Kieku makes some noise for thought

This independent media startup has launched a new kind of audio listening service: a YouTube for podcasts.

It seems fitting that Helsinki startup cluster Maria01 is located inside a former hospital. Here amidst the x-ray rooms, long corridors and operating theatres of yore, dozens of startups are undergoing treatment, soon to be discharged into a world of success.

Nonetheless, given that some of the walls inside the building as are still lined with tiles, surely negotiations don’t get that bloody these days, do they Sampsa Fabritius?

The CEO of media startup Kieku Labs bursts into laughter.

“It’s a cosy community,” Fabritius admits, nodding ‘hello’ to a passing trio of peers. “Companies here have been selected for the cluster because they are at the same stage of development. People are like-minded and everybody is sufficiently crazy…”

He stops mid-sentence. Time for a little backstory.

Fabritius’ tale is a familiar one for many former Nokia employees. Finding himself surplus to requirements after 17 years of service at the Finnish telecommunications giant, his engineering expertise is now being enthusiastically applied elsewhere.

“What I really liked about working for Nokia was the awareness that the future doesn’t happen, it is always being made by somebody,” Fabritius says. “That same ‘crazy’ mentality that you can forge the future is very active in the startup scheme of Helsinki.”

Stimulating content

For Kieku, the tool for sculpting the horizon comes in the shape of a podcast content provider, which is tailored to listeners’ interests at the push of a button.

“We are not focussed on ‘click this and laugh’ content, more so the stories that might stimulate thinking,” Fabritius explains. “Kieku makes it easier for people to find inspirational and brainy content. Better thinking leads to a better life and better ideas.”

Fabritius points out that Kieku’s ideal audience is “people who want to understand what is going on the world – whether they are entrepreneurs and have the need to understand where we are going, or people interested in wellness, society and humanity.”

“Somehow it feels that companies have forgotten their role as being transformative in society,” Fabritius (centre) outlines. “I like Henry Ford’s wisdom in that aspect that every employee of the car factory should be able to afford to by the car. If they don’t, then you run out of customers.”

In order to facilitate this, the company deploys an elaborate AI system that quickly learns user habits and creates a customised feed of relevant topics.

“We are not building an algorithm that maximises revenue from ad sales, like Facebook or YouTube,” Fabritius states. “The moment you turn to ads sales, the purpose becomes maximising ads revenue. This is not the goal of the company. We wish to genuinely help people, and make the AI useful.”

The service aims for both ends of the spectrum: the listener and content producer. Adding to the growing library of audio on offer, bloggers can also upload their own material at a price, made easily sharable at the push of a button. Further monetisation comes from a Patreon-style service, which sees listeners rewarding content creators and Kieku taking a slice of each transaction. The sense of community is cemented by the fact that users also police content, helping to weed out inappropriate subject matter.

No time for restrictions

Now, a month after launching, the company is already looking for growth abroad. One major hurdle to overcome on this quest is that “people have certain expectations of talk media”. According to Fabritius, this is set to change in the near future.

“If you look at the media industry, TV has gone social with Facebook and YouTube videos and newspapers have gone digital with blogs and Facebook being used for news distribution,” he states. “Also, music listening has gone social with Pandora and Spotify playlists.”

Podcasts are next in line, tipped to break free of the radio show format shackles.

“Just like blogs transformed long form journalism to five- to ten-minute reads, the audio format is likely to change news listening to short, tasty information bites,” Fabritius states. “We are riding the wave of making talk media social. There’s a joy in creating something new.”

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