Podcasting Lessons, and PodGod

I’ve fallen in love with podcasts as a medium. They are the perfect tool for enjoyment, discovery, and education.

I.

It is very easy to launch a podcast if you are willing to pay someone to help you produce it.  Far easier than setting up a website. I rely heavily on Matthew Passy, who makes my podcasting job as simple as taping a conversation and putting in a shared folder on dropbox. If you want to start a podcast, give him a call.

Some early stats: I am 4 episodes in, have taped an additional 7, and have another 6 lined up. The first four episodes have been downloaded (more on this next) about 20,000 times, total. Ideally, I can ramp it up to 20,000 listeners per episode before too long.

II.

Ok, now back to the downloads. This is by far the most frustrating aspect of podcasting: the lack of granular data on listeners. I just finished a fascinating book: Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of EntertainmentThe book makes clear that gathering data on your customers is crucial in any business, but especially in entertainment/content-based businesses. Netflix, and other aggregators of content, are able to use their data to better serve customers, and, in turn, create a wider moat for their own business and grow their subscriber base. They are in the process of destroying the advertisement based model for entertainment content.

Because of how well it knew its customers, Netflix was able to tear up the “fund a bunch of pilots and see what sticks” model of TV shows. Instead, it made an extremely calculated bet that House of Cards would play well among its subscribers. Netflix knew the director (David Fincher) and lead (Kevin Spacey) were popular among subscribers, and that many searched for the obsucre original version of the show that aired on BBC. Netflix ordered two full seasons, not just a pilot. When it came time to promote the show, the trailer you saw was tailored to your preferences.

Typically, the best they can do for a new show is promote it alongside a similar established show, in the hopes that viewers of the latter will be interested in the former. Netflix, because it knew its customers as individuals, was able to do much more with House of Cards. It could see what each subscriber had viewed, when, how long, and on what device, and could target individual subscribers on the basis of their actual viewing habits. Netflix even created multiple “trailers”14 for the show. One featured Kevin Spacey (for subscribers who had liked Spacey’s movies); another featured the show’s female characters (for subscribers who liked movies with strong female leads); yet another focused on the cinematic nuances of the show (for subscribers who had liked Fincher’s movies).

The only data item I really get access to through Libsyn (which hosts podcasts) is “downloads.” I have no clue who is listening (demographics), or how long they listen, or what parts they rewind, or how many episodes they listen to. I would love to know who my most valuable listeners are. No dice. The engagement data is garbage. More on the power of the Netflix model:

In short, Netflix’s platform and business model gave it several distinct advantages over incumbent studios and networks: a new way to green-light content (through detailed observations of audience behavior rather than expensive pilot episodes) a new way to distribute that content (through personalized channels rather than broadcast channels) a new way to promote content (through personalized promotional messages based on individual preferences) a new and less restrictive approach to developing content (by removing the constraints of advertising breaks and 30- or 60-minute broadcast slots) a new level of creative freedom for writers (from on-demand content that can meet the needs of a specific audience) a new way to compete with piracy (by focusing on audience convenience as opposed to control) a new and more economically efficient way to monetize content (through an on-demand bundled service, as opposed to à la carte sales).

We need a Netflix of podcasting. Let’s call it PodGod.

Simple model:

  • New app which plays podcasts like any other player (takes best elements of all players). This is free and accesses normal shows.
  • Subscription fee of
    • $5/month OR
    • A per episode “micropayment” and “tip” model. Call it 25 cents an episode, with the ability to “tip” more in the app itself right at the end of a podcast you really enjoyed. This gets you access to exclusive podcasts not available off platform. PodGod keeps half of the $25 cents. It gets rid of ads on those shows forever, which are awful. If I have to hear about MeUndies, Casper, or Blue Apron one more time my head is going to explode (I’m sure they are good products, but my god). I really don’t want to ever run ads on my show. But at some level of listeners, it would be very stupid not to! I hope someone solves this problem.
    • You could also capitalize on the pricing discrimination used by the entertainment industry (Hardcover vs. paperback, movie theatre vs. streaming/blu-ray, vs. streaming rental). By staggering the cost of each podcast episode (say from $1 when first released down to 25 cents over a few months), you’d better capture value from those willing to pay. In this sense, I think the freemium model that Dan Carlin uses may be backwards (he gives recent ones away but charges for archive).
  • Full detailed data for podcasters themselves (many of whom are selling something other than the podcast and could use that data) and for PodGod to use to steer future exclusive content.

Obviously, getting some big names early on would be the key to making this work. I am sure I am missing major problems. But get Tim Ferriss to do this, for example. He’s closing in on 100 million downloads. That would be $12.5 million of revenue for him, assuming PodGod took HALF the revenue and he got zero tips (podcasters would keep 100% of tips). From the listener’s perspective: I’ve listened to almost all of Tim’s episodes (190 of them). His show is exceptional. If each one has been about 2 hours long, his 190 episodes represent the equivalent of almost 16 days of uninterrupted entertainment, for which–at 25 cents an episode–I would have paid $47.50. Sign me up! SOMEONE TECHNICAL OUT THERE, BUILD THIS WITH ME!

III.

Ok sorry, back to the podcast.

The process (and benefits of each step) are as follows:

  1. Secure a Guest.  I maintain a big list in Evernote of people I want to get onto the show. It grows every day. Some will be easy to get, because I already know them, some are much harder. The challenge of landing, say, Jim Simons is very motivating. By far the best thing about podcasting is that you get to meet interesting people who you would not have met otherwise. Pre-podcast, there would be no good reason for me to meet Gerry O’Reilly, who runs $800B for Vanguard. Now I have a reason. He was fantastic (his episode is in two weeks). Meeting good people and having an interesting conversation is about as good as life gets. Podcasting gives you the excuse.
  2. Prepare For the Interview. Early lesson: asking good questions is much harder than giving good answers. I’ve experimented with a few methods of preparation, from carefully scripted questions to a total free-for-all. I’ve settled somewhere in the middle: a rough framework that allows the conversation to flow wherever is most interesting. My “edge” as an interviewer is my willingness to do an almost endless amount of reading. Luckily, in many cases, I’ve already read everything by or about the guest. I collect notes, just like I do for books that I read, so I am well practiced. This prep takes somewhere between 1-2 hours per episode.
  3. Tape the Conversation. So far, all but one of my conversations have been in person, which I really like. That will have to stop at some point after I bleed the NYC area dry of guests, but luckily I live in the best area of the world for investing guests. I also travel to SF, LA, Chicago, and other major cities often enough to arrange in-person interviews. Typically, it takes two hours: 15 minutes of chatter at the beginning and end, and 90 minutes of taping.
  4. Stop the Recording, Cue Best Quotes from Guest. Cal Fussman pointed out that you should ask the best questions at the very end becuase the person will be opened up. I’ve found that the juiciest stuff happens after I stop recording. Hopefully I can learn how to better tease that stuff out while the red light is still lit.
  5. Upload to Dropbox. From this point, I do nothing. No editing, production, show notes–nada. Thank you Matthew Passy!

IV.

Gear. So easy: Zoom H6 Recorder, ATR 2100 Mics. I did have one major issue. I dropped a mic, and something happened to it. Please accept my apologies for some mic issues in a few upcoming episodes. The problem is fixed, and we did the best we could to clean up the audio.

I’ve also made every mistake in the book with recording, which has been very frustrating, but a good learning experience. I ran out of recording space on my memory card and lost an hour of an amazing conversation. I ran out of batteries (luckily had more with me). I held mics when I should have had them on stands. I am sure more errors lay ahead, but hopefully I’ve already learned from the worst ones!

V.

The Future.  I love investing, so many/most guests will be investors. But I hope to start veering off course soon. Next week, I have Christian Rudder on the show (OK Cupid founder, data junkie). I am going after some really fun non-investing people. I am hungry for ideas for future guests. Almost everyone says yes, and the more I do the easier it gets. Who is on your wishlist? Let me know at patrick.w.oshaughnessy@gmail.com with the subject “podcast.”

 

The bottom line for me so far: this is incredibly fun, and surprisingly easy to do. It takes less time and is more fun than writing blog posts. If you are thinking about a podcast, don’t hesitate: try 10 episodes. What’s the worst that could happen? Also, there are amazing podcasts now, but imagine how much better they will get when PodGod gets going?