Podcast Review: StartUp Season 5

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StartUp Podcast by GimletSeason 5 of Gimlet’s StartUp podcast launched in April and I’ve listened to the first four episodes. In this review I’ll talk about those episodes, and then come back at a later date to update the post with reaction to other episodes that have been released.

If you’re not familiar with StartUp, the podcast’s first season followed Gimlet cofounder and CEO Alex Blumberg as he decides to leave his job in order to create a podcast production company (now Gimlet). Subsequent seasons follow both Gimlet and other startup businesses through their successes, failures, and growing pains.

The Season 1 concept – a podcast about starting a podcast company – was brilliant, and I was hooked from the very beginning. My relationship with seasons 2-4 however, was rocky. I didn’t like Season 2. I loved the “mini season” between Seasons 2 & 3. I thought Season 3 was okay. I loved Season 4. Phew. Exhausting.

What Season 5 Does Well

Most importantly, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or business owner to enjoy Season 5. This is true for most of the seasons of StartUp, but you never know how a new season is going to unfold, so I thought it worth mentioning that this season is story-based; it’s not a tutorial on how to start or run a business.

Season 5, like some previous seasons, is hosted by Lisa Chow, who I really like. She has a pleasant voice, she injects just the right amount of emphasis when necessary, and she has empathy or excitement that seems genuine.

Unlike last season and Season 2, Season 5 does not follow only one person or business. So far it’s been a mix: episode 1 was about an inventor; episodes 2 and 3 were about one business; and episode 4 was about a completely different, unrelated person.

    You never know what is going to turn a listener off, but I don’t see that as being an issue in Season 5.

I think it is smart – and really important – for StartUp to vary the focus of its seasons in order to keep the audience engaged. Despite my carry-over enthusiasm from Season 1, I lost interest in Season 2, which focused on a dating business. On the other hand, I loved Season 4, which focused on a single entrepreneur and industry, but I can see how other people might have stopped listening because they found the “star” of the season to be annoying or offensive. You never know what is going to turn a listener off, but I don’t see that as being an issue in Season 5.

How Season 5 Could Improve

When I sat down to write this review, all I could remember about episode 1 (which I listened to when it first came out four weeks ago) was that I didn’t like it. I honestly couldn’t remember much about it, which is a stark contrast from what I remember about the three episodes that followed.

In the name of fairness, I sat down and listened to episode 1 again. In all honesty, I think that episode 1 just didn’t resonate with me because it’s about the toy industry and I’m not really a toy person. I’m not sure I was ever that much of a toy kid when I was young. So, episode 1 just wasn’t for me.

Which brings me to episode 4, and how the varied episode focus (which I just praised above) could also be a negative point of the season. I thought episode 4 was great. It’s about a female entrepreneur who is also a mother. Long story short, she feels a lot of guilt over a lot of things, and there’s a lot of crying in the episode. Did that bother me? Nope. Could it have totally bothered some people? Absolutely. (My husband would absolutely HATE that episode!)

By varying the focus in each episode, StartUp runs the risk of alienating some listeners for at least an episode or two. Which is the case with most podcasts; you never know what you’re going to get. But with some seasons of StartUp, you do…so it’s confusing.

Making the Call

So what’s my point? Basically, from season to season, StartUp has ping-ponged back and forth between telling the story of Gimlet, to telling the story of a specific company and person, to telling the stories of multiple companies and people. You never know exactly what you’re going to get, and if you didn’t like the seasons that had a variety of stories about different people, then you probably won’t like Season 5. But I do. And I am looking forward to next week’s episode.

What do you think about Season 5 of the StartUp podcast? Do you agree with my characterization of the different seasons? Leave a comment below to share your opinion.

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