Meet Cute (or, one way to create a new media business)

Andy Warhol once said, “It’s really much more interesting what you see walking from one gallery to another than what you see in the galleries.”  What he likely meant is that the best art is simply watching people. Watching them interact in everyday settings. Watching their stories unfold.

We love stories, to listen to them and to tell them. Yet, to make stories as entertainment is difficult – it’s expensive, it takes a long time, and most importantly, they are hit or miss.

About a year ago, we started having conversations about whether it was possible to create a content company that applied more software-like methods to make content. Content that was consistent and delightful. A company that would not be hit-driven but instead is consistency-driven. That, like all good products, would slowly and surely find its niche and deliver something amazing, but not be reliant (on the user side or production side) on hits. That used modern tools to do this. That used a series of constraints to fuel new creative approaches. That was modest in its methods but ambitious in its aspirations.

Out of these conversations at the end of 2019 emerged Meet Cute, when USV’s former team member Naomi Shah decided to turn this idea into a new company. USV invested and Naomi decided to bring other investors in with deep media experience – Advancit Capital.

The company has as a core proposition that quality is very hard to define, yet consistency is not. That quality is perception, and consistency is for certain. Consistency as a north star as a way to establish trust with listeners. With Meet Cute, you know what you will get: a 15-minute original audio romcom (itself a genre with native constraints), with the flexibility to listen wherever and whenever you want. An “uncomplicated force that engenders high-velocity human connection.” Every time. The format or container does not change – though the stories inside it are innumerable.

This consistency applies equally to the process of story creation. An end to end documented methodology to rapidly and repeatedly deliver original stories. The constraints are specific: the time (15 minutes); the story arc (5 chapters starting with a connection between two people, the “meet cute” which is the source of the company name); and the ending (happy, because we need that, especially now). Like with a TV sitcom, the network of writers (there are now over 130, including bloggers writing scripts for the first time, Broadway playwrights and tv writers) write into that constraint. The actors (there are over 150) act into that constraint. The producers and engineers (there are over 30) as well. Stories move from idea to launch within a matter of weeks.

This enables regular and consistent experimentation, applying to content the benefits conferred by leveraging software-like (asset-lite, distributed) production methods: agility (rapid and consistent experimentation) and adaptability (producing stories faster, even when fully remote). And, yes, data.

Some of this is not new. Inspiration on this process comes directly from the successful implementation of trusted content brands designed around art as consistency (and business): from Warhol’s Factory, Brill Building songwriters, Motown, Netflix, Blumhouse, Marvel and, yes, Disney. What is new is applying it to audio, and at this pace and cost, for this new type of media company.

7 months in, MC appears to be working. The company just released its 100th original story. Those stories have taken place in settings such as airports (waiting for a United flight), coffee shops and fancy balls, inside Ubers and Lyfts, during Seamless deliveries, while binging Netflix. Last week saw 3 “IRL Meet Cutes” adapted from actual relationships, living somewhere between strict fact and pure fiction. Sometime this fall they will hit 1,000,000 downloads. Story consumption rate is 101% (listeners listen, on average, to episodes more than once). Story completion rate is over 80%.

This growth was achieved almost entirely remotely. The core team of 5 is remote; the larger creative network is spread across the country as well. These original stories are made with no more than 1 person in the same place at the same time. Moreover, while remote the company has actually increased its weekly pace of production.  Being a content business that is asset lite has allowed for this scale and adaptability. By the end of 2020, MC will have made over 200 original stories. A library (and the associated IP) of human tales, in one year. And, later this year, the company will release its first original song, that appears in an upcoming story.

What now? MC’s large and growing library of owned stories will be syndicated, just like TV shows, and are adaptable to other media forms. It will also take the audio rom-com genre and its IP internationally and into other languages. And, the company obviously understands this methodology is applicable to many other audio content areas.

But for now, to start, 100 out of the 7 something billion stories that are left to tell.

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