Along with the rise of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the need for social distancing and self-isolation, has come a considerable upsurge in the popularity of podcasts. This is a trend which has held true through the course of recent history, particularly during times of crisis and extraordinary stress. It’s safe to say that, at the very least, this current state of affairs marks a semi-permanent shift in global habits as more and more people move from office-based employment to working from home, and will affect all of us on a major scale, either due to the immediate effects of the virus on daily life or as result of its longer-term economic impact.
Whether to do with the epidemiological spread of the virus itself and best practices for staying safe and healthy, or pure entertainment as people seek distraction during these unpredictable times, it is more important than ever that podcasters continue making content. Indeed, one thin silver lining of the current global crisis is that we finally have the time to catch up on all of the shows we otherwise would have difficulty fitting into our normal busy schedules. Seeing as both national and international efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ could last weeks, months, or potentially even longer, here are 10 podcast recommendations that listeners should tune in to while we all practise safe social distancing.
Hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman of the award-winning narrative podcasting company, Gimlet Media, with occasional appearances from CEO Alex Blumberg, this podcast will have you on the edge of your seat. Covering some of the most unusual online scandals and oddest yet true tech support queries (such as how and why people’s social media handles get hacked, or who’s really behind those call centre scams) Reply All is an educational investigative podcast that covers a myriad of topics that fall under the umbrella of ‘the Internet’, but is, at its heart, chiefly about what it is to be human today. This show helps us to understand how technology shapes and is shaped by people, and the challenges that come with being part of an interconnected global economy. Note: I would strongly recommend listeners start with episode #130, The Snapchat Thief, a personal favourite of mine!
How I Built This
If you’re a rookie to podcasts, particularly an entrepreneur or business owner, the best show to start with is, without a doubt, How I Built This, a podcast produced by NPR and hosted by journalist, radio host, and one of the godfathers of the podcasting industry, Guy Raz. The show chronicles the real-life stories of successful entrepreneurs, with each episode devoted to narrating the true accounts of how they built their companies from the ground up. The quality of the guests brought on this show is second to none, featuring icons like Sara Blakely, billionaire businesswoman and founder of Spanx; Joe Gebbia, genius tech designer and co-founder of Airbnb; and Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder of the popular dating app Bumble. Listeners will get an up-close, insider’s view into the history of some of the most famous brands of our time. I guarantee you’ll walk away both wildly inspired and motivated to either start or continue growing your own company.
The Week Unwrapped
Hosted by Olly Mann, a British writer, presenter and gadget correspondent, The Week Unwrapped focuses on discussing major yet unreported stories overshadowed by the big headlines. In other words, if you feel like the coverage of COVID-19 is becoming a little too saturated in the mainstream media for your tastes, why not catch up on some other, unrelated news by checking out this podcast. The show covers a broad range of different topics, from business, science, politics, and culture, and Mann thoughtfully generates some very healthy (if at times controversial) debate. This is the perfect podcast to listen to if you’re looking to take a break from the non-stop information overload related to this global pandemic, but still want to keep up to date with the world at large.
Masters of Scale
In Masters of Scale, Reid Hoffman, venture capitalist and co-founder of the employment-oriented social media site LinkedIn, interviews founders of the major players in Silicon Valley, including Netflix, Uber, Nike, and Starbucks, as they share the best practices and strategies that catapulted them from basement brands to international superstars. While the spotlight is on testing theoretical strategies and unconventional approaches to scaling companies, the podcast also illuminates various unpleasant and difficult setbacks each founder has faced in the course of doing so, thus making the discussion a lot more relatable to the average individual. While most success stories don’t focus on the pitfalls, failures, and challenges of building a business, this podcast covers the gamut of the entrepreneurial journey, all to a background of an intensely comedic narrative voice.
I’ll Go First
Hosted by the Toronto-based tech journalist and entrepreneur, Takara Small, I’ll Go First will open your eyes to the avant-garde start-ups and pioneers who disrupted the status quo and forever changed the landscape of their industries with novel ideas; individuals who were, if not the first to identify gaps in the market, at the very least the first to come up with innovative solutions to fill or bridge those gaps. Small interviews the true movers and shakers in business and tech, from iconic Canadian business tycoons like Ray Reddy, the CEO of Ritual, to Sascha Mojtahedi, CEO of the popular cryptocurrency trading platform Bunz. Currently in its second season, I’ll Go First is a relatively new podcast which has gradually become a fan favourite for all Canadians.
Boss Files showcases a series of compelling conversations to do with leadership, business, and innovation as Poppy Harlow, CNN anchor, interviews various CEOs on what it takes to make it in their respective industries. Notable interviewees include Jim Hackett, Ford President and CEO, on the impact of technology on the automobile industry; Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, on privacy, diversity, antitrust investigations and hate speech; and, in their most recent episode, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, on eradicating the spread of misinformation on the platform and the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak. Paired with Harlow’s impressive investigative journalism skills, this show probes some of the most thought-provoking, provocative, and divisive issues of our time.
Under the Influence
Another Canadian fan favourite which originated as a spin-off of a CBC radio show, Under the Influence has quickly climbed the ranks to attain household name status. Hosted by Terry O’Reilly, this podcast gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look into the boardrooms, back alleys and drawing boards of the advertising industry. By way of narrative storytelling, O’Reilly helps us understand the landscape of modern advertising and marketing. As podcast critic Alex Conde states in one of his reviews, “You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you will probably never look at a store, ad, or commercial the same ever again.” True to its description, Under The Influence is not a show about advertising per se, but rather about “life through the lens of advertising.” Note: If you can, see if you can pick up the covert Beatles’ references hidden in every episode!
Work in Progress
Work in Progress is an uplifting and inspirational podcast which explores the notion that we, as individuals, should never stop growing or improving ourselves. Hosted by Sophia Bush, actress, activist and advocate for women, this show features honest and open conversations with anyone who inspires her, with both topic and tone ranging from the deeply personal to the political and from funny and light-hearted to serious and professional. In many ways, Bush is the perfect interviewer for this podcast, as she comes to each conversation with a genuine yet empathic sense of curiosity, and an eagerness to truly understand how each individual came to be where they are today, the hurdles they faced, and the things that inspired them to keep going despite the odds. Essentially, she emphasizes that everyone is allowed or even encouraged to make mistakes and change their minds. We are, at the end of the day, as much a masterpiece as we are a work in progress.
Teaching you how to not hate the boss you have, or be the boss you hate, Radical Candor is hosted by two Silicon Valley tycoons, Kim Scott, New York Times bestselling author and CEO coach, and Russ Laraway, Vice President of Qualtrics. Together, they join forces to give you tactical, actionable tips for building the best possible working relationships, as well as share comical, cringeworthy leadership moments as perfect examples of what not to do. Each episode is approximately 20–30 minutes long, so the perfect portion of bite-sized content if you’re looking to take a break from your daily pandemic research.
The Tech Haus
Another local favourite, The Tech Haus is hosted by venture capitalist and TEDx speaker, Swish Goswami, and produced by Origins Media Haus, a boutique content marketing agency specializing in branded podcasts. This podcast bridges the divide between Fortune 500 companies and cutting-edge start-ups with one common theme—emerging technologies. In this time of ever-expanding technological growth, its influence on every aspect of existence is ubiquitous, and often holds equal potential for both connection and division. From CPG marketing, artificial intelligence and mental health, to social media, digital communities and influencers, each episode will cause you to question how emerging technologies are affecting your everyday life and what they might hold for the future.
If you’re still looking for podcast recommendations or have burnt through all of the ones on this list (impressive!), we encourage you to check out Quill. Along with being the world’s first marketplace for podcasters, this platform also publishes crowdsourced reviews on podcasts—think Rotten Tomatoes, but for podcasting. This podcast discovery tool is especially useful right now as we all seek out alternative methods of staying connected digitally, if not physically, and adjusting to our new reality during these uncertain times.
Fatima Zaidi is the co-founder of Quill, the world’s first one-stop marketplace where podcasters can find pre-vetted expert freelancers who will save them time, improve their podcast quality, and help grow their audience.