One of the better parts of my job as a tech industry analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy is that I get to sit down and discuss disruptive technologies with startup investors, companies, and CEOs. This week, I got a "two-fer" when I sat down with David Sacks, cofounder and general partner at Craft Ventures. This week, Sacks is launching the "social podcasting" platform Callin on the Apple App Store, and I was able to sit down with him and discuss the new platform. We also talked about the All In podcast, what's hot in SaaS, his favorite investments, and even a bit on China and US deficit spending. Yes, we covered a lot of ground.
As many of you probably know, I participate in and publish the Six Five Podcast and Moor Insights & Strategy podcast, which puts a new social podcasting platform right down my alley. I have been able to use the beta test Callin for the better part of a week. I think it has the potential to be an exciting platform on multiple fronts—for creators, consumers, and enterprise junkies like myself. Let's dive into David Sacks, Callin, and the idea of social podcasting.
Who is David Sacks?
I will admit that I wasn't familiar with David Sacks until I started to listen to the All In podcast. For my listeners who are not familiar, here is some background.
Sacks has been in the technology industry for over twenty years, was around for the dot com era, and was even a part of the original team at PayPal as the founding COO. Sacks is considered a part of the "PayPal Mafia," which consists of many original PayPal employees and founders, including Elon Musk, who founded other successful technology companies. During Sack's tenure as COO of PayPal, it had grown in payment volume from $0 to $500,000 per month and revenue from $0 to $240 million per year.
In the last 15 to 20 years, Sacks has been a successful angel investor in multiple unicorn companies, including Affirm, Airbnb, Bird, ClickUp, Eventbrite, Facebook, Houzz, Lyft, OpenDoor, Palantir, Postmates, Reddit, Slack, SpaceX, Twitter, Uber, and Wish. It is impressive to be a part of one unicorn, let alone multiple. There is a reason they are called unicorn companies.
Currently, he is cofounder and general partner at Craft Ventures, which raised an initial fund of $350M and is currently sitting on another $2B fund. Craft Ventures focuses on two main technology areas for investment: SaaS and marketplaces.
Along with many other career achievements like producing and financing an award-winning movie, Thank You for Smoking, Sacks founded one of the first SaaS startups, Yammer, to apply consumer growth tactics to enterprise software. Microsoft bought Yammer and integrated it into its enterprise-wide messaging services. From being the founder of a successful SaaS company, investing in SaaS startups, and now having a podcast dedicated to SaaS, Sacks on SaaS, it is fair to say Sacks has a passion for SaaS.
Callin, the new "social podcasting" platform
Callin is Sacks' new startup is launching today. You can download it here. Callin can be put in its own category of social platforms, because it is a synthesis of two popular trends. Callin brings together the concepts of podcasting and social audio to be what Sacks and the team at Callin are calling "social podcasting." Callin promises to make podcasting easier for the creator, more consumable for listeners, and more social and engaging for podcasting communities. From a tech analyst point of view, the value proposition passes muster.
Sacks describes the process of making a podcast episode as easy as starting a room. The rooms self-record, then creators can go into the episode and edit parts from an automatically generated transcript using one finger with no annoying sliders. Most of the production has been automated, and I was able to jump into a room and found that this process was very user-friendly.
I understand the difficulty in creating a podcast and going in and recording an episode, and having to edit the episode. It makes for a tedious process when it comes to producing and editing, and recompiling an episode. Callin automates this process right from the app, turning your iPhone into a full podcasting studio.
About one minute after you've recorded your podcast, you get a transcript that points out "umms," "errs," and other mistakes I make often. You can remove complete paragraphs and sentences, too, just by touching them. When you're done editing with your finger (literally), you publish immediately with all the edits contemplated.
In addition to editing features, I believe that Callin also differentiates itself from the traditional podcasting platform because it focuses on the social and interactive aspects of the podcasting experience. Users can live-stream a call, and if the podcaster wills it, they can have guest callers call in and interact with the episode. This Callin feature is very powerful, and one that Sacks says is the reason for the name "Callin." Audience members can literally call into episodes and hosts can invite them to come “on stage.” Another feature that is unique to Callin is that it allows users to create highlights of content and share it across social media. This feature is also powerful because it shows that content on Callin is not only about the quantity of content but the quality of content on the social podcasting platform.
One of my early concerns with Callin's model is that if anybody can make an easy podcast, there will likely be an influx of poor content alongside great content. The highlight feature expresses a user's interest and the most influential and save-worthy content of an episode. When I highlight content, those following me can see what I am engaged with and jump onto that content. It simultaneously shares my content interest and filters in good content. Looking forward, I think the highlight feature has the potential to shape much of the culture on Callin. Imagine being able to include a highlight from a different podcast into your own show. This would allow for useful discussion or even debates and healthy interactions between podcast creators.
What's interesting about the market goals for Callin is that when I asked Sacks how he measures the potential market for Callin, he said the goal isn't to take a sliver of the podcasting market. The goal is to "10x or 100x the size of the podcasting market by lowering the podcasting barriers to entry". Callin could exponentially grow the market size by implementing the social aspect of podcasting while creating the largest social audio content library. These market goals are also why Callin could maintain longer-term competitive advantages even though competition like Clubhouse can adopt the same features as Callin. I believe Callin is the first social podcasting platform of its kind, and just as YouTube and Instagram were unique in its respective content, Callin has the first-mover advantage. Callin has created the first complete vertical stack for creating podcasts from an app; I believe giving it an advantage over the competition.
As a podcaster myself, I am excited to see Callin launch and blow up the social audio and podcasting communities. It can be hard to see how Callin is different from other podcasting and social audio platforms. However, the difference is noticeable once you actually use it. It's almost as simple as describing it as YouTube without video, with an interactive audience, but I think this description would be discounting Callin.
New kinds of content and free speech
I also find it fascinating that the Callin platform came at a time when speech regulation is happening on other platforms. Sacks is a self-described libertarian and supporter of the constitution. We discussed the creation of Callin as an answer to the regulation of free speech on other social media platforms. Sacks believes in the marketplace of ideas and in giving people the opportunity to express themselves. For what it's worth, I do, too.
Content moderation for the Callin platform stems from their basic and reasonable standards—the standard of the creator over the audience, Apple Rules in the App Store, and what is allowed by the US Constitution and case law. Content creators should have the right to include and edit out their content concerning the audience. Sacks said that it is in the business of enabling creators to create the show they want to create. Since Callin is in the Apple App Store, it must abide by whatever rules Apple has, and these rules must be passed down to its creators. Sacks gave an example that Apple doesn't allow hate speech, so Callin and its creators don't allow it. Lastly, there are nine major categories that the US Supreme Court has ruled as dangerous speech and not protected under the first amendment that Callin will abide to. Sacks and I didn't get into how content will be moderated technically, but that's for another column.
An example of this would be yelling fire in a crowded theatre. I think these are all fair moderations and protect the growth of healthy and differing discussions lacking on some social media platforms. The last thing you want is an echo chamber of one-sided speech, and the other side of that ditch is unhealthy and harmful content.
Sacks already has two new shows on Callin, "Red Pills" and "Sacks on SaaS." He also has “All-In Afterparty”, which is a companion show to All In Podcast, which is the podcast that sparked it all. Sacks describe the All In Podcast as a podcast that started from conversations he and his "besties" (Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, David Friedberg) had at their poker games.
The name "All In" references back to poker games and differing conversations that would be interesting enough to put into a podcast. Once Covid-19 kept them from meeting in person, they began meeting on Zoom. I am a listener of the All In Podcast and I will admit, love the All In Podcast. Many topics cross controversial lines and consist of rare conversations that you don't hear in public or on a popular broadcast mediums. When I asked Sacks if Red Pills and Sacks on SaaS were his exit for the All In, he was very clear that it wasn't. The All in Podcast is not being replaced with spin-offs or to be exclusively put on Callin. The All in Podcast has plans to put in between shows on Callin like "The All In After Party."
What's new in SaaS horizon
I have enjoyed the Sacks on SaaS Callin show so far, as I frequently talk about and cover disruptive SaaS companies myself. I asked Sacks what interesting trends are taking place on the SaaS horizon, and we talked about the API economy. He talked about the trend of SaaS companies that are connecting SaaS companies to other SaaS companies. I agree with Sacks on these trends and find that collaboration and innovation have only scratched the surface. I believe we are only about 10% to 20% of the way towards optimal collaboration.
Developer tools are also a major trend that is allowing companies to create and develop their software. Sacks mentioned the investment of a company called Sourcegraph that allows for universal code search that enables developers to search code bases across multiple repositories. There is also a large movement of low-code or no-code tools that allow companies to create and develop their software and tools without going through large development projects. Low code and no code are huge as we just don't have enough skilled programmers to write all that is needed.
Sacks' favorite investments
I also asked Sacks what his most exciting investments are currently and, objectively given based on which of them are furthest along. He said SpaceX, Bird, Sourcegraph, and Clickup. Bird is an electric scooter startup that allows people to rent scooters to ride around in cities and many college campuses. SourceGraph and Clickup are a part of the low code or no code SaaS trend I mentioned previously. Clickup is a customizable productivity platform for tasks, docs, goals, and chat.
The US deficit and China
Of course, in the true spirit of David Sacks and his fearless attitude of talking about any topic, albeit controversial, I had to ask him about China and the US deficit.
We also discussed budget deficits, and, as a fiscal conservative myself, I asked Sacks what's on the horizon concerning government spending and the budget deficit. I like what Sacks said about how, even though our economy has recovered from Covid-19, for the most part, we are still spending as though we are not and handing out stimulus. It's true.
Debt doesn't matter until suddenly it does, and the saying about bankruptcy, people go bankrupt slowly at first and then suddenly, applies to our economic deficit. The dollar depreciates because of excessive printing for two reasons: more printed money becomes less worth, and the dollar loses its value as others assume we can simply print more. The problem then arises when the dollar stops being the world reserve currency. I thought printing dollars was okay during Covid-19 because everybody was printing more money globally and everybody's value went down. Sacks reminded us that whether we believe it or not, that debt is going to have to be paid back.
The final conversation that Sacks and I had was concerning the China nationalization of certain tech company sectors and whether it is a good thing for the US. Sacks and I both agree that it will be a good thing for the US in that. As a result, innovation will be repelled out of China and into the US, slowing down China's economy longer-term. However, it will generally be a negative thing. China is swinging in a repressive direction that is beyond the tech sector.
Who wants to be a tech entrepreneur if you'll be capped and controlled?
My conversation with David Sacks covered multiple topics, diving into his new Callin social podcasting platform, SaaS, Craft Ventures investments, and controversial world topics. I believe Callin is a differentiated new social media platform that looks to tackle the social audio space from the same direction that YouTube did with Videos and Instagram with pictures. From my experience in beta testing, Callin has powerful tools for creating quality episodic content in an accessible space, making it a one-of-a-kind platform. You can download Callin here.
As an angel investor in unicorn SaaS companies, a founder and CEO of a few himself, and someone who has his own SaaS podcast, David Sacks knows the SaaS and marketplaces in few ways others do. I look forward to using Callin for my podcasting and continuing to listen to the content that Sacks has on SaaS, controversial topics, and disruptive technologies.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.