Vurbl, is reimagining an all-in-one audio platform, where content creators can upload, grow their audience, and monetize their audio creations. Vurbl provides listeners looking to connect with voices and information of all types with new and personalized playlists and stations so they can easily put in their earbuds, click play, lean back and enjoy. With audio snippets, listeners and creators alike can take their favorite part of any of the audio on the platform then “snip-it” to save it, share it, or add it to a playlist.
CEO and Co-Founder of Vurbl, Audra Gold, has led the fundraising and launch of the company amidst the pandemic. While working remotely, the Vurbl team developed the foundation of the audio platform and created significant media and advertising partnerships.
We connect with Audra Gold to learn more about her journey and Vurbl.
LA Startups (LAS): Before we dig into your origin story, what have the last few months been like for you and everyone at Vurbl?
Audra Gold (AG): My company, Vurbl, was founded in February of 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We have built this company from the ground-up while our team members have been in quarantine. Since all non-essential offices have been forced to close, we have not spent any time working together in the same room as a team. During this time, we have raised money, hired over a dozen employees and interns, and have been building our platform, content offering, and creating audience awareness, all from home.
We do believe our timing could not be better for the product itself. More than ever, people are searching for free digital entertainment and learning resources to fill the time they used to spend at events, parties, social gatherings and work. We see millions of audio queries on Google and YouTube that reflect the demand for audio but the results are generally pretty dismal. Discovery is hard, cohesive consumption experience is harder, and advertisers have very few options in reaching all the people out there consuming free audio – especially in real-time programmatic. This has led to a huge missed opportunity for brands and creators that can be making money from their content.
LAS: So at Vurbl, your tagline is ‘The YouTube of Audio’. Tell us about the inspiration behind that vision for your company.
AG: The majority of our team has spent a lot of time building and growing video platforms, video ad products, and video content. We saw the evolution of video from the early 2000s to now and know all the things that had to happen to make the video what it is today. We noticed that audio has not made the same steps in evolving to fit into the internet ecosystem of today, and we know how to fix that. We want to bring all audio content together in one place, make it easy to find and consume content that is meaningful to you, and allow creators of ALL types of audio to build a business around their content. What better model is there for this than the YouTube model – where creators can upload anything, find an audience, qualify for ad revenue share and proliferate as an influencer. We are giving these creators a chance to make a lot of money from their audio content, all the while, helping them continuously provide their audience with a constant interesting stream of audio content they create or curate into playlists.
In addition to following the YouTube model, however, we also have a large team of expert curators that find, aggregate, and elevate the very best of the audio amongst the 25mm audio files on Vurbl.com. We are ensuring that we have rich, quality content across every subject matter we believe audio listeners will be interested in listening to on the go, at home, to wake up to and to fall asleep to. We are truly a one-stop-audio-shop.
LAS: What is the passion that drives growth for you?
AG: I have a deep passion for the internet and in building digital products. I could never imagine doing anything else other than building products, so despite the pain and suffering, I continue to pursue my passions. There was never a “Plan B”, in other words. What motivates me is the satisfaction I get from building great products then watching millions of users enjoy them. I also enjoy figuring out how to build something for the first time, pushing the limits of technology to create newer and better ways to do things.
Our team is a cumulation of tech-savvy, digital media innovators who saw the opportunity to create something huge that has never existed before. Vurbl really is a democratized audio platform in a space we view as the biggest opportunity in digital media today – and the most underserved, ironically. Our main goals are to change the way that audio is distributed and consumed along with creating a democratized market for audio creators to thrive and make money on their audio content.
LAS: What are you thinking about when you get up in the morning?
AG: What we need to do as a team to make our business successful. Every day there is a different flavor of what that may entail, but it’s on my mind 24/7.
LAS: Personal connections are obviously the cornerstone of any good business. How have you regrouped around keeping those connections alive while working remotely?
AG: My entire leadership team and all my fundraising were built on my network of personal and business connections. Without the last 20 years of relationship-building throughout my career, this company would not exist. As colleagues, we stay in touch daily on Slack, Zoom, Meet, and email. I stay in touch with our investors on Zoom and email, and I stay in touch with other connections via Zoom or regular calls, and status update emails.
LAS: So communication is key during times like these?
AG: Well, nothing would move forward without it, so yes, it’s key.
LAS: How would you have framed that communication?
AG: Not sure what this question is asking.
LAS: Tell us a story about an early struggle you had starting Vurbl.
AG: We were put in quarantine on day one of operations after our first funding check came in. I was not done raising money when the pandemic started and everyone, from business associates to angel investors to VC’s, was totally freaked out. No one knew what would happen. There were many times when I wondered if this would be it for us because it was very unlikely that we could raise money on an idea in the middle of such uncertain times. In fact, hitting that point home, many investors that had verbally committed to investing before the pandemic completely stopped responding to emails. Of those that did respond to me, they basically said they are taking a pause and are in “wait and see mode”. Our prospects seemed dire. Raising money started to feel impossible.
However, as usual, I did not let extraordinary difficult circumstances deter us, because the vision I have for the company is so powerful and so necessary to the evolution of audio, that I can not imagine not building it. I know the world needs what we are building. Thus, I pushed on and continued to leverage the hell out of my tech and investor network and pitched over 100 investors in about 2 months’ time. In the end, we were able to raise enough money to get us through launch and then some. That said, we are not out of the woods. We have lots of work ahead and I’ll be raising again in early 2021.
LAS: What’s your best advice for the aspiring entrepreneur?
AG: Know your domain of expertise better than anyone you have ever encountered, be tough as nails, and have an unending amount of persistence and work ethic. Surround yourself with the same type of people from your trusted network.
LAS: Audra, you have been in the tech industry for 20+ years. What changes have you seen in the field?
AG: I was in college when the consumer internet was first introduced to the world. From the moment I began using the public internet, I foresaw that this medium would eventually become the central place for almost everything we do to manage human civilization, communication, learning, and entertainment. I knew it was the most important development of our generation and I wanted to be a part of building out a completely new global medium of unprecedented power. I still can’t imagine doing anything else but building online technologies for the consumer masses.
True to what we believed in the 90’s, the internet has continued to eat the world in good ways and bad. I love how it has transformed so much of our daily lives for the better. But on the other hand, unchecked social network exploitation has led to a rapid increase in misinformation spreading, leading to the dumbing-down of much of society while also helping to destabilize many populations. In the worst cases, it has also led to the acceleration of the decline of democracy. I know it sounds bad, but I believe we still have time to course-correct. But that’s a whole other conversation ;).
On a personal level, I have seen something very different in terms of the advancement of human resources in tech. Simply put, women in the industry have not fared well since I began my career in 1999. Statistically, there are historically and currently relatively small numbers of women in tech. As such, I have worked with very few women in my career, especially technical resources – probably only 2 or 3 female engineers over a span of 20 years. In the Head of Product role, which is a highly visible and influential position to hold in a tech company, still today, only 5% are women. That’s a very tragic stat because of all the product managers I have worked with, there are plenty of women that are some of the brightest and most promising product people out there. Unfortunately, of all the female product managers I worked with over the span of my career, almost all have dropped out of the workforce or changed career paths because there was simply too much sexism, marginalization, and glass ceilings for them to happily thrive.
LAS: What Audio show shaped you as an entrepreneur?
AG: The answer is The Howard Stern Show. I think what he has done with the audio medium is absolutely extraordinary – keeping millions of captive listeners for hours a day for over three decades – all through the medium of audio. He demonstrated to me how rich, powerful, engaging, and entertaining audio as a format can be. He became great at what he does because he was obsessive about responding to the data the radio stations he worked on would feed him. He tweaked his act to decrease bounce rates at the measurement marker, he did outrageous things to keep you listening for 1 more minute.
This is exactly what I see video creators doing to create viral videos and become successful YouTubers, for example. When I learned that the vast majority of podcasters don’t have access to this critical data, the way YouTubers do, I realized the new generation of audio creators really need a platform that would provide them with;
- An opportunity to aggregate their audience in one place
- View aggregate analytics in a singular place, and
- Use that data and community engagement to constantly optimize the audio experience they are delivering.
Once they nailed content and audience optimization, turning on ads should be easy. But their ad inventory also needs to be sold in aggregate with other audio inventory to be a viable place for big brands to buy, and those ads need to be made highly measurable – so they must be served through real-time programmatic.
Creators should not have to rely on having to become the top .5% to make a dollar on their great content, which is the current reality. That’s when I realized the time is right to create Vurbl, where we can vastly improve the creator AND listener experience symbiotically. Providing a one-stop-shop for audio advertisers to target their ads on top of that is a no-brainer.
LAS: Any last words?
AG: Please check out Vurbl. We’ve got something for everyone, and something for every time of day. Wake up with us to get the early news or some fun entertainment, play us in the background as you go about your day, and go to sleep with us with our ambient and meditation content.