EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Govind Balakrishnan, CEO Curio

It’s one of the strangest phenomena in technology, the inexorable rise and popularity of podcasts. While there is any number of places to access such content, one London-based company is focusing on quality.

Curio is a free app that offers curated content that gives listeners the opportunity to fully engage with audio and CEO Govind Balakrishnan talks exclusively about why his company’s product is music to our ears.

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Monty Munford: Welcome to Mob76 Outlook, Govind. I believe Curio produces quality podcasts, would that be right?

Yes, that’s right. In a world where everything is available at once, people’s time and attention are scarce resources. Curio solves that by helping people listen to the stories shaping our world as they go about their days.

Through high-quality audio and curation, we give people back time and surface content worthy of people’s attention.

We solve the two biggest problems for people in the world – time and attention. We choose content from the best providers in the world and get that narrated as high-quality audio – saving people the time of choosing the right content to consume.

Govind Balakrishna: Every startup has a founder’s story. What’s yours?

I was a strategist at the BBC and saw the really high engagement that radio and other audio were receiving online. This was particularly heartening when journalists had put themselves at great personal risk, such as in war zones.

At the same time, print engagement was plummeting and this prompted me to ask – why is a 100-year-old trusted medium getting so much more engagement than print or websites?

The insight was that people’s lifestyles had changed and the new world required a media platform that worked seamlessly with their busy, on-the-go lifestyles, while also actually rewarding content producers.

That was how Curio was born.

Would you describe yourself as a media company?

Media is the software that powers society, but we no longer have the time or attention to engage with it deeply. Curio is a subscription-based audio app that helps people live curiously, by allowing us to listen to the stories shaping our world as we go about our busy lives.

Is this the right time for Curio or are you awaiting a tipping point?

The advent of conversational devices, their popularity and the fact that technology is going through a fundamental paradigm shift means this is a perfect time.

Due to multitasking, we are becoming a species that is entering a post-literacy/ post-Gutenberg age. In the same way that Snapchat is a communication medium, so audio and voice will be as well.

It will go to the core of how we engage with media, content and entertainment and how it all fits in and around our lifestyles.

Why is now the right time for Curio?

We want to become the media platform of the conversational future. Most innovation so far has been in the form of functional interaction. But content consumption is also going to move in that direction.

And as it does, it’s going to go beyond one-way consumption to more a more interactive form, closer to augmented reality.

Ever since the year 1439 the visual medium – books, TV, screens – has dominated. When we are visually engaged we do little else. This future, however, will be characterised by audio, conversational interactions and ultimately augmented reality.

What particular problem are you solving?

We are solving the problem of time and reduced attention spans and using the power of audio to help build a more well-informed world effortlessly. In that way, we also indirectly help with breaking information bubbles, fake news and superficial engagement.

In a world where everything is available instantaneously, people’s time and attention are scarce resources and we are just unable to and deeply engage with stories that are shaping the future.

Who are you working with and on what platforms?

We partner with top publishers such as The Guardian, Salon, The Financial Times, Aeon and more than 40 other providers to gain access to their exceptional content base.

Our learning algorithm and human curators then scour their databases for the best content – across various topics which have current relevance, are part of the zeitgeist or are of evergreen interest – and we then get that narrated by the best voice actors in the industry.

That content is offered to our subscribers through our mobile apps, our website and our Alexa skill.

Please take me through a user journey

Simply download the free Curio app and sign up. You can either subscribe to a monthly or annual plan, or listen to a certain amount of content free everyday.

Subscribers get new audio tracks curated across our partners everyday. Much of the content on Curio is evergreen and is easily discoverable. Playlists on topics ranging from Hackers to Privacy, Stoicism to Creativity.

Why is Curio better than its competitors?

We consistently produce high-quality content from premium and niche brands, an all-you-can-listen ad-free experience, best-in-class curation that makes for both a lean-back and lean-forward experience.

We consider rival podcasts to be our competitors, but also traditional radio. One interesting company is Audible, but we believe we offer a more tailored curation, and content that fits any length of time for our audience.

How has the company been funded to date?

We’d like to keep this confidential at this time, but we have been through two early rounds of funding including our stint at 500 Startups in the US.

Monty (621 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.


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About Monty

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.