As a teenager, James Mulvany had plans for a career in radio. He was also a self-confessed computer nerd, and when he was bitten by the online broadcasting bug, his plans took a dramatic turn. Today the Manchester-based serial entrepreneur is blazing a trail in the online audio space.
Mulvaney is the CEO and founder of Radio.co, a cloud-based platform that allows anyone to start a radio station without the need for expensive studio equipment, Podcast.co, which uses the same principle to let people host their own podcasts, and Matchmaker.fm, an online platform that connects podcasters with guests.
At school, he taught himself to use Photoshop and started making money designing websites, although his real passion lay in radio, and in particular the burgeoning online audio space.
“I’d always wanted to be a radio DJ presenter, and had done a few gigs,” he says. “But I was also still into the tech side of things and had been learning about broadcasting online. In 2004 I launched my first real business, Wavestreaming, selling streaming media services to the radio industry.”
At 18, although he was making a reasonable living from his business, he decided to go to university. “I didn’t need a degree,” he says. “But I was a quiet kid, spending all my time behind a computer screen, and I needed to become more sociable.”
The decision also enabled Mulvany to take Wavestreaming to the next level via the university’s business incubator, where he surrounded himself with other startup founders and mentors. By the time he graduated he had validated his business and was focused on scaling it. A year later he hired his first three members of staff.
The rise of Radio.co
Then AOL came calling. “They were looking for a partner to provide streaming services to their customers,” says Mulvany. “We secured a deal and things really took off. From attracting 10 new customers a week, we were signing up 30 a day.”
Turnover also soared, from £100,000 a year to £700,000, but Mulvany knew that it couldn’t last forever. “Sure enough, AOL decided to sell that part of their business to another company, one that wasn’t interested in working with us,” he says. “It was a massive wake-up call; we’d been too dependent on this one deal, and one supply of customers.
He spent the next six months figuring out his next move. While Wavestreaming had started out selling B2B, specifically to the radio industry, working with AOL involved working with different types of customers, including corporate brands.
“I saw an opportunity for creating a platform that was accessible to everyone,” he says. “Hotels, bars, retailers, leisure companies, etc. could have their own radio station and create a unique audio experience for their customers. That’s when Radio.co was born, a package that would handle everything, from playing out the music, through to streaming, to looking at who’s listening and how long they stay tuned in.”
After its launch in 2015 Radio.co’s customer base grew rapidly, with clients ranging from record labels, newspapers and sports clubs, to universities, charities, and a string of commercial brand names. This was being driven largely by the growing popularity of smart speakers; people were listening to radio, not via traditional radio receivers, but through Google or Alexa, or in their cars through their iPhones.
“You can listen while you’re cooking, walking to work, or in the gym,” says Mulvany. “Giving people that choice is important, and for brands, that’s where the real opportunities lie.”
Podcasting for all
In 2019, as a natural evolution of Radio.co, Mulvany launched Podcast.co. “More and more of our clients were asking about starting their own podcasts,” he explains. “It wasn’t a new medium, but around 2017 it had a resurgence and became more mainstream.”
Whether through radio or podcasting, audio had become a powerful way for brands to communicate and encourage conversation with their customer audiences. In January this year, research showed that 73% of Americans had listened to online audio over the previous month, up from 39% 10 years ago. Meanwhile, podcast advertising spend is set to double, from $1.33 billion in 2021 to $2.74 billion by 2025.
While exploring ways to market Podcast.co Mulvany unwittingly hatched a third business, Matchmaker.fm. He says: “A lot of podcasts are based on interviews, so we set up a couple of landing pages; one targeting podcasters looking for guests, and one targeting guests looking to get featured on podcasts, including CEOs, authors, athletes, and people who’ve with interesting life experiences.”
When the landing pages started to gain traction, the team added Google Forms for people to provide information about themselves, their area of expertise, and the type of podcast they wanted to appear on.
“Similarly, podcasts could tell us what sort of guests they are looking for,” says Mulvany. “Suddenly, we had 200 responses. All we had to do then was connect the two groups. The result was Matchmaker, which we launched in February 2020, just before lockdown. I tested it out myself, with the challenge of getting booked on 30 podcasts in 30 days. In the end, I did 48!”
The power of audio
The secret of running multiple companies successfully, says Mulvany, lies in the skills and strength of the team, which now comprises 40 members; a distributed workforce working mainly from home. “I’ve always believed in investing in people and building a great team and I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” he says.
The business has been entirely bootstrapped, although Mulvany hasn’t ruled out seeking external investment for future brands and business growth.
He says: “We have ambitious growth plans for the U.S. and taking on more corporate clients. We already have some major accounts, both here in the U.K. and the U.S., but we’re just scratching the surface. Brands are waking up to the power of radio to communicate and as an additional marketing channel. Our goal is to become the ‘go to’ company for audio marketing and for engaging with people through the audio medium.”