This Frustrated Radio DJ Went From A Failed Startup To Scoring a P3M Investment to Kickstart the Philippine Podcasting Industry
Failure is a rite of passage for every entrepreneur.
Only the extremely luck out on the first try, but for most, entrepreneurship is simply an often painful method of trial-and-error. Some walk away after their first failed venture, but not Ronster Baetiong. After his first startup, Partyphile, failed and sent him to what he calls “startup purgatory,” the hustle demanded that he carry on, leading him to set up the AI-powered tech startup Chatbot PH, which he later sold to Sterling Paper Group of Companies in 2018. After one failure and one success, Baetiong took on the challenge of setting up Podcast Network Asia (PNA), which recently won a P3 million investment at 20 percent equity to investors on CNN Philippines’ The Final Pitch.
“I’ve always been a frustrated radio DJ growing up,” shared Baetiong. Now though, he gets to live the dream through his podcast startup, which just scored an investment that’ll strengthen the company’s base and all the talents under it.
Before PNA, Baetiong entered the podcast scene with his own podcast called Hustle Share, which “talks about things we don’t put in a PR article.” It gets down to the nitty gritty side of hustling, entrepreneurship, and technology. But as he started this side hustle, he realized, like anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset, “If I’m going to put more time in this, it has to pay me back for my time. So I treated it like a business. Someone has to help me pay the bills,” shared Baetiong. “After 10 episodes, I was able to monetize it and make decent money.”
That’s when the idea for PNA struck. After looking around and realizing that other podcasters weren’t earning from their projects, Baetiong saw an opportunity to help other content creators get their due: “My mentor when I started out gave me one piece of advice that stuck with me: ‘Whenever I become successful, don’t pay me back—Pay it forward.’” And so he did.
The makings of the Philippine podcast industry
Despite having a successful podcast of his own, not enough podcasters are as fortunate as Baetiong. The main problem with the Philippine podcast industry? It doesn’t exist—but it will.
Every successful entrepreneurial pursuit needs to identify a problem and then solve it. Baetiong found three: the lack of Filipino podcasters, the varying quality of podcasts, and the fact that nobody was monetizing on their craft. Filipinos listen to podcasts, just not necessarily Filipino-made podcasts, which Baetiong solved by finding the best of the best. “We’re kind of like building the Noah’s Ark (of podcasts). We have to weather through the storm, and we’re picking the best animals at the moment.”
The importance of quality can’t be stressed enough: “No matter how good the topic is, if you sound like you’re in a bathroom, no one will pay attention if it doesn’t sound good.” Content alone isn’t enough in the world of podcasts, so PNA makes sure to equip its podcasters with the technology, equipment, studio, post-production, and even revenue share, in return for a small cut.
As for monetizing content, that’s where PNA’s knowledge of advertisers come in, realizing the “synergy” of subtle advertising and podcasting. “We’re creating a platform where we can match brands with the right podcasts. It’s like Tinder for podcasting and brands,” said Baetiong.
PNA’s efforts are paving the way for there to actually be a podcasting industry in the Philippines. “We want to professionalize it. Each podcast is a business. If it’s worth your time, it should pay you back. It’s so heartbreaking when a content creator creates content, and it fizzles out because life gets in the way. Because when shit hits the fan, the first thing that always goes out is the one that doesn’t make money,” said Baetiong, dropping some truth bombs that people need to hear.
The harsh reality most creatives learn when “adulting” is that passion rarely pays, but with PNA, that could soon be changed in the (soon to be) podcasting industry. But it won’t be easy. With podcasting, it’s not enough to talk about your trip to the salon or coffee shop.
“The first intention when listening to a podcast is to learn—not to be entertained. The listenership is slightly around the mature age range—most around 28 to 34 years of age. Literally tito and tita levels. They want to spend time on content they can relate to outside of all the noise,” explained Baetiong, noting how podcasting is a very intimate and even intellectual medium. “You have to make sense within the first five minutes. If not, [the audience] is not wasting [their] time on you.”
It could very well be considered the Netflix for Filipino podcasting, the start of PNA’s plans to expand abroad. Asia isn’t the most popular podcasting region, but it could be. Podcasting is a niche—a safe space for like-minded individuals. And PNA plans to have the Philippines be the launching pad for their future expansion throughout Southeast Asia.
“Filipinos are the best storytellers in the region and we have the best stories.” Only time will tell if they’ll go beyond our borders, but there’s no denying: The wave has begun.
One investment goes a long way
In the fourth season of The Final Pitch, Baetiong received P1.5 million each from Mark Vernon of Tagcash Ltd. and Michael Dargani of Baskin Robbins PH, in exchange for 10 percent equity for each judge-investor. That left PNA with 80 percent equity over their startup, but it was alright with the team.
“I’ve lost everything [at Partyphile], I’ve sold a company (ChatBot PH)—I kind of know how to play the game,” explained Baetiong. “They were the ones we were targeting when we came in. We didn’t want to get too diluted too early, that’s why our asking investment was small. We needed someone to get the ball rolling. Because we know that once we get enough traction, we can get the bigger pie, which is enough to scale across all Southeast Asia.”
According to Baetiong, the formula they use in the Philippines, also their minimum viable product, will be the same one they will replicate in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. So far, traction has been good, and they’ve managed to aggregate 16 podcasts in the span of three months—all of which are also being monetized and are ranking well on Spotify.
PNA has also set up the Podcast Network Academy, which trains aspiring podcasters in the fundamentals of radio and podcasting, ensuring they reach a certain standard of quality before going on air. Some of PNA’s most popular shows include The Eve’s Drop, a tita roundtable; The Kool Pals, featuring a gang of standup comedians; Kudazzers, with the edgy voices of Gen Z; Tunay na Rider, featuring your neighborhood motorcycle enthusiasts; and Sex Talks Asia, which discusses the medical side of sex. They’ve even got a new show out with celebrity Enchong Dee called The Budgeterian, which is all about saving money.
There are some podcasts that reach 10,000 to 20,000 listeners per episode, and the total audience of certain podcasts are in the hundred thousands ballpark. Considering that these podcasts have been around for less than a year, the prospect of reaching millions of listeners is not impossible. And with the recent P3 million investment, PNA will have the funds to establish the content and technology needed to reach millions of Filipinos.
“This is by far the fastest-growing thing I’ve done,” shared the veteran entrepreneur. “We’re not reckless.” Baetiong credits his failure with the nightlife app Partyphile. The failure gave him what he calls a cheat code to the entrepreneurial life, becoming the playbook for future ventures, like Podcast Network Asia.
How to prevent a startup from failing, from a man whose first startup failed:
In his eulogy to his failed startup, Baetiong said: “The thing with failure is that it eats you from the inside knowing that you’ve let so many people down: your investors, your team, your partners, your customers and yourself. People that believed in your vision, time, money and everything else in between that came along with it—gone.”
That’s a tough pill to swallow, but Baetiong managed to recover and apply everything he learned from his failure to lead to his success. He now knows what to do right, and how to help others avoid his mistakes.
1| “Team is everything. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. We have this quote that I read in a book, ‘It’s first who, then what.’ Who’s in the boat? Who’s joining you in this water? Whoever brings you there will dictate how far you’re going to go. If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go with people.”
2| “Set up your corporate stuff from day zero. If people want to join in and you don’t have an entity to join in, how the hell are you going to get that investment? How are you going to grow?”
3| “You have to put your money where your mouth is. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. You have to be consistent about this. Reputation is everything. All businesses are in the people business whether you like it or not. If you don’t live by your word, you screw people over, your moral compass is shady, that will trickle down, and it will show.”
Recovery certainly wasn’t easy at first. Baetiong recalled when his startup ended up on a list of startups that failed: “Oh my God, that’s the worst list you want to be a part of.” But out of necessity (to pay the bills) and perhaps finished with self-pity, he moved on.
“It’s not the ending until you say it’s done. Lick your wounds, reflect a lot, but when you’re ready, write down your (mistakes), because that’s going to be your playbook in the next startup,” said Baetiong, who wrote his own mistakes down in this Medium essay that every entrepreneur should read.
Now a veteran of entrepreneurship, Baetiong knows the ropes of the game, and he’s become the mentor who’s paying it forward with PNA’s podcasters: “My job now is not to tell stories but to ask questions so people get to their own stories.”