Why I Love The Origin Story Of Audible
Don Katz is the founder and CEO of Audible.
Now imagine him jogging back in the mid 1990’s listening to a book on cassette tape which was checked out from the library. He put the tape in a clunky Sony walkman, put his fuzzy headphones on and started to run. Now, picture him trying to flip the tape over after 30 minutes of listening to hear the rest of it…while still in motion. Not ideal…and he thought…”there has to be a better way.”
This led him to do some research and find that 93 million Americans drove to work alone every morning. He then extrapolated hundreds of hours of time that people sat in traffic, matched that number with the sociological data that showed the most frustrating and least valuable time of people’s day was…sitting in traffic.
He thought, why don’t I create a device that would allow people to listen to the digital content they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Running the numbers, he realized if he could just penetrate 9% of the people sitting in traffic alone every morning at $10/month for a service that would enrich their lives…how big could this business be? Let’s do the math:
9% of 93 million = 8.37 million
x $10 per person/month
= $83.7 million dollars per month in subscription fees.
So at age 43, with a supportive wife and 3 kids, he decided to ditch his career as an accomplished author and a journalist (for Rolling Stone) and take a 85% pay cut to start his new adventure.
It took Don another 10 plus years of barely surviving the dot-com bust until his luck finally changed with the release of the iPod and the timely partnership with Apple. Then in 2008, Amazon purchased Audible for $300 million. Ummmm….did you hear what I just said? $300 million?
Everyone has a great idea…and that idea and inspiration to start a new business can last a few days, a few weeks, or sometimes even a few years. When asked what motivated him to leave the comforts of a financial safety net and persevere for another 10 years until he finally saw the fruits, he responded with these 3 points:
- His loving father’s sudden passing at an early age marked his life in so many ways…and he sees a lot of patterns of fatherlessness in highly entrepreneurial people…whether from abandonment or early death which sometimes includes taking ridiculous risks.
- He thought it was so interesting that he would daydream more about this idea of digital audio content and player rather than daydreaming about the next paragraph that he was going to write.
- He kept talking and trying to get advice from people that he respected and they all thought he was crazy. This motivated him even more.
What I personally love most about this story is that even after selling the company to Amazon for…$300 million dollars, he continues his duties as a CEO and just recently in 2020 assumed the position of Founder and Executive Chairman of Audible. To me that says a lot about what this work means to him – that it’s less about getting paid, and more about seeing the original idea that everyone said couldn’t happen becoming reality. It’s a different way to think about our work – instead of just making money, we can be making our masterpiece.
I hope that inspires you as we go into this year – maybe 2022 can be the beginning of your origin story as well! It all starts with an idea…