Moonbeam Founding Story

This is the founding story of the Moonbeam Podcast Player.

Like millions of people, I love podcasts! I have been listening to podcasts for over a decade, but really became obsessed when Serial was first published. At the time, I thought it, more than any other podcast, redefined the medium as highly produced media which changes episode to episode based on audience participation. That was exciting!

However, over time, the more podcasts I listened to, the more disappointed I become with the Apple Podcasts player. It just had lots of little UI bugs that drove me crazy. And I never became comfortable with using Spotify as my podcast player, as that felt like using a toaster to make coffee. I tried a dozen other podcast players, but found they all had odd UI bugs.

One of the advantages of being a software developer/designer is that when you can't find an app that you like, you can create a new one. :)

In November 2019, I started talking about a new podcast app with my friend and mentor Youngme Moon. She is not only one of the most popular professors at Harvard Business School, and an accomplished Board Director at many successful companies, she is also the host of an awesome podcast. The name "Moonbeam" was inspired by Youngme's last name.

I started to draw screens, and then engaged Chris Sweet in March 2020 to work on brand identity and UX. Once we had a basic design, we engaged our friends at Arbisoft to build the app. The first app was released in October 2020. I especially want to thank Usman Younas, Muhammad Humza and Sohaib Aslam!

Our focus was on podcast discovery - how can we select the next podcast show that you will love? We developed a feature called "Beam" that started playing an episode immediately. If you didn't like it, you swiped up and we would then play another show. This approach was very much inspired by TikTok, the best video discovery app.

In addition to discovery, we also become interested in the relationship between podcast hosts and their listeners, as friends who ran popular podcast shows told us they didn't know enough about their listeners. We added an innovative "Tip" feature that let you tip your favorite host in nearly one click. And we began work on letting listeners join an email list for their favorite show, and on designing threaded discussions.

The most significant technology we built in 2022 was an enhanced machine-learning sytem that was based on high quality transcriptions of tens of millions of podcast episodes. We developed technology which could better predict your preference based on your listening history. For example, if we noticed you listened to a few different podcasts which mentioned dinosaurs, we might then recommend other similar shows.

In July 2022, Moonbeam was sold to Audacy, a company with over 200 million listeners a month! Audacy is now working with the Moonbeam team on the next generation tools from Audacy, so stay tuned for more information as it develops.

In addition to the people listed above, I want to thank Eliana Berger, Cinjon Resnick and Geoff Isenmann for help along the way!

See other founder stories. - articles - startups - nonprofits - press 06-Nov-2023