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Building a Podcast Audience: Lessons from the Startup Podcast

Yaniv Bernstein_Earning Ears_01

Written by Adam

Episode Summary:

In this fascinating episode of “Earning Ears,” host Adam Spencer is joined by guest Yaniv Bernstein, an individual with a storied career in the tech industry and a passion for innovation and startups. Bernstein shares valuable insights on content creation, podcasting strategies, and the importance of living an interesting life to produce engaging content. Delving into his experience across different tech roles, he sheds light on the mechanics of operations and engineering and how they’ve shaped his podcasting journey.

The conversation navigates through the intricacies of podcasting as a unique medium, exploring how podcasters can build a deep, intimate connection with their audiences. Bernstein spotlights the growth dynamics of podcasting and the slow but rewarding process of nurturing an engaged listener base. Moreover, he underscores the importance of a clear brand image, the challenges of content distribution for podcasts, and the potential of YouTube as a growth channel for this audio format.

Key Takeaways:

  • Building System Mindset: Bernstein’s transition from engineering to operations—and eventually podcasting—highlights the value of system thinking in building effective organizations and content.
  • Podcasting Growth: Growth in podcasting is often linear and relies heavily on the depth of content and building trust with the audience over time, rather than on tactical hacks.
  • Brand and Distribution: Developing a clear and consistent brand identity is critical in podcasting, and distribution channels like YouTube can significantly aid growth and audience acquisition.
  • Content Creation Insights: The key to successful content creation lies in living an enriching life that nurtures experiences worth sharing, rather than solely focusing on content as a product.
  • Listener Connection: The power of podcasting resides in its ability to foster intimate, parasocial relationships with listeners, where the audience feels a personal connection with the hosts.

Notable Quotes:

  • “If you want to produce good content, live an interesting life.”
  • “The magic was between the different silos, between the different functions and in building that effective organization.”
  • “Silicon Valley, it’s a place and that physical proximity of people and that 60 plus years of experience building venture-backed startups that cannot be replaced.”
  • “Most powerful channel is word of mouth.”
  • “Podcasting… it’s a grind. So while I don’t think there was a huge amount of intentionality and know this is our growth strategy and this is our branding and so on at the beginning… it becomes a business.”

Resources:

  • StartUp Podcast: Exploring Silicon Valley-style disruption (Link to the podcast)
  • Social Media: LinkedIn presence of Yaniv Bernstein
  • Circular: Yaniv Bernstein’s tech subscription service (No URL provided in the transcript)

Tune in to the full episode of “Earning Ears” for more in-depth wisdom on podcasting and engaging audiences from Yaniv Bernstein. Stay connected with us for more insightful conversations and expert perspectives in upcoming installments.

Transcript:

I’m Adam Spencer, and this is Earning Ears, the show that helps you earn your audience’s attention. We talked to world class audience builders about the tools, tactics, and mindset that they use to grow their audiences from zero. 

It seems a bit trite, but if you want to produce good content, live an interesting life. I think that’s, that’s really at the core of it. 

That’s Yaniv Bernstein, who definitely lives an interesting life. He’s been a software engineering manager for Google, chief operating officer of Airtasker. He’s an angel investor, founder of Circular, a tech subscription service evolving the way people consume technology, and plenty more.

More

Yaniv draws on all of this experience as co host of the Startup Podcast, which explores the mindset and approach that drives Silicon Valley style disruption, and in only a couple of years has surpassed 100, 000 downloads. We discuss what makes podcasting A unique medium, the strategies they’ve used to build their audience, and some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

Adam: Welcome, Yaniv, to Earning Ears. Thanks for being here.

Yaniv Bernstein: Good to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Adam: What’s been earning your attention lately?

Yaniv Bernstein: So of course it is the first Czech podcast by the Day One Network.

Adam: That’s how it’s set up.

Yaniv Bernstein: That is entirely set up. No, it’s good. I have been listening to it. It’s a great show. Actually, one podcast I’ve been getting a little bit obsessed with lately is called Age of Miracles, which is by Packy McCormick, who’s a well-known investor. He’s gone down the rabbit hole into nuclear power. [00:00:30] One of the things that’s been interesting and depressing is how energy sources have become politicized, which just seems insane if you’re looking at energy transitions. It’s like this is as close to science and engineering as it gets. There’s no politics here. Anyway, it was just like fairly long-form podcast that goes deep into different forms of nuclear energy, where things are at, how and to what extent can it help with the energy transition away from fossil fuels. It’s just quite engaging and it was nice to go into a deep technical [00:01:00] topic presented in an accessible way.

Adam: What was the name of the show again?

Yaniv Bernstein: It’s called Age of Miracles, which I thought was a pretty cool name as well.

Adam: Awesome. Yeah, we’ll put that in the show notes. Very interesting. As a way to catch listeners up, because a lot of people that are listening to this podcast as we’re in the startup space, they’re probably already aware of your podcast, The Startup Podcast, but can you just catch people up? How did an operations guy end up as a content creator as well?

Yaniv Bernstein: I mean, my background’s not really in operations. [00:01:30] I’m an engineer. I’m a software engineer. I spent 10 years as a software engineer at Google and went into engineering roles at some Australian scale-ups, First Flare HR, and then Airtasker. And it was at Airtasker, I think, that I got really interested in not just engineering the delivery of software, but how do all the different functions work together? How do you build an effective organization, an effective business that delivers value to its customers [00:02:00] and ultimately to its shareholders as well? I saw that really the magic was between the different silos, between the different functions and in building that effective organization. Even as COO, I was less operations and more operating. In other words, running the organization to turn those raw materials, the strategy, that capital, the vision into some sort of reality. That’s been really interesting.

After I left Airtasker, I [00:02:30] did a bunch of coaching, consulting, advising, investing. So I got exposure to a lot more startups. I started seeing this pattern over and over again, which is, we’ve seen that startups and founders are now everywhere. It used to be this geographically concentrated thing. It was obviously Silicon Valley, then maybe a little bit in New York, a little bit in London, a little bit in Tel Aviv, whatever, but only a few global centers of startups. And now it is everywhere. What we find is the capital [00:03:00] and the founders are there. We have venture capital investors, we have keen founders, but often what’s missing is this deep understanding of what it actually is to build a venture-backed startup, so that the ecosystems are fresh and in a sense the money’s come in and the enthusiasm’s come in before the hard-won lessons have permeated.

If you look at Silicon Valley, the real advantage, in my view, is not the amount of capital, or [00:03:30] even the availability of raw talent. It is the experience in the ecosystem, the knowing how to play the game, and what the rules are and how to really succeed as a venture-backed startup. It’s something that I got, as an Australian, I got a little bit head up about. I was like, we are squandering our opportunity in a sense, or at least we’re not making the most of our opportunity because we don’t know how to build systematically great tech companies. We’ve obviously had a couple of exceptional successes [00:04:00] with Atlassian and Canva in particular, but I also see this whole layer beneath those of somewhat successful companies that could have been so much more successful. And then below that, so many startups with the passion, with the energy and with potentially a real problem to solve who don’t really know how to get out of their own ways.

It was all of that that led me and Chris to start The Startup Podcast, because we both have that Silicon Valley background. I was at Google for 10 years, Chris was at Uber. He founded his own startup over there. We wanted to share a little bit [00:04:30] of our knowledge of how the game is played with founders and investors in Australia. But then we actually found the audience for this is global, because there are founders all over the world who are struggling with these same challenges.

Adam: So many follow-ups. I want to get into that story of how you and Chris met. But first of all, were there any transferable skills that you took from… Because I imagine being a developer and going into operations, there was some kind of overlap. You’re both basically building systems.

Yaniv Bernstein: Exactly. [00:05:00] Building systems is where it’s at. Actually, before I did the podcast, I had a newsletter, more of a blog really for a couple of years, that I called people engineering. The principle there is that I think a lot of that system thinking that goes into building great software… So good software engineering is not mostly about coding. It’s actually mostly about system thinking. It’s mostly about designing large complex systems that have complex interactions between the different components.

When you look at an organization, it’s the same thing. It’s [00:05:30] a large complex system with complex interactions between different parts of the system. Just in this case the components of the system, instead of being software, are people. How much more fascinating does it get, right? This is not about reductionism. This is not about saying that people are cogs in the machine. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s saying you’ve got this complex system created from unique individuals organized in a complex way. And if you get the organization right, and I don’t just mean the structure, I mean the culture, [00:06:00] I mean the communication flows, I mean the strategy, then you can do the most amazing magical things. But actually most of the time that doesn’t go right. Most organizations are suboptimal. Definitely I think that engineering mindset of how do I design and implement an effective organizational system is something that’s always fascinated me.

Adam: It’s fascinating to me as well. When you say you get it right, when you get it right the sum of the parts become so much greater than [00:06:30] the parts. But when you’ve got these suboptimal organizations, the output of every single person is reduced basically because of the inefficiency of the organization and all those factors you’ve just said, like culture.

Yaniv Bernstein: That’s right. And it’s a non-linear system, by which I mean that a small change in one part of the system can have a large effect elsewhere in the system. So you really have to a holistic view. I think that’s why, when you asked me about my transition from engineering into that operating role, it’s because I was like, it doesn’t matter [00:07:00] how much I focus on my engineering organization. The magic is how does engineering work with product? How does it work with design, with marketing, with customer support? I spent more and more of my time, in terms of making my engineering team effective, outside of engineering, because it was really about how did engineering work with all these other parts of the company. Given that, the transition to chief operating officer was actually relatively organic, because I was already spending all of my time in these in-betweens. How do these different components [00:07:30] fit together to make an effective whole?

Adam: I really want to get into The Startup Podcast, but one quick more question. We’ve got the founders, we’ve got the capital, we don’t have the know-how. And there’s a lot of communities all over the world, startup communities that are suffering from the same thing. Do you think that’s just the case of time? Time will catch up, experience will catch up? How does Silicon Valley get it right?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah. I think it’s all of the above. Time, I think, is an inescapable ingredient. Silicon [00:08:00] Valley… I think there was this feeling, especially during COVID, everyone’s working remotely. It’s like, well, Silicon Valley isn’t a place, it’s just a state of mind. And no, that’s not true. Silicon Valley, it’s a place. That physical proximity of people and that 60 plus years of experience building venture-backed startups, that cannot be replaced. I think, for that reason, Silicon Valley will continue to be a special place. I’ve always been very aware, I’ve said it to myself, I’ve said it to others, if you’re in tech [00:08:30] and you’re not living in Silicon Valley, you have made a lifestyle choice. Now, that’s completely fine. It’s good to make lifestyle choices, but it’s clearly the best place. If you want to start a startup, it is the place to do it. If you want to be involved in tech, it is the place to be. But we make these lifestyle choices. And then a lot of people, also sometimes it’s a visa choice, family, whatever it is, you can’t get there. So there are startups all over the world.

What I do think we can do is accelerate the timeframe a [00:09:00] bit, right? Accelerate the timeline, because I don’t think we can wait 60 years to get all that know-how. We need to put the structures in place now. We need to put the learning in place now. There’s no substitute for experience. I don’t think you can listen to a podcast and like, okay, now I’ve got 60 years of Silicon Valley wisdom in my head, off I go. I think you can learn the ropes, you can learn the basics. You can avoid some of the big land mines and dead ends and wrong ways of thinking, or unhelpful ways of thinking, so that you can actually [00:09:30] get there faster, and at least make the right mistakes instead of just wasting your time. I think some things you’ve got to learn by touching the hot stove, but at least get out of your own way and focus on that core learning journey as an individual, as a founder, as a company, as an ecosystem, rather than spinning around in circles and wasting time getting in your own way.

Adam: So clearly you are frustrated by this lack of experience in the ecosystem. You want to help solve that.

Yaniv Bernstein: Mm-hmm.

Adam: How did you happen to find [00:10:00] a kindred spirit who was finding this… I’m sure there’s lots of people out there that are feeling as frustrated as you. How did you and Chris meet and have this aha moment?

Yaniv Bernstein: Well, it’s a very modern story. We met on LinkedIn. It’s funny, I just finished recording an episode of The Startup Podcast with a personal brand builder in the tech space who’s quite well known. We were talking about what is the value of building a personal brand? That was actually the topic of the episode and putting yourself [00:10:30] out there. I think what had happened is that Chris and I had met once or twice, but really we were consuming each other’s content on LinkedIn. We were commenting on it. We saw that we were kindred spirits. I liked that he was outspoken and opinionated. I guess he liked that about me as well.

I wanted to do a podcast for a while, and the frustration was bubbling over a bit, so it was quite impulsive. I just DMed him and I’m like, “Hey, let’s do a podcast.” [00:11:00] And we literally, I set up Anchor, which is now called Spotify for Podcasters, in about 15 minutes. We just recorded off the cuff that same episode that day, which is our very first episode, still one of our most ever listened to episodes because it continues to get new downloads. I’m a bit scared of listening to it again because I think it was pretty bad, but obviously it did resonate with people. And then, yeah, we enjoyed it. I think it was the joy and the enjoyment of it [00:11:30] that kept us on that weekly schedule that we’ve kept up for nearly two years now.

Adam: I am a little bit envious of how well you guys have hit the nail on the head, because as a podcast producer my entire life and business is built around how do we make a great podcast? And there’s all these workshops and strategy we got to do, get it right, but you guys have just hit the ground… Well, it seems to [00:12:00] me from the outside looking in that you’ve really hit or found a spot, a really good sweet spot, where, yeah, there is a lot of desire and need for this content that you guys are putting out. Can you talk me through that? Was there any planning involved? How did you come up with the premise of the show that has hit so well?

Yaniv Bernstein: Well, first of all, thank you. But no, there wasn’t planning involved. Like I said, it was nearly impulsive, because we both had this bee in our bonnet. We were both agitated about this [00:12:30] thing. I think I just saw that I had wanted to do a podcast. This was something that was important I saw as kindred spirit and we started. But this hasn’t been a crazy rocket ship success story in terms of growth. I think this is true for most content and especially podcasts, which is an interesting medium, as I’m sure you know. It’s a grind. While I don’t think there was a huge amount of intentionality in this is our growth strategy and this is our [00:13:00] branding and so on at the beginning, and I’m still quite ambivalent about the name The Startup Podcast. It is not good for SEO.

Adam: You’re competing against the Gimlet’s Show, for starters.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yes, indeed we are. Indeed we are. But yes, not a huge amount of intention went into it at the beginning. But I think once we started doing it, once we started investing our time into it, we realized that we wanted to make that a good investment. So we nearly backed into this as a business, as something where we needed a strategy [00:13:30] and we needed production and we needed distribution and all of these things. It’s nearly ironic, right? Because we have this podcast that is about venture-backed startups, and what we’ve ended up by accident creating is a highly bootstrapped startup, which is the podcast itself.

It was nearly like, okay, we have this podcast, we want to get more people to listen to it, so we need to improve our production values and maybe spend a little bit of money on distribution. So now we have expenses, we need to find some way of bringing in revenue to meet [00:14:00] those expenses. And then, of course, in order to do that, you need sales collateral and so on. It’s like, oh, here’s a little one hour a week where we’re going to record and publish something. It’s still a side hustle, but it’s become recognizably a business. Even if we don’t make any money out of it ourselves, it’s a business. At that point, we became a lot more intentional about how we did things.

Adam: So very early on, you guys had a bee in a bonnet, you already wanted to start a podcast, you started [00:14:30] one. Were there any signals that you were looking for early on to see of what you were making people were liking it?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah.

Adam: How in your mind were you measuring should we do another one, should we do another one?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah. I mean, there’s two things. First of all, and this sounds maybe a little bit naff, but are we having fun? One of the most trite bits of podcasts or content advice in general, but I think podcasts especially, is you have got to [00:15:00] stay the course. It takes perseverance to do this. Most podcasts never even make it to 10 episodes because it’s more work than you think. It’s always more work than you think and you give up on it. It becomes a question of, okay, are we having enough fun to justify this, that can be justified? Can we keep going because we’re having enough fun?

And then the other thing is, it’s really the direct feedback. We were getting people DMing us saying, “This is amazing. We [00:15:30] love it.” Obviously, that personal feedback from listeners, the fact that you realize you’re influencing other people positively, is quite rewarding. And by being rewarding, it also becomes addictive. And so you’re like, okay, can we keep doing this and helping more people?

Adam: I love that you’ve pointed out that it hasn’t been a rocket ship success and it’s been a grind. I always say that to people, creating any type of content, it’s going to take [00:16:00] a long time. But it’s going to take a long time because you need to publish so you can get information so you can make better decisions about how you guide that ship and constantly iterate. That’s what I think content is good at. You get information, iterate, make it better, publish again. A guide through the unique mindset and approach that drives Silicon Valley style disruption at scale, hosted by Chris… How do I… Saad? Saad and Yaniv Bernstein. Bernstein? Bernstein? Sorry.

Yaniv Bernstein: I prefer Bernstein, [00:16:30] but that is fine.

Adam: Yaniv Bernstein. Perfect description. But was that what it was to start with? Was there an iterative approach to getting clear on what your show was about?

Yaniv Bernstein: Hate to disappoint you, but no, it was that from the start.

Adam: I guess nailed it. Again, nailed it. God damn it.

Yaniv Bernstein: I don’t think we’ve even changed the wording. Yeah, I guess we knew what we wanted to do. You and I are in slightly different businesses, because you’re trying to create [00:17:00] a production house, whereas we just have this one thing. But I think one of the things to consider is, okay, there’s the iteration piece, absolutely. But there’s also, do you have that clear through line where you know what you’re trying to do? Because I think that really connects with your audience. It’s like, oh, okay, these people have a topic that they really care about, and I know if I tune in I’m going to get that.

It’s funny, sometimes Chris [00:17:30] and I debate. Because he gets a little bit out to it. We’re coming onto our 100th episode now, and we talk about, oh, what topics should we cover? And then he gets agitated, is like, “Oh, haven’t we already covered that in that other episode?” I’m like, “Well, maybe to a certain extent, but we can dive a bit deeper. We can put a different angle on it, a different lens on it.”

One of the things that I think, especially for long running podcasts rather than a shorter seasonal format, is people do in the end [00:18:00] tune in and expect a certain amount of repetition, because what they’re doing really is they’re in a parasocial relationship, which means they’ve gotten to know you, they’ve gotten to know what you’re about and what you care about, and they like listening to you to talk about things that they care about. So it doesn’t mean that you never bring new ideas and you don’t bring novelty, but there is a sense of you want to have a very clear core about what you’re on about, [00:18:30] and often that comes about at the beginning. It’s a little bit difficult to A B test your way to that because it ends up in the DNA of the show really.

Adam: Yeah. I don’t know what the right word is, if it’s impressed or envious, of how… I love that very clear mission cut through. You knew what you wanted to do. It’s something that you were passionate about. You shortcut a lot [00:19:00] of this whole development stage, figuring out what your niche was, because you were in your niche, almost part of your audience.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah.

Adam: But just for the sake of asking the question… I guess I’ll just ask, how valuable do you think having that really laser focused niche approach to podcasting, or any content creation? Because you’re killing it on LinkedIn as well with your content. How important do you think that niche aspect is?

Yaniv Bernstein: Something I struggle with, actually. [00:19:30] Because I think the conventional wisdom, and probably the correct wisdom, is if you want to maximize your growth and exposure in terms of your audience is you want to be incredibly clear. I think that the podcast happens to have this clear niche because it’s the thing we care about. My audience, my LinkedIn persona, is a bit more like I talk about whatever I feel like talking about. I’m not that disciplined. I feel a certain level of anxiety around, well, perhaps I should [00:20:00] have this very clear this is what I talk about and this is the only thing I talk about and I hammer at home and people know me as the person who talks about this particular niche. I think that does lead to maximal growth.

But I think there’s more than one way to skin the cat. If you want to become known for one thing, then you can grow faster. I think if you feel like you have enough interesting things to say and you just want to say them, then you can build a deeper relationship because people start to get to know you as a person rather than just as a representative of a particular niche. Because [00:20:30] we’re all more than a niche, we are complete human beings. So it’s a different way of doing it. But yes, I think there is so much content out there and people don’t know what to follow, what to consume. To the extent, is it about a niche or is it about just making it really clear who you’re for? It’s branding, right?

Adam: Yes.

Yaniv Bernstein: It’s what are you known for?

Adam: Yes. I’m so glad you said that, brand, because that’s my next question. [00:21:00] And actually just to cap that off, I think the question is, what’s your objective? Is it to grow big or to grow deep? Do you want a large audience across a broad spectrum, or do you want an incredibly passionate audience that know you like they know the back of their hand and they trust you above everything else? Which audience do you want?

Yaniv Bernstein: Definitely the latter. The world’s a big place, so I think even in a relatively narrow [00:21:30] niche you can end up with an audience that seems pretty big. If you have 50,000 people following you, is that a big audience? I’d say yes. And you can easily get that in a niche. We’re not there yet, by the way, but I think that’s realistic, right?

Adam: Yeah. 100,000 downloads, though. Over 100,000 downloads, right?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: Yeah. Congratulations.

Yaniv Bernstein: There’s only room for a few really big general shows in the world, a few dozen or a few hundred globally, where you can build that audience of millions [00:22:00] across a bunch of different things. I think that’s obviously a pretty cool thing to do, but it’s also a particular type of show. I think if you have a show on a relatively narrow topic, then what you want to do is be known, be unique. Be known for that one niche and be the obvious place where people go for content, or for information, knowledge on that niche. And then people, they get passionate. Like I said, I get excited when [00:22:30] we get that passionate feedback where people say, “This is my favorite show. I listen to you in the car every day.” Whatever.

Like I said, that term parasocial relationships is really interesting, because even though we only have a few thousand followers, I’ve had a couple of these celebrity sighting moments where in the wee works of Sydney where people come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, I love your show.” You realize you’ve become a part of people’s lives, and that is… First of all, it’s [00:23:00] awesome. And secondly, in terms of opportunity for building other businesses or whatever, I think that is deeper than just being able to advertise to millions of listeners on a CPM basis. It’s like, we have an audience, we have a community that we can have mutually beneficial arrangements with of all different types. I think that’s really exciting.

Adam: And when they come up, take a photo with you, you say, “Can you please leave a review?”

Yaniv Bernstein: I [00:23:30] don’t do that. I haven’t had the photo op yet. I don’t think I’ve got the face for it. But those people are like, “Oh man, I love your show. It’s so cool. It’s the best show.” And that’s very validating.

Adam: Yeah. Awesome. On branding, I know you guys rebranded probably, what, six months ago?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah, something like that.

Adam: What was the thinking behind that and the process that you went through?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah. We actually partnered with a company called Until Now, who’s friends of the pod. [00:24:00] It was founded by a couple of former Airtasker folks who I know well. They were fans of the podcast. We talked with them about how can we have our glow up? It wasn’t a full rebrand. We didn’t change the name, we didn’t change the positioning, but it’s like how can we have a brand identity, especially visually, that reflected what we’re trying to do? And that gave us some versatility.

For example, we’ve just released our merch, [00:24:30] our first set of t-shirts and mugs and stuff. But also, on our website and on the cover, how do we have a look and feel that is consistent that our audience starts to identify with and that we feel good about? I think there’s still a bit of mystery and dark art to that, but we went through with Until Now’s branding experts and it was a real eye-opening experience, the thinking that goes into it. I actually really enjoyed that [00:25:00] process. But yeah, I think we just went from being like, hey, look, we slapped together the brand. Chris is a good visual designer, so even though it was slapped together it didn’t look terrible. But it’s like, okay, what’s the grownup versatile logo type and logo that we can use in all different places? And we have that now, which just gives us a lot of flexibility.

Adam: Is there one thing that you wanted to communicate through the branding, what you stood for or what your mission was? Because that’s very bold.

Yaniv Bernstein: Well, it’s bold. [00:25:30] We wanted it to be just visually striking, but also I think we wanted to have a sort of a bit of a growth motif. So if you look at it, it’s a little bit like a histogram turned on its side. So it’s like, okay, let’s talk about growth. How do you grow your business? I guess one of the axis is serious versus fun, and we wanted to land in the middle of that. You don’t want to look like a 100 consultancy, but we’re also like, we’re a serious premium kind of podcast for people [00:26:00] who actually value their time and they’re not just looking for entertainment. It’s really about conveying that. That’s the thing with a brand. You’re trying to create a feeling, an impression. Especially when you’re in a search result, in a listening app or whatever, to catch people’s attention. And that’s really what we were trying to do.

Adam: Yes. Well, yes, you’ve done that visually. And that is one of the biggest challenges with podcasting, the discoverability. And then when you rarely have someone scrolling through trying [00:26:30] to find a new podcast to listen to amongst a sea of other artworks, how do you stand out? How do you capture someone’s eye?

Yaniv Bernstein: I think there’s a lot of crappy podcasts out there, not very well produced, not a lot of episodes, not regularly published. So how do you create a brand that makes you look serious? Because you are in the sense of like, okay, we’re committed to building this. We’re a real podcast. We’re not somebody’s little hobby anymore. We started off that way, but now we’re 100 episodes old. We’re for [00:27:00] real. How do you convey that visually?

Adam: Yeah. I love the way you said it before, grown up. We’re grown up now. We’re serious.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: And we’re going to be around, so take a shot on us, have a listen. Convey that. It’s 100 episodes in. March, 2022, which it wasn’t that long ago.

Yaniv Bernstein: No.

Adam: It feels like it was only yesterday. But 100 episodes in. You’ve been doing this for a while.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: Why podcasting? What attracted you to that [00:27:30] medium as opposed to a newsletter or blog?

Yaniv Bernstein: I think two things. The first is that conversational dynamic. For those who haven’t listened to the podcast, there were two hosts, like you mentioned, myself and Chris. The format of the podcast is a conversational… It’s a dialogue format. We’re not interviewing each other. We’re talking about a topic and we’re riffing off each other back and forth. That spoken… The energy of that and the way you can bounce off each other was something that appealed [00:28:00] to me right from the start. I’ve enjoyed panel style podcasts and that sort of thing.

When we have a guest, we don’t call it an interview and we try not to treat it as an interview. We call them a guest. Co-host. So now we’re just adding a third person who has expertise in a particular topic and we bring them in. Of course, we do ask them questions, but we have a conversation with them rather than say, we are the interviewer. It’s the three of us talking about a topic that they happen to know a lot about. So we’ve really enjoyed that.

And then on the audience side, [00:28:30] again, maybe it wasn’t as intentional at the beginning, but it became apparent very quickly, is the numbers on podcasts are low compared to other media. On LinkedIn, I can get tens of thousands of impressions on a post. I’ve never had 10,000 downloads of a single episode of the podcast. But the depth of the relationship, the fact that they’re listening to your voice in their ears for an hour a week, I think you get… Like I said, I keep coming back to this term parasocial relationship. [00:29:00] I’m on the other side of it. The podcasts that I love, I feel like I know those people. I would love to be their friend. You don’t get that from a newsletter. You certainly don’t get it from LinkedIn posts and so on. So I think it’s quite intimate, for want of a better term. It’s an intimate medium, so the people who become fans of your podcast really become a part of your community in a way that I don’t think other formats really allow.

Adam: [00:29:30] I want to follow onto that with, it’s hard to explain that relationship to non-podcast listeners, people that don’t love podcasts. Because similar to you in how you’ve fallen in love with the hosts that show you want to be their friend, that’s how I fell in love with podcasting in the first place. 2012, started listening to a podcast called Smart Passive Income Podcast, this guy building an online business. I was just there. I was listening to every single episode, [00:30:00] just loved this guy and what he was building. I wanted to be his friend. I wanted to learn from him. I would tell everyone to listen to this podcast. You don’t really get that kind of level of relationship with any other medium.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: Podcasting is deep. It’s not wide.

Yaniv Bernstein: That’s right. In a way, obviously it’s a spiritual successor of radio. For those who are old enough to remember for themselves, or even more, you’ll find your parents’ generation maybe, you have the same channel [00:30:30] open every day and you’d have the host. I guess there’s still talk radio. There’s some folks who still listen to it. It’s partly generational, like a lot of these things. My parents used to listen to the same radio show every morning on ABC News and they got to know the people. When the host left and a new host came a couple of years later, there would be a lightweight mourning period, a bit of grief that they miss the old host.

I think, [00:31:00] like with everything in the world, there’s nothing quite new under the sun. But that depth of relationship, because it’s something that you have on while you’re doing other things, it’s a voice in your ear, it’s personal. Yeah, it is special. And podcasting, yeah, it does have a branding problem. I think it’s still a bad name. It’s streaming audio. I think that’s why it’s hard to grow an audience, but also very hard to lose an audience in the sense of I think the growth is slow, but the loyalty, the stickiness, the [00:31:30] retention is epic. Because it’s a big commitment to listen to a new show. It’s not like you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn and all you need to do to get into somebody else’s feed is the algorithm does it for you, and suddenly someone’s reading your content who has never read it before. To get into a new podcast is a major commitment relative to that. So there’s the time commitment, that intimacy that you’re going into someone else’s world and becoming a part of it a little bit. [00:32:00] I think it is a special format,

Adam: And I think on average, people only subscribe to six or seven shows. To break through and become one of that sixth or seventh show is a pretty big honor and hard to fall off that.

Yaniv Bernstein: That’s right. I think you become a part of someone’s life, like I said. And you’re right, honor’s a good word. I don’t feel honored to be in someone’s LinkedIn feed. That’s what it is, right? But for people to say, “I listen to you every [00:32:30] week on my drive to work,” or whatever, it’s like, okay, I’m actually meaningfully a part of their life. Not the most major part of their life, but a part of their life in a non-trivial way and I think that’s pretty cool. And yeah, it is an honor.

Adam: I advocate for podcasts to be this top of the content stack where it is informing and enabling a whole lot of other type of content across many other mediums. Do you use the podcast [00:33:00] in that way? Does it give you ideas for LinkedIn posts? Does it give you ideas for articles or blog posts? Do you have a content strategy and how do you think about that around your podcast?

Yaniv Bernstein: I’ll preface this by saying I think we’re not doing a great job. I think we’re underutilizing, and that’s part of what comes from it being a side hustle. It’s like, we produce the content, but then that’s pretty much us spent in terms of all our time. But I definitely feel that… Again, I talked to you about that conversational format, [00:33:30] that bouncing off each other. I think new ideas, and especially new ways of expressing or distilling existing ideas, come about conversationally. I got these new metaphors, new slogans, whatever, and I try to use those in my other content. I do think there’s an abundance of ideas and content there that we could make better use of. In a sense, yes, it can be the engine that you can use to create [00:34:00] other bits of distribution, a community, a whole bunch of stuff.

And we have ideas, we have plans, but I think for us it’s really more about finding the time to do it. It’s a little bit like that niche question that you asked before. I feel like at the moment we are abundant, and I like that in the sense of we’re talking about a lot of stuff. We’re producing a lot of good content, I think. We’re not squeezing all the juice out of it that we could be, but I prefer to say, hey, let’s just keep doing new stuff [00:34:30] rather than slowing down to squeeze more juice. If that’s the trade-off, then I’m like, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing for now.

Adam: Yeah. And you can always revisit it later and get more out of it later because it’s there forever.

Yaniv Bernstein: Well, that’s the other interesting thing. Yeah. The content, most of it, is evergreen. So we’re building a back catalog. And there is that, in a sense you’ve got this at least quadratic growth where it’s like, I mentioned, our first episode is still one of our most [00:35:00] listened to because it still gets listened to every week. All of our episodes get new listens every week because the content doesn’t age particularly. So obviously it depends on the type of podcast you have, but a lot of podcasts have that format where the content has a long shelf life, it’s evergreen. And because of that, the more of it you have, the more powerful a tool it gets. We’ve got content in there. If we wanted to write a book, if we wanted to publish a book or create courses or whatever, it’s all sitting there waiting for us to mine, [00:35:30] and it’s not disappearing. I feel like it’s not an opportunity that we have once and then goes away. We’re banking it for when we have more time and resources, and then we’ll probably come back to it.

Adam: The flip side of that is… And we did this with the history series. For the majority of the content, we archived it, we tagged it, we categorized it all. So with the view that one day we could do something with it, we could create a special episode all about venture, [00:36:00] raising a seed round, and we could just go back into the archive, type in a few things and it would give us all the interviews. Everything from the transcript that talked about that, we could mix and easily edit that into a new special episode.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: So the flip side of that, as you build up this huge reservoir of content, if you’re not doing that categorizing it, navigating that enormous resource down the line, it’s going to become harder and harder to find the bits and pieces that you want.

Yaniv Bernstein: This is where, to the point [00:36:30] I was making earlier-

Adam: To AI?

Yaniv Bernstein: Well, it’s AI, yes, but also it just backs into this becoming a business. At a certain point, you have enough content, you really want someone who is a content curator whose job it is to dive into the back catalog and produce new and engaging stuff out of it, and to become the expert in your back catalog in a way that you yourself are not. Right now it’s like if we [00:37:00] had the money, I reckon we could easily keep a staff of three people reasonably busy between production, promotion, excavation and just maximizing the potential and the value squeezed out of the content. We need more sponsors.

Adam: Yep. And if anyone wants to listen to this show, this will go on the show notes, but I think TSP.show, is that the best link?

Yaniv Bernstein: ESP.show is the best link. If you have a service that you would like to sell to a high- [00:37:30] value audience of founders who are making the decisions for their company, we’d love to talk to you about sponsorship.

Adam: Yeah. And I’d love to also talk to you about the Day One Network and the first check.

Yaniv Bernstein: It’s okay. We’re the best of friends.

Adam: A few more questions, especially I’m really interested to dive into growth and audience.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep.

Adam: It probably hasn’t been linear necessarily, or maybe it has in terms of your growth. I’m imagining the first [00:38:00] 10 episodes, 30 episodes maybe slight increase in growth. How did it work for you?

Yaniv Bernstein: If you zoom out enough it does look fairly linear actually. We had a few breakout episodes in the sense of… It’s interesting, because I compare… I talk to other Podcasts and they say they have, including yourself, they have some episodes that really hit and get a heap of listeners and others that don’t really, we get a pretty consistent number of listeners [00:38:30] to each of our episodes. It’s not identical, but it’s fairly consistent. But what we found is there’ve been a couple of episodes that have brought new listeners, not just to that episode but to the show. So it’s nearly been a step function change where we’re like, okay, we published an episode, and then we had 50% more listeners from there on in.

Adam: Wow.

Yaniv Bernstein: But that was more in the early days. That’s 50% off a pretty small base. And since then it’s been… Yeah, it has been a relatively linear, relatively consistent growth with some fits and starts. But like I said, [00:39:00] once you zoom out you’re like, okay, that’s pretty much a line.

Adam: What’s been working? Have you been able to pinpoint any of the activities you’ve been doing that are working better than others to bring in new listeners?

Yaniv Bernstein: The answer is no, which is frustrating. There isn’t a, oh, okay, I press this button and I get this result. A lot of this stuff is a slow burn. I actually think that podcast promotion, [00:39:30] I include both paid and organic in that, but just generally distribution, it’s a branding play. And it comes back to what I was saying earlier, which is that the level of commitment that it takes for someone to even try listening to your podcast is really high. The activation energy is high, so they actually need to already trust the podcast quite a lot to even sample it. That’s the crazy thing.

I think the most powerful channel is word of mouth. The next most powerful [00:40:00] channels are building up this multi-touch funnel nearly. Funnel sounds really structured, but it’s really like… I think my brand on LinkedIn and Chris’s brand on LinkedIn, we talk about the podcast and people know us and they see us talk about the podcast and eventually they’re like, “Oh, okay. Maybe I’ll give it a try.” And similarly with some of the paid stuff that we do. We advertise an Overcast, which I quite like doing, which is a niche but well-loved podcasting app [00:40:30] on iOS. They have a very simple, easy podcast advertising products, and that gets us new subscribers. But like I said, we do all these things and I think the growth graph is smooth enough that I’m like, it really is just you’re building up this brand equity and eventually people are like, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.” It’s very hard to say, okay, I’ve run an ad or whatever it is, and then you get a new listener. It doesn’t seem to work that way.

Adam: And on the flip side, [00:41:00] are there things that you have tried? Maybe someone recommended it to you, like this is how you grow an audience, and you tried it and you’re like, no, we’re never doing that again?

Yaniv Bernstein: Like I said, I think most of the audience growing hacks work less well for podcasting. It’s one thing to grow your audience on LinkedIn. I think there are well-known approaches for that. And then you go to the next level and it’s like… Newsletters are somewhere in the middle, but I think there are some better known approaches for that. I think podcasting, again, the commitment [00:41:30] level is so high so I think the hacks don’t work work. It’s too meaningful. You have to actually build a meaningful level of trust before someone tries something.

I think the one that I’m more interested in, which we do, but I don’t think we haven’t invested in doing well yet, is YouTube. Because YouTube sits at this intersection where… First of all, they’re trying to become a podcast platform. They’re not trying very hard yet, but they are trying. But YouTube has that algorithmic amplification that you get from [00:42:00] something like a social network, but also you have that full content immersion. I think if you learn to work the YouTube algorithm well enough, you get new subscribers on YouTube. And then you have a channel for people to sample your podcast and eventually become regular listeners. So it’s something that I’d like to invest in more in 2024 is YouTube as a consumption channel, as a distribution channel, but even more so as a growth channel. It’s like, how can [00:42:30] we funnel people in through YouTube Shorts to becoming subscribers to then trying our episodes on YouTube, and then either continuing to listen there or actually put it in their podcast listening app?

Adam: Yeah, listen to you on YouTube, hit follow on one of your social channels, and then find the pod, subscribe to the podcast through the social channel.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah. But I mean, that’s the thing on podcasting. The other challenge with it is it has no built-in distribution channels, zero. Because it is this organic [00:43:00] community, it’s just RSS feeds, it’s a tech from pre web, it’s like Web 1.0 tech sitting on top of that. So all of these other things, there’s an algorithm to play. You can play games with the algorithm with LinkedIn and so on. There’s no algorithm for podcasting. There’s just your content and there’s just your listeners and that’s it. And you have to earn each one.

Adam: Yeah. I love that you used the word earn on Earning Ears. As a [00:43:30] developer turned operations, still those things, but now also a content creator, are there any skills or expertise that you’ve brought from being a developer and in operations that has served you well in content creating?

Yaniv Bernstein: I’ll say what it is, it’s actually having something to talk about. Again, coincidentally, I just came off recording an episode with another content creator for The Startup Podcast. One of the things [00:44:00] that we talked about is, yeah, here are all these strategies around building a personal brand and so on. But the word of warning at the end is, make sure you have something to talk about. Be a doer. Do things. And then as you learn, as you get that hard-earned experience, as you develop a point of view, as you develop opinions from moving through the world, then you have stuff to talk about.

I think the fact that I’ve been a software engineer at Google, that I’ve been a scale-up guy, that I’ve been [00:44:30] an advisor and a coach and an angel investor and a founder and all these things, I’m like, these are all things I now get to talk about. I know we’ve been talking about content a lot, we’ve been using that word, it can seem a bit reductionist. It’s just fungible, like it’s water or something. No, content is your unique view of the world that you’re sharing with others. Everyone has something to say, but if you focus on doing things that are worth talking about then you’ll have more [00:45:00] to say. I think content, especially if you’re using your own… You are the creator of the content, you need to be living your life and having a career beyond just the creation of the content, or else you run out of things to talk about. I think that’s the way it’s really benefited me.

Adam: How do you think about… I want to use Harry Stebbings as an example on 20VC. Are you familiar with that show?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yes, I am.

Adam: He [00:45:30] started really young, I’m pretty sure.

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah, yeah, he still is. He’s like 12 years old man.

Adam: But for people like that, that maybe they don’t have so much life experience and things, opinions and things to talk about, how do they create? I think I know the answer, but how do they create content that grows to the level that it is, the people listening to him?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yeah. Well, Harry’s an interesting one. So [00:46:00] yes, for those who are not familiar with him, he is the host of a podcast called The 20 Minute VC, which I think he started when he was still a teenager. He’s just one of those people who he got obsessed with venture capital. He was really interested in it. He started this podcast and just started interviewing venture capitalists. I think he was good at cold emailing, didn’t take no an answer. It was probably cute how young he was so he got great guests. But I think he talks about it took him hundreds of episodes [00:46:30] until he got to 1,000 downloads per episode.

The way I nearly think of Harry’s journey is that those first few years of podcasting, talking to all those VCs, he was studying venture capital. Actually, by the time he became popular, he had done a lot, it was just through the framework of the podcast itself. And now he has his own fund and everything, so now he’s an investor himself off the back of the podcast, off the back of the deal flow and so on. I think you can start off by interviewing people. [00:47:00] And you can be a good interviewer, and I think that is one valid approach. But I think if you are a really good interviewer, you yourself are learning from all the people you talk to. At a certain point you gain your own expertise from that synthesis of hundreds of conversations you’ve had with interesting people.

Adam: I love that.

Yaniv Bernstein: Harry has his own opinions, a lot of his own opinions now, through doing over 1,000 episodes of his podcast.

Adam: Yeah. Awesome. I know we’re getting to the end. Two more questions.

Yaniv Bernstein: No worries.

Adam: Any recommendations for someone out there [00:47:30] that’s thinking of getting started podcasting? Any go-to tools that you swear by for the content workflow?

Yaniv Bernstein: Yep. Yep. Right now we’re recording on Riverside, which is the remote recording studio. Riverside.fm, absolutely use that. Descript for editing is a real game changer. It’s a very fast workflow. So with those two tools, you can get, say, 70% of the way to a really professionally produced and edited podcast. [00:48:00] To get it to 100%, you’ll need an actual professional editor that can do amazing work. Descript and Riverside get you a pretty long way. And that’s it. I think my main advice is really just get started. Like I said, our first episode was recorded over Zoom and we used what was called Anchor at the time, is now Spotify for Podcasters for hosting. I don’t think it’s the best hosting platform, but it takes 10 minutes to get started. [00:48:30] The two biggest challenges to podcasting are, one, getting started, and two, then staying the course.

Adam: Keep going, yeah.

Yaniv Bernstein: I think those are the tools, I’d say. It can become more and more work over time, but you want to start. Unless you’re an actual professional like yourself, Adam, who’s built the business around it, you want to start in a way that doesn’t create a huge amount of work, and you can always level up from there. I would recommend that stack of Riverside plus [00:49:00] Descript, and then Spotify for Podcasters is absolutely fine. We still use it for hosting. You can get all that set up in under an hour and be ready to go.

Adam: I would just add one on to the top of that, which is I always recommend Captivate.fm as a host.

Yaniv Bernstein: Okay.

Adam: I’ve used them for a few years. They’re based in the UK. They’re awesome.

Yaniv Bernstein: Good to know.

Adam: And last question. I like asking this one. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wish was in the podcast?

Yaniv Bernstein: [00:49:30] Actually, I think you’ve done a pretty good job. What would I leave listeners with? I think I’ve covered this already, it seems a bit trite, but if you want to produce good content live an interesting life. I think that’s really at the core of it.

Adam: Thank you for your time today, Yaniv.

Yaniv Bernstein: Okay. Thanks, Adam. It’s been a lot of fun.

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Earning Ears_V2

Earning Ears

How to create a show that earns your audience’s attention