As a teenager, James Mulvany had plans for a career in radio. He was also a self-confessed computer geek, and when he was bitten by the online broadcasting bug, his plans took a dramatic turn. Today, the Manchester-based serial entrepreneur is blazing a trail in the online audio space.
Mulvaney is the CEO and founder of radio.coa cloud-based platform that allows anyone to start a radio station without expensive studio equipment, Podcast.cothat uses the same principle to let people host their own podcasts, and matchmaker.fman online platform that connects podcasters with guests.
In school, he taught himself how to use Photoshop and started making money designing websites, although his real passion was radio, and in particular the burgeoning online audio space.
“I had always wanted to be a radio DJ presenter and had already done a few gigs,” he says. “But I was also still working on the technical side of things and had learned about online broadcasting. In 2004, I launched my first real business, Wavestreaming, selling streaming media services to the radio industry.”
At the age of 18, although he was earning a reasonable income from his business, he decided to enter university. “I didn’t need a degree,” he says. “But I was a quiet kid, spending all my time in front of a computer screen, and I needed to get more social.”
The decision also enabled Mulvany to take Wavestreaming to the next level through the university’s business incubator, where he surrounded himself with other startup founders and mentors. By the time he graduated, he had validated his business and was focused on scaling it up. A year later, he hired his first three employees.
The Rise of Radio.co
Then AOL came calling. “They were looking for a partner to provide streaming services to their customers,” Mulvany says. “We struck a deal and it really took off. From attracting 10 new customers per week, we signed up 30 per day.”
Turnover also skyrocketed, from £100,000 a year to £700,000, but Mulvany knew it couldn’t last forever. “Yeah, sure, AOL decided to sell that part of their business to another company, a company that wasn’t interested in working with us,” he says. “It was a huge wake-up call; we’d been too dependent on this one deal, and a stock of customers.
He spent the next six months figuring out his next move. While Wavestreaming started out selling B2B, particularly to the radio industry, working with AOL meant working with different types of customers, including corporate brands.
“I saw an opportunity to create a platform that was accessible to everyone,” he says. “Hotels, bars, retailers, leisure businesses, etc. could have their own radio station and create a unique audio experience for their customers. That’s when Radio.co was born, a package that would take care of everything from playing the music to streaming, to seeing who’s listening and how long they stay tuned.”
After its launch in 2015, Radio.co’s customer base grew rapidly, with customers ranging from record labels, newspapers and sports clubs to universities, charities and a range of commercial brand names. This was largely driven by the growing popularity of smart speakers; people listened to the radio, not through traditional radio receivers, but through Google or Alexa, or in their cars through their iPhones.
“You can listen while you’re cooking, walking to work, or at the gym,” Mulvany says. “It is important to give people choice, and that is where the real opportunities lie for brands.”
Podcasts for everyone
In 2019, as a natural evolution of Radio.co, Mulvany launched Podcast.co. “More and more of our customers have been asking about starting their own podcasts,” he explains. “It wasn’t a new medium, but around 2017 it had a resurgence and became more mainstream.”
Whether through radio or podcasting, audio had become a powerful way for brands to communicate and encourage conversations with their customer audience. In January of this year, Research showed that 73% of Americans had listened to online audio in the past month, up from 39% 10 years ago. Meanwhile podcast advertising spending is set to doublefrom $1.33 billion in 2021 to $2.74 billion in 2025.
While exploring ways to market Podcast.co, Mulvany unknowingly hatched a third company, Matchmaker.fm. He says: “A lot of podcasts are based on interviews, so we’ve set up a few landing pages; one that targets podcasters looking for guests, and one that targets guests who want to appear on podcasts, including CEOs, authors, athletes, and people with interesting life experiences.”
As landing pages started to gain popularity, the team added Google Forms so people could submit information about themselves, their field, and the type of podcast they wanted to appear on.
“In the same way, podcasts can tell us what kind of guys they’re looking for,” Mulvany says. “All of a sudden we had 200 responses. All we had to do then was connect the two groups. The result was Matchmaker, which we launched in February 2020, just before the lockdown. I tried it myself, with the challenge of getting booked on 30 podcasts in 30 days. In the end I did 48!”
The power of audio
The secret to successfully running multiple businesses, Mulvany says, lies in the skills and strength of the team, which now consists of 40 members; a dispersed workforce that mainly works from home. “I’ve always believed in investing in people and building a great team and I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” he says.
The company is fully operational, although Mulvany has not ruled out seeking outside investment for future brands and business growth.
He says: “We have ambitious growth plans for the US and are taking on more corporate clients. We already have some big accounts both here in the UK and the US, but we’re just surfacing. Brands are becoming aware of the power of radio to communicate and as an additional marketing channel. Our goal is to become the ‘go to’ company for audio marketing and connecting with people through the audio medium.”