May 24, 2022

Founder and AAPI Ulupreneur Kal Amin is a Silicon Valley pioneer…only he’s never lived in Silicon Valley. Since the late 1990s, Kal has worked at some of the most iconic names of the internet age—think AOL, Google, Spotify, and so on— while living on the Eastern Seaboard.

Born in London, Kal’s family moved to New York when he was five. By the time he was in the fourth grade he was an entrepreneur on the run; whether it was door-to-door greeting card sales, carwashes, or landscaping services, he was always searching for new business opportunities.

Kal’s passion has always been solving problems and building something new. His first big job was working in the trucking industry doing logistics—before the widespread use of computers and software. He says he sort of fell into the tech space. In the late ’90s he was hired for an entry-level position at AOL. He quickly moved up to a financial analyst role and says he cut his teeth on the advertising business through the lens of finance before the turn of the millennium. While he was working in New York for AOL, he ran into a friend who was working at a new company called Google. In 2000, Google did not yet have a large sales team; Kal became one of the first business analysts (if not the first) at the company as employee #180.  He moved into running North America sales operations and later into global market development. And yes, he did work on projects with Ulu Ventures CEO Miriam Rivera, VP Deputy General Counsel at Google, during those early years and she was even on a hiring committee for Kal’s team for ad sales compliance prior to the IPO.

Kal later decided to go back to AOL, and then joined Spotify when it came to the United States to run their global business operations. After he moved to Flipboard, his old friend Dan Daugherty reached out and told him he was getting into the audio space; he wanted Kal to take a look at his pitch deck for Sounder.fm, an audio management and monetization platform for podcasters. Kal was intrigued, became a pre-seed investor, and helped Dan build the network. But as he explored the space, he realized that audio podcasting was a much bigger opportunity. Dan asked him to join, along with co-founder Goran Krgovic, what would become the first founders meeting in Serbia. They launched Sounder.fm in Fall 2019.

They raised a $7.7M Series A earlier this year, bringing the total amount raised to $11.7M. We spoke with Kal about why audio is about to blast off and why diversity plays such an important role in the podcasting industry.

Why Sounder, why now?

I think this is a breakout period for audio as a medium. There’s a massive opportunity to drive revenue, to create value, and to build technology companies like Sounder. Our goal is to help creators and publishers of all sizes grow their audience and monetize their content. We feel like it’s finally time for audio to live up to its true potential. IAB just came out with a report forecasting revenue for audio advertising to grow to up to $4 billion by 2024.

What were your strategies in getting your first customers?

A lot of the work entailed surveys, conversations around customer acquisition, and using tools like Google AdWords to inform the product roadmap, and then developing a community. We were always focused on ensuring that we were not only building products and services for creators, but working very closely with them to develop products that they really needed. It was all about customer discovery—having conversations with individual creators all the way up to the big publishers, really understanding where the biggest inefficiencies live within the podcasting ecosystem, and then using that data to really inform our product roadmap on what tools and services we can offer. There was a need to really create a set of diverse voices within the podcasting space.

What have been your biggest challenges?

I think for us, it’s really about ensuring that we have the right talent joining the company in a very competitive market where hiring can be quite challenging. We want to ensure that we’re hiring the right people and bringing them on to help us really grow and scale the company.

Also, as many founders experience, we went through trying to find the right product–market fit early on. You get into that mode where you want to do what’s right for every single customer individually, and then you realize pretty quickly that you can’t really scale that way. So finding a certain area of the business that we think is the biggest opportunity has become the focus for us.

It’s about providing tools, services, data, and insights that make it much easier for a podcaster or a publisher to really grow their audience and ultimately monetize it.

What makes you the most proud about building Sounder?

The podcasting arena was very homogenous back in 2019; now you see a lot more diversity in audio and, specifically, in podcasting. I think Sounder is making a big contribution toward that diversity because we offer tools and services that make it much easier for anybody to onboard into this medium.

I’m also really proud that we have a very diverse management team and culture. We believe that will help us build better ways for people to create a very diverse audio ecosystem.

What are your dreams for Sounder?

We want to continue to be a player in an open audio ecosystem that’s thriving and fosters innovation. We want to democratize the opportunity from content creation and content growth all the way through content monetization, and we believe that we can build products and services to support that democratization. There are some very large incumbents, so there’s a chance that the audio podcasting industry could become a much more closed environment, and we don’t want to see that happen.

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About the Author: Rusty Dornin

Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics