Mike Van Heyde of Ivy Podcast Discovery: “Make sure that your app solves a real problem that users have”

Make sure that your app solves a real problem that users have. Your product must address your user needs and be differentiated from other products on the market. Many years ago, I built eCrafter, an online website to sell crafts. eCrafter beat Etsy to market, but we were not aligned to what our users wanted […]

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Make sure that your app solves a real problem that users have. Your product must address your user needs and be differentiated from other products on the market. Many years ago, I built eCrafter, an online website to sell crafts. eCrafter beat Etsy to market, but we were not aligned to what our users wanted and Etsy ultimately put eCrafter out of business as a result. While eCrafter solved a real problem, we did not adequately address user needs or differentiate ourselves from Etsy.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Van Heyde from Ivy Podcast Discovery.

Ivy.fm is a new podcast discovery service. Ivy listeners can follow podcasts, guests, or topics and get alerted to new podcasts with that same guest or on that specific topic in the future. Ivy can also recommend similar topics, allowing listeners to surface and discover even more podcast content. As of March, 2021, Apple Podcasts alone is said to host 1.96 million podcasts with a collective 47 million published episodes. If there’s a guest or topic a person is interested in, combing the depths of the podcast world can not only be difficult, but almost impossible. Ivy was built by husband and wife team Lindsey McPheeters and Mike Van Heyde and launched in February 2021. While they collaborate on all aspects of product development, Mike focuses on Ivy’s engineering needs, and Lindsey devotes her time to operations and business development.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I fell in with coding when I was eight years old. My dad and I would hand-copy code out of Nibble Magazine to code on an Apple II. I built my first website when I was in high school and continued to experiment with building new websites. I went on to get a computer science degree from Hiram College and have worked as an engineer and product manager since graduating from college. I have also built various side projects to hone my skills over the years.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

About two years ago, my wife and I were on our last vacation before the birth of our daughter. As we were driving around and searching for a podcast to listen to, I complained that I wished there was a way to find podcasts about the things we were interested in. It was the week before the NBA draft and, as huge basketball fans, we were trying to devour all the news we could about what our favorite teams might do.

Unfortunately, none of the podcasting apps had good ways to discover new content. We frequently found ourselves asking friends for recommendations or feeling frustrated after spending hours scouring the internet and other podcast apps trying to find new podcasts about our interests. As we continued to talk about our frustrations with podcast discovery, the idea for Ivy Podcast Discovery was born.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

One of the biggest problems I faced in the beginning of building Ivy Podcast Discovery was understanding the scope of the podcast universe and the difficulty in building a podcast discovery service and player. I was initially way off in my estimation of the number of podcasts that existed. I thought the number was close to 50K, but there are actually closer to 800K active podcasts and millions of inactive podcasts. As I tried to figure out how to tackle such a vast data set, I often became overwhelmed and frustrated. However, I love to solve hard problems and knew that I could find a solution to podcasting’s discovery problems. I spoke to my wife and co-founder often as problems arose and together we brainstormed solutions and relied on each other for motivation.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today, we have over 800K active podcasts, over 1M topics that listeners can follow, and nearly 225M relationships between topics and podcast episodes. Since I am drawn to solving hard problems, I was determined to figure out a way to deal with the scale of the podcast data universe. I persevered and worked many late nights and weekends to figure out the best way to surface the data and improve the podcast discovery experience for both listeners and creators.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One of the big problems we have to solve concerns disambiguation of our vast data. For example, I merged DC into Washington, DC. However, DC is more commonly associated with DC Comics, so for months, you would see political topics mixed with DC Comics. The lesson I learned from this mistake is how important it is to be careful about merging topics because phrases can have multiple meanings. This is obviously a very difficult problem that we are still working on.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Ivy Podcast Discovery is the only podcast service that is creating new, followable topics on such a large scale. We have over a million topics that listeners can follow. We also have constantly evolving trending and related topics that tap into what podcasters are talking about at any given time.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In order to avoid burn out, the most important thing is to find something you are truly passionate about. It is much more difficult to burn out when you genuinely care about the problems you are solving.

I also avoid burn out by keeping an ongoing list of features that I am really excited about working on. When the mundane tasks bore me or burn me out, I switch over to working on one of my “moonshot” features until I am rejuvenated and can return to the more mundane task.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My dad is the person who sparked my love of computer science and programming. He was not a programmer, but he loved to tinker with computers and try to learn to code. When I was very young, I asked my dad if he could code Apple Works. He told me that he could not and that professional programmers did that. I was blown away that a person could actually program computers as a career. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a programmer and I have not regretted that decision for a single minute.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Ivy is currently still in aggressive growth mode. We are focusing on growing our listenership and are excited by the progress we are making. The three main steps we are taking to grow our community include:

Establishing relationships with podcasters to help spread the word about Ivy. Podcasters are the best liaisons for our product and help drive traffic to Ivy.

Aggressively building new features that our listeners want. We listen to user feedback and quickly implement many new features that users request. Being so responsive helps build trust among our listeners, which leads to them organically spreading the word and promoting Ivy.

We have done extensive research on our competitors and our audience. We have identified the gaps in the market and the relative weaknesses of our competitors. We are focusing on marketing Ivy’s strengths to our listeners via the website, social media, and media outlets.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Ivy currently has limited resources and we are focusing all of our attention on growing our listenership. However, we are inspired by YouTube and believe that a model with pre-roll ads where creators share some portion of the revenue will yield great results. We also intend to map our data to the Amazon product graph. Many people go on podcasts to sell something (a book, a class, etc.). We expect to see good results using affiliate links and displaying these products one click away.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Make sure that your app solves a real problem that users have. Your product must address your user needs and be differentiated from other products on the market. Many years ago, I built eCrafter, an online website to sell crafts. eCrafter beat Etsy to market, but we were not aligned to what our users wanted and Etsy ultimately put eCrafter out of business as a result. While eCrafter solved a real problem, we did not adequately address user needs or differentiate ourselves from Etsy.
  2. Especially if you are small, use a technology like Flutter that allows you to write code one time for both Android and iOS. Also, build services that can also be consumed by the web version of your app. Ivy Podcast Discovery uses Flutter, which is built on Dart. It was still easier to learn Dart than to build the app twice using different native languages.
  3. Read the Apple rules first and have a good understanding of the Apple review process before you start. Going back and fixing things is much harder than building it right the first time. The Google review process is much more lenient.
  4. Make sure you have physical devices for both Android and iOS to test. You cannot rely entirely on the simulator to test your app. Often, I would build a feature that would look good on the simulator, but would not work quite right when I tested it on a device. For example, the simulator does not always correctly display the keyboard.
  5. Put as much business logic in your back end services as possible so you can change little things without having to resubmit to Apple and Google. There are limits to your ability to do this given the guidelines. The search, feeds, and topics on Ivy Podcast Discovery are all controlled by the back end, which allows us to improve those features without resubmitting to Apple.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a movement to create and support fusion power so everyone could have clean unlimited power, clean water, and food.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @ivypodcasts, Instagram: @ivypodcasts

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesmichaelvanheyde/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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