September 5, 2021

Flight Plan #006 — Our Investment into Vurbl

Announcing our invest in Vurbl, helping creators monetise their audio platforms through programmatic advertisement

Written by

Stew Glynn

TEN13 has completed it’s latest investment into Vurbl, who’s mission is to build out the ‘Youtube for audio’. We’re excited to back Audra and her team and join their latest US$1.3m Seed Round.

We were introduced to Audra at Vurbl through a former AngelList contact and knew we had to get in touch. Audra and her team have spent 20+ years building digital media platforms, growing audiences at a massive scale, and building innovative digital advertising technology. Audra is taking their knowledge on how video scaled it’s advertising model and applying it to the audio category, with the goal of building the home for audio across the world.

Team:

We’re excited by the quality and depth of the core team members at Vurbl. Between them, they’ve got all bases covered:

  • Audra Gold — CEO (ex-VP Product @ Viacom; ex-VP Product at Rubicon Project) Audra has strong domain experience in media, working in video, product, content and digital ads. She joined PlutoTV early on as VP of Product Management (acquired for US$370m in cash by Viacom) and was also VP of Product Management at the Rubicon Project which powers digital ads for Spotify, Soundcloud and eBay.
  • Baron Ginnetti — Head of Content and Search (18 yrs experience in SEO and content strategy; fmr VP SEO & Content @ Defy Media). Baron is leading the charge on their SEO optimisation strategy and building Vurbl into a household name.
  • Jerry Boonstra — SVP of Engineering (ex-CTO @ Jukin Media, fmr Director of Platform Engineering @ CNET) Jerry has 25+ years experience in engineering and product, as well as domain experience in media content, having been instrumental in scaling Jukin media’s technology stack to the #1 Facebook Media Company.
  • Nicole Carrico-Jackson — COO (20+ years as a director of content/producer, including at HBO and AOL).
  • Justin LaBaw-Rivers (ex-Senior Design @ Yahoo) Justin has 6+ years as a Design Director/Partner in creative agencies and experience working design roles at multiple early-stage startups.
  • Check out the team here — https://vurbl.com/team/

Market Timing:

One of the biggest trends in consumer technology over the last 10 years has been the rise of audio. With the creation of Spotify, audiobooks, and podcasting — audio consumption (in digital) has expanded substantially. This has reached new heights with the proliferation of in-home connected devices such as Alexa and Google Home, the mobility and ubiquity of Airpods, connected car devices, audiobooks (success of Amazon’s Audible) etc. These audio tools have provided consumers with better access to quality, targeted audio content on tap.

The rise of digital audio has made it easier for users to find the time to listen to quality audio. You can listen to whilst cleaning the house, driving home from work, going for a run, etc — the medium of audio now allows for you to use your time more efficiently and change from mindless listening to valuable targeted content. Ease of listening is one of the benefits of audio vs. video and why radio has had such long-standing ownership of ‘earshare’.

However, earshare is evolving and an estimated 104m people in the US listen to podcasts on a monthly basis (37% over 12 years old) and the projections are that digital audio will continue its transition into the mainstream. Daniel Ek of Spotify believes that there are “2–3 billion people around the world who want to consume audio content on a daily or weekly basis”.

Problem:

The problem with the current digital audio landscape can be broken down into three areas:

Search and Discovery:

Audio is a very broad category. Music, podcasts and audiobooks immediately come to mind when one thinks of audio. However, the category also includes company earnings reports, speeches, sporting commentary, testimonies, religious and meditative talks, ASMR, sounds (think rainforest or water sounds) and so much more. The problem is that much of this content is decentralised, poorly ranked, and hard to find and consume.

Programmatic Ad Spend:

The advertising market for audio is fractured and immature meaning that creators aren’t fully able to monetise their audiences. Even premium content creators struggle to monetise their content. As a result, most audio ads and the majority of audio ad dollars are still being generated through individually negotiated deals where marketing scripts are read out loud. This creates a few problems (i) it limits the ability for advertisers to reach out to audiences at scale — advertising deals are typically handled directly between the advertiser and creator (ii) it limits the number of audio creators who can earn a living full time from their content as a consequence, and (iii) this creates an inefficient market for advertising spend dollars that want to target the audio consumers but do not have a marketplace to engage and purchase advertising slots on.

Building an Audience:

Most audio creators can’t easily publish audio content, distribute it to their audience, and be found by prospective listeners on one centralised platform. Creators need a platform where they can not only host their audience but also where they can build subscribers and communities and be discovered by other listeners with similar interests. There is currently no home for user generated content (UGC) for audio.

Product:

‘YouTube’ for Audio. Vurbl is creating a platform with search and discovery features where users can build playlists and curate a library of their own favoured content. Vurbl wants to become the primary outlet of user-generated audio content and allow anyone to upload, curate, share and consume this type of content.

Think of Vurbl as your one-stop-shop for audio content, it will allow for the search and discovery of relevant audio content that is not offered in current platforms.

Creators will be able to port their content or claim their Vurbl Station to host their audience on a single media platform and be discovered by other users who may be interested in similar content through subscriptions to their profile.

Over time, the best creators will be able to build valuable brands and followers similar to YouTube creators. Importantly, they’ll also be able to monetise their Station and content by activating programmatic ads and share in the ad revenue with Vurbl.

Where and with who?

Los Angeles is a hotbed of media activity, it’s always had Hollywood and has seen the emergence of major technology winners like Snap and Honey being built in town. Vurbl’s roots are in LA and they are already leveraging the deep media, advertising, influencer and entertainments talent across the industry to draw upon.

It’s always great investing alongside other investors that have knowledge and expertise which compound the potential for success. Fellow Australian, Kate Vale who’s career as head of YouTube AU / NZ, senior roles at Google and Spotify MD (AU/NZ) believes in the opportunity ahead for Vurbl and brings a load of experience in this space. The Alpha Edison team have worked with Audra at PlutoTV, helping incubate that business from the early days through to exit, plus Jessie Draper has backed them through Halogen Ventures, a female focussed venture fund that’s been a great advocate for Vurbl.

We’re excited to partner with Vurbl and help them on their vision to build the home for audio content across the globe.

Safe travels,
Stew Glynn

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