By Jove, you’ve started a business! And you’d like people to know about said business! What if, and here’s a wild idea, you hosted a podcast about running this business? It would signal transparency and accountability and perhaps endear the listener to your brand. It doesn’t even seem that hard. You just record some choice musings and slap it on LibSyn, right? Not quite.
There’s a lot to podcasting. It is a marathon, and numbers will most likely climb slowly if they climb at all. There is more competition for eardrums than ever before, and your opportunity cost is (hopefully) high enough that it might be distracting you from more effective ways of marketing and business development. You may get to develop relationships with good leads by inviting them on your podcast, and receive additional promotion of your business when they share the appearance and talk about you, but you’ll get sucked into the production cycle which can be a cruel master.
My company, Nori, recorded its first mostly weekly podcast one year ago this month. Reversing Climate Change has been a labor of love and is one of my favorite parts of my job. It’s had a large amount of business value too. We’ve learned along the way, and as ever, have a ways to go.
The most important task I can here serve is to tell you to forget about podcasting and focus on higher priorities. Saying no is your best friend as an entrepreneur. You need to guard your time. Here’s how we figured out podcasting was worth the struggle.
Before you can evaluate whether or not it is worth pursuing podcasting as a business strategy, you need a concept to test, and you want to test it without spending a ton of resources on it.
Nori aspires to follow a Lean Methodology. Build a simple prototype, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and see if people like it. If they do, invest more into it. If not, iterate and try again, or ditch the idea happy for the intel the failed experiment provided. Nori itself was founded this way. We brought together a team to do the ConsenSys Blockchain for Social Impact hackathon a year ago. If we did well and liked what we were doing, we would found a company and pursue the idea. If it fell apart during the hackathon we would either adapt and grow based upon what we learned, or dissolve the fellowship of the hackathon. We won in the Energy and Environment category and so Nori was officially born.
As part of our submission materials for the hackathon, we borrowed and bought some combination of gear and created a first episode of the podcast. We had never really done that before, and it shows (hopefully in a charming way.) Nori CEO Paul Gambill and I had once goofed around and recorded an episode years ago, but that was it. We were starting from scratch. Our reasoning was that there are so many fly-by-night blockchain companies that displaying our working through the difficulties of building software to reverse climate change would be interesting to listeners and show that we were accessible and earnest. So we recorded this inaugural episode to see if we were halfway engaging enough to attract regular listeners.
You’re now in the Lean mindset. You need a concept to test.
Our podcast format concept was rather directly ported from a podcast I really like called Rex Factor. One of the hosts seemingly knows everything about British history and can extemporaneously muse on quite a lot during their chronological reviews of royalty. The other host doesn’t appear to know anything but the basics and acts as a standin for the listener to learn without being made to feel stupid. They have a lot of fun doing it and are seemingly always laughing and learning.
I feel no shame in admitting I am that second host. My cohost Christophe Jospe has worked in the environmental space and has an advanced degree in a relevant field. I do not. My background is in the humanities, creative pursuits, and more recently, blockchain. Christophe is the erudite to my acolyte. In fact, sometimes we keep me in the dark about what the guest does beyond the basics so you are often hearing genuine curiosity, even to the point of asking silly questions like “why can’t we just pump carbon dioxide into outer space with a giant tube?” Christophe and the guest then get to educate me on some new topic.
This isn’t always the case of course. I’ve learned a ton this year of Nori, but I try to make it easy for people to tune in without feeling like they’re in over the head. Climate science and blockchain are not renowned as topics easy on the novice.
You don’t need to copy this particular approach. There are plenty of different styles. Listen to podcasts and find a dynamic you like and can do well. Some podcasts are much more heavily-produced, whereas others are more naturalistic interviews with minimal editing. Compare Reversing Climate Change with Startup and you’ll see what I mean. We basically just roll the tape and only edit if we absolutely need to. That’s probably what you should do for your inaugural episode.
Evaluating whether podcasting is worth it
At this point you are feelin’ Lean, you have a concept, and you recorded a first episode. What now?
Publish it. Put it up on your website. Share it with friends and family. Let them know you’re experimenting with podcasting and want honest feedback. Do they want to spend time listening to it? Do any of your business leads, clients, customers, partners, etc. like it?
We really liked doing that first episode and got good feedback. People said it felt genuine and was actually fun for a podcast about what is typically viewed as the supremely dour topic of environmental disaster and humanity’s attempt to ameliorate it.
If you don’t get much of a response, podcasting may not be a viable strategy for your enterprise. If you do, the next question on the flowchart is:
If you’re an interview show, do you have enough quality people to speak with so that it would justify a regular expenditure of time and resources?
Nori has climate scientists, farmers, ranchers, direct air capture (DAC) practicioners, industrialists, people in government, investors, blockchain aficienados, activists, et al. There’s still a lot of meat on that bone as Carl Weathers might say. What have you got in your network now/could add to your network through your podcast?
If you’re not an interview show but are more telling the internal story of your business, is it interesting enough to justify a regular investment of time from potential listeners?
For this case, I think the general answer should be no. Gimlet Media can pull it off with Startup because they’re podcasting masters and already had a long reach due to their career pedigree. You do not, and also, this is a lot of producing, probably way more than you signed up for. It is not easy. It is not Lean. Do something simpler, or at least be aware of this risk before trammeling onward as I stand athwart your potential podcast yelling “Stop!”
Gear & Production
If you’ve made it this far then here we are at the more quotidien elements of podcasting: what gear should you start with and how should you produce?
I cover our gear setup in detail here. You’ll note I didn’t start with gear or production details because it is the least important. A good podcast with bad gear can survive. A bad podcast with great gear is a tax write-off. Be honest with yourself and try to stay in the Lean mentality.
Our CEO Paul Gambill produces the podcast live, which means he basically watches the levels and focuses on the technical elements of the show adding only occasional prime banter. You don’t necessarily need someone like this but it definitely keeps the main (co)host(s) focused.
Once the episode is recorded we send it off to a producer we found on Fiverr who, for a good price and short amount of time, will make sure it is mixed and has the intro bumper of the show attached to it. We got royalty-free music for that bumper and paid a voice actor to read for it. All pretty easy and cheap.
Once we get the completed podcast from our Fiverr producer we publish it to LibSyn and it sends the podcast to the various podcasting apps you may use. Hosting your podcast can cost a little bit of money and there are other options, but if you do have people starting to listen, don’t cheap out here as you don’t want it to go down, get overloaded, etc. and LibSyn has a great reputation.
If you are going to go ahead with the show, keep a cadence. Be sure to release podcasts on a regular schedule for listeners and promote the podcast through your social media channels. We write Medium blogs for every episode and use the opportunity to write a piece on something related to the show that we wanted to expound upon anyways.
Numbers can build a bit slow, but hopefully in conjunction with your other social media endeavors you’re getting high value listenership of people you want to reach. Don’t be afraid of being niched. You do not need to be going toe-to-toe with Dan Carlin, NPR, Marc Maron, or Tim Ferriss. It is better as a business to be popular among a smaller number of people really interested in you than among the undifferentiated mass of public. You can’t please everyone, so focus on who you do want and make a show for them!
We spend a fair amount of time scheduling, researching guests, and recording podcasts. When we travel for other reasons we look to also schedule podcasts. Given that we’re a weekly podcast, it is a solid amount of time invested, but we think it hits our goals of helping us build relationships with people we want to know, helps us show our authentic grappling with big issues surrounding Nori, and that we aren’t stuffy boring people. It leads to a lot of passive inbound traffic from high-value leads. It may not be right for your business for either your goals or the amount of time it takes relative to your other opportunities. Don’t be vain and do a podcast just to do it. Make sure a podcast actually serves the purpose you intend or you’re just going to be yelling into a vacuum anyways. If you do proceed, godspeed! It is one of the reliable places I get to reguarly let loose with my work. May it become the same for you.