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Making Audio Waves: How This CEO is Making Podcasts a Non-Negotiable for Brands 

 The recent growth of on-demand audio is undeniable. The Canadian Podcast Listener 2021 report showed a steady year-over-year increase in daily, weekly, and monthly podcast listenership since 2017. Currently, 29% of Canadians 18+ are listening to podcasts on a monthly basis. Along with the industry’s growth, we’ve seen a growing number of companies adopt branded podcasts as a marketing tactic. One CEO leading the branded podcast wave is Fatima Zaidi, founder of podcast agency, Quill and podcast hosting and analytics platform, CoHost. 

We sat down with Fatima to chat about Quill & CoHost, the podcast industry, and the power behind bootstrapped startups. 

Ali: Start by telling us about Quill and how that ended up creating CoHost, what problems are being solved by both brands? 

Fatima: Quill (started in 2019)  is an award-winning production agency specializing in corporate audio. We work with Fortune 500 brands to bring their podcasts to life through impactful storytelling. 

Since we are a full-service agency, covering everything from strategy to promotion for our clients, we’ve had to dive into the nitty gritty of podcast data. While doing this for clients, we realized there’s a gap in the podcast industry. Marketing mediums like blogging, video marketing, and social media are rich with data, but podcasting is limited. So we decided to fix it ourselves. CoHost is a podcast hosting and analytics tool, built for brands and agencies with the goal of empowering them with the data they need to scale their podcasts. 

What’s your overall mission and vision for Quill and CoHost? 

Our mission for both brands comes down to elevating the podcast industry. I believe in the power of audio. According to a BBC study, branded podcasts that mention the brand have been proven to lift awareness by 89%, brand consideration by 57%, and purchase intent by 14%. This is powerful data. With our clients, we’ve found that podcasts can hold a user’s attention 14x longer compared to video, at a similar consumption rate. Podcasts should be at the forefront of a brand’s marketing strategy. Both Quill and CoHost have been positioned to support this. 

What has been your most successful growth tactic? 

Definitely content and SEO. After launching in 2019, we maintained a focus on releasing valuable, insightful, and unique content. Over time, mixing a strategic content marketing strategy with PR has positioned us as thought leaders in the audio world. 

With the recent audio boom, how is the podcast industry evolving? 

Rapidly. I think the pandemic shined a light on the audio world and the many positives it brings to the creator and listener. I think the biggest evolution in podcasting has been this focus on data. Creators and brands are beginning to demand more data to stay competitive as the industry grows. 

What advice would you give to a brand that’s interested in starting a podcast? 

  1. Source expert assistance. Depending on your budget, this doesn’t have to be an agency. It can be a freelancer, a consultant, or even someone in your network that’s also producing a branded podcast. This will pay off in the long run. 
  2. Go niche. Spend time identifying who your ideal listener is and then produce content for them and only them. Do not go broad on your content. You may think this will increase your listenership but trust me, it won’t. 
  3. Manage expectations on results. We always say that podcasting is a marathon, not a sprint. It has the power to yield endless long-term results but you need to put the time in to consistently create high-quality, valuable content.  

Now let’s talk about the startup world. Both Quill and CoHost are bootstrapped brands, why did you decide to not go down the investor route? 

A lot of companies never build profitability into their business model.  As we’ve seen with WeWork’s (and countless others) failed IPO, a high valuation isn’t always a justification for unprofitability. Personally for me bootstrapping meant I could maintain control and scale the company on my own terms even though it also meant I’d have to get very scrappy and earn less than I was used to.

After 6 months of grinding on sales and being in the trenches with customers, if the market isn’t responding the way you hoped, then you know you need to either make a big change or get out and try something else. I didn’t want to spend the first year raising capital but instead wanted to spend that time pitching customers and ensuring we were cash flow positive from day one. The biggest risk for me is taking on outside investment and then realizing the market does not need our product or service. It’s always better to prove the market traction first, know how you are going to use the capital, and then raise if you want to. I’d get a much better valuation and have to give up less of my company. 

What advice would you give to other bootstrapped startups? 

Build profitability into your business model from day one. Raising capital is a full-time job and when you’re out talking to investors you could be talking to your customers instead. 

I think people gravitate towards raising capital thanks to all the profiling and championing we do of companies who manage to raise capital, but a lot of our government resources allow you access to capital so that you can bootstrap your company and not have to give away a huge percentage at an early stage. 

We celebrate the companies that raise capital but we should also be profiling the companies that manage to bootstrap. We are sending the wrong message that every business needs to raise capital and setting the precedent that you cannot be a successful company without outside investment. There are so many additional resources you can tap into first, like OCE grants, the Futurpreneur loan, and Shred/Irap, where you can claim back some of your development costs. 

How do you think we can support other founders in Canada? 

Here are a few tactics that can actively support small business owners: 

  • Grants to offset costs of outfitting offices/adapting to a post covid world. 
  • Procurement programs that prioritize government hiring small businesses for contracts
  • Early stage funding grants to replace the flow of investments from investors who are now focused on supporting existing investments
  • Grants for business owners who have been all-in on their companies for 6+ months with no supplemental income, when their businesses are showing traction. We need to give them the incentive and ability to continue on and take bigger risks
  • Hiring grants. Most grants eligible are only for full-time employees that have to be matched. This is not helpful as oftentimes small businesses don’t have the funds to match, or start a payroll account. It should go towards contractors and freelancers as well. 

What’s one lesson you’re thankful you learned while creating Quill & CoHost? 

Always trust your gut feeling. Anytime you second guess it, it will always come back around. In many situations, I could have avoided listening to my inner voice, and over time I’ve become ruthless about not taking on projects or customers if I don’t feel 100% about the opportunity. 

Explore more about Quill and CoHost and connect with Fatima on LinkedIn and/or Twitter to learn more about the world of branded podcasts! 

Alison Osborne

Alison is an experienced marketer passionate about podcasting, content marketing, wellness and travel.