Marla Isackson

Founder of Ossa

Marla Isackson is a seasoned marketing executive with over 25 years’ experience creating innovative marketing campaigns for world-famous brands including Citibank, American Express, Barnes & Noble, and WebMD. A longtime passionate supporter of women’s initiatives, Marla is creating a new movement for women and non-binary people in podcasting. She is the founder of Ossa, a podcast network and two-sided marketplace with more than 1,000 podcasts, connecting women- and non-binary-hosted podcasts and brands focused on their demographics in order to increase the representation and influence of women and non-binary voices worldwide.

Where did the idea for Ossa come from?

I launched my podcast “‘Mind of a Mentor” in 2018 with the goal of amplifying Like a Boss Girls, a business I had at the time designed to empower young women. And I really fell in love with podcasting. The women’s empowerment community I created had grown to more than 1.2 million followers on social media and I saw incredible potential in the future of podcasting. Researching the industry, I found that, like many industries, women were underrepresented. In 2018, only 23% of podcasts were hosted by women, and only 20% of ‘charting podcasts’ were hosted by women. Key issues impacting the growth of women in podcasting included the inability for them to gain traction and monetize their content. One of the main reasons that women stop creating podcasts not knowing how or where to start when seeking ad placement and sponsorship. I decided to take the leap and transition into Ossa, a podcast network for women and non-binary people, who also struggle with gender disparities (1.2 million LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. identify as non-binary). Ossa helps these podcasters build meaningful connections, champion issues that they care about, grow their careers and make more money via our ad booking technology. Rather than focusing on big-name influencers and celebrities like many podcast networks, Ossa supports micro-influencers with small-to-medium niche podcast audiences. I’m proud to be the Founder & CEO of a network that provides resources, monetization and support for 1,400+ podcasters, reaching 12M+ listeners per month.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The first thing that I do is write a gratitude post in my journal to my “Chief Spiritual Officer” – part of “The Gratitude Formula” by May McCarthy. This practice keeps me grounded and focused. I check Slack to see if any team member has questions or needs information. I look at several daily podcast industry newsletters and I follow up on any new trends, research or podcast industry announcements. I try to keep my morning hours free of meetings because this is my time to focus on strategy, networking, writing articles and ideation. My afternoons are spent on team calls, partner calls, project calls and recording my podcast, “Mind of a Mentor,” which is still active to this day. I conclude my work day by checking Slack to see if there are any burning issues that need my attention and if I need to follow up with anyone on my team. To finally wind down, I have a cup of mint tea and enjoy a few chapters of the latest thriller I’m reading.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a research geek and I try to read all available industry research. Any new projects we tackle need to be based on the needs of consumers, and the projects must also be consistent with our mission – our “Why,” as Simon Sinek would say. When an idea sparks, I put it in writing and do an assessment of the concept to determine if it will help move my business forward, help our consumers, be reasonably easy to implement and/or require significant investments.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Significant growth in podcast advertising. The stats are incredible in terms of the very rapid growth of the industry. In 2021, for the first time ever, U.S. podcast advertising revenue surpassed the $1 billion mark, climbing to $1.4 billion. It continues to be one of the fastest-growing channels in digital media. According to the 2021 Internet Advertising Revenue Report, the 72% growth rate of podcast advertising was twice as fast as that of the total internet ad market, which grew by 35%. In addition, podcast listenership has more than doubled in the past 5 years according to the Nielsen Podcast Listener Buying Power report, and more than 100 million Americans are listening to podcasts every month, according to the 2021 Edison Research Infinite Dial study.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Blocking out my mornings to use as my time to think, write, do research and network. This practice really helps me to structure my day, so I feel much less stressed and distracted.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Believe in your accomplishments and own them. You are not an impostor – you’re the real deal, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When confronting a challenging situation, channel The Little Engine That Could. No, really: By changing the mindset from “I think I can” to “I know I can”, the Little Engine was able to overcome significant challenges. Reframe your thinking and believe in the mantra “I know I can” when facing obstacles. Take time to be still and savor the sights, sounds, and smells of each day. And, finally, killing yourself to lose those last extra five pounds is just not worth it.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think I am a very patient person. I believe this to be true. If you ask my friends, family and colleagues, they would say that I am extremely impatient because I want to get things done and get them done quickly and that I don’t have any time to waste. We can agree to disagree.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As an entrepreneur, I am bombarded with information. It can be overwhelming and can impact my decision making. I am a contrarian: I look at both sides of an issue and work through the details for each approach. This process enables me to make better decisions because I am thinking through the potential impacts, both pros and cons, of key actions I may want to take.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

When I make a decision, I stick with it unless I am presented with new data and information requiring me to pivot. I don’t waste time second-guessing myself. Once I decide on a plan of action, I am relentless. I will do everything in my power to overcome any and all obstacles I may encounter. I focus on the overall mission and develop key strategies that will help build my business and support that mission. Therefore, when I make a decision based on our business focus, I don’t equivocate. I make the decision and stick with it and don’t second-guess myself. I will change course only if I’m presented with new data and information requiring me to pivot. An example would be the game plan for the Ossa app. We spent a great amount of time as a team reviewing industry research, doing competitive analyses and evaluating the needs of our podcasters and advertisers. There’s been a complex engineering process to building this app, so I need to stick with the plan we have created. Flipping or frequently changing course will result in higher project costs and a great deal of confusion among our team. The point is: Let’s get it done, get it out to our customers and then tweak as needed based on actual user experience.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I left the corporate world, my daughter was in her teens. Based on conversations I had with my daughter and her friends, I realized that there was a need to elevate and showcase the positive work teens were doing to help shape their world. I created a platform, Heart of Gold Girls, which was an online community providing girls ages 13 to 21 with access to the tools, resources and inspiration to design the future of their dreams. Although I loved what we had created, I realized that it would be very challenging to serve teen girls in a way that would make a real difference in their lives. I decided to pivot my company to help young women start their own businesses and their careers. I rebranded the name to Like a Boss Girls, and the community grew exponentially.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Podcast audio quality is inconsistent. A podcaster may have a great concept but if the audio quality is subpar, this will impact the growth and reach of the podcast. My idea is to create a ‘We Work’-type audio studio facility, nationwide. This facility can be used for podcasting as well as audiobooks and music production. Although studios of this type exist, they are often very expensive to access. With my concept, a member would pay a monthly fee and would be able to access a studio to use for recording. Additionally, a member could pay extra and have access to editors and producers. This type of business would help improve the quality of audio recording and production at a cost that would work for most people.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a very high-quality pizza stone as a gift for my husband. My family and I love pizza and made quite a lot of it during quarantine. However, the crust texture was always lacking. The pizza stone purchase helped my husband to uplevel his pizza-making experience and our family’s pizza consumption. This was a quality-of-life improvement!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I really like Slack. We are all inundated with email, and I found myself missing important communications from my staff. Using Slack has improved my communication process very significantly.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I have always been attracted to books that have a positive impact on my way of thinking about entrepreneurship, creativity and work-life balance. Books written by entrepreneurial authors like Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk have been valuable in helping me develop growth strategies for my business. Essentialism by Greg McKeown is another book in this category that I found to be incredibly informative. I’ve recommended this book to colleagues. As an entrepreneur, evaluating potential new initiatives or programs always leads me to ask myself if I am doing enough or whether or not I’m doing the right thing. This book helped me to reframe my way of thinking — doing more is not always better. The key is to distill down your to-do list and focus on doing the essential initiatives that will make the most impact.

What is your favorite quote?

While I was developing an approach to help myself work through daily challenges in a positive mindset, I adopted the mantra “Everything is Figureoutable,” coined by marketing expert Marie Forleo. When confronting challenges or issues, I approach problem solving with this quote in mind. It’s a mantra that guides me as I work toward achieving clarity and resolution.