Holiday Special 2023

Summary Notes


In this season finale and holiday special of Acquired, Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal reflect on the year's episodes, their evolution as podcast hosts, and the growth of Acquired. They discuss their favorite episodes, including the impactful LVMH and Costco deep dives, and share insights on avoiding current events to focus on evergreen content. The duo also delve into their personal lives, with Ben revealing his new role as a parent and David announcing his second child on the way. They highlight their shift from interviewing tech companies to covering a broader range of great businesses and the stories behind them, and announce their plans to invest together, leveraging the relationships they've built through the podcast. The episode includes a segment with David Senra discussing his top business biographies, and concludes with heartfelt thanks to their editor Stephen, their audience, and everyone who contributed to the show's success.

Summary Notes

Holiday Sweater and Live Show Memories

  • Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal share a light-hearted moment discussing holiday sweaters.
  • David recalls purchasing a holiday sweater for a live show at the University of Washington in 2019.
  • They reminisce about the time before the pandemic and express a wish to do live shows again.

"Yes. I purchased this holiday sweater at the Seattle Nordstrom for our 2019 live show at the University of Washington."

This quote reflects David's memory of buying a holiday sweater for a specific past event, showing a personal connection to the show's history and the pre-pandemic times.

Pandemic Precautions and Family Life

  • The speakers discuss the impact of the pandemic on their ability to conduct live events.
  • Ben Gilbert acknowledges the need for precautions due to David having a toddler and the risk of traveling and gathering in confined spaces.
  • They touch upon the germs associated with having young children and the importance of safety measures.

"A lot of germs in my life right now."

David's comment highlights the everyday reality of parenting young children and the increased exposure to germs, which is particularly relevant during the pandemic.

Acquired Podcast Evolution

  • Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal discuss the evolution of their podcast, Acquired.
  • They decide to drop "technology" from the intro, reflecting the broader scope of their content.
  • The majority of the episodes in 2023 were not about technology companies, indicating a shift in the podcast's focus.

"No technology. Yes. I motion to the whole board of directors here that we dropped technology from our intro since I crunched the numbers, and four of the 14 episodes we did this year were technology companies."

Ben's quote signifies a strategic decision to rebrand the podcast's intro to better represent the diverse range of companies they now cover, not just technology firms.

Future Plans and Personal Updates

  • Ben Gilbert announces that he is a new parent, joining David on the parenting journey.
  • They share their personal experiences and the profound impact of parenting on their lives.
  • David reveals that Ben will be joining him full-time on Acquired in 2024, expressing excitement about the future collaboration.

"But I am a parent. I'm joining David on the parenting journey with approximately a one month old here at the Gilbert household."

Ben shares his personal milestone of becoming a parent, which adds a new dimension to his life and potentially to the podcast.

Acquired Podcast Growth and Impact

  • The podcast has experienced exponential growth, reaching half a million listeners in 2023.
  • They discuss the influence of their episodes on broader business discussions and the tech sphere.
  • The podcast's focus on great companies, regardless of industry, has expanded its appeal and relevance.

"We hit half a million listeners this year, which is pretty wild."

David's statement confirms the significant growth of their listener base, emphasizing the podcast's increasing popularity and reach.

Reflections on 2023 Episodes

  • Ben and David reflect on their favorite episodes and the lessons learned from them.
  • They discuss the importance of preparation and headspace when recording episodes.
  • The episodes on LVMH, Costco, and Visa are highlighted for their quality and impact.

"My favorite episode was LVMH, because it was so not on my radar at all and not something that I valued at all."

Ben's quote reveals his personal growth and newfound appreciation for the luxury industry, which was sparked by researching and discussing LVMH on the podcast.

Statsig Sponsorship

  • Ben and David talk about their sponsor Statsig and its growth over the past year.
  • Statsig has become a leading platform for data-driven product decisions, serving a large number of users and processing billions of events per day.
  • The sponsorship with Statsig is seen as a positive alignment with Acquired's values and audience.

"Statsig now processes about 130,000,000,000 events per day from its customers."

This quote illustrates the scale and capability of Statsig's platform, highlighting its relevance to the tech and business audience of the Acquired podcast.

Transition From Specials to Interviews

  • The hosts decide to discontinue "specials" and focus on interviews that align with their expertise and interests.
  • They acknowledge the challenge of competing with world-class interviewers and the need to create unique content.
  • The change in strategy is driven by analytics and listener preferences.

"Every single time we did a special, it had less downloads than the most recent season episode we did."

Ben's observation from the podcast's analytics underscores the decision to shift focus away from specials and toward content that resonates more with their audience.

Unique Product Creation

  • Focus on creating a product that the audience desires and differentiates from commodities.
  • Attempting various formats and collaborations to enhance the casual and engaging feel of the content.
  • Learning from different types of content, such as ACQ sessions, specials, and collaborations.

"Which is when you make a unique product, that is the thing that people are here for. You have a format and a product that people want. So make that. Don't go do something that's one click over in the commodity spectrum."

The quote emphasizes the importance of producing unique content that resonates with the audience, rather than shifting towards generic offerings.

Learning from Experience

  • The realization that being too rigid with content format can be limiting.
  • The opportunity to interview high-profile individuals led to reconsidering past decisions.
  • Recognizing the value of flexibility in content creation.

"So here's where the lesson we learned around don't clutch your pearls too tightly. We swore them off. We said, you know what? We're done."

This quote reflects the lesson learned about not being overly protective of content formats to the point of missing valuable opportunities.

The Role of ACQ Two

  • ACQ two serves as a platform for experimentation and less high-stakes content.
  • Initially considered for high-profile interviews, but ultimately deemed inappropriate due to its smaller reach.
  • The decision to use the main channel for significant interviews was driven by the desire to maximize audience impact.

"ACQ two is awesome, but it has one 10th the distribution of acquired."

The quote highlights the strategic decision to utilize the main channel with a larger audience for important interviews, despite having a secondary platform.

Interview Strategy

  • Interviews are generally avoided, except when they align with the core content and offer unique value.
  • The decision to interview CEOs from extensively covered companies allows for a deeper and more informed conversation.
  • The commitment to maintaining content quality and relevance without succumbing to the pressure of filling slots.

"But it turns out with interviews, the answer is we still don't do interviews. We don't do specials. Acquired is what it is, except know Charlie and Jensen."

This quote underlines the selective approach towards interviews, choosing only those that significantly contribute to the podcast's themes and quality.

Work Ethic and Preparation

  • The belief in hard work over innate intelligence for achieving excellence.
  • Extensive research and preparation enable hosts to conduct in-depth and unique interviews.
  • The commitment to becoming the most knowledgeable in a subject area to produce high-quality content.

"I legitimately don't think I'm the smartest person, but I do think I'm the hardest working."

This quote from Ben Gilbert's father reinforces the value of diligence and dedication in producing exceptional work, which is a philosophy adopted by the podcast hosts.

Business Model and Sponsorship Strategy

  • The evolution of the business model to accommodate the growth and changing audience dynamics.
  • The shift from a rigid content schedule to a more flexible approach for special episodes.
  • The goal to maintain high content standards while adapting the sponsorship model to the podcast's uniqueness.

"So stay tuned for how this will work in practice. But the way we're thinking about it for next year and some early conversations. Seems like this is going to work, is you get the next three interviews, we promise you they're going to be world class and we have no idea when they will come out."

The quote explains the new approach to sponsorships, promising quality over quantity and allowing for spontaneity in the release schedule.

Future Interview Aspirations

  • Identifying potential interview subjects based on extensive research and episode coverage.
  • The desire to interview influential figures whose stories are well-understood by the hosts.
  • The anticipation of special interviews that align with the podcast's standards and audience expectations.

"Well, David, I think that's the right question. And I think the answer is sort of obvious. You just have to look at our episode list."

This quote from Ben Gilbert expresses the straightforward approach to selecting future interviewees based on the podcast's history and expertise.

Reflection on Interview Experiences

  • The surreal experience of interviewing prominent figures like Charlie Munger.
  • The realization of the human aspect behind well-known personalities and stories.
  • The balance between being an educator and the weight of becoming a symbolic figure.

"Charlie is a person, a wonderful person, in addition to being this character and I think a figure."

The quote captures the duality of interview subjects as both real individuals and larger-than-life figures, emphasizing the personal connection made during interviews.

Spotify's Podcast Strategy

  • The discussion on Spotify's investment in podcasting as a strategic move for growth and operating leverage.
  • The recognition of Spotify's position as a scale player in the podcasting industry.
  • The defense of Spotify's strategy against criticism, highlighting the long-term potential for profitability.

"I think Spotify in their music business has gotten to scale and has no potential to create a high operating leverage business."

This quote defends Spotify's podcasting strategy, suggesting that the company's investments are necessary steps toward becoming the dominant player in the podcasting market.

State of the Acquired Franchise

  • The growth and evolution of the Acquired podcast into a platform that attracts Fortune 500 sponsors.
  • The balance between maintaining relationships with growth-stage companies and expanding to work with larger enterprises.
  • The intention to invest in and support companies that align with the podcast's values and content.

"It's a very different thing to be partnering with acquired than it was when we were in our third year."

The quote reflects on the maturity and significance of the Acquired franchise, highlighting its appeal to major corporate partners and its role in the broader business and technology landscape.

New Category for Acquired

  • Acquired podcast introduces a new category not previously discussed in 280 episodes.
  • This category is a major part of most countries' GDPs.

"It in all 280 episodes or whatever. And it's one of the largest categories of spend for most countries gdps in the world."

This quote by Ben Gilbert highlights the significance of the new category they are discussing, emphasizing its impact on national economies.

Industry Stories and Longevity

  • The podcast is deep in research for a story with a century-long history.
  • The story is considered incredible regardless of industry, financials, or market cap.

"Anyway, we're already deep in the research. The story itself, like industry aside, financials aside, market cap aside, this is a century long incredible story too."

David Rosenthal expresses excitement about the depth and historical significance of the industry story they're researching, indicating its value beyond just numbers.

Evergreen Content and Episode Fuel

  • The podcast focuses on multigeneration businesses that have thrived over time.
  • The hosts seek to create evergreen content that remains relevant beyond the immediate news cycle.

"Everywhere we look there's like some new fascinating multigeneration business that you'd never expect could have thrived through all these times that they have and have five unique, amazing vignettes to tell through their whole history to today."

Ben Gilbert discusses the podcast's focus on businesses with long histories and the breadth of content available for episodes, implying a rich source of material for future podcasts.

Upcoming Topics and Categories

  • Future episodes will cover brands, luxury, retailers, big tech, and entertainment.
  • The podcast aims to avoid current events to create unique, non-commodity content.

"We'll hit some big tech. We have to. It feels like a obligatory nod. We'll hit something in the sort of entertainment, gaming, streaming world."

Ben Gilbert outlines the variety of topics and industries the podcast plans to cover, indicating a commitment to diversity in content.

Approach to Current Events

  • The podcast has moved away from covering current events to focus on creating unique content.
  • The hosts prefer to cover stories with known outcomes and synthesize them for today's context.

"We very much have moved away from current events. And I think that is in part because of what we talked about earlier, that we want to create n of one content."

Ben Gilbert explains the strategic decision to steer away from current events in favor of creating distinctive content that stands out from the news cycle.

Trusting Instincts and Lessons Learned

  • The hosts reflect on past experiences and trust their instincts when assessing new information.
  • They express regret over an interview with Sam Bankman-Fried, emphasizing the importance of due diligence.

"I think we've really started trusting our gut that there's probably more here than there seems to appear on the surface."

David Rosenthal speaks to the importance of trusting one's instincts, especially when dealing with new and unfolding stories.

Role as Historians

  • The hosts consider themselves more as historians than journalists.
  • They focus on well-established stories where they can provide a comprehensive perspective.

"I think on that spectrum, we've shifted much more toward historians than journalists."

Ben Gilbert clarifies the podcast's positioning towards being historians, indicating a preference for covering stories that have fully unfolded and can be analyzed in depth.

Impact on Investment Strategy

  • The hosts discuss how their role as historians has improved their investment strategies.
  • They emphasize the importance of knowing history to analyze the present.

"Turns out knowing history is very helpful in analyzing the present."

David Rosenthal shares a reflection on how understanding historical context has been beneficial in making better investment decisions.

Marketing and Audience Engagement

  • The hosts talk about the challenges of marketing and ensuring that the content resonates with the audience.
  • They stress the rarity of creating content that people genuinely care about and pay attention to.

"Perhaps the most useful that I am in boardrooms now is being like a reality check on are you actually reaching people."

Ben Gilbert discusses the importance of impactful marketing and the difficulty of breaking through the noise to create engaging content.

Listener Questions and Book Recommendations

  • The podcast plans to answer listener questions as part of their holiday special.
  • The hosts share personal book recommendations that have influenced their lives.

"Should this be the entire episode?"

David Rosenthal introduces the idea of dedicating an entire episode to answering listener questions, indicating a desire to engage directly with their audience.

Personal and Professional Investment

  • The hosts reflect on the importance of investing in personal relationships and the impact of the podcast on their lives.
  • They discuss therapy as a valuable investment for personal growth.

"Cultivating the relationship with my wife, hands down, 100%."

Ben Gilbert shares that investing in his relationship with his wife has been the most worthwhile investment, underscoring the value of personal connections.

Unusual Habits and Absurd Loves

  • The hosts reveal personal habits and preferences that others may find unusual or absurd.
  • Ben Gilbert mentions his daily consumption of a specific Starbucks wrap, while David Rosenthal talks about his Zojirushi hot water heater for tea.

"I eat a Starbucks spinach feta and cage free egg white bite wrap every single day."

Ben Gilbert's quote highlights his unique daily habit, which is a personal preference that has become a consistent part of his routine.

Advice for College Students and Saying No

  • The podcast provides advice for college students entering the real world and the importance of saying no to certain requests.
  • They emphasize the value of surrounding oneself with intelligent and trustworthy people.

"Harvest when everyone else is harvesting, and build skills when there's no harvesting to be done."

Ben Gilbert offers pragmatic advice to college students, suggesting they take advantage of economic opportunities while also focusing on skill development during less prosperous times.

Focus and Overcoming Overwhelm

  • When feeling unfocused or overwhelmed, the hosts find solace in creating a quality podcast episode.
  • They discuss the importance of having a project or task that they can control and excel in.

"We go make a great acquired episode."

David Rosenthal shares his method for regaining focus, which involves channeling energy into producing a high-quality podcast episode, demonstrating the therapeutic value of their work.

Favorite Business Biographies of 2023

  • Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal discuss their favorite business biographies published in 2023.
  • They highlight the importance of learning from history and the impact of certain entrepreneurs on their personal and professional lives.

"The very first recommendation would be the new stripe press edition of Poor Charlie's Almanac that just happened to be published a week after he passed away."

This quote introduces the first recommended biography, "Poor Charlie's Almanac," and its timely publication following Charlie Munger's death. The book is considered to have valuable lessons on business and life.

"There's something on the back. There's a quote from Charlie Munger, and he says there's an old two-part rule that often works wonders in business, science, and elsewhere. Number one, take a simple, basic idea, and two, take it very seriously."

The quote from Charlie Munger emphasizes the power of simplicity and dedication in achieving success, which is a central theme of the biography.

"And then the idea that we got to spend time with him in his very last year, I don't take that lightly to the degree that I can. And you guys definitely did it with your excellent interview with him."

Reflecting on the personal interaction with Charlie Munger, the speaker expresses gratitude for the opportunity and the significance of preserving and promoting Munger's ideas.

Humanistic Capitalism and Personal Success

  • The concept of humanistic capitalism is explored through the life of Brunello Cuccinelli.
  • The balance between professional success and personal happiness is discussed, along with the impact of focusing on a single life project.

"This book is almost impossible to find, so it's the dream of Solomeo, my life, and the idea of humanistic capitalism by Brunello Cuccinelli."

Introducing the second biography, which focuses on Brunello Cuccinelli's philosophy of humanistic capitalism and its rarity due to limited availability.

"And he says, I've always been firmly convinced that in order to successfully stand out, you need to focus on one single project representing the dream of your life."

Brunello Cuccinelli's quote illustrates his belief in dedicating oneself to a singular passion or project to achieve distinction and success.

"And then it just speaks to the first class person that he is and the first class organization that he runs."

The speaker admires Cuccinelli's character and how it is reflected in the way he runs his company, which is further exemplified by the personal touches in his interactions, such as sending a handwritten note and olive oil.

The Invisible Billionaire & The Taste of Luxury

  • The stories of Daniel Ludwig and Bernard Arnault are shared, highlighting the themes of focus, dedication, and strategic business growth.
  • The impact of these entrepreneurs on their respective industries and their approach to business is discussed.

"And so there's only one book on them, and it's this book called the Invisible Billionaire, Daniel Ludwig."

Mentioning the biography of Daniel Ludwig, a lesser-known yet highly successful entrepreneur, underscores the theme of dedication to one's work.

"And if you think about the fact of he knows everything, down from the tiniest details, which there's crazy stories about this, to the big strategy, to the capital allocation decisions."

Bernard Arnault's comprehensive understanding of his business, from minute details to overarching strategies, is highlighted as a model for entrepreneurial success.

"I think the important thing is identifying an opportunity that no one else sees."

This quote emphasizes the importance of recognizing unique opportunities, as exemplified by Bernard Arnault's success in consolidating luxury brands under LVMH.

Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary

  • Sol Price's influence on retail and his balanced approach to business and personal life are examined.
  • The biography written by his son, Robert Price, is used to discuss Sol's legacy and the values he instilled in his family.

"And the episode I made on Sol Price I titled purposely the most influential retailer to ever live because if you look at the people who are on record saying they benefit from ideas from him, Sam Walton, Jim Senegal, Jeff Bezos, Bernie Marcus."

Sol Price is credited with influencing many prominent figures in retail, showcasing his significance in the industry.

"Sol was a poster child for the American dream. His immigrant parents were born in a small Russian village. Sol was the first in his family to graduate college."

The quote from Sol Price's biography encapsulates his life story and the values of hard work, success, and family, which are central to his legacy.

Personal Recommendations and Acquired Community

  • The speakers share their personal product recommendations and express gratitude to the Acquired community.
  • They acknowledge the contributions of listeners, researchers, and industry experts to the success of their podcast.

"Mill was founded by Matt Rogers, who was Tony Fidel's co-founder at Nest back in the day. And Mill is the Nest thermostat version of a compost bin."

This recommendation for an innovative compost bin product, Mill, demonstrates the speaker's appreciation for gadgets that enhance daily life.

"The female lead is the woman from the most recent, the last two Mission Impossibles, who's a really good actress and who else is in it. The woman from The Office, Rashida Jones, is also in it."

Discussing the cast of the TV show "Silo," the speaker highlights the quality of the production and the talent involved.

"I've been using a June oven for the last six months. Also life-changing. You might be like, why do you need a small oven instead of your big oven?"

The mention of the June oven as a game-changing appliance reflects the speaker's appreciation for innovative products that improve everyday experiences.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

  • The speakers express gratitude to various individuals who have contributed to their podcast, including editors, collaborators, and industry professionals.
  • They thank their listeners for their continued support and engagement with the Acquired community.

"Stephen, you are, and everybody listening, I'm sure will agree, the single best podcast editor in the business."

Praising their editor, Stephen, for his exceptional work on the podcast, emphasizing the quality and professionalism of the editing.

"Thank you to Doug Demero for consenting to join the crazy acquired episode process for Porsche."

Acknowledging Doug Demero's contribution to an episode on Porsche, highlighting the value of expert guest hosts in enhancing the podcast content.

"We have one more section to close out the year, and that is thank yous."

The speakers conclude by offering thanks to those who have supported the podcast throughout the year, emphasizing the importance of community and collaboration in their success.

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