June 30, 2017

Gimlet 24: Ask Alex

by StartUp

Background show artwork for StartUp

The Story
You called with your questions. Alex Blumberg has your answers—about growth, diversity at Gimlet and, oh yeah, that ABC sitcom that’s currently being made about the first season of StartUp.

The Facts
Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. Additional music by Bobby Lord, Donny Carma, Get Better, Marmoset and the band Hot Moms Dot Gov. David Herman mixed this episode. 

Where to Listen


CALLER #1: Hey there Alex. My name is Andrew. I am a long time StartUp listener.

CALLER #2: Hi Alex. My name is Shawna Sweeney. Forgive me if I’m a little out of breath I just finished jogging

CALLER #3: Hey Alex. It’s 1:20 in the morning. I just finished listening to some old StartUps and I thought I’d give you a call.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Hello, and welcome to StartUp. I’m ALEX Blumberg, sitting in as I do from time to time for regular host Lisa Chow. Because today, we’re trying something new.

CALLER #4: I wanted to know whether some of your worst fears were realized. And if they were, what did you learn from them

CALLER #5: I'm wondering if you could go back to day 1 before Gimlet even had a name and redo one thing, what would you do differently?

CALLER #6: My question is, what's the breakdown of time that you feel motivated vs the time that you feel overwhelmed

ALEX: A while ago, we sent out a call to listeners. What questions do you have about Gimlet, the podcast network making this podcast, Startup. And many of you responded. Now quick background for people who may have not have been listening to Startup since the beginning and may be wondering who the hell I am … this show started out documenting the formation of Gimlet Media. And I hosted it. It was a podcast about someone starting a podcast company, which, as we said many times back then, was meta, we know. Anyway, since that time this podcast has expanded its topics beyond simply the parent company. But I come back, from time to time, with regular updates on Gimlet’s continued evolution. The drama does not stop once you raise that first round people, let me tell you. And we decided to do this update in a new way, we decided to go right to you, our listeners, and ask you what you are most curious about. And today, I will be answering your questions on the show. It’s a sort of podcast version of an AMA, “Ask Me Anything”. And it gets into a lot of stuff, growth, diversity. And, this ABC sitcom that is currently being made about me, and Gimlet, based on the first season of StartUp. That’s all coming up. And just a quick heads up, there’s one mildly bad word in the episode.

ALEX: All right. Let’s start here:

TONY: Uh, hey there, Alex. My name is Tony I live in LA. I had a question. Because I work in the industry and I have noticed that Gimlet has used some of its shows as IP to get other things started.

ALEX: So Tony is calling with a question that came up a lot, although Tony’s using some entertainment industry terminology. He’s asking about how we’ve used our IP -- intellectual property -- to get things started, as he says. And one of the things he’s referring to is this:

TAPE: “ALEX Inc” trailer

ALEX: This is a trailer for an ABC sitcom that’s coming out this winter, called ALEX Inc., which is based on season one of StartUp. And it stars Zach Braff, as me.Many of you might have seen that trailer bouncing around. But Tony because he works in the entertainment industry, noticed some other developments that were reported in the trades. Our first fiction series, which we launched last fall, Homecoming, was optioned to be a TV show. A couple stories that aired on Gimlet podcasts were also optioned to be movies. All this optioning activity, that is what Tony’s question was about.

TONY: Uh, I was curious if that was something that was part of the original biz plan. Is that something that sort of occurred to you at some point. Uh did it just fall in your lap when a producer called? Uh curious about that and how that’s playing out and what you’re involvement is in all of those projects.

ALEX: So, were all these film and TV projects part of our original plan, that’s Tony’s first question, and second, what’s our involvement in all of them. Well, to help us answer those questions is the person here at Gimlet who knows most about these deals, who’s led the way in setting all of them up, Chris Giliberti, one of the first people hired at Gimlet:

CHRIS GILIBERTI.: I was number 13 but I sometimes tell people 12 because the whole thing about like if there's a building with lik...

ALEX: Because you're superstitious.

CHRIS: Yeah exactly.

ALEX: OK good.

CHRIS.: So I'm actually number... And you don't want to downgrade yourself to 14. So I'm 12.

ALEX: You're tied for 12.

CHRIS: No I'm not tied.

ALEX: OK. OK. You've just erased whoever 12 was.

CHRIS.: I'm 12. Yeah.

ALEX: Chris and I spent some time in the studio talking about how this whole Hollywood thing started in the first place. And it started with an email we received from a producer in Hollywood named John Davis. And he was inquiring about optioning the rights to season one of StartUp. Now, optioning, for those not familiar with the way the entertainment industry works, is a very standard thing that studios and networks do. They’ll option books, magazine articles, radio stories, and yes, podcasts. And what it means is, they pay a little bit of money for the exclusive right to take your book or article or podcast and turn it into a tv show or a movie. Options usually last a year or two, and if whoever acquired the option decides they want to go forward and make a pilot, they have to pay you more. And they actually go and take it to series, they pay you even more. And if someone wants to option one of your works and you negotiate a lot in the beginning, you can set yourself up for making a lot of money if the thing ever actually gets made. But when John Davis, this producer, reached out to us, Matt and I told Chris, do the opposite of that. Don’t negotiate.

CHRIS: Yeah I remember you and Matt telling me like don't spend any time on this.

ALEX: Yes.

CHRIS: Just you know like whatever if you you know want to take a call every now and then.

ALEX: Yeah.

CHRIS: Answer an email that's fine but just don't don't let it be a time-sink.

ALEX: Right.

ALEX: This turned out to be bad advice. For reasons I’ll get to in the moment. But I had my reasons for giving it to Chris. It all goes back to what I did before Gimlet. For over a decade, I was a producer and a journalist at This American Life. And during that time, I was regularly approached by people from Hollywood saying they wanted to turn some story I’d worked on into a TV show or a movie. We’d end up having a bunch meetings … that ultimately went nowhere. So, I told Chris, learn from my experience, do not get sucked into the Hollywood meeting vortex. Take whatever money they’re offering up front, don’t spend any time negotiating extra money for pilots and series that will never ever get made. And Chris took my advice. But then, a series of increasingly unlikely things happened. First, John Davis, that producer, actually got a big star on board, Zach Braff, who said, yeah, if you make this, I will act in it and direct it. So then, with Zach Braff on board, they approached the big networks and got ABC to order what’s called a pilot script -- ABC basically paid them and said, you write a script, and then we’ll decide if we want to shoot it or not. Then, they wrote the script and ABC said, yes we do want to shoot it, we want to turn it into an actual pilot. And then, perhaps most unlikely of all, when ABC saw the pilot that they made, they said, yeah, we want to pick it up and put it on the air. And that happens very rarely. So all of this could have been a huge windfall for Gimlet. If only our initial advice to Chris Giliberti hadn’t been so totally wrong.
CHRIS: It's a very small money. This first deal was.

ALEX: Yeah the ALEX Inc. The thing that became ALEX Inc was just.

CHRIS: Was not...

ALEX: Single digit thousands of dollars.

CHRIS: For the option and then you know tens of thousands for you know the subsequent purchase price and series sale bonus. And you know in total Gimlet will make a six figure amount on all of this but considering that we are the point of origination for an entire broadcast TV franchise I think we're.

ALEX: That's called Alex Inc.

CHRIS: That's called Alex Inc. I feel like we're probably under under compensated but not and not in some way where anybody ripped us off or anything.

ALEX: No no...to me the directive was like if it becomes Seinfeld it would be great if we had like we we had some sort of like participation in that.


ALEX: And short of that. I don't I don't want to like have to think about it very much.

ALEX: And not only were we not making much money, we also don’t have a lot of influence over the show that was being made about us. We’re not involved in writing it, or shaping it in any way. Which is totally fine, right, like that was my explicit instructions to Chris -- don’t spend any time thinking about this. But now that it’s happening, it’s changed our thinking.

CHRIS: I think you know after the StartUp deal I think we thought OK, we've learned a bunch. It'd be great to pursue an arrangement where we could have a bit more input.

ALEX: So, Chris, working largely on his own, went out and tried to make more deals. He didn’t wait for things to come in through the inbox, but rather took ideas to Hollywood himself, to see if people were interested. And it turns out they were. To date, he has sold 3 more projects -- 2 movies and a TV shows. And Gimlet is much more creatively involved in all these deals, and the money’s a lot better too. If one of them actually gets made, we could be making seven figures, not six. Chris has acquired a nickname, HC, for Hollywood Chris. And part of the reason for Chris’s success is that the television landscape has completely transformed since my This American Life days. In addition to the networks and the cable channels, you’ve also got Hulu and Netflix and Amazon, and Youtube. And all of them are looking for source material to make their own prestige series. They’re all looking for something that could become their own House of Cards.

ALEX: How big do you think this line of business could be.

CHRIS: And in my mind it's massive. Like in my mind it's the thing that could turn Gimlet into a unicorn. And beyond because if you look at I mean there are many many many examples of multibillion dollar film and TV production companies and studios. There there aren't any of the audio companies. And so I think you know there are precedents for this like you look at Marvel which was just a comic book company and you know it's the same sort of model of originating characters and worlds and stories in a low-cost experimental format. Transitioning it to a higher investment higher return format.

ALEX: In other words, transitioning this character -- me -- in this world -- the low-cost podcast environment you’re listening to right now -- to this higher return format.

TAPE: Alex Inc.

ALEX: All right. Next question.

CLIFTON: Hi Alex, this is Clifton Corbin calling from Toronto, Ontario. You've been radically transparent by doing the StartUp podcast and basically outlining how you make money and what you do to make money. But I also know as you get bigger that transparency would become harder. My question is how much transparency do you think you can continue to have given the scope and the size of Gimlet as it continues to grow and do you think transparency has anything to do with your success.

ALEX: So there’s two questions here. First, did transparency help us? Absolutely. I don’t think the first season of Startup would have connected nearly as well with people if we hadn’t been as honest about what we were going through. And without the success of that first season, I don’t think Gimlet would be where it is today. But then there’s that second question. Can we be as transparent now that we’re bigger. And here it gets a little tricky. We can still be very transparent about a lot of things. I did an episode last season where I played a lot of tape from a session between me and our executive coach, Jerry Colonna, that was one of the rawest and most transparent things I’ve ever put out in the world. But when it comes to covering the company as a whole, it’s different. we can’t just roam around with microphones as much anymore. In the beginning, when it was just 10 or 15 of us, we all felt like part of this small band. Now, there’s associate producers who’ve never met me. If I come up with a microphone and ask them to talk about something for Startup, what are they going to say? They don’t want to say anything bad. But also, maybe they get the sense we want them to say something bad, because it’ll be better drama, but then, if they do, maybe they’ll get in trouble with their direct supervisor or with their colleagues. The bigger we get, the more reporting on ourselves puts our people in complicated uncomfortable positions. No one felt this more acutely, perhaps, than the regular host of Startup, whose chair I am now occupying, Lisa Chow, who was often the one going up to regular gimlet staff with a microphone and asking them to be on startup. It was awkward for her to be reporting on her colleagues.

LISA: I mean there were definitely people who didn't want to talk. So that was weird.

ALEX: Right.

LISA: People in your own company not wanting to talk to you about the thing

ALEX: I don’t want this on the record.

LISA: Yeah. Like talking on background to your colleagues

ALEX: right.

LISA: It was very weird. Yeah I mean

ALEX: Tell me more about that like who wanted what like what was the thing that you wanted to talk to somebody about...

LISA: It's not on the record. I can’t talk about it.

ALEX: No no I’m not saying who was it or what…. But like what was the context?

LISA: Oh the context. The context was when shows were getting canceled.

ALEX: Oh I see.

LISA: Yeah.

ALEX: Right.

LISA: So, when shows were getting canceled, um... and we talked about doing an episode on whatever show it was you know and talking to the people who were on those shows. Yeah. Then

ALEX: Right.

LISA: Yeah. That was normally the context.

ALEX: It's weird reporting on your colleagues.

LISA: Yeah it's really uncomfortable.

ALEX: Well, there's also the other issue there's one other issue which was like the kind of thing that happens at all companies that like it's just like it is like just confidential employee stuff, you know.

LISA: Right. Right.

ALEX: You know, the decisions that we did make like we did we did we did cancel some shows and like the idea of like bringing tape recorders into that room as I'm sitting down and having those conversations it just felt like, that seems crazy.

LISA: Yeah yeah yeah.

ALEX: And cruel.

LISA: Yeah. That would be I think very cruel.

ALEX: Hey, I'm going to break this news to you by the way.

LISA: I'm recording.

ALEX: I'm recording.

LISA: For StartUp.

ALEX: You just can't do that. That just feels like you know insane. Like they didn't they signed up to work at Gimlet, they didn't sign up to work on a reality show.

LISA: Right.

ALEX: So this is an ongoing conversation we’re having at Gimlet -- how can we be as transparent as possible while still being fair to the people who work here.One way… do more episodes like these -- where we can talk about ourselves without having to put our employees in awkward situations. Coming up after the break, more of your questions answered. We’ll talk about diversity here at Gimlet, a band from the 1990s and what it’s like to live the future I never could have imagined. That’s all these words from our sponsors.


ALEX: Welcome back to Start-Up, this is our AMA episode. On to the next call.

ELLIE: Hi, my name is Ellie I'm calling from Bellingham, Washington. Um, I really loved the StartUp segment that talked about the challenges of hiring a more diverse workforce and did the diversity report on Gimlet and what that looks like for you guys. And I would really love if you revisited that topic and things you've worked on since then and what's worked and what hasn't.

ALEX: Alright.

BRITTANY LUCE: Ellie from Bellingham, Washington.

ALEX: What better person to bring in for a follow-up discussion on that than the person who was in the first episode of the diversity report episode that we did a long time ago, Brittany Luse.

BRITTANY: I'm here. I'm back. I'm back.

ALEX: Uh she's basically asking for an update. Essentially right.

BRITTANY: Yes. When we had this conversation the first time.

BRITTANY: The thing that struck me was that we had 27 employees at that time.

ALEX: Right.

BRITTANY: And only three of them were nonwhite.

ALEX: Right.

BRITTANY: And I was the only black person here.

ALEX: Yes.

BRITTANY: Which I knew at that time but now I mean gosh, I think that we have eight black people at Gimlet now. And six of them I believe are full time employees. Yeah. And that’s different from when we did the first episode on diversity. And back then, not only was the majority of our staff white, the vast majority of our shows were hosted by white people. Mostly white men. Today, things are a little different. We have a number of podcasts hosted by women and people of color. Including Brittany’s newest project, a podcast about black culture called The Nod, which she and her co-host Eric Eddings are launching in just a couple of weeks. And as Brittany has pointed out, she’s no longer the only black person on staff. We’ve hired quite a few more people of color over the last couple of years. But we’ve also hired quite a few white people as well.

ALEX: Back in the studio with Brittany, my producer, Simone Polanen pulled up the overall percentages to share with us.

SIMONE POLANEN: So, like you mentioned, last time there was a diversity update there were 27 people at the company and three were not white. Which is roughly 11 percent of the company. Do you have any guesses as to what the percentage is now.

BRITTANY: Ooh. OK let me think so. OK. A full time how many employees do we have just to tell me that number.

SIMONE: 70. We have 70 full time employees.

BRITTANY: OK, if I had to guess I would say that we are 20 percent nonwhite.

SIMONE: So, we're at eighteen point five-ish percent.


SIMONE: Nonwhite which which comes to 13 people.

BRITTANY: There's only 13 non-white people here working full time.


BRITTANY: I mean you know what it is I think because I was there in the days when there were 27 people and I was the only black person like and like adding three to me I'm like oh this is basically an episode of Master of None. Like this is like...Wow that's actually fewer than I thought.

ALEX: Actually, since Brittany and I recorded that conversation, that number has changed a little bit. Our full time staff now includes 18 non-white people and 55 white people. So things have gotten a little bit better. What have we done? Well first of all, we hired an Human Resources director, Katie Christiansen. We call her a Director of People Operations. And one of her main responsibilities is to ensure that diversity is a big consideration in how Gimlet hires and operates. She makes sure that people from the company attend recruiting events at places like Howard University, or the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. We’ve created what we call a mix group, it’s a team of 20 or so Gimlet employees who meet every couple of weeks to strategize about recruitment … And also how to retain diverse talent once we hire people. We want people to feel comfortable at the company, and like their voices are heard. She’s also helping us expand the conversation around diversity beyond race. If you remember the original diversity report episode, a lot of what we talked about was other kinds of diversity -- sexual orientation or religious affiliation. And that kind of diversity can be harder to measure because, unlike with race and ethnicity, it’s not numbers that we collect when we’re hiring, people don’t check a box about how much they go to church or whether they’re straight or gay. So we’re sending out a voluntary, anonymous survey to all our employees to see what other measures of diversity we should be focusing on, and who we should be actively recruiting. But definitely, a big area of focus for us is on racial and ethnic diversity. And on that front, even though we have made some progress, Gimlet still has a lot of work to do. The company now is three-quarters white … it’s actually in line with the national population. But when you look at young people in the United States, the company is much further off … for people between the ages of 18 and 34, only 56 percent of them are white.
That group is the future and that’s where we need to be headed as well. Another sign of how far we still have to go in our diversity efforts … if you look at the nonwhite employees at Gimlet, most of them are in junior-level positions. The higher up in management you go, the less diverse we get.

BRITTANY: So... I'm about to host a show called The Nod -- co-host the show with my friend and colleague Eric Eddings. And it's a show about black culture and I right now my editor is Annie-Rose who is a white woman and I have like an editor emeritus in Jorge Just who is a Puerto Rican man. And I admire them and I adore them and I think they're both fantastic. I love working with both of them so much. But there's still something that we've I think we've all discussed internally which is that like at the end of the day the show still needs to have some sort of black editorial presence ideally a black editor and like we still don't have one.

ALEX: We've been trying to hire a black editor for a while, and I've been thinking a lot about why we haven't succeeded,what's taking so long. And I think part of it goes back to me, in a certain way. Let me explain. Editor is a key hire at Gimlet. It's a very specialized skill-set. An editor can make the difference between a show succeeding or failing. And for a position like that, as core as that, you want to hire someone that you know, or someone who's been vetted by people you trust. And so you tap your network. But my network? Like the data says about a lot of white people, is pretty overwhelmingly white. I had this realization recently about just how white my network was when I was looking at all the photographs on my walls in my house. There’s this one picture in particular that stood out to me, that I told BRITTANY about.

ALEX: There was like a picture of like from when I lived in Chicago. Chicago! And it's like and it's like you know like it’s this whole group of friends of us and we’re all… we had this like weekly basketball game like a very friendly co-ed basketball game. All my friends and there's a big picture of like who was like really fun. On like the fifth year of us doing it we did a big portrait.

BRITTANY: That’s fun. 5 years.

ALEX: But it was like it's like 30 people all white.

BRITTANY: All of them.

ALEX: All white. Yeah.

BRITTANY: That's See that's like interesting to me because like... I was at dinner with my friends a couple weeks ago. You now everybody's like laughing, drinking having a good time. It was like... I mean there was a whole bunch of us. I probably say there were maybe I don't know 15 of us. And somebody said something that caused everybody else to kind of like bust out in laughter. Like, I kinda like paused for a second and like looked around the table. You know like every once in awhile when you're having a good time, you kind of like look around the table and you're like, oh man this feels so good. And I just kind of like looked around and I was like, well shit. You know we had people different ethnicities, people of different colors, different religions. We had, you know, white folks, black folks, latino, asian. Like, a college recruiter would kill for this moment. Like they wish they could sit at the table. Like take a photo of this

ALEX: Look at this--

BRITTANY: Like that's their dream. That's their dream. But like but you know, I paused for a second to kind of take that in. It doesn't happen all the time. But like on that night, I was just like, oh.

ALEX: And it's interesting that... so that's like a mental snapshot that you have. And if you were to compare that mental snapshot to the actual snapshot that's on my wall, there’d be a pretty striking difference, right?

BRITTANY: I think maybe so.

ALEX: Yeah.

BRITTANY is firmly part of the coming America. The America where talented professionals from all kinds of backgrounds are accessible through her social network.

ALEX: Clearly, I’m not. And so a big part of diversifying Gimlet at the leadership level is diversifying my own network. And I’ve been working on it. Been reaching out to people I admire who are doing interesting work. I’ve been meeting up for coffee, having lunch, forging relationships. And that’s led to projects like Mogul, this hip-hop miniseries we did with a podcast host named Reggie Osse who hosts a show called The Combat Jack Show and runs a company called the Loudspeakers Network. When it comes to Brittany and Eric’s new show, The Nod, we still don’t have a black editor on staff … but we’ve recruited a small group of black editors in other media to take on an advisory editorial role on the show. I know that’s only a short-term solution, and we have to find a more permanent one. In going through this process, something that I continually remind myself of is that there’s a tendency, especially I think on the part of white people, to think about diversity as the responsibility of the non-white people on staff. And of course, that’s not true. To actually make the kind of progress we want, everybody has to be working on this -- everybody at Gimlet. And Brittany and I talked about that.

BRITTANY: It can't just be like 10 percent or even it's probably less than that. You know it can't just be 5 percent of the organization who is like we have to do something about this. It has to feel like it's something that everybody has to do.

ALEX: That's the thing. Yea.

BRITTANY: And I think that there's like a fear in making something like obligatory but ... and I guess I could see like like when you call something obligatory then it's just like ugh.

ALEX: Yeah that scares me because I feel like...the easiest way to make me not want something is to tell them they have to do it. But I feel like I feel like there is like lots of there's lots of there's lots of space between sort of the status quo as it is right now and sort of like this is a mandatory everybody has to take somebody of a different race out to lunch once a month.

BRITTANY: Which is like definitely not what we want to be doing. But yeah I think that there’s definitely like yeah the way things are now is like it’s a little better but I still think we have a ways to go as far as like making it an utmost priority.

ALEX: Ok, we’ve now arrived at the last question of the episode.

YOSSI: Hi Alex. My name's Yossi, I'm calling from Tel Aviv. I've been listening to the podcast ever since you started. My question is this: How does the reality of Gimlet now with all the different podcasts and things that you guys are doing, like, differ from the expectation that you had when you first started, when you first conceived of this idea, and how to you look back on those expectations that you had at the beginning.

ALEX: That’s a good question Yosi. It’s a question I’ve asked people many times. Although it’s harder to answer than it is to ask. In some ways things have gone pretty much like we expected they would. We set out to launch a few shows and get them to audiences in the hundreds of thousands of listeners. And we’ve done that. But what’s strange is how completely surprising it still feels almost everyday. I remember this moment in the very very beginning -- before the company existed, before I met Matt -- I was pitching this investor and the investor said, you know like just imagine 3 years from now you have a sales team and a marketing team. And I remember thinking like I can not imagine that. I literally can't imagine it. It never crossed my mind that there would be sales and marketing. And it was one of these things that obviously if the company goes the way I'm saying it's going to go, it will be, but it just was something that I hadn't even thought about. And today, we have a sales team and a marketing team. we sit on the same floor. They're 15 ft away from my in the office behind me. And I guess that's one of the most unexpected things about this whole thing, is that it's basically gone the way I said -- I said we were gonna launch a bunch of shows, generate audiences of 100s of thousands, and we've done that. But even though it's gone more or less the way I said, it feel like almost every day, there’s something happening that I could not have possibly could have imagined. Or I'm feeling a feeling that I couldn't possibly have predicted. Sometimes it's anxiety, sometimes it's fear. And sometimes it's just pure, blissful weirdness. For example, this experience I had a few weeks ago. I was going to something called the ABC upfronts. Upfronts are these things where big TV networks present their fall slate of shows to a room full of press, advertiser and other assembled fancy people. And I was there because ABC was going to be presenting, among all their other shows, Alex Inc. -- the show about me and the first season of startup. And so, these upfronts, they take place in this really ritzy room. They have network stars coming out and giving speeches, they had the entire cast of Scandal up there taking bows. There are people performing songs all the way through. It's this big huge production. And then it ended in this really bizarre way. Which, when I got home that night, I told my wife Nazanin all about.

ALEX Blumberg: So four hours ago I was at my first ever network TV upfront. And then the the this woman who's the head of the head of programming for ABC comes out and just sort of like walks walks us through the whole the whole slate. They talk about like how Scandal and Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder are doing great. And then they talked about their new this other new contest show that they're starting called Boy Band. Which is a contest show about creating the next boy band. And then they were like in celebration of that we have like one final. One final performance for you. Guess who the last act was. Guess.

NAZANIN RAFSANJANI: I can't guess because you already told me. Well you sent me a picture. It was the Backstreet Boys.

ALEX: The Backstreet Boys.

NAZANIN: I think they're like they like they're like in their mid mid-40s.

ALEX: Oh no they look like they were like they look like cops who were like two years away from retirement.

ALEX: They looked like they looked like old men. They look like, they look like the Rolling Stones. It was wild. Wild.

ALEX: How old the Backstreet Boys look now is just one of a long list of things I could never have imagined in the very beginning. But if I’m honest, that weirdness that is what makes me the most excited. It is legitimately thrilling to live every day in a future that you couldn’t have imagined.

ALEX: Next time, on StartUp. The story behind one of the most expensive cups of coffee.

TAPE: It was a fruit bomb of flavors, a bouquet of flowers. It had a sweet lingering taste to it. Papaya, mangosteen.

ALEX: That’s next week. StartUp is hosted by Lisa Chow -- and occasionally by me. Our show is produced by Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, Emanuele Berry and Amy Standen. Our senior producer is Molly Messick. We are edited by Caitlin Kenney and Pat Walters. Production assistance and fact checking by Alvin Melathe. Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. Additional music by the band -- I finally get to say the name again -- Hot Moms Dot Gov. For full music credits, visit our website, GimletMedia.com/StartUp. David Herman mixed this episode. To subscribe to StartUp, go to Apple Podcasts, or whichever app you like to use. You can follow us on Twitter @podcaststartup. Thanks for listening. See you next time.