Mark Cuban is getting in on the audio and podcasting hype. Alongside co-founder Falon Fatemi, he’s planning to launch Fireside, a “next-gen podcast platform” that facilitates live conversation, according to an email sent to possible creator partners seen by The Verge. The app idea is similar to the buzzy live audio startup Clubhouse, except with the ability to natively record conversations. A source close to Fireside says the app plans to launch publicly this year.
Fatemi, who co-founded and sold the AI customer relations service Node, promises a platform where creators will be able to broadcast, record, and monetize conversations while using Fireside’s built-in analytics tools to figure out what content performs best. The app, according to a now-expired engineer job posting, has raised a “multi-million dollar” seed round to get started. The source close to the company says creators will be offered various deals and ways to monetize, and the app won’t let just anyone speak publicly. It’ll be a highly curated experience.
The startup is still seemingly in stealth mode. It’s unclear when it was founded, but job postings went live as early as September. Fatemi left Node in August, saying at the time that she would be moving on to a “new venture.” She hasn’t listed Fireside on her LinkedIn yet. Cuban and Fatemi previously collaborated on Node, with Cuban investing in the product. His co-founder status on Fireside brings him back into the audio space. He and Todd Wagner famously sold internet radio company Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in 1999 to Yahoo.
“Today we say goodbye to current media platform limitations created by one-way conversations, a lack of interactivity, and non-existent analytics,” Fatemi writes in the email to creators. “We level the playing field by empowering creators based on what they have to say (not how loud they yell) and we give their ideas the reach to turn a single conversation into the seed of the next media empire.”
Fireside’s job posting claims “social media has failed us” by creating “antagonistic echo chambers with mediums for communication that only further an outrage culture and business models that incentivize spreading disinformation.” Fireside, the posting says, is looking to foster “civil intelligent discourse, shared connected experiences, and genuine relationship building virtually” through its broadcasting platform, which will “promote driving social impact through meaningful conversations at scale.”
As part of that goal, Fatemi is reaching out to established podcast creators about “Founding Firesider” spots, seemingly to build an initial roster of Fireside users.
Fatemi declined to comment, and Cuban confirmed that “yes,” he is a co-founder.
The app is unrelated to the established podcast hosting and analytics platform Fireside, which has been around since 2016. Dan Benjamin, Fireside’s founder and CEO, says there’s no connection between the two services. “Creating a memorable brand is a challenge, and we’ve already heard from customers (and potential customers) who are confused about this,” he writes to The Verge. “It’s surprising and more than a bit concerning. I imagine they just didn’t realize that we here at Fireside have been in podcast hosting for almost five years, or about my own personal involvement in podcasting since 2006. Of course I invite them to reach out to me so we can begin a dialogue and figure out a solution.”
Cuban and Fatemi’s Fireside joins a legion of other audio apps looking to make live audio a regular way to interact online. Clubhouse, most notably, launched last year and has steadily grown, even as an invitation-only service, and attracted big names like Elon Musk. The platform now has millions of users, and its team is looking to help creators monetize through a formal program. Twitter is also testing Spaces, its own take on live broadcasted conversations. While these aren’t formal podcasting apps — there’s no way to record a Clubhouse conversation natively — they all seem to take advantage of the podcasting hype buoyed by Spotify.
Spotify has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire established podcasting networks and technology, as well as to lock down exclusive deals with big-name stars, like Joe Rogan and the Obama family. Meanwhile, Apple, the original podcast creator, is reportedly exploring the launch of a podcast subscription service, and Amazon Music and Audible are also investing in bringing podcasts to their platforms.