No place like home for hugely successful Pocket Casts pair

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By Melissa Keogh

Adelaide app developers Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic’s climb to the top of the tech game is the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams.

In 2008 the two work mates built their first app, Pocket Weather, as a side gig to their full-time day jobs.

A decade later and their Adelaide-based company Shifty Jelly and its hugely popular podcast app Pocket Casts has been snapped up by four of the biggest radio and podcast creators in the United States.

But despite the recent international investment in the South Australian tech company, the humble pair say they have no plans to move from Adelaide.

All development will stay in the city, with the Pocket Casts team based in a small office on Ebenezer Place in the Adelaide’s East End.

Their space is modest and shows no obvious signs of flashy success, although the duo joke that a Silicon Valley-style ping pong table would probably fit nicely in the corner and be welcomed by their small but soon-to-expand team.

“They were talking about wanting us to go to New York, but from the early days we said we wanted to stay in Adelaide,” Russell says.

“They could see that we’d make a successful product and they could have a level of trust in us so that even though they can’t be here all the time, they know our team will still deliver.”

Pocket Casts app developers and I Choose SA ambassadors Philip Simpson, left, and Russell Ivanovic. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Since the acquisition earlier this year by the Americans – NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life – Pocket Casts is knuckling down on its ambitions for the future.

I Choose SA ambassadors Philip and Russell say they hope to hire at least another six staff members before the end of the year, adding to their small team of five.

Weekly they Skype their new CEO, former iHeartRadio senior vice president and general manager, Owen Grover, who is based in New York.

Pocket Casts is a premium podcast listening app allowing users to access and manage more than 300,000 podcasts on Android, iOS or web devices.

It was launched a few years after Philip and Russell had quit their day job and started their own venture, Shifty Jelly, a two-man operation which grew to include a designer and support and admin staff.

Pocket Casts has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in Google’s Play Store and in 2015 the design was recognised by the internet giant at the annual San Francisco developers conference.

A recent ABC survey shows that almost 90% of Australians aged 18–75 claim to be aware of podcasts which allow users to download and listen to episodic audio files on electronic devices.

Pocket Casts was one of the first of its kind on the market and even came before Apple’s own podcast app.

Philip says having the backing of the US consortium means the team now has more flexibility and financial security to grow Pocket Casts’ features.

“We can be more flexible now … before we were always profitable but were restricted with money,” he says.

“Now we can expand more and put on more developers to help with the features we’ve been wanting to do for years, it’s very exciting.”

The popularity of Pocket Casts wasn’t Philip and Russell’s first brush with success.

Before launching Shifty Jelly in 2010 the pair’s first app, Pocket Weather, was released in 2008 and was an immediate hit.

Within one day of its release the weather app, showcasing live weather data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, shot to number one in the Australian Apple App Store.

“It was amazing because we didn’t expect that, but we didn’t really know what it meant either,” Philip says.

“We were earning more money outside of work than we were at work, so we decided to take the jump with Shifty Jelly, and it was definitely worth it.”

Both Philip and Russell agree Adelaide’s creative industries and technology scene holds real job prosperity for graduates and job seekers.

“There’s plenty of work coming out of Adelaide if you want it, there’s the defence sector and the start-up thing is also happening,” Russell says.

“There’s almost no reason to move to Sydney or Melbourne, you’ll be paying five times more for housing, transport and everything else.

“If I was coming fresh out of uni, I’d definitely be getting a job in Adelaide.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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