Sometimes adversity yields new opportunities. In the case of Heartcast Media, a full-service podcast production studio and content creation lab started in the District, the obstacles they faced at the beginning of the pandemic ultimately made room for the team to work on meaningful projects with national-level impact. We spoke with Heartcast Media founder and podcaster extraordinaire Molly Ruland about the very real difficulties she faced as a small business owner and all of the incredible initiatives her team is working on now.
Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP): How did the onset of the pandemic impact Heartcast? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Molly Ruland (MR): The business is doing really well—actually, things are going much better for us now than at the beginning of the pandemic. March and April were incredibly difficult, and certainly an emotional time. We hit a major roadblock when it came to navigating a compromise with the landlord of our studio and office space. With the stay at home order in effect, we could no longer use the space we were renting. I proposed various solutions that would work for us as a small business and as renters, while still getting the landlord their fair share. Unfortunately, they were not receptive to working out a compromise and that left me with a really difficult choice. I simply couldn’t keep paying rent AND afford to keep my employees on payroll. Naturally, I had to prioritize my team.
We were out of the studio by the end of April. We really felt a sense of loss in having to part ways with the community and the deep ties we had built over the years. That was a hard decision to make, particularly because we operate in such a collaborative industry. But we were able to move all of our production to a remote situation quickly. In hindsight, the obstacles and turbulence of the first two months led us to a really great place—we’ve been able to drop our expenses significantly and expanded business to tackle some really inspiring projects.
WDCEP: Tell us about some of the new projects you have lined up!
MR: With the impacts of the pandemic highlighting major injustices throughout our society and the Black Lives Matter movement regaining momentum across the country, I knew we had to do something to support tangible change with the resources we had. There is a national conversation happening, and we know from experience that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to capture attention.
So, we started thinking about how we could use our skills and connections to build something that would support folks looking to make the world a better place. We wanted to find a way for creators to collaborate and build a community that they can lean on when they have questions, need guidance, or want to amplify their message. That’s how the Content for Change Creator Academy was born—we wanted to build a platform that supports content creators working directly on social impact initiatives. We launched this past June on GaryVee’s Instagram Live, which was incredible. He committed to monthly mentoring for the mission-based creators, as well as a generous financial donation. This really gave us the momentum to start building a meaningful community that really focuses on empowerment, mentorship, and co-creation of opportunities.
We have recently redesigned the website to showcase our core services; podcast and audiobook production, online course creation and web design. We are working with amazing people at Miller & Chevalier, Department of Health, Health Link and are in the process of rolling out content with a wide array of quality podcast content. We love producing podcasts with a purpose—especially right now.
WDCEP: How has your client roster changed?
MR: Something I can’t stress enough is how grateful I am that we have agency over who we work with—it’s a luxury to be able to choose which clients we collaborate with and which voices we help elevate through our services. I’m unwilling to work with people who aren’t kind or who can’t approach our business relationship with respect. I mean… there’s still a pandemic happening with ongoing ripple effects. If people can’t integrate a little bit of patience and understanding into their expectations, then we don’t need to tolerate their bad attitudes.
That being said, I love all my clients! I am so grateful to be telling important stories and to be helping others do the same. We’re working with really good people in the District (shoutout to Michael Akin of Link Strategic Partners), taking on new clients, and producing awesome content. We’re happy, our clients are happy—so in the end everything is coming together.
WDCEP: How do you think the pandemic has shifted the way business is done?
MR: One thing’s for certain, commercial real estate is going to be approached very differently going forward. There just simply isn’t the same need to be tied to a space to create, at least in our industry… and that opens up a lot of doors.
On another note, I think there has been a huge shift in how people are engaging with one another in both a professional and personal sense. The pandemic certainly highlighted what is essential versus not and proved that things you couldn’t have imagined are possible. There’s this shift in collective intention that you can feel across the board, like a realignment of priorities. I think people have become much more intentional with how they spend not only their money, but also their time.
Molly Ruland CEO + Founder, Heartcast Media