“During our first year running our audio content platform, we received an email from a visually impaired girl from Russia who told us that she wanted to use Castbox to listen to her favorite podcasts, but that some of the pictures inside our app didn’t have voice-over labels. After we read her email, our team worked for 14 hours straight to add voice-over labels on every channel and episode cover image, so that she would be able to find what she was looking for. After we updated the app and told the girl, we received a thank you letter from her, saying that Castbox is her favorite app, and that the audio content that she listens to makes her life more colorful.”
I had the pleasure to interview Renee Wang , the CEO of CastBox
I went to Peking University and studied psychology and mathematics. My boyfriend at the time took a computer science course and asked me to help him with his homework. So I learned programming by myself to help him complete his homework, and I realized that I could also make some money doing this. Afterwards, when I was working at Google Japan, I tried finding an app that allowed me to find and listen to podcasts in English, Japanese, and Chinese, but there were no good apps available. So I decided to create one myself, and so I began Castbox. Even at the very beginning, it was tough. I even sold my house in Beijing for the initial funding for our Company!
I’m working on ContentBox, which is a blockchain infrastructure for the digital content industry. We are trying to solve monetization challenges in the industry, especially for content creators. We believe that they create very interesting and valuable content, however, because of how powerful platforms such as Youtube and Spotify are, they take a big cut of the revenues from content creators, and aside from the most popular content creators, most are struggling to earn a living. And aside from content creators, we believe that content consumers should also be rewarded for all of their curation (liking, commenting, reporting spam, etc…) and sharing efforts. They spend much of their time on these actions, but their time is limited and thus a valuable resource, and we believe they should be rewarded for their efforts. These are the problems we are trying to solve with ContentBox.
I am grateful for my uncle, because he is a successful businessman, who ran his own import/export company and has been doing business for over 30 years, and he gave me some advice when I wanted to start my own company. First he told me that I would have to work very hard if I wanted to be successful, especially because anything that is worth doing, there will be a lot of other people that will also want to do it. Essentially he is saying that there will always be competition, but it is a good thing because it shows that there is value to be had, and there is a demand for whatever it is that you are doing.
And he also told me to always be learning new things. He said that’s the only way you can stay ahead of your competitors. What’s amazing is that recently during the Chinese Spring Festival, we were having dinner and I told him about our blockchain project. Instead of just being confused and dismissing it like some of my other relatives, he was very curious about how it worked, and asked me a lot of questions about it. And he was constantly thinking about how he could apply this new technology to his own business. This willingness and openness is very impressive, especially for someone who is a bit older, but it shows his entrepreneurial spirit, and why he has been so successful.
I think with blockchain, there are so many interesting possibilities that are just starting to get explored. Obviously cryptocurrency is the most known use case, such as Bitcoin, and this is actually a great use case because the blockchain is so good at preventing the issue with double spending that is common with digital assets.
But I think we will see so many different use cases in the future that will make our lives better. For example, in banking, if I want to make a payment from China to the US, the funds have to go through so many intermediary banks both in China and US, and each process takes time, and each bank will take a transaction fee. Blockchain will be able to streamline this process so that it is both faster and cheaper.
There will be all sorts of new decentralized things such as decentralized markets or decentralized social networks. Right now, we see a lot of centralized exchanges such as Binance or OKEx, but in essence, they still act as an intermediary. They definitely have their advantages, such as having faster transaction speed and the ability to lower counterparty risk, but I think in the future we will start seeing many more decentralized exchanges where traders can interact with one another directly without the need of a middleman.
And relating to the industry that I’m in (digital content), I think we will see a lot more smart contracts being utilized on the blockchain, especially in regards to copyrights and royalties. It’s a very slow and convoluted process how music artists are paid. There are so many intermediaries, such as the record labels, the copyright and licensing agencies, and ultimately the distributors and platforms like Spotify. Every one of these intermediaries will take a cut of the pie, so that ultimately the artist is left with very little. By using blockchain, they will be able to significantly streamline this process, and even allow artists to keep more profit in their own pockets. It’s one of the things that most excites me about my own project and a lot of the other projects aimed at the digital content space.
I think there are a few issues about the current blockchain and crypto space that I think more people need to understand.
First is that blockchain, even as a brilliant new technology, is not going to change the world overnight. Even if you think about Bitcoin, the whitepaper came out in 2008, and it took close to 10 years before the bitcoin price reached its current peak of ~20,000, and that the concept of bitcoin and blockchain reached the mainstream media. My point is, it takes time for real progress to take place. There needs to be a lot of smart people developing new ideas and technologies to overcome all of the numerous challenges that are still out there. Things like scaling and privacy on the blockchain, these are all immediate problems that need to be addressed before widespread commercial use even becomes a possibility. And these things will take time, time that is longer than what a lot of people may think is required.
I also think that there are a lot of people that view the whole crypto space as a quick way to get rich, especially with how popular ICOs were in 2017. And whenever there are get-rich quick schemes, there will be scams. I still think most people are smart enough to figure out what’s a scam and what has potential, but the problem is that there are so many projects out there, that it really is hard to find very high quality projects, especially when at the back of your mind there is always the risk of someone taking your money and running away. You really have to do your research, and even then, there will always be risk.
And right now, after bitcoin hit its current peak late 2017 early 2018, it is still in a slump. I have a strong belief in the underlying technology, but I think a lot of people think that bitcoin and blockchain are synonymous and that just isn’t the case. However, because people think this, they feel that the value and therefore feasibility of blockchain is tied to bitcoin’s price, and this is unfair. I think that there still needs to be a lot of education towards people so that they can better understand blockchain.
During our first year running Castbox, our audio content platform, we received an email from a visually impaired girl from Russia who told us that she wanted to use Castbox to listen to her favorite podcasts, but that some of the pictures inside our app didn’t have voice-over labels. After we read her email, our team worked for 14 hours straight to add voice-over labels on every channel and episode cover image, so that she would be able to find what she was looking for. After we updated the app and told the girl, we received a thank you letter from her, saying that Castbox is her favorite app, and that the audio content that she listens to makes her life more colorful.
I think first and foremost, you have to take risks if you want to be successful. You cannot stay at your comfy desk job and just expect to all of a sudden be successful. You need to get out of your comfort zone, and constantly push yourself. I never thought I would start my own business, but I took that first step, got out from a great company such as Google, and began my journey. The first step is always the hardest, but if you never take that risk, then you never know…
And to continue with the startup theme, I was lucky that I found a need within a niche market. As I already mentioned, I couldn’t find a good podcast app or tool on Android when I was working at Google Japan. I realized that there was a market for this, and was confirmed when our app was downloaded 100,000 times within the first month. So for anyone who wants to start their own business, they need to build something that has actual value, or addresses a certain market need. Even if the market is small, you can expand later. Just look at Amazon. They started just with selling books online…
And finally, I would say that you always need to look out for new ideas. This is similar to taking risks, because when you see a new idea and want to try it yourself, that requires you to take a risk. But to illustrate, I heard about blockchain awhile ago, but I really began thinking hard about it in 2017 because I started hearing about a lot of companies doing ICOs. When I realized that blockchain could be a potential game changer in not just the podcast space, but the whole digital content industry, I immediately set out to go in this direction. I had to convince my co-founders and investors, and this was and is still a big risk. But without even seeing the new idea, then there would be no risk to take. It is important that as a founder, you either see the next big trend and capitalize on it or at least ride the wave.
I would love to meet Jeff Bezos because he essentially navigated Amazon through the birth of internet commerce, and created one of the most consistently successful companies all throughout the internet era. This is extremely difficult because the landscape is always changing, and innovation is happening so fast. The fact that they are one of the largest companies in the world just shows how brilliant and visionary he is, and I would love to talk to him to see what I can learn to become a better CEO.
Originally published at medium.com