One of my favorite nonfiction podcasts has emerged from the rubble of Gimlet Media, and is being relaunched by its co-founders.
That show is The Pitch, which aims to a more reality-focused version of Shark Tank, providing a forum in which entrepreneurs and founders pitch investors, and then following up with those investors to see what happened later.
I talked to co-founder and host Josh Muccio and co-founder Lisa Muccio about their podcast, which is breaking the fourth wall in more ways than one as it drops the new season’s first episode today.
How The Pitch differs from Shark Tank
Where Shark Tank condenses its hour-long pitches to maybe 10 minutes of TV time, The Pitch lets us sit through around a half-hour of pitch and conversation.
The investors—regulars including Jillian Manus, Charles Hudson, Elizabeth Yin, and Phil Nadel, plus guests—ask questions, challenging founders and each other. They also get into details that ABC’s show would not.
While I constantly compare the two shows, perhaps because it’s an easy shorthand, The Pitch pitches itself as more authentic.
“The core difference is they’re making reality TV. We’re actually trying to make deals happen,” Josh told me. “So the purpose of the two shows is very different, right? We just happen to be documenting a thing that’s already happening in the world. I would give Shark Tank more grace if they acknowledged how much bullshit was happening.”
“They rarely go back and tell the true stories of how these deals either fell apart; they typically go back and tell the stories when they worked out favorably,” he added. “You come away from that show with a very poor understanding of how these deals actually get done. You might walk away and say, Wow, that was really entertaining.”
Shark Tank‘s offers can be “the type of predatory stuff that sometimes happens in VC, but [Shark Tank is] glorifying it,” and that makes for an unattractive proposition. “I would never actually pitch those investors, and maybe I won’t raise money for my idea, because I would never want to be treated like that.”
The Pitch did once have an investor treat a company badly: Guest investor James Altucher said he’d invest in a veteran-owned company, and then ghosted them, bizarrely rationalizing this by tweeting: “it’s a podcast, not a professional venture capital forum.”
Lisa said, “For the record, that is when I was not in charge of casting!”
Josh told me that “the lesson we learned from that experience is we just have to cast real investors for the show. If we’re casting good people who are real investors, the terms that they’re going to offer are going to be legitimate, they’re actually going to follow up because their reputation is on the line.”
The Pitch’s journey and new direction
In their newsletter, told The Pitch’s origin story, including what it was like going through two acquisitions before eventually buying their show back.
It’s been two years since The Pitch aired its pandemic-focused season eight, and almost three years since the show had typical episodes, on which a founder or entrepreneur pitches a panel of investors.
Was The Pitch cancelled by Spotify during its time off the air? Josh said the July 2022 episode covers what they can say about that time.
The pandemic, however, did affect its ability to continue. While The Pitch might seem like the perfect show to go remote, that was a strategy the show already tried.
“Way back in the day, there was a version of the show that was remote,” Josh told me. “We did 55 episodes of The Pitch that were all remote. Fun thing: No one ever got an investment on that version of the show.”
The in-person version, however, has generated more than $10 million in investment in the room. Why did the 1.0 version fail?
“I think it was a couple of things,” Josh said. “It’s really hard to commit to invest to someone in the room. Like, if you’re a serious investor, it’s really hard to make a serious commitment to someone in the room, even knowing that it’s pending due diligence. If you just think about how relationships are formed, right? Typically, you’re doing these things over several meetings.”
That means even The Pitch‘s version is challenging. “That three or four meetings has to be compressed into a one 45-minute/hour-long pitch, and you’re alongside other investors who are also trying to get comfortable with this person. It’s actually a hard format to make work, unless you’re doing it like Shark Tank where, you know, a lot of that isn’t real anyway, and most of those deals aren’t actually going to come to fruition in the end,” Josh said.
The in-person pitching and recording events are critical to the success of The Pitch, and Lisa produces those, from casting to finding a studio that can hold everyone. The show does two recordings a year; the next will be in June, and planning is already underway.
“I’m making intros to more founders, and I’m meeting other VCs, too,” Lisa told me. “It’s event planning, but it’s also just networking, and relationship building, and casting for the next season.”
While The Pitch has recorded only in New York City and San Francisco before, it’s now expanding, and in November, recorded in Chicago.
“What we really want to do as we’re going forward is pull in other VCs from the places we’re going. We’re trying to highlight different areas in the country,” Lisa said.
Josh added that “we get introductions to founders, or founders applying to be on our show, from all over the country and the world. That’s just super-unique, because most VCs have like a local network and then maybe it expands from there.”
A podcast investing alongside its investors
The Pitch is now distributed by Vox Media, which will sell its advertising. In addition to seeking more traditional podcast listener support in the form of an ads-free version of the show, The Pitch has now created a fund so that both the show and accredited investors will invest in the companies that get deals.
That new direction was documented in episode #101, “Josh Pitches The Pitch,” on which Josh appears in front of the investors to ask them to invest in their company.
Entering this new space of running a fund, Lisa said, has been helped by producing the show. “I definitely have been learning about this world through working on the show for, what, seven years now,” she said. “We’ve been learning from some of the best VCs in the country for years.”
Josh added that “we’re comfortable with this world because we’ve been working in it for for so long. So much of being a fund manager, or being a good just investor in general, is about finding good companies and picking the right ones. … We’ve had the luxury of picking companies for the past seven years, and not putting money on the line.”
In the episode, the investors wonder how all of this will affect The Pitch as a well-respected podcast, and I was curious if they’d noticed a change yet.
There are, Josh told me, “moments where I’m, like, overthinking things and being, like, Is it changing the show? Do I need to change what I say—do I need to just represent the show, and then the fund conversations happen behind the scenes? What do we need to do?”
He said The Pitch producer Anna Ladd—who created So Help Me and produced How to Save a Planet, among other shows—told him, “You have a fund now. It’s a part of the show; get over it.”
So, the answer is “yes, it’s going to affect things,” Josh added. “And people are either going to think that it’s more interesting now that Josh and Lisa have a fund, or they’re going to be like, They’ve sold their soul and they’re now venture capitalists, we hate them! Right? There’s nothing we’re going to be able to do to change their opinion.”
Lisa explained that, in managing the fund, “we’re involved in trying to make sure the deals happen, but I definitely 100 percent want what is best for the company and the founder, and that’s not going to change.”
“Of course it’s going to change the show, but I don’t think it’s going to change the purity of the show.”