Artifact (YC S20) – Personal podcasts with the people in your life

Hi HN,

I’m Ross Chanin, co-founder and CEO of Artifact (https://www.heyartifact.com), where we help people record the important stories in their lives, told in the voices of friends and family members. Think of us as an on-demand podcast studio you can focus on anything you want. We set you up with an interviewer in our marketplace, and we make the process easy, from scheduling to hosting interviews over the phone, and then delivering a polished edit that wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio.

Our idea was born out of a personal sense of loss: My grandfather passed away and I found myself regretting that I hadn’t captured him telling stories about his life. I thought others might feel the same about someone in their own lives.

The problem (for me, anyway) was that I didn’t have an easy way to go deep with my grandfather. It was never the right time. Some of the questions I wanted to ask were quite personal. I don’t have audio editing skills, so I was unsure what I would even do with the raw audio if I’d recorded a conversation with him.

I mentioned what I wanted to do to my friend, George, who’s a journalist. He stopped me and said, “But that’s what journalists do. Why don’t you hire a journalist?”

We decided to try it as an experiment. My Aunt Cindy was about to turn 59, so George called up three of her oldest friends, interviewed them about their relationships with Cindy, and delivered an edit that, when Cindy heard it, had her laughing and crying in equal measure.

Cindy and her friends told us three things that we have since heard over and over: First, customers often tell our interviewers things they’ve never told their loved ones, but would like to be able to say to them (example - https://www.instagram.com/p/CDlwIojFPmF/). Second, we routinely hear from recipients that, as soon as they've heard an episode in which people talk about them, they want to call those people and thank them. And third, that the experience is helping people feel closer to each other.

But the truth is that we would have only ever been a cottage production studio with George and me at the helm (that’s right, my friend George became a co-founder). This is where Moncef Biaz and Martin Gouy, our technical co-founders, enter the picture. Together, as a team, we think about Artifact as a marketplace, connecting the right interviewers with the right guests (e.g., if you need a bilingual Mandarin and English-speaking interviewer who is also great with 11-year-olds, we got you.) We’ve also become obsessed with the state of audio recording and editing technology, effectively asking the question: "How close can we get to studio-quality sound without the studio?" The answer is: pretty darn close.

Far more important than the audio quality is the substance of what people are telling our interviewers. Our customers are telling us that these incredibly personal stories are becoming heirlooms for their friends and family. Customers are also teaching us new ways to use our service: wedding and anniversary gifts, family heritage, journaling, enterprise use-cases, etc.

We put lots of little snippets (with permission from our customers) on our Instagram. You can also hear a full Artifact—commissioned by a couple who wanted to document the husband’s cancer diagnosis and their shared journey (https://www.heyartifact.com/daryl).

Ultimately, our goal is to make this service accessible in every language, geographic region, and culture. Because we all have a story to tell; what we didn’t all have, until now, is someone to tell it to—someone who knows how to ask the right questions, how to record it, and how to make sure it sounds great, so that we can easily share it with friends, family, and generations to come.

I’d really love to hear the community’s feedback and I’m here to answer questions.

—Ross

P.S. There’s more detail on that first experiment, and how we expanded our scope from there, in this blog post (https://www.heyartifact.com/blog/hey-were-artifact/).



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