An ex-Googler sold her home to fund her startup — and she just got $13 million to build the 'Netflix of podcasting'
- Castbox is a podcast player that gives curated recommendations based on each user's listening behavior. So it's like Netflix for podcasting.
- Renee Wang, founder and CEO of Castbox, sold her home to fund the company. In the early days, she slept on a bed in Castbox's offices.
- Castbox just raised $13.5 million in funding to fuel growth.
When Renee Wang quit her job at Google to launch a new podcasting app, she knew zero investors, making it much harder to get the cash to get a startup off the ground.
Her solution? Sell her home in Beijing.
"At that time, I didn't have an alternative solution," Wang told Business Insider.
Now, three years after its founding in 2015, her startup Castbox is on the rise, as it today announces a $13.5 million Series B round of financing led by SIG China. That brings Castbox's total funding up to $29 million, helping fuel its operations as it reaches over 1.5 million users.
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Wang refers to Castbox as the "Netflix of podcasting." Castbox makes it easy for users to discover relevant podcasts by giving curated recommendations based on each user's unique listening behavior. Plus, Castbox creates original podcasts of its very own.
While there are plenty of podcast apps — including the one that comes built into the iPhone — Castbox has one killer feature: It uses machine learning technology to help you search its library of 50 million podcast episodes for one specific keyword or phrase. The results pop up from a search bar, and you can hop right to the part you need.
The company is announcing that will allow it to invest further in original content and bring new audiences into the fold, Wang said.
She bet the house on Castbox
Wang used to spend hours a day commuting between her apartment in Tokyo and the offices of Google Japan, where she worked as an account manager in the mobile apps division. She started listening to podcasts to study Japanese and pass the time, but struggled to find a player that supported different languages and gave relevant recommendations. An idea sparked.
"Maybe I can develop my own," Wang remembered thinking to herself.
Castbox app screenshots
She left Google and returned to her home country of China, where she built Castbox and hired the first few employees with the money she made from selling her one-bedroom condo in Beijing. She slept in shifts on a shared bed in the company's offices to save time and money.
The app was an instant hit. Two months after launch, Castbox saw over 100,000 downloads.
'Netflix for podcasting'
Castbox grew quickly, and it needed more financing to grow the team and expand its features.
The company landed its first investment in 2016 when a Chinese investment firm, ZhenFund, heard Wang's pitch, made some calls to check her references, and returned with a term sheet within a half hour — an unusually speedy turnaround in traditional venture capital. Wang walked away with $1 million.
Podcasts have been "having a moment" since 2014, when blockbuster podcast "Serial" introduced the format to a broader audience. More than a third of Americans have ever listened to a podcast, an increase of 13% over 2013, according to a survey by Edison Research.
With the podcast renaissance showing no signs of slowing, Wang imagines that, someday, people will turn to Castbox for "on-demand audio" in the same way they binge TV and movies on Netflix.
Her goal for 2018 is to launch several more original programs, with an emphasis on giving a voice to female hosts. (In 2017, women hosted just 13% of the top 100 podcasts in the US.)
Today, Wang alternates working in Castbox's offices in San Francisco and Beijing. She does, indeed, sleep and have an apartment, Wang said. She converted the company's old office in Beijing into an apartment, which gives her a one-minute commute to the new office nearby.
When Business Insider spoke with Wang, it was 11:30 at night in Beijing. We heard rumblings in the background, which Wang said was her team members in the office hard at work on the app.
"This is how we work. I believe there's a lot of smart people who are much smarter [than me]. If we want to deliver, I need to pay more effort and try my best," Wang said.
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