Smile, say “please” and “thank you,” and listen to what people tell you.”
Nick Vidinsky is the founder of Tales Untold Media, providing full-service podcasting solutions for organizations and individuals, as well as the Tales Untold app: featuring original, episodic audio stories for young kids.
Nick has a varied career spanning multiple industries, including advertising, broadcast, journalism and academia. He holds an MA in American Studies from Columbia University and an MA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His BA from Carleton College is in American Studies.
In spite of his accolades and accomplishments–imagined and otherwise–Nick is unwilling to take himself too seriously and considers his ability to make his children howl with laughter to be the pinnacle of his success.
Where did the idea for Tales Untold come from?
My wife and I have two young children, and as we began to be exposed to more and more kids narrative stories (books, TV, movies, apps, etc.) over the last couple of years, we found ourselves lamenting along with our friends how so much content aimed at our children tends to be overwhelming, uninspiring or insipid–sometimes all three.
At the same time, I have a background in narrative audio production and I’m a huge podcast consumer.
It dawned on me, as awareness of podcasting is booming and parents are rightfully becoming more concerned with screen time, that we could produce an app featuring original, episodic audio stories for kids to listen to. So yes, I left my senior position at an ad agency to tell stories to little kids…
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I like to keep my inbox clean, so the first thing I do is sit down with my coffee and wade through new emails, organizing them for later reference. I then make sure to set aside 30 minutes to write each morning. That can be a new episode for our app, or some outreach emails, or a client presentation–I find I write much more cogently and quickly in the morning, before I’m distracted by other thoughts. Plus, if I put it off until the afternoon, there’s always an excuse to continue putting it off. After that, the rest of the work day is a mix of production, new business development and finding ways to help people engage with our tales. I like to switch activities every hour or two, so I can bring some new energy to whatever I’m working on.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My background in journalism and advertising/marketing taught me to never be too precious with my ideas. I’ve seen too many brilliant and exciting thoughts die on the vine, or have the energy sucked out of them by countless meetings, committees, stakeholders, and reviews. Now that I’m my own client, I have the freedom to put something out there warts and all and apply any learnings to the next iteration, as opposed to wringing my hands and going in circles without making any progress. I emphasize the same approach with our podcasting clients and those who buy in invariably find more success and have more fun in the process.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The explosion of podcasting popularity is an obvious trend from which we benefit. But there’s a trend in scientific studies looking at young children and cognitive development that I find intriguing. For example, it turns out that actively listening to stories–as opposed to watching video or even following along in a picture book–increases brain activity among preliterate kids. I think that’s pretty cool, and it validates what we’re doing with Tales Untold.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Trust the team. I’m no Rumsfeld, but I know what I know, and what I don’t. When I run into something outside of my expertise, I quickly assess whether I would see long-term benefits if I take the time to learn and solve the issue myself, or if I’m better off delegating.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I have a very clear memory from one summer before 8th grade when I assisted a team of paralegals prepping for a case. I was paid insanely well (for a thirteen-year-old) but it was mind-numbingly boring. I basically did nothing but make photocopies all day long, six days a week. Even thinking about it now makes my teeth itch. I knew after that summer that I would only ever be happy with a job in which I’m trying to create something.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would not have quit piano lessons in 4th grade? I mean, professionally speaking, I would have had an easier course in life, had I set my sights on a particular goal early on and focused entirely on getting there. But honestly, that would have been at the expense of the varied life experiences I’ve had thus far. And I value those most of all. So let’s stick with the piano lessons.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Smile, say “please” and “thank you,” and listen to what people tell you. Be interested in them. Somehow, the brash, egotistical, stop-at-nothing-to-get-what-you-want character has become the dominant image of the successful entrepreneur. To me, that’s not a leader. That’s just an asshole in a hat.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We’ve partnered with other businesses (hospitals, pediatricians) to provide them with Listening Kits for kids to use in those environments. It serves our partners’ needs (calming/engaging nervous children) while gaining us more exposure at a low cost.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We initially launched with a sole focus on our app. Soon after, it became clear that we could leverage our resources and expertise to offer solutions to other aspiring podcasters. It’s since been a successful business channel for us, but unfortunately, it took a short while before we had the insight to add that offering.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A light bulb that only shines on things worth looking at? (Sorry, I took that one from George Carlin.) This might seem far afield, but as a family man who loves active vacations on a modest budget, I think there’s a real opportunity for a private travel club that gives members affordable access to family friendly properties at ski/surf/adventure destinations. It’s not a new business model, but nobody seems to be serving that particular market. It’s all about finding that sweet spot somewhere between Airbnb and luxury time shares.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Groceries to cook a Valentine’s Day dinner at home after the kids were asleep. (My wife better read this.)
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I keep my personal life offline for the most part, but in business, I’m all about the cloud. We use Google Apps for Work, Adobe Creative Cloud, Evernote, Quickbooks Online, etc. It’s a total stress reliever to know that we can access everything for all aspects of our business, no matter what computer we’re using or where we are.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m currently reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, and wish I had sooner. It’s a fascinating look at how we continuously deceive ourselves with what we perceive as our own intuition and rational thought, and it’s applicable to pretty much anything in life.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I’ve always been a huge fan of stand-up comics who can monumentally shift the way I perceive the world and make me laugh while doing it: George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Bill Hicks. They really are the philosophers of our time, challenging our notions of reality and truth. There are some current stand-ups with fantastic podcasts that continue that tradition on a regular basis: Grep Proops, Pete Holmes, Marc Maron. Stitcher’s podcast app is like a rabbit hole – once you find one show you like, you’ll get sucked into a million more…
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