Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
If you’re new to either podcasts or this occasional column, click here for background information. We preview specific podcasts to reveal their topics, formats and lessons from listening.
It’s a new year, and if you’re seeking free entrepreneurial inspiration to last all year long, I highly recommend the How I Built This podcast from National Public Radio (NPR). You’ll hear the first-hand stories about products and brands, both obscure and well-known — so well-known, in fact, that many involve items you might be using daily, either personally or professionally.
This podcast is especially informative if you:
- Eat Chipotle, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or Clif Bars;
- Wear Patagonia or TOMS apparel, or Warby Parker eyewear;
- Office from WeWork, read Rolling Stone or listen to Lady Gaga;
- Travel by Southwest Airlines or Lyft, or sleep at an Airbnb; or
- Reminisce about AOL, COMPAQ and Atari.
Host Guy Raz traces these companies’ origins by interviewing their founders in candid detail, beginning with the problem they sought to solve. He uncovers these ventures’ often slow or occasionally meteoric rise, and reveals the very hard landings — not to mention feelings — that can accompany success, failure and transition.
Though now ubiquitous online or located in our neighborhoods, many of these success stories began as little more than a side venture. Oftentimes they were the unintended Plan B to a college education; perhaps had a less-than-desirable location; or were boosted by a timely or fortuitous event, such as a favorable restaurant review or even an accident.
Name: How I Built This
Host: NPR producer and host Guy Raz
Source: National Public Radio
Genre: Business journeys
Motto: Learn the stories behind some of the world’s best-known companies
Length: Up to 45 minutes, plus a five-minute bonus track
History/In the Can: 60-plus recordings
Format: One-on-one interviews with accomplished entrepreneurs, followed by a short conversation with the founder of a new, work-in process venture
Presentation: Interview, discussion and narration, usually recorded, but occasionally live
What can be learned: The journeys of many of today’s uber-successful entrepreneurs began similarly, and not unlike those who may be reading this post. Everyone experiences struggles and doubt, with little more to get them by than their idea, hope and grit. Persistence and luck are often the keys to success.
Where to start: Any of the 15 stories listed above. Or, scan either the How I Built This library in iTunes or the podcast’s site for a familiar product or service. Listen to not only how these products or organizations began, but hear the founders’ surprise at their never-to-be-imagined challenges and achievements.
Though many familiar products and services are routinely consumed today, it wasn’t long ago when they were not on our radar at all. By listening to the founders’ stories on How I Built This, it’s clear that many were years in the making and not the “overnight success” they may seem.
Have a favorite podcast? Let me know by leaving a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Byron Ginsburg provides content writing, media outreach and marketing consulting services to individuals and organizations seeking to raise their visibility, recognition and revenue.