Therapy you can subscribe to.
Life can be awkward. Sometimes even painful or lonely. And there aren’t always quick, easy fixes. But finding a meaningful connection with others — especially one that can make you laugh — can “make the hard things in life feel a little easier.” That idea of mixing the sweet with the sour is what inspired Jess Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs to create Lemonada in 2019.
Then the pandemic hit. Millions of Americans were stuck at home feeling more isolated than ever. It was in this collective moment of anxiety that Lemonada gave people what they craved most — a human connection.
In two short years, Lemonada has grown from a single podcast to a burgeoning media network with 17 shows. Covering everything from relationships to grief, Lemonada helps people navigate all the weird and sometimes ugly parts of the human experience. The aim, according to Jess, is to “make life suck less.” In other words, it’s therapy you can subscribe to. And today, it’s one of the fastest-growing channels on Apple Podcasts.
The Apple Podcasts team interviewed Jess about Lemonada’s rapid year of growth, from what she’s learned about subscriptions to where the network’s headed, and all the wins and missteps in between.
Apple Podcasts: Tell us about the genesis of Lemonada. Why did you want to start a podcast business?
Jess: I met Stephanie in 2018, after hearing her speak on a podcast about her brother’s overdose. I had just lost my brother the same way — to opioid use. So I reached out. We got to talking and had this idea for a podcast network. We wanted to make the kind of stories that went beyond the headlines. The kind of stories that make life suck less. And make people feel less alone. And that’s how Lemonada was born. It’s not just making lemonade out of lemons, like we did with our brothers, it’s serving something a little bit sweet with hard things.
AP: Tell us more about the business side of Lemonada. What are your ambitions for growth?
Jess: Lemonada is a small but growing podcast network. We do everything. Creation. Distribution. Monetization. All of the marketing for our own shows. It’s a network in the sense that shows are united under the brand but have their own unique universes.
We’re growing quickly, in terms of shows, audience, and the revenue we’re generating. We started the pandemic with four full-time staffers, and we’ll have 41 people by the end of the year. You’ll continue to see growth from us, including translating our IP into different formats with partners who are already in the TV, film, and lit space, for example.
AP: What are some of the challenges of all that growth?
Jess: Well, hiring during a pandemic is challenging. And trying to do big, hard, impossible things together when you’re not in the same room is tough. Failing is also a challenge — but an opportunity, too. There were times when we thought a show would launch with 30,000 plays and it was more like 10,000. We had to figure out what went wrong, why it didn’t convert, and how we were going to recover. Rapid learning can be difficult, especially when new shows are coming out every month. So we’ve spent a lot of time trying to hone our repeatable scalable processes.
AP: Is there a piece of advice you wish you’d gotten when you started?
Jess: It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of things and make quick decisions, especially when things are going well and moving quickly. But pausing to reflect and be intentional about decisions can go a long way.
AP: Tell us about how you’ve grown your audience and what you’ve learned as you’ve built this network.
Jess: There’s a benefit to producing a large number of shows. Using data, we’re able to more predictably understand what will likely be a hit for us and then design that show from there. We call it ‘Moneyball for podcasting.’ It helps us figure out what marketing budget we might need for each property, and determine how we might break through, even if we’re in a crowded space.
AP: Have you been using Apple Podcasts Analytics to understand your audience better?
Jess: Yes, we use the analytics tools to understand our subscriber base. For example, we decided to offer a free trial to those signing up just to bump the subscriber base — and we’re able to see the impact. But more broadly, the analytics tools help us decide when we need to shift. If the tool makes a recommendation about what’s working for others, we heed that advice.
AP: Taking a step back, when you were thinking about starting subscriptions, what were some of the reasons you decided to try it?
Jess: We’re an independent studio. And if we want to do something, and it’s expensive to do it, we need a way to invest our listeners in what we’re doing in advance. And the subscription model does that. It’s not a hard sell to ask our audience to help us make the thing they love and want more of. Having the ability to do that in the app where people are listening is just a no-brainer for us.
AP: Are there parts of the subscription offerings that you’ve already tried out?
Jess: The thing we’re most curious about is early release, and whether certain listeners will see that as a value. We occasionally have episodes done early, so we’ll play with throwing them in before the regular schedule to see if there’s an exclusivity period that feels sexy. Sometimes, we have extra content, and our producers love having a place to put it. Our listeners like it, too, so that’s an easy win for everyone.
AP: What is your workflow for supporting subscriptions?
Jess: We don’t want to create an entirely separate work stream for people who are already producing several complicated shows. So we just hired someone to work on a subscription strategy. She’ll think primarily about what the listener wants, show to show, and look across all the teams to figure out what could work. When it’s a win-win on the production side, we’ll definitely do extended cuts or an extra interview. And sometimes a bonus episode.
AP: How do you see subscriptions fitting into your business model over time?
Jess: Subscriptions are definitely part of our business plan but not the only part. Sponsorship has always been the main piece of the pie. Lemonada has a different way of monetizing shows with big brand sponsors across the network and the different properties.
AP: How is the channel working for you?
Jess: The channel made sense because it helps listeners on one show discover all the podcasts we create. We’re a new network; our first episodes launched just two years ago. So people will find one show, and now with the channel they can discover all of Lemonada.
AP: Okay, last question, where do you think podcasting is headed?
Jess: I envision a world — that’s not so far from now — where we have even more high-quality podcasts across different genres in the space. We’re creating content for that world. It’s high-quality, diversified, and brand-aligned, so when consumers are searching for something special, it’s going to fit the moment for them.