Tell us about yourself?
I began my professional career as a designer and in the early 2000s increasingly became involved in UX and product design. This lead me to work with Yammer in San Francisco and other startups in what felt like a booming time around 2010.
Since then I’ve gone on to pursue a lot of life passions outside of Silicon Valley including living in a Zen monastery in southern Japan in 2020.
I’m passionate about the collective work and contributions towards sense-making in a world of fractured values.
I love history, philosophy, and long walks on the beach. My grandmother thought I could be a model or the governor of California—I’m not sure if she meant at the same time.
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
Money is not the only thing keeping you from success. There are a thousand ways that people can make progress that don’t involve money—or very much of it.
Having a prototype is critically important when pitching your startup to investors, it doesn’t necessarily have to be functional, but it has to demonstrate your ability to implement the idea. “Show, don’t tell” is what Jason Calacanis often told us.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
Probably the most important lesson, one that is always teaching me, is the need to “show up”—be present, be available, be open, and be generous with your ability to think through complex problems with others, not just alone, to find the best outcome.
Also, listening to music that pumps you up and dancing around your office gets the right neurochemistry going to give a great presentation. People like listening to someone who is feeling positive and happy about life.
A simple equation is that great products make you happier—embody the epiphany that your product delivers—be happy. In general be happy AND definitely when you’re pitching.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I’d tell myself to worry less. Worrying doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help you confidently approach challenges. It doesn’t allow you to speak clearly or present with charisma and magnetism.
That doesn’t mean to be arrogant—but wherever it is that is neither arrogance or insecurity—that’s where you want to spend your time emotionally.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
Assume that when you’re starting a company they will merge in ways that you can’t control and shouldn’t bother to try to. It’s a time you need to be focused on what’s possible and consistently focused on each step.
When you’re with friends and family be present, don’t just talk about your project. And depending on your neurobiology, make sure you get sleep.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
In 2016 I was on a walk with my friend and now cofounder, Ken Miller. We were having one of those magic conversations when I realized it would be awesome to have a “push-button Alan Watts” on my phone—one button, all the Alan Watts insights you need.
As a result Ken built the app for the Alexa and called it “Sage Alan Watts”. Later we talked about how amazing it would be to use AI to ask questions and get answers directly from the audio. That was our “glimmer in the eye” moment.
When Covid began to spread and the world went into lockdown I was in India and left to take shelter in a Zen monastery in Japan. Ken was in Colorado and decided to work on a novel way to search inside podcasts to using AI—ask a question and receive an answer using podcast content.
The initial prototype worked in a terminal window but was the start of a big adventure for both of us. It was early 2021 that we started working on Fathom seriously.
We realized that there was an “internet of conversations” that was largely unavailable to people.
Our initial pitchdeck alluded to tapping this storehouse of collective intelligence—literally millions of hours of conversations—using the power of AI. Epiphany can occur in a moment, sometimes in seconds in a conversation, how could we lead people to their moment of insight and epiphany? In Zen they call this a “thought turning” moment.
That’s what inspired us, and we’re still powered by that vision. Our mission is “Evolution through conversation.” and we believe that podcasts are a unique medium for conversations that have the ability to entertain, educate, and transform.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
I’d define our magic sauce as a mixture of an amazing team with an amazing vision for the future. A lot of our product thinking is informed by conversations we listen to in podcasts—especially in the realm of sense-making and the conjunction of technology and culture.
This compels us to think about the value of conversation and ways to interact with ideas—how to make available the wisdom and knowledge that’s been locked away in audio files. In that way we’re a team of dreamers, which is likely also our greatest hindrance.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
We’re pre-revenue. My recommendation is to make your first sale as soon as you can—test whether this is even something people are willing to buy.
Our initial entrance into the market was a free app for listeners—to gain market share. We’re going to be introducing more services for creators in the months to come.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
California is our home. The majority of our core team is here. We love so much about this state—it offers opportunity and extraordinary talent. I live in San Diego—so arguably offers the best climate to work in.
What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
It’s no secret that California is an expensive place to live.
As a result, for an early stage startup you can’t pinch as many pennies—also you have a lot of great talent that can be wooed by amazing companies offering a lot of money for their time—more than what a small startup can offer.
In that way it’s difficult to attract the talent you need at the price you can afford.
We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
As I mentioned before THIS is the greatest issue for startups operating in California. It’s amazing that housing it what it is.
The growth of Silicon Valley has affected so many cities—Sacramento, our hometown, has become a major destination for people leaving the Bay Area and cost of living reflects that.
It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
We really don’t think about it. I think that it was David Sachs who mentioned how so much of the world has learned how to do business in the 21st century from Silicon Valley.
Competition can now come from anywhere. I’m more concerned about people applying for the same apartment in California than I am about other startups based in California.
Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
Not really. Our team is entirely remote (for now) so we are open to our employees moving anywhere they want so long as productivity isn’t lost. We have members in Florida, across Europe (including Ukraine), and Turkey.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
We see Fathom growing closer to becoming the knowledge graph of record of human conversation. In late October, early November of this year we’re releasing our latest iteration.
Twice the amount of code as our original app—now with new ways to navigate podcasts: AI generated chapters, ability to view similar episodes based on the content, captions, and clipping (also powered by our AI).
This is still just the start of how AI can augment our ability to learn deeply and broadly—to upgrade our “sense-making” ability. And further, we’re still in the infancy of how we’re using AI to appropriate human intelligence to answer our deepest questions.