The History of RSS Podcasting with Ben and Alberto – Part 1 (#1)

Ben Richardson & Alberto Betella of RSS.com

Welcome to the first episode of the official RSS.com podcast aptly titled Podcasting 101 with RSS.com. In this episode we speak with company founders Alberto Betella and Ben Richardson who discuss the history of RSS.com.

Episode Chapters (click to jump to section)

How Ben and Alberto Started Working Together

Ashley 1:44
So how did you two begin working together? I know the story, of course. But for everyone else listening, how did you guys begin working together?

Ben 1:51
It all started with an email to Alberto. Well, no, it started before that. So I own RSS.com, owned it since 2013. I had purchased it from somebody that was looking to sell it. And it was happening at the same time that Google was, quote killing the rss feed reader. They had just terminated the Google Reader and there was a lot of worry that RSS would be dead. So I bought it at that time to put a Google or Google like, type RSS feed reader on it. But after a couple years, I was noticing that in the customer support emails, I was getting a lot of questions about podcasting, and they just were continuing to grow over time. Then I realized I needed to offer a podcasting solution as well as a feed reader solution.

Ben 2:47
And that caused me to go out and look for somebody to partner with because none of the people in house had the had what I thought were was the expertise to really bring together a world class podcasting platform.

Ben 2:59
So I happened upon Podcast Generator because it had a huge amount of downloads on SourceForge, which is an open, open source service. And I saw that the guy’s name was Alberto Betella, I’m like, I’m gonna find out who this guy is. I Googled his name, I found out he had a PhD, I found out that he had been doing this for a very long time as Podcast Generator’s, person, creator. And I also saw that Alberto spoke English and Spanish and Italian and was the CTO of And so anyway, I thought, this guy sounds really awesome. I’m gonna reach out to him. And I wrote him a very quick email, just telling him that I spoke the same languages he did. And could we talk, basically.

Ben 3:46
And Alberto, thankfully, what caught his attention was that it was a three letter domain. He I wrote him from the RSS.com email address, and he for you know, thankfully has an affinity for short domains. And so yeah, that’s how we that’s how we got introduced as I had, I saw a need in in in our platform for supporting podcasting. And Alberto definitely had what I thought was the world class platform for doing that on the open source world. And so that’s why I reached out. Alberto anything to add there?

A Partnership is Born

Alberto 4:18
No, I think it’s, it’s great. As an overview. It is true that when you wrote me the first thing I thought and then they wrote to us, was do you own RSS.com? Before even replying you know, but after that the the match was was very clear, because I had this technology, this content management system, and there was an appetite to build it in a way that could scale up it has been there for a while but they never found the right opportunity. And in the meanwhile I was doing other things. You know, I was in startups and and that’s how and that’s why I never did it. And I think you were the, let’s say the spark that started the engine?

Ben 5:03
Yeah, the spark the start of the engine. Yeah. I mean, certainly, it was very serendipitous that we found each other we match very well in our interests. And he definitely had the experience that made me believe that yeah, this really could be something to spend time on. Whereas before it hadn’t really peaked. You know, podcasting was was definitely not new by 2015, 2016. When we started talking, or was it 2017? I don’t even remember Alberto. 2017?

Alberto 5:36
It was a it was July 2017. I remember. Yeah.

Ben 5:40
That’s the beginning. That’s how it all started.

Building a Company

Ashley 5:42
That’s so wild to me, though, because it sounds like when you started RSS, podcasting wasn’t even on your radar. Well, I mean, it was on your radar in the sense that, like you said, it wasn’t new. But it wasn’t that you purchased RSS in the hopes of starting a podcasting company.

Ben 5:56
No, not at all. I mean, it was to save it save feed reading and feed readers. I, you know, I’m a news obsessed person. And that’s where my mind was, is news consumption. And if everybody’s stops using, you know, RSS, it stopped supporting it on their websites and blogs, like, my you know, I was definitely going to lose out. I, you know, I love staying current on news. And I just couldn’t imagine a world where that wasn’t happening, or where it was happening inside a Facebook feed. Like it just didn’t, just didn’t work for me. So. But yeah, podcasting wasn’t on my radar at that point.

Alberto 6:37
And on my end, basically, I was building and maintaining these, this project, its Podcast Generator, a podcast content management system that’s free, you know, as a hobby. I didn’t really monetize it. And you know, how many times during the years during the 13 years have been working on it for free, basically, on the spare time? How many times I thought, Man, I don’t, I don’t know if I should continue. But then people would write me like, oh, it’s not working. It’s not compatible with these, I don’t know, with this browser. So I kept feeling that people were using it and it had a certain impact. So it’s kind of serendipitous really how we got there. Because I could have stopped before, I had the drive or continuing working to my project just because people were using it. So I knew there was a market fit.

Ashley Grant 7:26
Well, I mean, thank goodness that you did, though, because if you had stopped, we wouldn’t have what we have now, which is this amazing platform for podcasting.

Alberto 7:35
Yeah, interestingly enough, the code base of Podcast Generator after the first year was completely replaced, replaced with a new code base. So meaning now there’s no one line of code from Podcast Generator, but the first year, this is what allowed our company to start with, we literally use the Podcast Generator.

A Little History on Ben

Alberto 7:54
That’s amazing. That’s absolutely amazing. So now you kind of give a little bit about what you were doing, Alberto. But Ben, what were you doing at the time, whenever you decided to purchase RSS? Do you? Do you want to talk about that at all?

Ben 8:06
Yeah, I mean, it’s not secret. So I am an entrepreneur and have a degree from Brigham Young University and entrepreneurship, I started my first business to put myself through school and move to the Arizona the Phoenix, Arizona area. And like most if you know, an entrepreneur, you know that their interests are varied, and the common denominator is a problem to solve and a passion for that problem. Living in Arizona, I had a tremendous amount of opportunities to do. I feel like I looking back, I’m kind of shocked at how much I did and how varied the things were. But so I got a I got my start in real estate in Arizona and and worked during the build up of you know, the the bubble, so to speak, the real estate bubble that people are familiar with. I was kind of at ground zero for the the perfect storm for, you know, being involved in real estate development. From 2005, 6, 7. I got my master’s degree in real estate development 2008 and had a front row seat to the implosion, and to what the effects were of a market downturn in real estate as well as really interesting. Right out of college. I had done some banking and so very familiar with some of the regulations, rules and practices, procedures of, of how people interact on a commercial basis with banks. And so I did some commercial real estate consulting, and then I had an opportunity to partner up with some folks who were developing technology out of the Army Corps of Engineer laboratory and taking patents that they were developing and commercializing those patents. And that was fascinating work. It was right in the middle of the war in Afghanistan, one of the partners was a two, two star General at the time. And we were working on stuff that felt very mission driven, and exciting and environmentally useful.

Ben 10:16
So this was like, we had a trifecta of things we’re working on that were environmentally sustainable, beneficial to the environment, and how those could be utilized in the Department of Defense, as well as supporting some other missions critical at the time. And see that so anyway, that puts me that also put me kind of squarely into a political consulting role, that one that I did for a while that kind of helped merge passions, so to speak, as as things were coming to bear in Arizona. And eventually, I was married in Arizona, we had our first child in Arizona, and my wife and my mother in law, were very keen to get us back to Texas where I grew up and where my wife grew up. So we moved to Texas, I basically sold out of my partnerships and passed up on a couple others that were just forming, that eventually, like I think they accounted for, like $13 billion in real estate. That was pretty a significant thing to walk away from. But Family First is my motto, and, and so we came to Texas, my wife is an OB GYN and supporting her career, her desire for career as well as her desire and our desire to have a family kind of led us to where we are now.

Ben 11:32
So that a lot happened in those intervening years, you know, from starting my first business, but it was always kind of function of opportunity and passion and mixing those two.

Ben 11:45
And so now, we’ve got that in RSS and the podcasting platform. I mean, it’s, it’s very mission driven, we’re giving people a voice, which is extremely important for, for me personally, I know for Alberto, as well, diversity, and inclusion. In particular, our current focus is on cultural and linguistic diversity with our initiatives in Mexico, and the nascent podcasting scene there and how we can help support the voices that are south of us, should we say, at least here in the United States? And so, yeah, it’s a great mix of passions and, and business problem solving, which has always been kind of my main focus. That’s a lot. But yeah, so that’s my background.

A Little History on Alberto

Ashley 12:33
That’s amazing. Well, Alberto, do you want to add any more to your background as to what led you to ultimately ending up with RSS?

Alberto 12:41
Yeah, just if we start from the from Podcast Generator, I was back in my homeland in Italy, where I lived until I was 28. Right from zero to 28. And then I moved to Spain, because I wanted to do a PhD. And so Podcast Generator has been always on the side, you know, and in the meanwhile, I did a PhD in affective computing, which today is called emotion AI. I was working with wearable to measure psychophysiological signals from humans, which means heart rate electrodermal activity, so skin conductance, pupil size, to infer emotions. That was very interesting, kind of pioneering the field of wearable. Before Fitbit, before AppleWatch, were commercially launched, very exciting, gave me a lot of insights on how to be data driven, right.

Alberto 13:31
This is something I still use today, I still am a very data driven person. And after that, I wanted more commercial impact. So I switched. I left academia after my PhD, and I joined a startup where I was CTO for two years, we raised $45 million, especially in the United States. Then I switched to corporate in a business unit, which was Moonshot Factory. It was the equivalent of Google X but in Europe, and it’s a big corporate big, big telecommunication company $56 billion revenue as a CTO there. I also for three years I spun out Moonshot into into a company, into a real company, which raised 30 million euros, $36 million. And, and I after the spin out, I fully I was I finally decided to leave everything leave corporate, and just join RSS, which was already alive and going for a couple of years as in for myself, it was a side project, right, some, some weekends, maybe dedicated some emails, but really, I was not in the day to day ops. And that’s when I decided to join, which is actually this year. So 2021 is a big year for me. Finally, being able to work and have an impact in the podcasting industry.

Ashley 14:52
What I love so much about how diverse your backgrounds are, is that you both had so many, like Marie Forleo says, you know, you’re multi passionate entrepreneurs. And and you took all of these amazing skills and all these amazing like knowledge bases and you created something that is giving a voice that to the previously voiceless. And that’s honestly why I love RSS so much just the fact that you can you can come on you can speak into a microphone, and and you’re telling the world your story. And sure you may not have like a bunch of followers all at once, you may not have a bunch of fans. But the point is, you’re taking something as simple as a microphone and a broadcasting platform online, and you’re giving your voice to the world, you’re telling the world something. And what amazes me the most about your story is that you didn’t even meet in person until just wasn’t it just this year that you guys just met for the first time in person?

Ben 15:47
Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. But between COVID and between, you know, other intervening, you know, obligations and things, it just, it worked out that we met for the first time at Podcast Movement in Nashville of this, you know, August of this year. So Alberto was, he frequently would say, you know, I don’t even know how tall you are, you know, we’re always sitting down. We do our voice chats. You know, frankly, to me, that was not a hindrance in the least. Yeah, you know, I’ve, you know, in my work, there were occasions when, you know, it was all video conferencing, and it felt very comfortable to, to go into this role. Alberto’s work ethic and, you know, manner, it is just so easy to trust and to understand, in the sense that I understand culturally, you know, just as well as probably any, you know, American from Texas could. And his wife is American, and I, you know, she’s United States, born and raised. And so I think he understands me very well, too. So it just, it was a very comfortable fit from very early on. And so I didn’t ever feel like not meeting was a super big hindrance. But it was nice to finally meet.

Meeting for the First Time

Ashley 17:03
I have to say, whenever I met you guys, because I actually had the honor of getting to meet you guys at Podcast Movement this year. And watching you guys interact, you would think you guys were old friends, you’ve known each other for decades. And so it was really cool to see that even though you guys built a company, on completely different continents you had your kindred spirits, and in some respects.

Ben 17:24
Yeah, I’d agree with that.

Alberto 17:26
Yeah, then then there is also there is something to add there. We didn’t meet each other not because we were in on two different continents, for example, I go often to the states. But I would say that after the first few months, we were well oiled as I could say the same thing that Ben said, I could say the same thing for Ben, you know, it was very easy to work with, there is affinity, definitely empathy. It’s very clear, it’s very clear that we have objectives we have, we are aligned. So there were a couple of occasions before COVID, where we should have we wanted to fly to see each other, but it was very tight, tight schedule. So we didn’t end up doing that. And then COVID hit. So that’s why it took really three years. But actually, we’re very comfortable. Because we we set up a company which is remote first. So we have all the tools to really be in touch a little in real time. And we actually cover almost 24 hours on the globe, right between people who go to sleep and people who wake up. So it’s very interesting.

Ashley 18:24
Yeah, it’s still just so perfect, though. Because the world of podcasting, it’s all online anyway. And you know, I know a couple of people who they’re in different states, and they still have a podcast together, they they get on clean feed, just like we’re doing right now. Or they get on, you know, Zencaster or squadcaster or things like that. And it’s so cool that even if you aren’t engaging with someone in person, you can still create something magical. And I just geek out on this kind of thing. So I’m very excited about it. Well, so. So we’ve been kind of alluding to the to the fact that you guys run RSS together. But let’s kind of talk about RSS itself. What are some of the features that that our platform offers that you think are perfect for the beginning or even the pro podcaster.

RSS.com is Easy to Use

Alberto 19:10
RSS as a podcasting platform is extremely easy. Now, simplicity, it’s complex. I know, it seems like you know, something straightforward, but making something extremely simple. And so making it accessible for people who want to start, is very complex. And we were lucky because having bps us in tune with where we’re lacking. I have yet to see, in a given month, more than maybe two, in the space with Podcast Generator for 13 years, exposed us to all these requests from real podcasters and hosts and all these doubts, which allowed us to start this company in a way where we really our motto was in two clicks you need to have your first episodes. Actually, probably is three clicks now, but still three clicks right. So that’s, that’s a whole I think the main the key differentiator with other companies is that we are extremely simple. It’s not us saying that. It’s our users, they write us, they leave reviews, genuine reviews, and the most frequent word, it’s easy.

Ben 20:12
I would echo that. I mean, Alberto and I both read every customer support email that comes. But we read these because of customer support emails, that makes it apparent that they don’t know what to do, or how to do it, at least on our platform. Those troubles do, we do run into those troubles with other platforms as they as they interface with those, but this really has been, you know, like a, like a river, a stone in a river, the, the rough edges of the UI have been knocked off over time. And it’s a beautiful piece of machinery that is easily accessible, no matter where in the world you are, to get your podcast up and running.

Ben 20:59
That’s not a, you know, a knock on any other platform. We know how difficult it is, you know, there’s so many features that we have that, that we’re holding back right now as we wait for the proper UI to be formulated, as we roll those features out. And it’s not a matter of technical ability, it’s a matter of really fine tuning how our customer interacts with the machine in a way that does not add extra burden, extra frustration, or any sort of any sort of lag time in their desire to be a podcaster. So it’s it’s very difficult, but that is I would echo what Alberto said and it’s it’s all thanks to his work, probably starting as a PhD in in how machines and humans interact. I mean, it’s it’s really a, you know, a valuable sort of resource.

Ashley Grant 21:52
Well, guys, I think that’s actually a good breaking point. Thanks, everyone, for hanging out with us today for part one of this two part episode. Stay tuned for the next one where we’ll share why now is the best time to start a podcast. Until next time, you can learn more about how to launch and grow your own show at RSS.com/blog/podcasting-101/. Thanks for tuning in.

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