PodRoom is a community-based media streaming app that allows podcast creators to create a more engaging experience for their listeners.

When Steve Jobs announced that podcasts were the future of radio in 2005, it would have taken some faith to believe him. Since then, Apple has grown from supporting 3000 podcasts to over 1.67 million as of December 2020. In 2020, the global podcast market was projected to be around $11 billion.

The global increase in mobile penetration and the adoption of digital media culture have been critical to the growth in popularity of podcasts. The barrier of entry is also very low, so many people are encouraged to have one.

Podcasting has improved on the offering of radio in many aspects. With podcasts, users can listen to content on-demand as opposed to radio programs that are fleeting. Users also get the opportunity to curate what kind of content they want to listen to instead of generic radio content suited to large audiences.

Despite the brilliance of podcasting, community engagement is something it has not done better than radio. With radio stations, listeners could call in to live shows and give commentary. Most podcast creators have to rely on social media and email channels to communicate with listeners and receive feedback.

The limitations to these communication channels hit Tolu Akintunde, cofounder of PodRoom, in 2019 after he listened to one of his favourite podcasts, “Why Is This Happening” by Chris Hayes. A guest on one episode talked about Nigeria’s Niger Delta region and made a number of inaccurate statements. Tolu, a Nigerian, felt so strongly about the statements that he wanted to send feedback to the podcast producers.

“She didn't have the perspective. I wanted to fact-check the things she said, so I looked for podcast apps where I could give feedback and couldn’t find any. I used hashtags on social media, but the creator didn’t see it. I went as far as sending an email and still didn’t get a reply.”

Tolu’s experience was not unique. Most people who have tried to reach out to their favourite podcasters have had similarly disappointing experiences. Most podcasters do not have active communities where listeners can engage with them. Emails can also get tedious to deal with if the volume is significant.

The disappointment from that episode was what birthed PodRoom. “It occurred to me that I could create an environment where podcasters and listeners can interact. It would help the hosts get feedback and create better content.” Tolu said.

How does PodRoom work

PodRoom is built on the idea that podcast creators and their listeners deserve their own communities. Like other kinds of entertainment that people consume, podcast listeners want to be a part of communities that share their interests. That community is what PodRoom provides.

A glimpse of PodRoom's podcast chat feature

The app, which is available on iOS and Android, allows users to interact with other people in chatrooms created for their favourite podcast. All you have to do is sign up and subscribe to your favourite podcasts. Once that is done, you can listen to the podcast episodes and chat in real-time with fellow listeners on the app.

PodRoom's clean design makes for a user-friendly experience. Listeners can get localized podcast content when they toggle the country flag on the homepage to the country of their interest. For podcast first-timers, it provides an even more wholesome experience. The trending section shows users the podcasts that are trending locally. This allows them to quickly plug into trendy, relatable discussions. It’s not just local content, though; PodRoom sources over 750,000 podcasts directly from Apple - all of them with chatrooms for every episode. Video podcasts are also available.

The application also allows podcast creators to sign up and claim their podcasts. Once claimed, they get control of the chatrooms created for every episode. This means podcast owners can directly engage with listeners and create their own local communities.  If the podcast owners have subscriptions, they can import them into the platform too.

Since its September 2020 launch, PodRoom has acquired over 5000 active users from all over the world, mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations. But the impact is not just in the numbers,

Tolu recalls that a month after launch, a new user struggling with depression signed up on PodRoom so that they could speak with content creators within that niche. The user was from Asia and left a suicide note on one of the depression-related podcasts.

The PodRoom algorithm automatically trends podcasts with the most interactions, so the team noticed when a relatively unknown podcast was receiving attention. After seeing the user’s messages, Tolu contacted the podcast creator with the details of the event. The creator signed up, claimed her podcast and was able to communicate with the user.

At that point, Tolu realised that the product was more than the numbers. “It occurred to me that we might just have saved a life because of this simple idea. That was the point I knew that our work wasn’t going to be wasted.”

What’s next for PodRoom

PodRoom is still very much an early-stage project. Its first six months have been self-funded by Tolu, the CEO and his wife, the cofounder. Tolu is an AWS cloud architecture consultant. Prior to that, he was an SAP consultant with hands-on experience in the human resource side of running a business.

His wife, Ruth Akintunde, holds a Ph.D. in Computer science from the North Carolina State University and is central to the business’s tech side. Together, they’re trying to change how people think of podcasts.

Ruth Akintunde, Cofounder of PodRoom

The company is now focused on getting podcasters to claim their podcasts and start managing their communities. As more podcasters come on board, the user numbers are bound to increase.

The company is also looking to create some exclusive content to make the app more attractive for users. During our interview with Tolu, he told us they had recently signed a partnership with Nigerian social media influencer Japhet Omojuwa. The partnership will see Omojuwa launch his podcast exclusively on the PodRoom platform. Similar partnerships are expected to be announced over the next few months.

The team is also currently testing out a voice direct message feature that allows users to enjoy private conversations with people they interact with in the chatrooms.

Podcasters will also be able to monetise their content through donations soon. In turn, listeners will be able to contribute to their favourite creators to keep the content production going.

For Tolu and the PodRoom team, the ultimate goal is to improve the podcasting experience for every podcaster and listener. Podcasts disrupted radio, but PodRoom is taking that to another level. Podcasters looking to create and nurture a community no longer need to send their users to alternative communication channels. They can just sign up and connect with their audience.