"How old the Backstreet Boys look now is just one of a long list of things I could have never imagined in the very beginning. But if I'm honest, that weirdness...that's what makes me the most excited. It is legitimately thrilling to live everyday in a future that you couldn't have imagined."
When was the last time you experienced a moment of wonder like this? A particular instance in time when your brain catches up with your life, and you rapidly reflect on a tremendous amount of change you've experienced? A moment embued with a magical quality that reveals the roots of your past, and contrasts them with this mysterious pathway that leads into your future? For Alex Blumberg, CEO of Gimlet Media and guest host of Startup, this feeling has become his life, and I think it's worth exploring how he got to such a profound place.
Now we don't have enough time or attention to trace back every step of Alex's journey, but this quote has much to do about his life over the past 3 years. For those of you not in the know, Alex Blumberg, a long time radio personality at This American Life and Planet Money, founded a podcasting company called Gilmet Media a few years back. Here's the gist of how it went down: Alex had been working in the industry for a dozen plus years and saw an opportunity to create something new. At the time, no major company existed in America to create and deliver podcasts to the masses. With the rise in popularity of the medium, Alex saw the possibility to create a media company that would produce a wide range of podcast for a diverse range of audiences. But he had to start somewhere first, and that was with Startup, a podcast about starting a podcasting company, his podcasting company.
The show was an instant success. As soon as it hit the airwaves, the Startup podcast attracted a huge listenership, and it grew rapidly with each new release. Why? In large part it comes back to Alex himself. When he first started, it was painfully clear to everyone that he had no idea what he was doing. He stumbled his way through meetings with investors, had a hell of a time figuring out his business model, and dealt with an incredible amount of uncertainty that put him on a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil. And all of this was aired for public consumption. The transparency of the process, and Alex's vulnerability throughout, created something real that connected with listeners. His willingness to step into the unknown and document the journey through it, to share his triumphs and his struggles, and to speak to the challenges of being open and vulnerable while creating this fragile new company was incredibly compelling. It's rare to experience a piece of media that maintains a feeling of true authenticity despite being produced for a large audience. And it was that exposure to something raw and moving that helped launch Startup and Gimlet into the forefront of the podcasting world.
Since it's inception Gimlet Media has felt like a project that all of us listeners have been a part of. We are the first to hear when new shows are announced, we are introduced to up and coming voices, we bid farewell to old ones, and continue to see this entity grow and mature. Even our relationship with Alex has changed. As CEO, he becomes more and more removed from the production of the podcasts as time goes on. Sure, we may hear from him in a quirky segment of Yes, Yes, No; or during a check-in episode of Startup to hear updates about the challenges of advertising, or with recruiting a staff of diverse individuals, but aside from that, he's largely absent from our podcast feeds. Now he's off running a company of more than 70 employees, and creating opportunities for new creators and storytellers to take the mic and share their perspectives. And I think that's incredibly cool. To create opportunities for others to build a future, while doing so through your own dream...what could be better than that?
That is why I've written this post today. Alex is an ongoing inspiration of mine as both a creator, and as a business professional. Sometimes I find it incredibly terrified to keep pushing into an unknown future...to take risks, and learn through failure. But that process is also incredibly rewarding, and I think Alex's story demonstrates the value of striving to create a future that aligns with your dreams and values.
So why not embrace a new possibility the next time life presents you with a form in the road? Take a step or two into an unknown future and see how it feels. Be like Alex, and gift yourself the opportunity to be surprised by a future you could have never imagined. And if you can do that for others, well then you'll find yourself living a magical life.
Below you'll find a special episode of Startup that features Alex in all of his beautiful, emotional, chaotic glory in conversation with his executive coach. Check it out if you're interested in hearing a man of passion bare his soul for the world.