaged, as you can imagine. And these ideas kind of strike when they do so. Got to run with it. I also have my day job and was also teaching at Cal all in that same span of time. You were busy? Yeah, man, I do not recommend that. But I remember being on my honeymoon and I read it from start to finish an entire book on Carbonetti while I was there. And it was like, all right, I’m going to come back and roller Carbonetti stack. And I did that. And my my dad is our data and analytics guy on our team. And we’re very fortunate to grow up with him as my dad because he he’s got that background and very open to new technology. So thanks, Dad, but we were going to roll our own engagement analytics solution and felt that we wanted to have a high level of control. So we put together this stack and we called it Echo Echo, which is another one of those radios. And Echo was a very, very interesting stack. And we actually built it, but we decided to go with an off the shelf solution because it just like it wasn’t core to the problem we were solving. So it’s like, why spend any amount of engineering time building something or maintaining something that wasn’t core to the problem that we were solving when we could work with a vendor? And, you know, essentially it’s their problem if anything goes wrong. That’s what we did. We ended up going with a service provider for that. But Echo was a very interesting stack. It was it was centered around a neo fauji database. Is that some part of her that. No. Yeah. So neo 4G is very interesting. It is a graph database. So you get with the graph data structure, just like in normal CSS, there’s some properties of that structure to your data that lend itself to very interesting set of queries that kind of are on the border of some A.I. capabilities, things like next nearest neighbor. There’s some algorithms that run on graph structures much more efficiently than they do on typical like document stores or even sequel. Yeah, yeah. Traversal kind of stuff. Exactly right. And Neal, for GE has its own query language called Cipher, which allows you to traverse that graph very easily. And it’s actually a very interesting language because it kind of reads like a bit Mojie, a little bit like it’s kind of graphical, but it’s all character based. Sure. So very interesting possibilities there. And we built Carbonetti cluster around this Neo, for instance, and then could scale it within that. And then there was kind of a front end that served as the kind of, you know, the node endpoints that would proxy those cipher queries from properties sent through the API. OK, and then there was, you know, load balancer kind of at the front there. And you create these very interesting structures within within Carbonetti. So Google Cloud has Google container engine, I believe it’s called Google, Google Cougar Nettie’s engine now chiqui. It’s one of their many compute options. They and I at first was like unsure how to choose like which which cloud. And I think this is a common thing and it’s like or even GCP or Microsoft Azure or whatever, just kind of like all these options. And it’s just like, what does this even mean? And they all have these sensationalistic names, you know, it’s like what does this what does a Kozmo you know, I don’t know what that is. So Google Carbonetti engine is one of those offerings. There’s also, you know, Google app engine. There’s cloud functions now. There is like a VM option. I think that’s. Yeah, I forget what that one’s called. But anyway, all they do, the difference between them and you can move between them, turns out. So you’re not really locked into a choice, but they’re just varying levels of control and automation. So if you want full control, you can go Cuber Nettie’s and I control the entire cluster. Right. But I had been working in Docker. I like Docker, I like containerization. You know, it solves that environment problem that comes with with teams and all of that stuff. And that actually was helpful when we were teaching at Cal because students had would come in with their own devices and we needed to get this sample code or today’s whatever running on their machine. So it’s like, let’s just throw this in a container. Why are we even trying to get this to run on like this weird distro of Linux or Windows or whatever? So that’s kind of where I kind of got a little bit of a docker file experience and could wrap things in containers on the command line and all that. And then it was just kind of like, well, what if I want to? Containers, and that’s kind of where I got into Carbonetti, I was like, oh, OK, this is a whole new world and I needed to read a book on it. [00:21:20][295.9]
Noah Labhart: [00:21:23] In SquadCast, tell me how how you build your roadmap, how do you figure out what is the next most important thing to build and what is that process between you and the team? [00:21:31][8.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:21:33] We’re in an industry full of people who speak for a living. So it really needs to be our job to be really, really good at listening. And it’s actually a gift that most people in most industries probably don’t have is, you know, a forum ongoing for their audience, their customers to speak to them. We find that to be a great asset in figuring out what to work on and what is what is next to consider. We try to ask really, really good questions. We try to just be very available for people to give us that feedback in lots of different ways that has worked out really, really well to figure out what to work on. We also have a roadmap, you know, now we didn’t always have a road map. It was just kind of like, look, this doesn’t exist yet. We need it to exist. Like, let’s figure out what you know to work on this week kind of thing that our advisers were like. Now you’ve got to do you’ve got to get this into a process and you’ve got to prioritize and move, you know, multiple things forward at a time. We were already doing that. So it was pretty straightforward to just kind of like put it down onto, you know, kind of a shared collaborative environment and get things in alignment. And that turned out to be really, really great for, like, figuring out what resources we needed when we could kind of start to see the future a little bit, know what’s coming and be a little more predictable with with those decisions. So, yeah, we keep our roadmap about a year out on a rolling basis. So my co-founder and I have a monthly standing meeting where we have some homework in advance to collect this feedback and kind of, you know, bring that in in a format that that we can start to mold into our roadmap and figure out where things go. And we actually, just before this conversation, decided on a pretty big switch for our our 2020 roadmap, we were going to prioritize our most requested feature. It has always and is still adding video recording to the platform, which is a direct thing from, you know, direct piece of feedback from our audience. It’s not something that was part of the original vision. But, you know, in hindsight now is very obvious because you and I can see each other and have video for body language and eye contact, but we’re not focused on recording that. It’s more in service of a good conversation right now, making things be natural. But, you know, a lot has happened in video podcasting. There’s a lot of overlap there with just creatives wanting to collaborate from anywhere in the world. That is one of the roadmap items for 2020, as is adding what we call network, which is more of a collaboration around the workflow that kind of bookends the podcast interview. So a producer or a production shop may want to have many podcasts and be able to access all of the recordings and just helps with the logistics around kind of the team management there. So those are the two big things for for 2020. There’s a third one that is probably going to be a surprise and I think will be a really, really cool announcement and a big improvement to the application. But I can’t talk about it just yet. So we just decided we were going to do the first half of the year video in the second half network. We’re going to we’re going to reverse that and we’re going to do network and then video, but still all in twenty twenty. [00:24:45][191.5]
Noah Labhart: [00:24:47] I know you guys are a five person team. How did you go about building your team? I know there’s some family ties there. You mentioned your dad, but tell me how you went about that process of building the SquadCast team. [00:24:58][11.0]
Zach Moreno: [00:25:00] Yeah, I mean, with a bootstrap startup, it’s hard to convince people to basically volunteer for a long period of time without any guarantee of of, you know, any reward. At the end of it. Failure is still the most likely outcome. But we’re three years into it. We have a little bit of control of our own destiny and we have revenue, which is unusual for startups. So, you know, being bootstrapped, we’re in control of our own destiny. But it is also something that we want to be mindful that we’re still seeking sound advice from from trusted advisers and mentors and not going off on some tangent journey just because we think it’s like the right thing. So, yeah, that the team is largely my co-founder. Rock and I are longtime friends who went to high school together, as did my brother. Vince was closer to rock through high school as their one year apart. But I was always growing up hanging around with my older brother Vince. And Vince is an audio engineer and that’s why we had some experience working in audio, not from a coding programmatic standpoint, but from like a like a creative, you know, outlet. So Rock and Vince and I are all longtime friends and kind of pitched rock on the idea. He and I had talked about some. Up stuff in the past, and he is a he’s an accountant, he’s a CPA and was working at a Fortune 500 accounting firm and auditing these banks and giant companies and stuff. So I was able to kind of pull him away from that. But we still held down day jobs for the first year and a half, being bootstrapped like like I mentioned before. So it wasn’t some like, hey, quit your job and let’s run off on this thing. It was like, OK, do you have the capacity to do this in addition to your day job? And that made the pitch a little bit easier. But I think everybody was generally on board with the idea and the vision of SquadCast. And that was my brother as well as Rock, because we we knew that we would need an audio engineer corps to the team for lots of reasons, it turns out. But at the time, you know, it was mostly because of making sure that we knew what sounded good. You know, we weren’t just like, oh, it sounds fine. What’s wrong with you? You know, like we knew we needed it to be, like, quantifiably good, you know, not just some opinion of somebody who’s never worked in audio. So that’s where Vince Vince came in, as well as he’s now the head of our support. In addition to that, because he’s an audio engineer, he can help people with their setups and making sure that everything’s running smoothly. And he also does our production. So our audio video production, we have a podcast called Between Two Mics. We have a YouTube channel where we every other week have some kind of podcast related topic on there. And Vince is very creative with the audio video. So I’m very grateful that that we can collaborate on that. And then Alex is our designer, our lead designer and also friend and engineer. And like I mentioned, he and I went to college together and go way back. We were in each other’s weddings and longtime friends and he and I had done a number of tech projects together before SquadCast. We had used Ionic with angular JS to build his dad’s app, which his dad is the co-founder of the Rainbow Pages, which is an LGBTQ phone book in California and Bay Area. We built a mobile app version of that, and that’s still on the App Store, I think, today. And so Alex and I, you know, kind of go way back with working together on tech stuff. So so that leaves my dad and my dad, as I mentioned, Vince is a is a very talented database administrator and analytics person. So working on big accounting systems for for California government agencies and kind of high stakes stuff like that. So that’s that’s the full team and myself. [00:29:01][241.5]
Noah Labhart: [00:29:02] Very cool. I love that it’s a family and friend affair, it sounds like. [00:29:05][3.1]
Zach Moreno: [00:29:05] It definitely is. And and we will likely be growing the team for the first time in twenty twenty. I’m every day I find myself more a little bit more CEO and a little bit less CTO. So I fully intend on, on hiring a lead developer and then helping that individual grow into the more the CTO role over time. [00:29:28][23.1]
Noah Labhart: [00:29:30] So as you step out onto the balcony as a CEO and CTO where a lot of that, because you look across what you’ve built with SquadCast and the team and the product and all the successes you’ve had, what are you most proud of? [00:29:44][13.6]
Zach Moreno: [00:29:46] I would say that I am most proud of not accepting the status quo, not being kind of hampered by the, quote, failures, because those failures have turned into unique technology developments and provided the best example I can because we’re recording on SquadCast and we record the audio locally for each person. That presents some interesting challenges when it comes to fault tolerance. If somebody disconnects or their power goes out or their computer dies or their microphone gets unplugged, what happens to that audio is that it’s lost. It was never uploaded to the cloud. It was probably in your browsers, you know, is in your computer’s ram and it’s now lost. So what do you do about that? So that’s where, you know, how you upload the audio is very critical to the success of a platform like SquadCast. So we started off by uploading the audio traditionally also where after somebody you hit record. Now we talk for a little bit, eventually hit stop. And if all goes well and everybody stayed connected and nobody’s computer died or anything like that, then the audio is a full file and can be uploaded to the cloud somewhere in a storage bucket somewhere. It’s a very linear path, right? Yeah, but it assumes success is really what what we learned. And also it takes a minute for that file to upload if you’re recording it, and source quality in wave, just raw PCM as encoded as wave. These are, you know, for an hour long conversation in mono is zero point six gigs. So two people that’s one point two gigs recorded for an hour. That’s that’s a long upload time on a standard network. So what it turned into was like waiting for 15 minutes for this file to upload. And let’s hope nothing goes wrong during that time, you know, or your kid doesn’t start streaming twitch in the other room or something like that. It’s the real world. So that’s where the fault tolerance comes in is how do you guarantee that the highest quality audio is always being recorded and is accessible even in the worst of circumstances? And even in that scenario, how do you recover from that? And that’s really where it gets into our fault tolerance posture and the decisions that that’s helped us helped us make. So we started off, as I mentioned, with that kind of linear traditional upload process, and then we figured out a way to take that from 15 minutes down to about one minute. And that helped out a lot. It increased our success rate, but we would still lose recordings and we would lose customers and it was terrible because that’s one of the reasons why we got into this, was to prevent people from losing any recordings which there’s some kind of baggage in the podcasting world. There have been previous attempts at building something like SquadCast in the past, and the reputation of those projects is a storied history of people losing audio, being super frustrated, not great sounding and just not a full, complete solution. We came to see it as you know, our biggest differentiator could be this, you know, ability to recover in the circumstances that aren’t the best. So that’s where we started developing our I can now officially say intellectual property. We have patent pending. So it’s very exciting. Very cool. Thank you. As it is, it doesn’t trip. But that took us 10, 11 different attempts to build that. We tried streaming and we tried all different types of, you know, chunked uploads, all different types of libraries, all different cloud storage providers. Was trying to find a way for us to not have to build this technology if it already existed out there. Turns out it doesn’t exist or it didn’t exist at the time. And we needed a kind of bang our head against the wall like a good idea, like nine, 10 times to get it to a place of high reliability. But that’s what we’ve since done. So lots of failures along the way. But now we are recording the audio locally, uploading it progressively in the background while our computers are essentially sitting idle. We’re uploading it up to the cloud. And that way, if anybody gets disconnected or anything gnarly happens, the audio is already in the cloud and we can generate a file from it at any point in the future. We also have backups of the entire conversation that are recorded not locally, but over the cloud that are a little bit lower quality, but still prevent any loss of content in the event that something really wrong happens. And that between those two things, those, you know, levels of redundancy in in our fault tolerance adds up to over the last two years, we’ve not lost any audio. And I’m very proud to say that that’s awesome. [00:34:48][302.1]
Noah Labhart: [00:34:49] That’s that’s something to be really proud of. That’s a huge problem to solve in the space. [00:34:52][3.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:34:53] Thank you. Thank you. There’s there’s a few others like the drift normalization, which is our our other our other piece of IP audio drift turns out to be a gnarly thing when you record audio on on multiple devices at the same time, they can drift out of sync. So how do you reliably make sure that those line up perfectly when you go to edit them together? That’s the other piece that really sets SquadCast apart. [00:35:16][22.7]
Noah Labhart: [00:35:22] So let’s flip the script from what you’re proud of, tell me about a mistake you made and how the team responded to it. [00:35:28][6.2]
Zach Moreno: [00:35:31] There’s two big mistakes, one of them is a technical mistake, so I’ll go with that one and it is in line with the you know, the story I just told about our progressive upload journey, maybe an attempt like six or seven. We thought we had it right. We’re very excited to go and sponsor that same event that we launched our beta app podcast movement. This time it was in Philadelphia. We traveled there and I did that deployment from the airport in Oakland, where we have our headquarters here. Luckily, my plane got delayed. So I was like, all right, this is it. I’m going to push the button. And, you know, you don’t get anywhere by not taking risks. So let’s just take the risk and get it out and go. And it was still relatively small scale and, you know, not that many customers and all of those things. So it was like, OK, like, what’s the worst that could happen here? Well, we kind of found out what that would be. I land in Philadelphia, that’s all still seeming good, we go and set up our booth, we do the first day, it’s all good. We get back to our our Airbnb in Philly and these support requests are coming in. Of all these problems of people having audio that’s like out of order, like missing words, like all these gnarly things, not even distortion, not even like static or something like that, just like my files all mangled up and I have no way of putting it back together. I spent the next two days of that three day long event sitting on a beanbag chair on like the fifth floor of this hotel, trying to find isolation to work on this and try to fix it, because I was like only forward only. So we’re not rolling this back. I’ve never rolled anything back in my career, only forward and was convinced that I would fix it in that short amount of time because how big could the issue actually be? I did make progress, I did generally fix the problem, but there were still other problems and it was uncertain how many actual individual problems there were to fix or how they were related to each other. We just kind of needed to observe it a little bit more and figure out how to make it more predictable. You know, we get home from Philly, it’s still in production. People are still recording. And it was working for the most part. But the issues that were coming in were like really bad. And we had lost like a few customers, couldn’t make it right, couldn’t figure out a way forward and just feeling terrible. I felt like I had to throw up the whole time. And then I had a phone conversation with with my co-founder. And we decided there that we would roll it back and put it back to the way it was. I had never done that before. That was a huge blow to my to my ego. And that is the one time in my career that we did we did roll it back. But that didn’t kill us. Right. Like, I think it was less than two months later, we had, you know, proper progressive upload working and well tested and predictable without any of those issues. Turns out that that was a pretty fundamental change that needed to happen. So it wasn’t going to be a quick fix ever. But, you know, I think it was that ego. It was that delusion that that we can make it right with the quickness. [00:38:49][197.8]
Noah Labhart: [00:38:50] Thanks for walking through that. That was a tough one, I’m certain. [00:38:52][2.2]
Zach Moreno: [00:38:53] Yeah. Yeah, it was. And also because there were like there were front end changes that were back and changes like I we use git and version control and all that stuff. So it was kind of like it also wasn’t the only thing in the update. So I kind of I couldn’t roll it back without taking some of those other features away. So I kind of had to rip it out. And it was just it just felt really, really haphazard and messy. How do we know anything is going to work now, now that we’ve had this terrible experience and kind of shakes you a little bit? You know, so that confidence to push the deploy button goes down a little bit. And just like, man, how do we ship anything in the future without knowing that it’s going to be all right? So that was the whole story. [00:39:34][41.2]
Noah Labhart: [00:39:37] So you mentioned, you know, hiring another engineer or CTO type person, expanding the team, mentioned, you know, the two features you’re working on for next year. Third surprise. Beyond that, what does the future look like for school outcaste? [00:39:54][16.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:39:55] We had to do a lot of work to our pricing. We had always had kind of our alpha pricing, which was very simple. It was just twenty dollars unlimited recording, twenty dollars a month for no limits. We always knew that. Like I said, we knew we wanted to charge for the product because we’re not funded. So we needed to be customer funded through the product that we were we were selling. And that has worked out pretty well. But we knew that our pricing, it was kind of right smack dab in the middle and it was leaving more to be desired for people who wanted to record a lot like my friend David Wolfe with Ordovician Productions does full audio book productions on SquadCast. His is not a host and a guest like Interview Style. It is more like he is a director and his actor is the other person in the session. And he just because we record everybody separately on SquadCast, he just never uses his vocal track and his audio book gets recorded and then files get shared easily and all that good stuff. So shout out to David. Very cool. Yeah. Yeah. So we knew people like that, right? We’re getting a ton of value. He’s like it revolutionize my business. I’m like I’m running multiple audio books in parallel now because I can record eight hours a day with people and not worry about habibti getting in the studio and things like that. So we knew it left a lot to be desired on the upside and then below twenty dollars a month. Podcasting is a relatively new medium and the price sensitivity, the workflow also, you know, there’s a lot of podcasters who don’t record their their show one hundred percent remotely. They’ll do in-person interviews as much as possible, but they still want their remote interviews. Occasionally they’ll do them, but they want them to sound equally as good. And for them, twenty dollars every month just didn’t make sense. So that was the biggest reason, if I can be transparent for a second, that people would tell us that they were canceling was, hey, love the service. It’s awesome. You guys are awesome. Never had any trouble. And if I did, support was on point with your brother. Vince never lost any audio, but I don’t have any interviews for like the next four months. So I’ll be back. And that’s really where, you know, it’s fine. It makes perfect sense. And those are still, you know, a lot of those people have come back and but we knew our pricing needed to evolve to to both address new podcasters as well as people who are recording like serious volume through the platform. So we created a few different tiers that are centered around the amount of time that you spend recording and can meet people at different price points for that. Very cool. You know, we’ve needed to do a lot of work to our our greenroom experience, as we call it. When you when you are joining a session on SquadCast a lot of typical like VoIP or Web RTC like Google Hangouts or something like that. They have kind of this backstage area where you can kind of check your hair and stuff before you jump into the actual conversation. Sure. So have a little bit of privacy before you can, you know, jump in. I got to do that. It’s all good. We’re not recording the video yet. That’s right. I’m with you. I need a haircut, actually. So that green room, it’s kind of the doorway into the session, but it’s critical to get that right because podcast guests aren’t typically podcasters. They’re not professional podcasters. They don’t typically record audio. So, you know, making it digestible, easy experience for them to to reliably get into the conversation, as well as empower the podcast, a professional podcast, or to be in full control of all their equipment and making sure that their cameras and microphones and headphones are all dialed in, do a sound check, stuff like that. So that was a big one in V two that we we needed to to do a lot of work to the U.S. in our greenroom to to get that experience right. And I’m I’m really grateful that that has improved tremendously. It’s almost a non-existent request that comes through support now. [00:43:55][239.3]
Noah Labhart: [00:43:59] So who influences the way you work, an architect or CTO or CEO or a person who influences you, you look up to and tell me why. [00:44:08][9.2]
Zach Moreno: [00:44:10] I’ll say Elon Musk [00:44:11][0.9]
Noah Labhart: [00:44:12] get a lot of musk responses, [00:44:13][0.7]
Zach Moreno: [00:44:14] I imagine so, and I’m also a huge space nerd, so that kind of puts puts it even a little bit into a different category. You know, it’s just it’s hard not to be inspired. It’s hard not to look forward to the future. The picture that he paints of the future, but also still very scientific and rooted in physics and what is actually possible. So I do think a lot about about Elon Musk, but there’s definitely others. My grandpa is a is a is another one that comes to mind because he is such a meticulous craftsman. He’s done a lot of things as a soft filer and would just woodworking in general. So I grew up around around a lot of very detail oriented craftsmanship in both big structures and small. So I do think that has it can’t not have an impact on me. Peter Thiel is another one who comes to mind like the zero to one book, I think makes a lot of sense. I also think it’s got a strong emphasis on monopolies. And, you know, we know that those probably aren’t the best things for our economy, but it’s more so the contrarian nature of the position that he takes a lot of times. And it’s not just with arguing or being devil’s advocate or something like that, but the way we see it come to life is that most of the quote, tech companies in our industry and podcasting are very focused on the consumer experience on the consumption side of podcasting. They are focused on I mean, there’s a lot of podcasts hosting companies. There’s a lot of podcast advertising companies that do things like dynamic ad insertion. There are, you know, a lot of listening apps for people to actually subscribe and listen to podcasts. I would say they’re all all of those three categories of technology are not oversaturated because podcasting is still relatively small compared to the rest of technology, but it is growing rapidly and being taken more seriously every day. It’s kind of interesting from our perspective through the lens of Peter TEALS messaging of being contrarian, that there are far less people in our industry who are working to create technology that actually helps with the production side, not the consumption side or more of the creative experience rather than the consumption experience. And that is very much how I think of technology. People throw around the term platform all the time. Oh, this platform, that platform, this platform, it’s like, what are we standing on here? You know, what is a platform even? And it gets abused. And I think of it and it’s kind of purist sense of it is an experience. A platform is an experience that empowers both creation and consumption. And the line between those two things is often very blurry. Like Twitter is a great example of this, where it doesn’t feel like you’re creating something when you tweet or you comment on something or you like something, it doesn’t feel like you’re creating something. But that’s actually, you know, you creating something that didn’t exist before. You’re engaging, you’re adding data to the system, but at the same time you’re consuming and it’s kind of mixed up. And that’s where good UX comes in, where it’s like it’s very blurry between creation and consumption. But with podcasting, there is more of a defined line between creation and consumption. And that’s, I think, because of the post-production nature of working with audio and video before it’s published and then consumed. Sure. So we think of the Peter Thiel analogy through the lens of most of our tech, our industries. Tech resources go towards the consumption side of the podcasting platform where we are going in the opposite direction and helping empower the creative experience within podcasting. Beloved. [00:48:11][237.9]
Noah Labhart: [00:48:15] If you could go back to the beginning when you started SquadCast, you had the idea and you started building in, what would you do differently? [00:48:22][7.0]
Zach Moreno: [00:48:23] We got some really, really great advice early on from our first founding adviser, Harry Duran, who’s the host of Podcast Junkies, as well as the founder of Focused, a full podcast production company. We met him in Anaheim at that first kind of beta launch and quickly formed a friendship and kind of pitched him on the entire vision we like. Can we sit down and get your thoughts on this? And are you familiar with anchor in podcasting, their podcast company? OK, so anchor is, I will say, a platform. They are a full platform, but it is kind of a walled garden depending on where you land and met the founders. They’re cool people and they got acquired by Spotify and it’s good, good all around. I think of Ankur as the top of the funnel for all of podcasting. It’s good that there are more people podcasting. That’s cool. So good work, anchor. But I essentially pitched Harry Duran on the entire vision that we later found out, like anchor was, you know, already well underway with that development. But we dodged that bullet because Harry’s advice was so we wanted creation, consumption, monetization, like dynamic ad insertion, editing, like it was the entire podcast production experience all under one umbrella and hosting event. And, you know, and just the full thing, listening, subscribing like a mobile app, just the entire of podcasting, all within one app. And we designed that and we started building that. But we focused on the remote conversation recording piece because that was the core problem that we set out to solve. So we’re going to start there in the middle and then work our way in both directions. And Harry just cut through that like a hot knife through butter. He was like, don’t do that, don’t do any of that. What you started with is a legit problem that nobody else has solved the rest of it. All these other people at this conference are working on be the best in the world at that remote recording. And the rest of it, you can just plug in with integrations or maybe you can do it later on. But that vision is too big. You’re not going to be able to execute on it. And that’s where, you know, respect to anchor. They they’ve come the closest, I will say. But I also don’t think that they’re the best in the world at any of those things. They are, you know, very vanilla when it comes to that stuff. Like they have remote recording capabilities in the app, but they’re essentially recording a conference call. So I don’t see that as an innovation. I don’t see that as increasing the quality of podcasting from a listener or creative perspective. So that’s where I think we we could have probably done all of those things. But like INCR, they would have been kind of middle of the road on everything. I would much rather be solidified as the best in the world in one thing. And the rest is all kind of fitting around that. That’s where we find ourselves three years later. And I’m very, very grateful for Harry’s advice because he saved us a ton of work, a ton of running in the wrong direction, a ton of pitfalls. And that could have been a very, very big mistake that, you know, was great advice from him. [00:51:33][189.4]
Noah Labhart: [00:51:35] Imagine you’re getting on a plane, you’re sitting next to the next Zachariah Moreno and they’re building that. They’ve built the next big thing and they’re jazzed about it. They want to show it to you. They just can’t wait to go change the world. What advice do you give them from your experiences? [00:51:50][14.6]
Zach Moreno: [00:51:52] I think the advice that’s out there for the tech perspective is already really good. Like start minimal, don’t start over engineering. I think that is really, really sound advice. And I’m grateful that a lot of people, you know, share that advice over engineering can be can work against you over time and add to your technical debt and things like that. So that’s that’s great advice. I cannot overstate how important it is to actually have meaningful conversations with humans and listening to what they are telling you and getting out of the way and doing it like it doesn’t really need to be more complicated than that. And I know with engineers that that is a tall order because sometimes we prefer a conversation with my terminal over another human. And I’ve met plenty of engineers who fall into that category. And I think it is a rare characteristic to find an engineer who communicates effectively through code, through technology, but also with other humans, and then even on top of that, communicates well visually. And what I just described is Alex ah, he’s our lead designer. He’s an engineer, and he’s a good person on top of that. And. That’s what I strive for. I have struggled with depression and social anxiety disorder and some of these other things and really through the practice of meditation, which is a different podcast, a different conversation, I guess, but really found ways to turn those things into superpower’s and not just overcome them, but continue kind of transcending past those. So I recommend meditation for anybody who finds themselves chronically depressed or, you know, their doctor recommending these these psychotropics to them or something like that. Like you owe it to yourself to at least try to focus on your breathing. Like, that’s all that I’m really asking for. And it’s amazing how that will improve your life in ways that you can’t even imagine. I certainly didn’t. But I do recommend people trying to develop those soft skills, because no matter how bad as an engineer you are, if you can’t talk to other humans, you’re not going to make as much progress. And I think the road is littered. The startup road is littered with, you know, very, very talented engineers that for one reason or another fail to communicate things effectively. Don’t overlook that, just like it’s a skill to be able to work with, get or work with this framework or that framework or this database or that cloud provider. It is a skill to be able to effectively communicate with other humans. That’s my technical answer. So I guess that’s a technical non-technical answer. My advice for the founder CEO hat that I wear and also investor hat that I wear is I think too many startups dove headfirst into venture capital and fundraising, which I’ll caveat with something that I am not against that I think plenty of companies need that to do this R&D upfront before they can even have anything close to a product to bring to market. But with software, you know, R&D can happen very rapidly. Product can get shipped very rapidly. It’s never been faster. There are our processes have never been more dialed in, automation, all these things to do things well. So I would say everybody owes it to yourself. Venture capital is easy. Getting capital has never been easier. It’s never been more readily available. There have never been more VC funds than there are right now. Those funds have never been bigger than they are right now and capital is abundant. So I think we should all try to bootstrap. Just try see how far you get. Try to bootstrap set. That is a constraint for yourself and see how far you get. And if you really find yourself at such a lack of resources that you are unable to get something done, then you still have that optionality to go and raise. And you’ve probably made some progress. And it’s going to be easier to raise because you’ve made that progress. You always have the option to raise. You do not have the option of getting out of raising other than failure. And our other great advice from our advisor, Scott Winston is that venture capital is a lot like heroin. Everybody’s out here saying, this is my last round. This is the round that gets me to profitability. But is it how are you going to make payroll with all the all these people? How are you going to get to profitability? And there are companies who do it, and that’s why I’m not knocking it. It is a it is a legit way to build a company, but I think it is more niche than people think it is. People think that venture capital founders think the venture capital is the normal way to do it. I think it’s the other way around. I think venture capital is niche and is presented by the people who are selling this capital. That’s what they do. They sell money at a at a at a clip. They are heavily influencing the narrative around the founder education, things like things like incubators, things like, you know, pitch competitions and things like that. It is all slanted towards assuming that you are going to raise money. And I think you should maybe just try just try to not raise money and see what happens. And that’s all rock and I have essentially done. And we’ve just continue. We’ve we’ve gotten term sheets. We talked to VCs. We get advice from them. They’re very, very smart people. I respect the hell out of every single VC that I’ve ever met. You know, it’s just it’s a it’s up to you ultimately. But you get you give yourself that optionality in the future to opt into venture capital rather than removing your your optionality to opt out of it. That’s my founder advice is try to bootstrap. If you haven’t started something yet you haven’t raised yet, just try to bootstrap. It was [00:57:39][347.5]
Noah Labhart: [00:57:39] OK. Thank you for being on the podcast today. Thank you for being on Code story and telling the creation story of SquadCast. [00:57:46][6.4]
Zach Moreno: [00:57:47] Thank you and I really appreciate it. [00:57:48][1.3]
Rock Felder: [00:57:57] Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode of Between Two Mics, [00:58:00][2.7]
Zach Moreno: [00:58:01] we hope you enjoyed our conversation. If you learn something or we intrigued you a bit, let us know on social media, [00:58:07][5.9]
Rock Felder: [00:58:08] you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn by searching for SquadCast found. [00:58:13][5.7]
Zach Moreno: [00:58:14] And if you want to show the podcast some love, you can leave us a rating or review wherever it is you’re listening right now. [00:58:20][5.6]
Rock Felder: [00:58:21] This show is put together by us Zach and Rock. It’s mixed and produced by Vince Moreno with help from Arielle Nissenblatt. Our logo is designed by Alex Whedbee. [00:58:30][9.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:58:31] Since we’re a podcast about podcasts, we want to shout out the brands and products that we trust. We’re recording using SquadCast dot fm. And here’s our current stack. For recording, we’re using ATR2100 mics, Apple AirPods max headphones, and Focusrite scarlett 2i2 audio interfaces. [00:58:50][19.6]
Rock Felder: [00:58:52] We edit the show on Adobe Audition and our hosting site is Simple Cast. [00:58:55][3.3]
Zach Moreno: [00:58:56] That’s it for us this week. We’re back next week with more from between these mics. [00:58:56][0.0]
Arielle Nissenblatt is SquadCast’s Community Manager. She’s obsessed with all things podcast-related and is the founder of EarBuds Podcast Collective, a podcast recommendation engine. In her spare time, Arielle enjoys hosting zoom trivia for friends and strangers all over the world and rollerblading.
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