One of the Filipino Podcasters that I follow is my good friend, Marv De Leon. His podcast is called Freelance Blend and he talks about freelancing. Other podcasts that I listen to are the ones of Tim Ferriss and Amy Porterfield. It got me thinking, why don’t we have any kid podcasters. I was telling a friend yesterday how talkative my 4 year old is. She may be a podcaster, too, one day.
Do you know that there is a podcast app for children? And I got to interview the founder. The founder is Sandeep Jain, CEO of Leela Kids, the world’s first podcast app for children, describes himself as being ever-restless, a tinkerer and a maverick.
Based in Santa Clara, California, this full-time entrepreneur and his wife of 11 years have a five-year-old son, Kabir. Sandeep spends his time experimenting with technology in order to make smart products. Beyond that, he also enjoys hiking, running and traveling—he recently completed a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in 45°C weather, has run a marathon and plans to do the Ironman one day, and has been to more than 25 countries.
About Sandeep! 🙂
I am a tinkerer, ever-restless, and a maverick. I like experimenting with technology to create smart products. I live in Santa Clara, California, with my lovely wife and our bubbly son. We have been married for 11 years now. I led InMobi’s North America’s Business Development & Strategic Partnerships charter before I started Leela Labs. Prior to that, I was managing a global firewall business worth more than $400M at Cisco. I am a full-time entrepreneur. My hobbies are hiking & running. I recently completed a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in 45°C weather. I have run a marathon and hope to complete an Ironman at some point in my life. I love travelling—I have travelled to more than 25 countries. I like connecting with people wherever I go. I picked up a little Spanish from my extensive travels in Central and South America. I hope to do an RV trip across the USA at some point. There are two causes that I am passionate about: supporting orphans and women who were victims of acid attacks. I support these issues from the sidelines, but hope to become an active participant later in my life.
Ginger: What is your Startup/brand/business? What is it about? How long have you been in business?
Sandeep: Our company’s name is Leela Labs Inc. We create technology so that people can listen to spoken audio (podcasts) easily. We have been in business for a little over than a year now.
Ginger: Who is your target market? Why did you choose this market? Can you give us the insight behind this market?
Sandeep: Our current target market is kids and parents.
Kids love to hear stories, but we didn’t find any app in either the Apple App Store or Google Play Store that aggregates podcast content for kids based on their age and topic of interest. That was really surprising as both stores have millions of apps on any topic imaginable.
It’s even difficult for parents—even though there are several parenting-related podcasts, it is hard to find lists of episode belonging to a given topic, e.g., conceiving, pregnancy, life after kids, single parenting, divorce, how to deal with kid’s issues, etc.
A recent PWC report on Kids Digital Advertising mentions that the kids digital advertising market will double to $1.2B from the $600M in 2016.
Ginger: How did you come up with this idea? What made you decide to start this kind of business?
Sandeep: I was originally planning to start a business related to the online marketplace when someone suggested I listen to a podcast episode on that topic from A16Z, a podcast channel by Andreessen Horowitz. That episode was super helpful in that it laid out a framework to think about.
But what struck me most was that, despite living in the technology hub of the world, my information consumption resources had been limited to Google Search and certain print publications only… I had no idea that podcasts offered such amazing and relevant content and that I could consume this content while driving, at home, etc. I asked my techie friends and found that only two people out of the roughly 20 people I asked listened to podcasts. In fact, one study pointed out that 40% of Americans still don’t listen to podcasts. I quickly found out why—technology to access them is horribly broken. It’s like what Internet used to be before Google came along. Specifically:
- One is first required to find the name of podcast shows
- One must then individually subscribe to each show
- Then one must figure out which episodes to listen to from all the subscribed shows
This is a really cumbersome process for consuming information.
I figured that unlocking the podcast medium to let people find and listen to meaningful content was actually a much bigger idea than my original marketplace idea. It was much like what Google did in unlocking the Internet for the world.
Leela Labs was born with the mission of using technology and machine learning to connect people to best podcast content instantly. Around 10 months after starting the business, we launched our first app, Leela (IOS).
The idea for Leela Kids came about much later. I wanted to play podcasts for my five-year-old son, but found it hard—really hard, even on Leela—to do so. Unlike podcast content for adults, podcast content for kids is very age-specific. What a five-year-old will like about dinosaurs, a ten-year-old will likely find too basic or even boring. And for busy parents and kids, the user interface needs to be really simple. I looked around on both IOS and Android and didn’t find the kind of app I needed. And the idea for the World’s First Kids’ Podcast App was born.
Ginger: Were there any obstacles that you faced when you decided to pursue becoming an Entrepreneur? What are these?
Sandeep: The biggest one for me was a substantial financial hit—I had to let go of my high-tech salary and stocks when I started Leela Labs.
Ginger: What are the greatest challenges in putting up and maintaining a business in your country?
Sandeep: The US is actually one of the countries which makes it easy for entrepreneurs to incorporate and start their businesses. One of the benefits of living in Silicon Valley is access to the ecosystem of like-minded people; however, the biggest disadvantage is that the talent is too pricey for an early-stage company to afford. You then look at contractor networks offered by sites like fiverr.com, upwork.com—both of these sites help you connect with talented individuals in East Europe and Asia who can offer what you need at competitive prices. As with any other marketplace, it does take some time to find the right candidate, though.
Ginger: What are three traits that you think an Entrepreneur/Startup Founder should have when starting their own business?
Sandeep: Grit – There will be failures—it’s not a matter of if but when and how frequent. Most successful founders have gone through challenges that moved them toward the point of stopping what they were doing. You need to have resilience and grit to be ready to face the failures and take it in stride and move ahead.
Ability to attract smart people. – Even though you may be the sole person carrying the startup torch initially, you will need people to help you in building your company. Attracting people to your company depends on motivating them about your idea and inspiring them to work with you. Besides financial gain, your hires (employees and even co-founders) will gauge you on your personality—how easy it is work with you, do you inspire them to something great, etc.
Thinking outside the box. – I strongly believe that successful startups are built on “non-linear thinking”—what I mean by that is doing something that wouldn’t normally occur to you. For example, the Airbnb founder flew to New York to meet their initial customers (people who were renting their house) to really understand them well.
Most companies struggle with getting the right PR for their company. They pay a lot to websites that host the emails of reporters and then they start spamming those reporters. But guess what everyone else is doing? Probably the same thing. That should be an indication to you about effectiveness (or the lack of it) of email spam. A non-linear thinking strategy could be to connect with reporters on Twitter—most reporters are active there and appreciate retweets or likes of the articles they write. Engage them there, and your returns will be much better.
Ginger: Unforgettable moments or lessons that you learned as an Entrepreneur/Startup Founder
Unforgettable moment: Right before our external product launch, our backend system went down (which it had never done in the past). After looking closely, we found that we had been hacked and were being asked for a ransom (in bitcoin, worth about $10K) to fix our situation. My background is in network security and I am highly technical as well, so I wasn’t ready to give up as yet. I eventually found an issue in our system that allowed the hacker to take advantage of us. I fixed the issue and took care of the cliffhanger situation.
Lesson learnt: You find (very quickly) who your real friends are.
Ginger: What advice can you give to other Entrepreneurs?
Sandeep: First, start doing content marketing yourself—even before you have built your product. Early adopters of your product, reporters and even investors look for the story behind the product. Get on Medium.com and start publishing your story. Talk about why you are doing what you are doing. What are you seeing that others are not? And very soon, you will start seeing yourself be identified as an “industry expert” on the issue you are trying to solve. That’s free marketing for you even before your product launches!
Second, focus on one thing and one thing only—traction. This could mean different things at different stages of your company. As you start in your venture journey, even getting your domain name feels like a victory, and it should, especially if you have spent time researching the right name (often several hours or even days). Start focusing on external traction as soon as possible, though. This means trying to get your product out as early as possible by distilling the feature set to the most critical ones—sites like producthunt.com help you get early feedback. Some people even create pre-release landing pages for their products and start accepting email signups.
Third, start building a relationship with reporters—getting the right kind of PR is crucial for early stage startups. Create a list of Tier-1 reporters, i.e., reporters in Tier-1 publications in your country who cover your product/industry. Email each one of them announcing that you are building a product/company that they will be interested in and that you are looking to establish a line of communication—send them link to your blogs that cover an industry perspective. If you have insights, offer them. Tell them something they may not already know. Even if they don’t respond right away, they will very likely remember you.
Lastly, don’t forget to take some breaks in between. The startup journey is hard, and oftentimes we forget how important it is to clear one’s mind, slow down the body engine, and charge yourself.
Ginger: Do you believe that everyone should become entrepreneurs?
Sandeep: I wouldn’t say everyone—it’s a tough life and has both financial and emotional costs to it. However, the returns are significantly higher as well. For people who are gainfully employed but are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs, I would recommend they spend 50-75% of their salary executing their idea. That will do two things. First, it will prepare you to go to a zero-monthly salary. And second, it will help you gain traction for your idea and if you don’t see it happening or if you find interest dwindling, you can fall back to your existing job.
Ginger: What are ways that you can do to raise capital?
Sandeep: We haven’t raised outside funding as yet.
Ginger: How do you market your products? Growth strategy?
Sandeep: We market Leela Labs Inc. through direct reach-out and building relationships with relevant reporters, bloggers, etc. In terms of ad-based marketing, we have used Apple Search Ads and Facebook Ads.
Our growth strategy is to keep adding meaningful content for kids and even for parents. We are also exploring other verticals like Christianity and Sports.
Ginger: What are tech tools that you use for your business?
Google App Engine, ElasticSearch, Canva, Keynote, Gimp
Ginger: Thank you Sandeep for sharing your knowledge! I will definitely download the app for my daughter! 🙂
Contact information about Leela Kids!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/LeelaKidsApp
Twitter account: https://twitter.com/sandejain1
*Featured by Huffington Post and Forbes last December.