According to Edison Research, 51 percent of Americans over 12 have listened to a podcast last year, a steady increase from 2018. As interest builds and talents jump into podcasting, there is a growing speculation on which ones will keep audiences engaged. James Cridland from Podnews states, “We’ll see some large podcast apps closing, but the advent of more focused apps — focusing on verticals like kids … are the tip of the possibilities here.”

Local podcasters and entrepreneurs Molly Bloom, Sanden Totten and Marc Sanchez are riding that trend with their science podcast for kids and families. This daring and creative leap into the podcast industry is proving curiosity, fun and science can all come together and keep even the squirmiest kids engaged.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of Company: Brains On!

Website: brainson.org

Twitter: @brains_on

Business Start Date: September 2012

Number of Employees: Four dedicated with a lot of help from others

Number of Customers: Over 1 million per month

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES

Names: Molly Bloom, Sanden Totten and Marc Sanchez

From left: Marc Sanchez, Molly Bloom, and Sanden Totten from the Brains On podcast (Courtesy 1 Million Cups St. Paul)

City you live in: Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis

High schools attended: Blake Upper School (Minneapolis), Locust Valley High School (New York), Damien High School (San Dimas, Calif.)

Colleges attended: Brown University, Oberlin, San Francisco State

Q&A

A. What led you to this point?

Q. We all worked in different departments at Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. We worked as radio reporters and producers, helped with MPRNews.org and made some of the company’s first podcasts.

Q. What is your business?

A. We’re a science podcast for kids and families. We get questions from kids all over the world, and we use those as the basis for our episodes. We have over 150 episodes that stem from questions like: “What was the first life on earth,” and “How do airplanes fly,” to figuring out why smartphones are so addicting and seeing if a lake filled with lemonade would make it rain lemonade. Every episode is co-hosted by a different smart and curious kid.

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Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The premise was that kids are infinitely curious, and parents don’t have all the answers. Having been involved in many different types of shows (news, music, entertainment), we wanted to make a show specifically for kids, but one that wouldn’t talk down to them and would also be enjoyable for adults to listen to. When we started, we each had full-time jobs at MPR/APM, and we cobbled together episodes in our free time.

Q. What problem does your business solve?

A. Our episodes are great, screen-free entertainment for kids. They’re packed with science, facts and fun — perfect for trips to and from school or errands about town. They make for fantastic pre-dinner listening and give parents a chance to focus on the menu. They also work well as bedtime stories. Lots of families like to binge episodes on road trips to help pass time (and learn cool science).

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. When we started, Molly had more of a handle on all things digital, Marc was really good with writing music and audio, and Sanden was a science-reporting dynamo. Because the show grew out of a passion project, we all had to learn how to do everything from project management of each episode to marketing and, now, managing other people who are helping grow the show.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. We are most proud about role we play in our listeners’ lives. We get hundreds of questions, comments and drawings from kids every month, 99.999 percent of which are glowing with joy. Like most jobs, ours are filled with some seriously stressful days, but when you can push back from your desk and look at a goofy picture of a dinosaur or hear a voicemail from a kid asking a truly mind-blowing question, it’s so much better. Parents and kids have made us a part of their routines and we take that responsibility very seriously. We often hear from parents who have told us how an episode has inspired a new interest in science or for a kid to make their own podcast at home.

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Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?

A. We have a team of amazing people at American Public Media. They help us shine in so many ways. Marketing and business strategy, digital and social best practices, and industry tips are just a few of the things our American Public Media colleagues prop us up with. We also try to keep in touch with people in the podcast industry at large. It’s easy to think that a team based in New York or New Zealand with millions of weekly downloads wouldn’t have time to talk, but that’s really not the case in podcasting. People are usually pretty happy, and quick, to get back to you with helpful advice.

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. The relatively small group of people that listens to podcasts. The industry is growing quickly, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to streaming video and music. As the audience grows, the more expansive and inclusive podcasts can be.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. We have a mix of different revenue streams that include advertising, licensing, donations, books, live events, grants and branded merchandise.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. We’re finishing our first of six books right now (pub. date Sept. 8, 2020). We would love to keep expanding that part of our brand. We also have a spinoff kids’ debate show, Smash Boom Best. It’s been steadily growing and is gearing up for season three right now. It would be great to see that show grow and be able to go on the road with a live version. We’ve just begun our own Brains On touring show, and will be performing in several cities in 2020. We have LOTS of ideas for new shows and would love to get a couple more into production. The biggest hurdle right now is resources. We have to be strategic about what and when to launch new things.

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Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. Learning how to say no. We have enough ideas to fill the Xcel Center, and there was a time that we thought working on everything all the time was the way to make everything happen. It took a while, but we learned that by taking a more focused approach, we could get more accomplished and feel less scattered.



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