We’re excited to intro you to new startup Message Heard, the podcasting company with two sides. Message Heard create their own shows focusing on proactive journalism and immersive story-telling. On their commercial side they work with brands and businesses to use podcasting as a tool to evolve outdated corporate communication. We caught up with founder Jake Warren to get some understanding into just what goes into building a media based start up. Jake shares with us the importance of mentorship, the challenges in getting the ball rolling and the route he followed for investment. This interview is bursting with juicy insights. Listen to his newest podcast out today! They only launched last week but they were already front page of Apple – this is one startup set to make waves across the globe.
Name: Jake Warren
Age at time of interview: 28
Where’s home? South London
After university was it a clear-cut path as to what you wanted to do?
The vision was clear, the path less so. I knew I wanted to do journalism and to tell stories, focusing on travelling to places you typically wouldn’t want to go to, and spending time with people you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend time with.
What is Message Heard and when did you launch?
Message Heard is a podcasting company with two sides. On our editorial side, we create our own shows focusing on proactive journalism and immersive story-telling. On our commercial side we work with brands and businesses to use podcasting as a tool to evolve outdated corporate communication.
How did the idea for Message Heard come about?
There was no eureka moment. The idea for Message Heard seeped into my brain over a prolonged period of time. It stemmed from my experiences working in journalism, using all the various mediums of story-telling from video, written, radio and everything in between.
I’ve always been a podcast fan, it is a really impactful way to engage people. And I found myself wondering why all the big podcasting players – The NPR’s, Gimlets and This American Life’s of this world, are based in Brooklyn, New York? We may speak the same language as our American cousins, but on this side of the pond the style and tone in which we not only tell, but want to receive stories and communicate is very different. There seemed to be nothing in podcasting in the UK that reflected that.
We are incredibly lucky to have the BBC, but until recently they had treated podcasting as Iplayer for your ear drums, a form of radio catch-up in case you had missed Women’s Hour or Desert Island Discs, rather than using it as its own unique medium for conveying stories in a more conversational and even irreverent style. After all, that is at the core of what makes podcasts so engrossing.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling?
With the start of any new venture, especially one you start on your own, there are all the usual challenges of self-doubt, fear and constantly questioning whether this is the stupidest idea that has ever entered into your mash potato brain. But, once you push past that, the biggest initial challenge is how can you demonstrably show to the world the value of your idea in a way that others recognise and buy into.
Do you have a mentor?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of mentors, one was through a scheme pioneered by the John Schofield Trust which matches young journalists with the great and good from the industry for a year-long mentorship program. I was chosen by Nic Robertson, the International Diplomatic editor at CNN, – an invaluable experience as it allowed to blend the worlds of traditional Journalism with a capital “J” and new age media.
If you are looking for opportunities, I would suggest to always be on the look-out for any official mentorship schemes. There are more and more out there for all sorts of industries.
Alternatively, ‘unofficial’ mentors can be just as useful. I met Sal Freeman at VICE who I would definitely consider a mentor. She is now even an advisor to Message Heard. Sal was the person who pioneered all of the original Anthony Bourdain shows and has won just about every accolade going. Seeking a mentor isn’t just about picking someone who’s achievements you want to emulate though. Remember the old saying, “never meet your heroes”? That’s true. That can sometimes lead to disappointment or they may just be too busy. That said, I think that finding someone who works in a way you respect and someone you feel is compatible with your values is just as important.
How did Louise Beaumont become your Chair?
Louise became the Chair of Message Heard via being the first investor into the business. She has decades of experience investing in and taking advisory / board positions with start-ups that she deems disruptive to the status quo.
Louise actually hired me a few years ago as a consultant to help found and grow another start-up. Fortunately I didn’t do a terrible job and she said that if I ever have my own vision, to come and pitch it to her. Eventually I did.
How crucial was it for you that you sought investment?
Seeking investment was crucial for Message Heard. Despite podcasting existing as a medium for roughly 15 years was now, it was being perceived as having only ‘moment in the sun’ and has been labelled a millennial fad.
However, as I believe podcasting is the future and here to stay, I wanted to stand out from fair weather hobbyists by building a business case that investors believed in and allowed us to scale quickly.
Tell us about the route that you followed for this and how much you secured over what period of time?
I made sure I registered the business for SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) eligibility, this gives a large percentage tax break for investors into the business up to £150,000. What this does is that it somewhat mitigates the risk a person takes in giving you their hard-earned money and, in turn, makes it more likely they will give that money to you.
We raised £150k SEIS allocation in one go from an asset management company. From building the investment case to the money hitting the bank, it took about 5 months.
What makes Message Heard totally different from everything out there?
There are a number of elements which makes Message Heard unique as a business. Firstly, the very fact we are a two-sided business, both our editorial content and commercial content feed off of each other. We believe that the same editorial principles of telling an interesting story can and should be applied in a commercial setting. The idea is to provide the antithesis of content marketing or boasting about your company online. No one likes to feel they are being advertised or marketed at. What we offer brands and businesses is the opportunity to be the conduit to the interesting, information and stories surrounding their industry. This is a far softer approach. It doesn’t need to be branded up to its eyeballs. By being the convenor to the stories in your industry, for instance, you gain a degree of ownership over them. Also, editorially in the podcasting world in the UK there is a very formulaic approach that is driven by leveraging the existing audiences of celebrities – Russell Brand, David Tennant, George Ezra, Jessie Ware, Fern Cotton… the list goes on forever. All have podcasts and they tend to all take a seat to the left in interviewing each other. What makes Message Heard really stand out from the crowd, editorially, is the fact our shows centre around non-fiction narrative storytelling and plot, done in a uniquely British style and tone.
What hiccups have you faced along the way through running Message Heard?
One of the hardest elements of starting Message Heard has been figuring out how to make the best use of my time. My love for weird and wacky story-telling and journalistic impulse makes me want to run off and jump down rabbit holes, but when you have investors and a team to manage, you quickly realise how important the everyday stuff is. After all, they are the stepping stones to achieving real sustainable success.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to others looking to go into the podcasting space?
- When it comes to journalism, story-telling and media there is an old saying. “content is king”, Whilst this is true, it isn’t absolute. There is one factor even more important in podcasting – sound quality. The barrier to entry in podcasting is incredibly low. You can easily record it and edit it all on your iPhone and release it into the world for your mum and dog to enjoy. But with sound you only notice it if it is unpolished and off. True podcasting craftsmanship shines through in the quality of your product. Always aim for high quality.
- What is your unique perspective, take or format? Don’t just copy the style of your favourite show or you will just be that show 2.0 and in all honesty, probably worse.
- Be experimental. One of the greatest things about podcasting is in having such an incredibly low barrier to entry! It means that you can really be experimental. It is the perfect medium to throw things against a wall and see what sticks.
What has been your favourite podcast Message Heard has created to date?
Incredibly hard to pick, but if I had too it would be our first release Conflicted (which came out on February 27th). It follows Aimen Dean’s journey from al -Qaeda militant to MI6 agent. The series explores the historic, religious and political tensions that have embroiled the Middle East for decades, but through a personal perspective. It was fascinating to hear “Osama Bin Laden said this to me” rather than just cold and empirical analysis.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Message Heard?
Not only building high-quality podcast shows, but also building a team of like-minded, creative and smart team members who all buy into the vision of what we are trying to achieve.
What excitements are next for Message Heard later this year?
We have an incredible amount to be excited about this year. Not only the release of our own shows but commissions, partnerships and acquisitions with various major platforms and streaming sites that I am not allowed to talk about yet, sadly. Also, we are aiming to open up a commissioning process at some point this year so we can directly fund talented story-tellers.
What’s the dream?
I felt I had to start Message Heard because there was nothing out there that provided me the platform to tell the stories I want to tell in the medium I felt best. The dream is to successfully build a company that others recognise as that place for them, rather than them having to starting from scratch.
Just for fun…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are…
Happiness, Success, Anxiety
3 start ups with founders Under 30 I admire are…
Issabella Howe (Flat Lay Co) – Changing the make-up bag game.
Charlie Jardine (EO Charging) – Saving the planet by leading the electric vehicle charging revolution.
Olivia James (Luüna Naturals) – An Asian based disruptive period care company, led by women. They create natural products that are good for your body and the world.
The Twenty Mile Club is….
Terrifying and electrifying in equal measure.
Find links to Message Heard handles and show links here
Our first Podcast show – Conflicted
Through one man’s journey from Al Qaeda militant to MI6 agent, Conflicted explores the historic, religious and political tensions that have embroiled the Middle East for decades.
Link to show here
Instagram handle @Message_Heard
Twitter handle @MessageHeard