How Marla Isackson Is Using Podcasts to Amplify the Next Generation of Female Voices

Marla Isackson

Marla Isackson, Founder and CEO of Ossa, is connecting women-hosted podcasts with women-focused brands in order to increase the representation and influence of women’s voices worldwide.

After the dismal realization that women were severely underrepresented in the podcasting industry, Marla pivoted her former business and poured her efforts into building Ossa. Fueled by the belief in the power of podcasting, Ossa released their first program, a free seven-week accelerator program to enable women in podcasting take their marketing strategies to the next level.

We asked Marla about the story behind Ossa’s founding, the most impactful lessons she’s learned throughout her journey, and the moments she views to be her biggest achievements so far.

Q: Tell us the story behind Ossa’s founding. How and why did you start working on Ossa?

A: The need for Ossa came from realizing that women in podcasting are struggling to monetize and grow. Women often stop creating podcasts because they don’t know how or where to start when seeking ad placement and sponsorship for their content. Researching the industry, I found that women were underrepresented. I decided to use my knowledge and expertise and pivot my existing business, which focused on supporting women’s initiatives, to build Ossa, a women's podcast network. I believe in the power of podcasting as a rapidly-growing communication platform with the potential to elevate underrepresented voices globally. Women podcasters make the best brand ambassadors, with 70 to 80 percent of household consumer purchasing decisions in the U.S. made by women.

Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts Ossa has had so far?

A: We offer programming to help women up level their marketing, podcasting, and technology skills. This summer, we offered a free seven-week accelerator program called Ossa Academy, focusing on key components of podcast marketing such as branding, metrics, and monetization. Academy attendees were engaged with the content and are using the tips and tools we offered to change the growth trajectory of their podcast. This is extremely gratifying.

Q: What problem does Ossa solve?

A: Ossa’s solution is to give all women a voice, helping our creators harness the power, reach, and earning potential of their voice in the podcasting industry. We believe in the power of podcasting as a rapidly-growing communication platform with the potential to elevate underrepresented voices globally. Ossa is working to address key issues encountered by women who want to get into podcasting such as lack of monetization options, slow revenue build, lack of confidence, and discomfort with podcast tech. Additionally, Ossa offers advertisers the ability to efficiently target newly accessible audiences in an untapped medium.

Q: What makes Ossa different from other such companies?

A: Ossa takes a very different approach compared to other networks that focus primarily on attracting celebrities with much larger audiences. Our unique approach is to support independent podcasters with small to midsize niche podcast audiences. Ossa podcasters focus on a wide array of topics such as fostering social change, improving the health and wellness of their listeners, and expanding the amplification, reach, and focus of their respective businesses. Ossa connects our women creators with advertisers who understand the power of and can distribute their ad spend to these women.

Q: In what ways has your past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur?

A: My experiences working for several Fortune 100 companies significantly contributed to my experiences as an entrepreneur. Although my roles were functionally marketing oriented, I also ran my businesses as a general manager. This included managing my budget, focusing on revenue and expenses, and obtaining a return for every dollar I spent funding marketing initiatives. As an entrepreneur, I also need to carefully evaluate every dollar that I spend and often need to come up with creative ways to fund investments in my business.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

A: No, I thought I would be staying in the corporate world. However, with the onset of the ‘dot.com’ boom and working for two companies with major e-commerce businesses, I recognized the opportunity to develop a company based on my vision, mission, and creativity. I leveraged flexible online tech platforms rather than having to invest in a corporate or brick and mortar infrastructure.

Q: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting Ossa?

A: Network and develop relationships within your industry even before you start your company. This will help you better understand industry key challenges and opportunities. These insights will help you make informed decisions and deliver even more value to your customers.

Q: What were the most difficult and most impactful lessons you’ve learned starting and running a company?

A: Beware of shiny objects. Start small and focus on the key needs and priorities of your customers. Don’t be distracted by new technologies or new marketing approaches that may result in you shifting resources away from core initiatives that will add the most value to your customers or overall business.

Q: What’s been the hardest part of your entrepreneurial journey?

A: I am bootstrapping my company. I need to carefully evaluate every dollar that I spend to ensure that I am investing in priorities that will make the biggest impact. I tend to experience frustration because bootstrapping can impact the number of initiatives that I can execute at a time, but also ensures that I stay focused.

Q: What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey?

A: I value the relationships I developed with key players in the industry. I find my colleagues to be extremely supportive. The aphorism ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’ aptly describes the industry’s focus on collaboration.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

A: The team that you work with in the early stages of a company may not be the right people to help take a company to the next stage. When building a company, I typically build close relationships with team members. These emotional connections can make it difficult to make necessary staffing changes as the company evolves and grows.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception that others have around entrepreneurship?

A: That entrepreneurs have to do it all themselves. This is not possible and will lead to frustration and burnout. It is really important to hire people with complementary skills. Once you’ve hired a great team, don’t micromanage them. This will defeat the purpose of creating a strong team.

Q: Have you struggled with self-doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this?

A: I feel like I’m riding a rollercoaster every single day. My morning may be incredibly productive, however, by the evening, after endless meetings, I can feel self-doubt. I navigate these highs and lows by focusing on my problem-solving skills—developing an approach to help working through daily challenges. I adopted the mantra from the very successful business coach, Marie Forleo, “everything is figureoutable.” I approach problem solving with this mindset.

Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?

A: Yes. However, I really believe in my company’s mission and that I am helping to serve underrepresented women in the industry. This belief keeps me focused and on task.

Q: We dare you to brag. What achievements are you most proud of?

A: I am really proud of the growth and evolution of my company. We launched in 2019 as a podcast ad tech platform to serve advertisers interested in connecting with women podcast listeners—an incredibly valuable audience. Ossa has grown and now includes more than a thousand podcasters on our platform, reaching more than four million listeners every month. We are executing successful podcast ad campaigns for advertisers such as Faherty, Natori, Lenox, and Foreo, just to name a few.

Additionally, we have a very engaged podcaster community and offer our podcasters resources, tools, and tips to help them grow their respective shows. We just completed our first Ossa Academy to help women in podcasting take their show to the next level. We offer Ossa insights, a new tool exclusively for Ossa members to help users manage their podcast and podcast data more effectively. We are building an app that will provide new monetization capabilities as well as other new features and benefits.

Q: Has your definition of success evolved throughout your journey as a founder?

A: My definition of success has significantly evolved over the past few years. When I launched Ossa, I was focused primarily on connecting podcasters and brands to generate ad tech sales. In addition to building ad revenue, I am now focused on enhancing the customer experience for our advertisers. I am also building more comprehensive sponsorship and marketing campaigns to offer our clients and help them reach new audiences and generate incremental sales.

Q: How do you celebrate successes along the way?

A: As an entrepreneur I am always focused on what’s next—what else do I need to do to move the business forward. However, it is really important to celebrate small and bigger wins. We celebrate achievements and accomplishments during our weekly sales and team meetings. n addition to expressing sincere gratitude, I offer different types of small gifts and incentives throughout the year to boost morale. I celebrate by rewarding myself with various self-care rituals—a spa manicure and pedicure as well as dinners at fun restaurants.

Q: How have you grown as a leader since starting Ossa? What experiences have contributed to this growth?

A: Coming from a corporate background, I had to adjust the way I approach decision making and become more nimble when launching a new product or initiative. Rather than focusing on perfection, I need to get consumer feedback at an accelerated pace. My process is now to test a concept, tweak, and then repeat, providing me the flexibility to get ongoing consumer input. This approach results in a more customer-centric product and initiative launch.

Q: Have you discovered any underappreciated leadership traits or misconceptions around leadership?

A: I discovered the importance of cultivating the right mindset and the impact this can have on my business. I am able to now push through any limiting beliefs and focus on a growth mindset, which has helped me to accelerate the trajectory of change. I reframe the issue or roadblock and create new approaches when confronting business challenges.

Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?

A: Trust my instincts when making an important decision. If something doesn’t feel right, then it usually isn’t the right decision.

Q: How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences?

A: My experience building Ossa has been incredible. I made a decision to go big and I focused on launching impactful initiatives, no matter how complex or difficult. I did not know anything about podcasting and building a tech company before launching Ossa but I committed myself to understanding the details so I could provide more effective leadership for the team. I’ve also met and worked with such talented people who challenge me every day to expand my thinking so I can leverage new technologies and marketing approaches. I would do this all over again.

Q: What’s next for you and Ossa?

A: The next 12 months will be pivotal in terms of the expansion of Ossa. We are doing an aggressive acquisition push to expand the number of podcasters on the platform. We are developing an app that will include significant new monetization capabilities such as expanded DIY capabilities for advertisers to test and book a wider variety of campaigns.

Ossa Production Services will offer editing and podcast production capabilities in phase one, and we will offer even more marketplace resources such as marketing and branding in later phases.

Marla is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Gesche Haas

Gesche Haas is the Founder/CEO of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through visibility opportunities, resource exchange, and collective support.

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