Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight key takeaways from each month’s issue. We talked with Max Cutler, founder of Parcast and former Spotify executive, about what’s next for podcasting. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.
In 2011, podcasting was an emerging medium. In 2016, there were 300,000 podcasts. This year, there are five million.
Everyone with a niche hobby, business, or brand seems to be podcasting. If you want to make a stranger’s day, walk up to them and say, “I love your podcast.”
Does this mean podcasting is oversaturated? Is it too late to start? And if you have one, how do you stand out among a crowd of celebrities and networks pouring millions into the medium?
We suggest listening to Max Cutler.
Cutler is the founder of true crime podcast network Parcast and Spotify’s former head of talk creator content. He became a podcast pioneer when he bootstrapped Parcast, which sold to Spotify in 2019 for $100 million, according to the Financial Times. As a Spotify executive, he signed and produced some of the most popular podcasting personalities, including Alex Cooper, Brené Brown, Emma Chamberlain, and Joe Rogan.
In the spring of 2023, he announced he was leaving Spotify to return to his first love—entrepreneurship. But he’s still got plenty of advice for anyone seeking to create a lucrative podcast.
For starters, Cutler says, “It’s [about] being authentic. It’s very hard to lie to an audience. And the podcasts that have tried to be someone they’re not tend to come and go pretty quickly.”
What Makes a Podcast Host Successful?
During Cutler’s four-year tenure at Spotify, he helped manage record-breaking exclusive deals with talent, including Joe Rogan, Brené Brown, Emma Chamberlain, and Call Her Daddy’s Alex Cooper.
He knew Spotify’s reach was incomparable to what he could have achieved alone at Parcast. “The ability to … help influence talent, to help build something special at a global scale was really appealing to me,” Cutler says.
According to Cutler, three attributes make a talk podcast host compelling:
- Intimacy: Do your listeners feel like your best friends?
- Chemistry: Can you find a cohost or producer with an established rapport?
- Authenticity: Can you remain true to yourself and speak honestly?
“I think the biggest mistakes that have been made in podcasting in the last three or four years is executives going after existing Hollywood talent, for example, or existing talent in other media and pitching them on a podcast,” Cutler says.
He explains that just because someone has a following doesn’t mean it will translate to the medium or the talent will be committed to making the best possible show. Cutler says this is especially true if a podcast is just a “line item” in their work and they don’t want podcasting to be their primary source of income. Cutler says,
“It’s not the size. It’s not the superstar. It is the engagement; it is the passion.”
Passion is something that can be contained, not quelled. Even after all the megadeals and growth at Spotify, it was his passion for entrepreneurship that kept calling for Cutler.
What’s Next in Podcasting?
In February 2023, Spotify announced that Cutler would leave the company in the spring. The move ushered in an opportunity for Cutler to launch a new company—an option he’d foreseen since Parcast was acquired.
“I knew that before I got to Spotify,” Cutler says. “I leaned into Spotify when I was there. I learned so much from so many amazing people and was able to grow a team of hundreds of people globally and got to work with the best talent in the world. And all those experiences are going to allow me to be successful in my next venture. Plain and simple.”
Cutler thinks you need to know your goals—no matter your age or experience as an entrepreneur.
“You really have to think about your long-term goal because once you sell, it’s done. And so you have to be comfortable with that decision,” Cutler says.
What Cutler missed about entrepreneurship was the speed.
“The advantages small companies have [are] around speed and decision-making and being able to move really quickly and adapt to things that are working,” Cutler says. “I think when you’re at a larger company, naturally things have to move small, move a little slower because [there are] a lot more decision-makers.”
Returning to entrepreneurship allows Cutler to ponder the next evolution in podcasting. If Cutler were advising someone who wanted to start a podcast in 2023, he would focus on creating a show that is resourceful rather than entertaining.
“I would think about producing content as a utility that was probably daily or … twice a week, that had to become an undeniable part of somebody’s day,” Cutler says.
Cutler advises that starting a podcast today is more than turning on the mics and talking.
“You have to build for the next version of media and the next version of the modern media,” Cutler says.
He explains that modern media companies must curate content, ads, fan community, and ecommerce into a talent, lifestyle, or brand.
“When you’re thinking of that perspective, the podcast serves to lead the content, to set the tone, to set who you are, to set your identity out there, to build a connection, which then leads to your community,” Cutler says.
If you’re an entrepreneur, Cutler believes you have an opportunity to start a podcast company or media company today because there’s a saturation of normalcy. He says that in podcasting and business, trends have a breaking point where everything looks and feels the same. As an entrepreneur, that’s when you need to strike.
“If everybody’s going right, you should be going left. That’s how I’ve always made my success,” Cutler says.
“Everybody seems to be very anxious, and anytime there are macroeconomic issues going on, anytime there’s disruption happening, that’s a huge opportunity for an entrepreneur to go into that space.”
Cutler describes himself as an entrepreneur turned creator turned executive. But since he started Parcast, stories have guided his every move.
“The way you talk, the way you tell your thing, it needs to be story-focused. You need to take your investors or whoever your audience is on an adventure, on a story,” Cutler says. “And most important, you need to be authentic to yourself. I think any wise investor or potential user, they’ll know if you’re just pushing a product. They’ll know if it’s not really you.”
As with any enticing crime podcast, you’ll have to tune in to hear what’s next in Cutler’s entrepreneurship story.
What Makes a Podcast Successful?
- Intimacy: Make your listeners feel like your best friends.
- Chemistry: Find cohosts who have an off-air connection.
- Premium: Make story-driven content that can be binged.
- 360° Approach: Market your podcast content across your brand’s platforms.
- Utility: Become an undeniable part of somebody’s day
- Don’t Half-A** It: If you have a podcast, make it a fixture in your business.