Beirut-born podcast app aims to increase its MENA expansion and leadership
Date founded: 2019
Founders: Stefano Fallaha
Industry: Technology and Media (Podcasts)
Incorporation status: Incorporated as a US holding (owner of Podeo FZ-LLC, Podeo Inc., and Podeo SAL)
Number of employees: 22
Funding received: Seed funding through Razor Capital with co-investments from Globivest VC and other investors
Awards and accolades: Grant from the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
Podcast hosting platforms have been around for a while, with global leaders like Buzzsprout, Podbean, and Libsyn (the pioneer in the field since 2004) serving as both content aggregators and creators, but until 2019, the Arab World market was still underserved in terms of localization. Founded by Stefano Fallaha, Podeo deserves recognition for being among the first podcast platforms from and for this region, as well as for successfully managing its rapid growth. Until it raised its first seed investment round in March 2021, Podeo had been entirely bootstrapped, generating basic revenue from its content, as well as a grant from the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in preparation for the upcoming World Cup. Today, the platform hosts the largest catalog in the region with over three million podcasts In Arabic and English, including hundreds of exclusive podcasts.
A community-based approach
So what sets Podeo apart? “We want to push the audio culture in our part of the world,” says Fallaha. A number of factors played into that equation, based on Podeo’s learnings from audio user behaviors. First among those is the app’s extensive library. In addition to curated and tailored aggregated content, available for free on the Podeo app, the company not only began creating its own high-quality exclusive content, but also opened the door for podcasters from the region to to start their podcast with Podeo, thereby launching a rapid multiplier effect that contributed to the rapid growth of its catalog. The cost of producing exclusive content depends on the type of content itself (documentary, interview, solo, cast production) and the amount of research and production that goes into it. This content is not limited in type or scope, the same as other aggregated or user-generated content, and covers anything from entertainment to politics and sociology.
Second, the platform analyzes and responds to each user’s activity (searching, downloading, listening) to highlight and suggest content suited to their preferences, while of course showcasing new content, be it Podeo exclusives or brand-sponsored content.
In that same vein, a third factor crucial to Podeo’s rapid growth was the platform’s AI tools that allows it to analyze listener engagement and behavior. For example, whereas most platforms provide only download numbers by region, Podeo delves deeper to examine listenership behavior, providing a holistic understanding of their audience preferences and better tailor their content to meet demand.
When asked about content appropriateness and censorship, Fallaha concedes that this issue was always in the back of the platform creators’ minds, but major concerns have been successfully avoided thanks to self-policing by the content team. “Content is a huge world, and being independent comes with a huge set of challenges. We are not biased against any content, as long as it does not violate community guidelines. Instead, we take a community management approach to such issues,” he states. For Podeo’s own exclusive podcasts, an editorial team ensures the content meets these standards and also performs the necessary research and fact-checking. However, when it comes to aggregated content, it is impossible to review millions of hours of podcasts to ensure all their content is appropriate. “Our listeners act as the community watchdogs and alert us to potentially offensive or abusive content so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”
Fifth, Podeo is experimenting with a revenue-sharing model from advertising income and brand sponsorship, the details of which are not yet shared publicly. The idea would is to provide a strong incentive for content creators to produce and distribute more quality podcasts through the platform, driven by the promise of financial reward and based on the performance of their content through an algorithm.
Expansion and localization
Podeo is incorporated as a US holding company, one of its offices operating out of Beirut, Podeo SAL, located in Lebanon. Despite the severe economic downturn in recent months, and even after their offices were damaged in the August 4, 2020 Beirut Port explosion, he considers Beirut as a good choice for Podeo’s operations. “There is a great added value to working in Lebanon: We have access to a huge pool of readily available creativity and talent here,” he says. The company’s UAE arm, Podeo inc., comprises a much smaller team, focused mostly on sales and content.
Podeo aims to use its recent seed funding to grow its team and resources in the region, betting on localization to accelerate uptake and contribute to the development of more communities. For the fourth quarter of 2021, Fallaha hints that the platform will partner with a global player and will also be rolled out with operators based in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “We are able to localize and restrict or highlight content by region as well as by user,” he mentions. As part of that growth strategy, he tells Executive that the platform is currently working on simplifying and streamlining its internal hosting dashboard to draw in more users and generate more content, at no extra cost.