Posted October 1, 2019

I love reading — learning new things, taking in new information — whether via books, podcast, video, news, comics, or other form. And while I very much enjoy the feel and smell of physical books, lately, I’m far more likely to finish listening to an audiobook than reading a physical one. The reason is because I have more listening time than “reading” time. In fact, audio turns listening time into “reading” and learning time: If I’m making breakfast, waiting at the airport, feeding my newborn, or commuting to work, I just need to pop in some earbuds. 

With the advent of technologies like Apple’s Air Pods, connected cars during drive time, and an explosion of quality podcasting content and tools, we’re beginning to enter the golden age of audio. My partners on the consumer team shared an overview of our interests in this ecosystem… it’s really just the beginning.  

As part of my focus on new mediums, new business models, and product, I’ve been studying how the audio ecosystem has been evolving, especially in China. What struck me there is the focus on self-improvement, professional development, and education; I’ve long been wishing we had something audio-focused like that in the United States. So I am excited to announce our seed investment in Knowable, a new company delivering expert knowledge for audio. Knowable offers comprehensive (not just single episodes) podcast-style audio courses that not only feature curated expert voices, but are also mobile-native — with social learning features, additional downloadable materials, etc., all of which help with more efficient, less distracted (and ad-free) knowledge transfer. Topics range from specific how-to’s — like how to launch a startup or how to sleep — that help people accomplish their life and work goals.

The definitions of “podcasts” and “audiobooks” have been blending together for quite some time: to the end user, it’s all now just audio. Knowable takes inspiration from both audiobooks and podcasts. Similar to audiobooks, there’s a linear table of contents with a beginning, middle, and end. And similar to podcasts, each course is taught through a variety of voices, each with their own take on the broader topic. Content is also much easier to discover than trying to search countless podcast apps for individual podcast episodes. 

Audio is a very different format than video and print, yet until now, we still create audiobooks as if they have to imitate the physical book form. It’s time to create a new form of content native to the audio generation. In the same way that mobile-first thinking brought us game-changing businesses like Instagram and created entirely new industries like ridesharing, I believe audio-first companies now have the opportunity to deliver — and invent — new user experiences, including those that help all of us continue our goals of lifelong learning and self improvement… no matter how busy life gets.

Our firm and my partners have made a few investments in this space — from Descript to Substack — and now, my seed investment in Knowable. We’re excited to see a number of companies in this space!