Justin Jackson: Audiences, Death Wish, and White Dudes
May 31, 2021 · 53 minutes reading time
Transcript of episode 16
Hello, everyone, another episode of The Audience Explorer is on the way! Today, I’m pretty excited to have Justin Jackson here, from the well known podcast hosting service transistor.fm, which is one of my favorites, because I host my podcast there, too.
Hi, Justin! Nice to meet you today!
Yeah, it’s good to be here. And thanks for using transistor. It’s always nice to meet folks that are actually that are using the product.
Yeah, and I’m pretty excited to hear more about your backstory, how how you even got started to get the idea for a podcast hosting service, because … I think there were some, even in those days! And so let’s get started with the question: How did you get the idea for Transistor?
How the idea for Transistor was born
So that’s a pretty challenging question to answer, because there’s a lot of layers that led up to starting transistor. Some sometimes people go well, where’d you get the idea? And it’s like, well, I mean, the idea was, it’s just, you’ve got to go back through history. So I’ve been podcasting since 2012. So that’s part of the idea. You know, I was in the ecosystem. I was a participant. And then in 2014, I met John Buddha, who’s my co founder. He was building another podcasting service at the time, and asked me if I wanted to use it. And I said, Yes. And him and I collaborated on some things over the years.
And then in 2017, like late 2017, he said he wanted to build another podcasting service. And at the time, things have changed in podcasting, things have continued to evolve. And there were some parts of it that were ascendant, that I thought would make it a good business. So, a lot more media attention, right? Like the New York Times was doing an op ed on podcasting. Every week, we had Serial, which was a big podcasting hit. So a lot more people were aware of podcasting, it started to pass the coffee shop test, which is…
You’re in line, ordering coffee, and what do you hear people talking about? For a long time, it was, you know, what Netflix shows you watching? What apps do you have on your phone? Yeah. And then eventually, I started hearing real normal people just ordering their coffee talking about podcasts they were listening to! So it, it was clear that we were getting into a zone where this had started off as kind of this niche thing.
And once I started hearing normal, people talk about it, it was like breaking into the public consciousness. I thought, Okay, I think a lot more people are going to be getting into this. And so all of those things combined plus, I mean, tons of other factors, ideas have their …
Ideas have seeds way back in your life
The seed of ideas starts usually way, way back in your life, you can go back decades, and see how, you know, my dad always listened to talk radio, in the truck, driving around rural Alberta. And I started to love talk radio. And there was times, you know, once I started driving myself, I would turn off the radio, and pretend that I was the interviewer. And, you know, I was interviewing the guest. And, you know, I read so that it’s idea, sometimes you’ll read like the short version, like the short version of transistors, you know, John and Justin decided to build a podcast hosting place. And they did it. And then you know, the next thing you know, it’s going in, it’s a, it’s a business, but there’s, in my personal life stack, you can go back multiple layers, and see where the roots of the idea came from. And same with John in his life, you can go back and see where the roots of, you know, thing he was, he worked for Cards Against Humanity for a long time. They had like three podcast studios in their office, tons of local Chicago podcasts got started there.
So all of this, you know … kind of soup… Yeah, it all adds up. That’s right. It’s kind of like yeah, it’s like an equation. That’s another good metaphor for it.
Interesting! It’s kind of like Steve Jobs said about the dots that you can connect only after the fact, right?
Yeah, yeah. And I’ve heard other people say it’s like, what do they say? It’s like building a platform. But it’s like a layer of paint, you know, you have a layer of paint and then, but the layer of paint eventually adds up. So it, it’s actually boosting you up pretty high, you know?
So I yeah, I’m still working on the metaphors because I, I’m actually pretty passionate about helping people figure this out.
In the old days, we hosted podcasts on Wordpress
I remember the old days when I was on a WordPress website, and with a podcast hosting plugin, and the mp3 files were on the server, and the RSS feed was generated by the plugin. Yeah, it was real big mess! (laughs)
Yeah, I did that. I did that too. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s so many movements in society.
It’s interesting, because, you know, even back in 2012, there was a lot of DIY people. A lot of folks were just using a WordPress plugin. And, you know, I was like, I started with WordPress plugin. And then I eventually started hosting the media myself on AWS. And you know, that what’s interesting now, is there’s been a shift in, I think people are still DIY, but they’re willing to spend money to make things easier and simpler for themselves. Right. So, you know, a decade ago, folks would have been like, $19 a month for podcast hosting. Nah, I’ll just do it myself. Yeah. But these days, there’s a growing number of people who are like, Nah, you know what? I’m just gonna pay for someone else to do that. And then I’m going to focus on doing the other parts.
Matthias: Real good content, right?
Justin: Yes. If the podcast hosting companies that existed back then it was slow. It was slow growing!
You know, it was not even today, it’s not a it’s not a an incredibly fast growing category. And it the ceiling for podcast hosting is definitely lower than other categories, meaning the ceiling of potential.
Matthias: The potential upside.
Justin: Yeah, the potential upside!
but it’s definitely … there’s definitely more folks willing to pay today than there was a decade ago! And I’m seeing this in a lot of categories. You see this. In blogging platforms people are willing to pay. You see this in definitely email newsletters, people are willing to pay, people are willing to pay to subscribe to an email newsletter, which that idea has been around for definitely over a decade! I remember Kevin Rose of Digg had a paid newsletter that he was experimenting with a decade ago, and it never really took off back then.
But now, you know, society has moved, the market has moved. And now people are willing to pay for newsletters! So you got to kind of follow some you got to follow the waves, you know, what might have been a good idea 10 years ago, but didn’t have the market could be a good idea today. And the market has actually there the markets ready for it. Or even better, the market is actively seeking it, they want it.
Words become more acceptable. It’s become more the norm. In the same way that podcast, listening was not the norm 10 years ago, but now for over 50% of North America anyway, podcast listening is the norm. So the shift happened, it takes time, but sometimes the market will shift and then that idea that was good, but didn’t have buyers now has buyers.
That’s really interesting. I can see this, too in several places.
People were not paying, they were they were doing Do It Yourself stuff until they realized at least it was for me like this until I realized how much work it is to keep something simply going. Getting to the initial DIY is simple. You simply do it. You write some code, you put it on a server and it runs, okay. And then the work starts right monitoring that stuff and keeping it working and what if what if an outage is there? What if you need redundancy and so on … on this kind of stuff that’s not so easy to solve. And that’s the real work. I think it’s not the initial thing, getting the initial functionality. That’s not the problem.
That’s right. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, this is why there’s probably still a huge opportunity to disrupt WordPress, because, you know, WordPress used to be the easiest way to build a website. Yeah, and have a blog.
But if you’ve ever had a WordPress site, you know, it’s a lot of maintenance, even today, with all the improvements they’ve made, plugins constantly need to be updated. You know, there’s always updates to WordPress itself. Sometimes WordPress, even if you have automatic updates turned on, those can break things and your theme, and there’s lots of conflicts between plugins, some plugins will simply stop working. So there’s an opportunity there for folks who just want something simple, and are willing to pay for it to be dead simple.
People get older, markets change!
And then there’s other opportunities that I think, you know, again, the market moves, so even people just getting older, is an interesting market. Evolution. And I think about this, because I’ve just come into my 40s. And my daughter has just finished her first year university. So it’s like, I’m, you know, getting into my fourth decade, and my daughter is just on the verge of her second, I’m finishing her second. Yeah. And, you know, for me, one of the things I started thinking about is, well, my mortality, like what happens when I die? And what happens my WordPress site when I die?
(Matthias laughs with astonishment about this idea)
You know, and it’s just, it’s kind of a morbid and ridiculous thought, like, in some ways, who cares? But, you know, I just had this thought of like, you know, my mom has all these old letters from her relatives that are on paper that she still go through. And I said, Okay, what, how can I kind of increase the odds that, my words, there’s an archive of them somewhere. And for me, it meant, well, I want this all in source control, and GitHub, GitHub will probably outlast me. And if I had all of my content in a GitHub repo, that’s public, I don’t care if it’s public. That that’s one way for my words to live on. Now how can I come up with a publishing system that will work for that, you know, and that led me to, you know, look for static, static hosting that could use, you know, Markdown, and, you know, I did a search on that, and eventually switched to statamic.
But the part of the kernel of that was me just getting older, and realizing, you know, I wanted to save my writing for the future! In truth, like, I’m sure my kids won’t care, but just just so it’s there, just in case, you know, just in case they want to read some old business articles from from 2020!
That’s an interesting phenomenon. You start quite early thinking about this. I’m in my 60s now. And for me, it’s, it’s starting to become normal to think about these things. I recently came across a start, what was it a startup or already an established company, I don’t know. They organize what happens after your death, right? And they make an very weird offer, from my point of view: They offer to store all your passwords, all your connections, all your everything, so that your spouse or significant other or whoever can can later after you die, they can access what you had.
But you have to give the stuff while you’re still alive! And I’m really, I was terrified: WHAT? I will give them my passwords, are they serious? (laughs aghast)
Death is a good topic for a newsletter
But you can see that there would be demand for that. Yeah. You know, I think, honestly, there’s probably a lot more people thinking about mortality just because of COVID. And I think this is one of the beauties of building a business or even building an audience around a topic is being able to address things that people think about and worry about.
Hmm, you know, I truthfully, like if I die, and you never know, right, I could die tomorrow. I could die in 10 years, whatever, but it’s gonna be a mess for my wife, like my business stuff. And like how, how is she going to walk through all of that. And so I think about it, it’s stressful for me to think, you know, if I did die, she would have to have all that stress in addition to me being dead, (maybe she’d be relieved, haha!).
But, you know, giving her the that all that stress, I think, you know, makes me feel bad. And so by the way, like, I think there’s a category for a newsletter, and building an audience all around thinking about stuff around your death. So, you know, are you thinking about?
Are you are you thinking about your death are worried about what happens after you die or whatever? I think there would be a, there’s a great newsletter opportunity there. And, you know, every week or every month, you could just write an update and say, Okay, one thing you should think about is your will, when’s the last time you have you updated the will? If you don’t have one, okay, well, here’s three steps to getting a well, and just go through it. And here it is for, you know, North America, for Europe for whatever. That’s, I would probably subscribe to that, because it’s on my mind, and can do if someone can make it easy. If someone can reduce my anxiety, then there’s a there’s an opportunity there. And the other thing I like about it is it’s not a category that a lot of people are going after, you know?
Yeah, I think so! I ‘m absolutely sure that not many people will go after that!
But that’s where you need to, that’s what you need to do. Right? There’s, you got to look for opportunities, where there is a clear movement already. Right? There’s already people thinking about it. There’s already people who might get a moment of panic in a day going, “Oh, my God, like, how would anyone ever unraveling any of this if I was gone?” And those opportunities, I think, the ones that, you know, maybe people aren’t thinking about, there’s certain, especially for audience building, there’s certain topics that everybody goes after, you know,
yeah, like marketing, for example,
Productivity is a big one, you know, and, you know, tech tips and all those things. And there’s still opportunities, and all of those nice thing is they’re big categories with you know, they’re always going to have built in demand. But there are also these, these more. There’s some topics that just don’t get talked about as much. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. And he kind of got built in marketing, especially if you had a death newsletter. Like, you know,
This would be so crazy.
Yeah. “Death Wish” I think it should be called.
(Matthias says “Stop this, Justin” because he can’t breathe any more, laughing out loud)
You could get it sponsored by like a really hardcore heavy metal band. (laughs)
Yeah, or by a funeral service. (laughs!)
Matthias, this is why people tune in, they want to hear the crazy ideas! And this is a this is a out there idea.
Does Transistor’s audience have a role name?
Oh, wow. I never thought about that. Speaking of audiences, let’s get back to the to your transistor audience. What do you call it? How do they call themselves? What do they call themselves? Who people who buy the transistor service?
Oh, I mean, that’s interesting. I mean, generally, they would be podcasters. But the way I would define them is just people who want podcasting. And the reason I would define it that way, I think this is actually a mistake a lot of people make is they go, Well, I’m going to build something for truck drivers. I’m gonna build something for personal trainers. And I mean, those are both types of audience. But especially with products. I think there’s a danger in getting too narrow. So if I said transistor is only for podcasters, out that there’s actually it could even be up to 25-30% of our customers would say “Well, that doesn’t define me!”
I’m more… I don’t call myself a podcaster. I’m a PR person. I’m a marketing professional. I’m a entertainer. I’m a creator. Hmm, you know, there’s, I’m a CEO.
So if we said, actually, when transistor started, you know, we were trying to follow this advice Have you got to focus on a niche. And so we said, well, transistor is for brands and businesses that want to podcast and we quickly learned That. And we did that actually because we saw it work for WP Engine. Right? WP Engine is WordPress hosting for brands and businesses.
People rarely label themselves
But we quickly discovered that a lot of people who wanted to sign up and were signing up, didn’t feel like that label describes them. And I have DMS from people saying, I signed up anyway. But just so you know. And these were people who are my personal audience, so I had an advantage because they felt like they could reach out to me, you know, personally. They said, “You know, I signed up, but your homepage didn’t speak to me at all. It was excluding me”. And so people who want a podcast and this actually, you know
How do people find transistor? Most of them find transistor by typing in “how to start a podcast”, “best podcast hosting”, okay, podcast hosting for my podcast, “how do I upload my podcast to Apple”? They are looking to do something
People who want to start a podcast or people who want to podcast is the is the market, that’s the audience.
And so to reach them, I’m speaking mostly about what they want, not who they are, or who I guess they might be.
I’m saying I know who you are. You want to get a microphone, you want to plug it in to a computer, you want to record it. And then you want it on Spotify and Apple and Google podcasts and Overcast and you want to be able to share it with your colleagues. That’s what you want, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re a truck driver, or a physiotherapist, or, you know, a winemaker!
Yeah. It could be anybody. It could be anybody. Someone who wants to teach something. For example, they could be teachers. Whatever, right?
Justin wrote a book and did okay, but…
That’s right. That’s right. And, you know, I tried some of this, cuz I, I had a course called “marketing for developers”. Some of my instincts were right. I mean, I knew that if I just had a general marketing course, it’d be difficult to stand out from the crowd. I also knew software developers was this big category. And that software developers have a lot of disposable income. They’re also often incentivized to learn new things. They pay for courses, I knew that.
And so, you know, I said, Okay, well, and I, I liked working with software developers. So and I’m fairly technical myself. So I felt like, Okay, this is a good overlap. But the challenge there is, you know, I, I narrowed my audience. And I was saying, you know, this is marketing for developers. But really, I’m, there’s a few challenges, especially compared to something like, you know, refactoring your PHP. That’s for developers, but it’s for developers who want to refactor their PHP better write that it’s actually you’re targeting people who want to do something. And it just so happens that there are lot of PHP developers in the world who all want to refactor their code, right? It’s a big group. Yeah.
But for marketing for developers, there’s like, sure, there’s lots of developers in the world. But how many of them are in a place where they want to learn marketing? Well, that’s a much smaller group. And of that group, you know, how many of them are actually in a place where they need to know it right now? Is this just like something they’re interested in? Or do they actually have a company? It’s even a smaller group. And the group just got much, much smaller, really quick!
And, you know, it did fine. It paid my bills for a long time. But compared to a big group of people who are in motion, who just want to do they want to accomplish the same thing, or they just have the same problem, or they have the same desire, or whatever…
Important: People who are in motion
And sometimes that might look like, Oh, this is just software developers don’t want to do that. And thankfully, that’s a big group. And they’re, you know, they have disposable income and perfect, yeah, but sometimes that looks like “no, this product could be used by all sorts of folks in all sorts of situations”. And what’s important is to ask yourself the question: “is there a large group of people who are moving in this direction”, regardless of their demographics, regardless of, you know, their career or their what, however they would define themselves,
Is there a large group of people moving in this direction already in motion. And if there is, that’s the important piece, not as much, you know what their individual characteristics might be.
This is interesting, because almost everybody in marketing tells you otherwise. Right? They, they tell you, you must niche down because then your language … it becomes easier to speak to your audience. If you use your audience, for example, uses a certain language, then you can start using the same words, and it becomes everything becomes easier, and so on and so on.
So I’m asking myself when you say, let’s look at what people do what set them in motion? What, what is the common thing, regardless of their background? Then: How do you speak to such an audience? Because they might be diverse?
Yeah, because it’s all around what their that the best frame of mind is to think about “what are people searching for?” Don’t think about, you know, “who do I want to reach?” It’s what are people searching for?
And so if there’s a lot, if there’s a sizable group of people searching for a simple website builder, that’s what you’re trying to target. You’re, you’re targeting the desire, you’re targeting what’s at the root of their demand? you’re targeting the the the action, the outcome, the you know, what they want to accomplish? So, you know, Carrd …
yeah, the landing page builder…
Yeah, I mean, AJ has probably millions of customers. And they are completely diverse if he had on Carrd like “this is only for dentists’ offices”, you know, a simple page builder for dentist offices, sure, he could really narrow down his language and speak just to dentists, but actually it doesn’t matter.
it doesn’t make sense
you know, people are searching for sure, there’s some dentists that are looking for a simple web page builder, but there’s just a lot of other people searching for a simple web page builder, right, what you’re trying to target is the people who are looking for that thing. I’m looking for a simple web page builder, that, you know, allows me to write markdown, and is not too expensive. And I can get going right away. And I can connect a custom domain to they’re looking for the outcome,
they’re looking for something that’s going to help them do that thing that they woke up in the morning wanting to do.. And it doesn’t matter if they’re a skateboarder or a snowboarder, a surfer roller skater? Like, yes, you could definitely narrow your language down. But in most cases, I actually think it doesn’t matter!
It doesn’t matter so much, right?
It doesn’t matter as much.
And there’s examples of there’s a counter examples of folks who have gone after very niche, nichely defined groups, you know, narrowly defined groups. And that can, that can also work if their group is sizable enough. And if they’re all moving in one direction, you know, they’re all motivated to go in a certain direction. and you can help them, you know, with whatever that is.
But in a lot of cases, the there’s actually just a lot of diverse people in motion in the same direction, who can’t be quantified by their demographics. And, and it’s okay for you to target the action they’re trying to take, as opposed to the, you know, their identity, it however you want to slice it, you know,
the, the, the label they will put on themselves, right,
that that’s right. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, even things like, …
You could take something like an API, which you would think, okay, there’s, if anything is solely for software developers, it’s an API. But I disagree. I actually have a strong hypothesis that a major consumer of API’s are not developers at all, but business people, marketers, market products, managers, project managers.
And it was this insight that was at the root of Zapier becoming such a big company, was you know, people like me who were not software developers, but wanted to consume API’s and do stuff with them. And that insight of “oh wait, API’s aren’t just for software developers, they’re actually for everybody, because they’re just useful tools”. So how instead of saying API’s are only for software developers, or this is a great API for your engineering team, why not just say, this is a great API, and make it accessible, so everybody can use it, don’t artificially limit the potential, don’t artificially limit the audience, the audience can be bigger than you think.
And I think artificially eliminating it, especially before, you know, like, sometimes at the beginning, you just don’t know enough. You haven’t met enough people you don’t, you haven’t run into enough use cases, to know for sure, who you should be targeting. And the idea that it makes it easier to write marketing copy, and all these things could be true. But so much of marketing, is not just finding a little watering hole where the same kind of people hang out and then marketing your product.
In the modern age, most marketing is SEO, it’s optimizing for search intent, “what are people searching for? And how can I help them find my thing related to what they’re searching for?” It’s the the the idea that we’re always going to be able to go and find the dentist’s association of North America and go to the trade show, and then market our thing. You know, again, some people do that. But it’s not. It’s it’s actually quite limiting in practice.
How Justin and John met their first customers
Speaking of your first audience, how did you meet them at all? How did you get your first people who signed up and people who paid for your service?
For transistor? It started with my personal audience in my personal network, and a lot of John’s personal network.
Because you, you were both already into podcasting. Right.
We were already in podcasting. But we’d also just had decades of, you know, for me, I’ve been podcasting and blogging, and tweeting, since you know, 2008. And had gradually built up a little personal following. And that was helpful. And then there’s also just our professional contacts and the folks who’ve met at conferences, the relationships we’ve built over the years on the internet. And those were very helpful as well.
So our initial, you know, our first 100 customers, I would say, you know, maybe 75 came from my personal audience in network, and then maybe 25 came from John’s network in Chicago.
And then it’s hard to tell how much of our how many of our customers come from our personal connections. Now, we have about 5000 customers. And if I had to guess I would say, maybe, on the high side, it’s 1000 people that knew know who we are. So maybe 1/5 of our customers know who we are. So either our personal network or personal audience.
But most people find us these days, from search intent. They’re looking for podcast hosting, looking how to start a podcast. Yeah, so most of it’s through SEO and affiliates these days.
Interesting. I found you through through word of mouth, from the indie hacking community, that many from from that community were using your service and I thought, Oh, I want to start a podcast. Which service should I use? Yeah. Then I went to your homepage, and I saw the people from Basecamp are using your service. And I thought “oh, what’s good enough for Basecamp can can be good enough for me.” So I signed up, right.
Don’t “niche down” too much
Yeah. And it I mean, again, that’s actually perfect illustration of what I’m talking about. So the indie hacking community is an incredible community that I’m a part of that I’ve been building an audience and a reputation in for decades. But, and we love having all these folks from that community using transistors is incredible. But it’s still a pretty small percentage of our customer base.
Even though, you know, of like, the podcasts for bootstrappers and indie hackers, we might be 80% of them, right? Like, in that, in that small little niche, we actually …Yeah, we’ve got it covered. But it on its own, it wouldn’t be enough to sustain the business. And I, you know, I see folks making that mistake too is they go, Well, you know, I’m just gonna go after this little watering hole. And, and, and, and I’m just gonna capture that whole thing. And then I’ll have enough customers, it can work.
But in something like podcast hosting, or a lot of the services that people are starting, indie hackers alone wouldn’t be enough. You know, AJ is, with Carrd is a, you know, a huge member of the indie hacking community. A lot of people know about him. But of his, whatever, 5 million 10 million websites. I’m pretty confident that like Kpop, there are more Kpop websites on Carrd than indie hacker websites on Carrd,, right?
So it’s the size of the market? Although, you know, there are, yeah, there’s Kevin with “software ideas”, that newsletter he’s running pretty much built completely off the indie hacker audience. And he’s done quite well with that. So there’s, you can build a nice little business in some of these niche markets, niche groups. But for most businesses, especially if you want it to kind of last a long time, and not just rely on one group too much, you know, that’s fine. Have some resiliency in there, you can’t just focus on one little niche.
So what do you do regularly to develop your audience further, if you’ve got now 5000 customers? What do you do for them so that they stay with you? They keep you keep them interested? You keep them at bay?
Do you do something special or is it simply ongoing development of your platform?
What to do to nurture your audience
So I think almost with any product, the most important thing will be the momentum in the market.
What do you mean by that?
What I mean by it is how many people want to podcast? And how many people want to keep podcasting? So those are really the two questions that are going to define Transistor’s overall success, regardless of how good of an audience builder I am, regardless of how good of a marketer I am, regardless of how good at product john and I are. And I think we’re I think we’re really good at product. Especially John, like he, he is an incredible builder. But what’s going to determine the overall trajectory of our business is
- how many people want to start a podcast?
- how many people want to continue podcasting?
And a lot of that is outside of our control. So at the beginning of the pandemic, in lockdown, yeah, April and May, was incredible for podcasting! Almost every podcasting service saw a big bump. And, you know, microphones were selling out on Amazon. Recording platforms like squad cast were, you know, multiplying their revenues by a lot. And podcast hosting saw a bump as well. We didn’t like 10x our growth or anything, but we were like it was a couple of good months
yes. But now we’re a year into the pandemic. And I’m seeing a lot of the people who started a podcast a year ago, cancel!
Ahhhh … interesting!
So, the momentum in the market… Now, thankfully, there’s that there was this like one stream of momentum, which was pandemic, people who are locked down were like, “Oh, I should try podcasting”. Or maybe I can podcast to make some money, or I just lost my job. So now I’m going to try to make podcasting my career. People are motivated for all sorts of reasons. But what we’ve seen is that a lot of the folks who started a podcast in the pandemic have not been able to sustain it or have decided to stop.
And we, you know, there’s only so much I can do to modify people’s behavior. It’s actually very little I can do,
That’s so true.
The motivation to start a podcast and to keep podcasting, I can do a little bit
- I can share stories,
- I can lead by example,
- I can keep podcasting myself,
- I can throw it ideas,
- I can show people the equipment to buy.
But if you know if it’s if doing a Clubhouse session is just as fun and just as rewarding, and just as an end, and satisfies the desire people had that previously podcasting occupied, then there’s not a lot I can do to fight that unless I pivot the product or whatever.
Now thankfully, I think “social audio” we’re also seeing was a short lived wave, the interest was very, very high. And now I think Clubhouse’s download numbers have plummeted like 80%, or something like that,
Oh, it’s so it’s normalized…
it’s normalized. And podcasting has always just grown, you know, 10% a year. And so we might just be going back down to just kind of regular slow growth, which is great as well.
But, you know, there’s all sorts of things that can happen in a market, maybe people just get sick of audio.
Or it’s discovered that “listening to too much audio is bad for your brain”. And so a lot of people decide to stop doing it, right. Like, there’s all sorts of things that could happen that are outside of my control. And that’s just part of the momentum in the market. So,
At a base level, the most effective thing you can do when you’re choosing an audience, choosing a product is to choose something that people are already searching for. People are already paying for people are already using. And, or at least a problem that they’re already trying to solve in a different way. Or something that they’re constantly thinking about (going back to that death wish newsletter). You know, you got to target something like that. Because it’s the momentum that’s already there.
The current is more important than the sailor’s skills
That’s going going to carry you way more than your audience building ability, your marketing ability, your product prowess, you know, whatever you’re bringing to the table matters. But it only matters and as much as the current is carrying you already. You’re not going to create the current!
I love that metaphor. The current is carrying you. Yeah, I love that!
So you wouldn’t like canoeing? Like if you’re canoeing? Are you a canoeor?
You’ve never been canoeing? Have you ever been kayaking? Or on a boat? Yeah, I
was once on a boat on a salt lake in France. It was a bit crazy, but it was only on vacation.
Was it a sailboat?
No, it was a rowing boat. They gave us the boats to demonstrate their salt fields.
Okay, Okay, I got it. Got it. I mean, you see this, especially if you’re on a river, or if you’re on a sailboat, because …
Sure, if you’re a skilled sailor, you’re going to be able to harness the wind better. You’re going to know what to do when the wind shifts, you’re going to know how to place your sails so that you get you know, the right amount of momentum.
But in a lake with no wind. You can have the best sailor in the world. And it doesn’t matter. Right? And so the wind is the important part. Don’t go sailing in a spot with no wind or in a day with no wind, you wait for the wind, and then you go out and then your skills matter. And then the boat you have matters, and then your teammates matter. But unless there’s something there, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to have the momentum, you’ve got to have the current already going!
Does audience development mean “feel the wind”?
So what what would you do to develop your audience further, you would look for different kinds of wind or constantly looking, where’s the wind coming from?
It’s kind of everything I mean, in … Oh, that’s a good way to put it. Yeah. So you kind of go where’s the wind blowing, and you kind of just put up sails wherever you can.
So as an example, I’m noticing that we’re getting more traffic from YouTube videos lately. So I record a little podcast tutorial, upload it to YouTube. And it might only get 500 views. But of those views, people, a lot of people are clicking on the link in the description to go to Transistor. And we’re actually getting signups from it!
So there’s some wind there that I can maybe harness. And the way I kind of move that forward is
- I just keep putting out videos,
- I’m going to try to hire some people to make some videos
- I’m going to partner with some people to make some videos,
- I’m just thinking about videos a lot.
I’m thinking about keywords, you know, what are people searching for? What are some search results? You know, I think a lot about SEO as well. What are some interesting opportunities in Video SEO that I could I could pursue? Where can I put up my sail and maybe catch some wind?
So that’s one place I think also everyone, a lot of this will depend on your personality, right? So for me, a lot of it is just like, doing lots of networking, doing lots of podcast interviews, writing a lot, sharing a lot, writing articles whenever I can, you know, there’s Big Apple, Apple did a big release. And there’s tons of bugs in podcast connected in the new Apple podcast app.
I saw you writing about it. Yeah.
And so then that’s like a wind. It’s like, “Whoa, where did this come from? This wind came out of nowhere. But let’s try to put up a sail and see if we can catch it”.
Yeah. And it will probably be short lived. But I want to, you know, jump on the opportunities when they come up, and take advantage of them. People are searching for it. People need help. And maybe we can offer some help. And, you know, get some customers from it.
And even just helping people is a good is a good strategy. So we do live chat on Transistor, we’re basically available 24 hours a day. And people show up, and we just try to help them. And a lot of them aren’t customers, but we’re just trying to be helpful whenever we can, and have a real person answer within an hour, even faster, if we can. So I think being helpful has been is another way that we attract folks. And the personal audience still does resonate, you know, I do get people signing up saying, Hey, I read your newsletter for a long time. And just really identify with you and your beliefs and the way you do things. And so I just wanted to support you …
Your product is not your product
I recently heard about the concept of a “whole product”, the product that you sell, and that you that you have online is not your real product, the real product is everything, including your person, your reputation, your connections, everything,
Yes, your values … which does make it a bit more messy. It’s not so hard. Sometimes living in that space is difficult. Yeah, this is like one… of the downsides people don’t talk about with having an audience. While there’s people don’t talk about the downsides of having an audience. There are downsides. And the downside is you’re living in public.
People start looking on you!
Yeah, yeah. A lot of you know, it’s like, you know, you can hate on IBM, but like, do you know the the CEO of IBM? No, I can’t think of who it is either. I don’t know who it is. So, you know, people might be angry at IBM or whatever could say mean things about IBM can misinterpret IBM. But the CEO, nobody really knows who he is, or she is. It’s like, I have no idea.
So one of the downsides, especially with personal audiences, and having a personal brand and a personal presence that then connects to your company, is that, you know, it’s a lot more challenging to navigate, you’ve got to be you’ve got to be up to the challenge of, you know, sometimes you’ll say something that you shouldn’t have, and then you have to figure out how to own up to it.
A personal brand attracts people in all sorts of stages of their life
And you can also just attract, you know, again, like the Internet is full of folks who are in all sorts of stages of their life. There’s somebody listening to this right now that maybe just lost their job, and they’re really upset! And they might be interpreting what we’re saying right now a lot differently than somebody who, everything’s going great for that, right?
That’s so true.
There might be somebody listening to this who just had a baby, and they’ve been up, you know, 10 nights in a row with no sleep. And, you know, the way that they interpret what we’re talking about, and, you know, their mood will probably be drastically different than, you know, somebody who’s at different stages of their life.
We all come from different backgrounds, we come from different cultures. There’s a lot of similarities between Canada and Germany. But there’s, there are some differences too. Like, sometimes I’m talking, I’m speaking with my German friends, and we misunderstand each other. Right?
The cultures are so similar. You know what I mean? Like, there’s a lot of, you know, in Canada, we have, we had a lot of German settlers, there’s a lot that,
(Matthias: “I didn’t know that!“)
For sure. But there’s still a lot of ways we can misunderstand each other.
Yeah. Because of the the upbringing and the socialization and, and the stories you grew up with…
Everything! Like, for a German person to request, you know, specific things on their invoice makes perfect sense to them. And it’s almost like: “Why can’t these North American companies just get our invoices, right? But for a North American business person, it’s completely alien! Why would you need all these things?”
Even that, can create emotion and, you know, I’ve had people who are upset at us for, you know, whatever.
There’s been misunderstandings, for my personal newsletter, and my personal podcast, and my personal tweets, you know, sometimes people get really upset at me. I’ve had people who are, you know, really depressed, contact me. Sometimes they need help that I can’t give them. Sometimes they’re being abusive, and, you know, I just have to deal with it.
I have a relatively small audience, in this big scheme of things. You know, I just got my personal newsletter down to like, 6000 subscribers. I’ve under 30,000 followers on Twitter. And increasingly, I’m feeling like, I don’t really want it to get that big!
Some haters are online
You’ve ever had a tweet go viral? You like, as soon as you’re a tweet gets outside of your normal social circle online?
And you experience just the, the mass and the difficulty, like the there’s so many different ways what you say can be misinterpreted, or, seen the wrong way, or taken out of context, or, you know, or even just, like, none of those things, but just people what was, what everybody in the tech community might have enjoyed, is like, laughable or, or easy for people to be cynical about outside of that, of that circle.
And some of this mess I’ve just embraced, because I do want to be challenged on my views. I do want to break out of my bubble, and yeah, get a diversity of experiences and have a diversity of relationships with a diverse group of people.
But, you know, until you have a sizeable audience, (and for me, it happened around 10,000 email subscribers and 10,000 Twitter followers), once you get there, you start to get some of the negatives. And I think it’s actually that that that threshold is even lower for especially women and minorities, people who aren’t white dudes, they experience hate and all sorts of awful stuff at much lower thresholds! You know, you could have 500 followers on Twitter and get a lot of hate and really awful things.
But yeah, but what would be the alternative? Keeping more neutral or being not so personal outside personally visible? Or what would you do? I think you love being personal with your audience, right? I think it’s not an alternative to say: “Oh, no, I am now I will behave like the CEO of IBM, I get into my closet and disappear.”
You wouldn’t do that!
I mean, I think it is okay for people to disappear if they want to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t know, a part of me doesn’t have the answer. This is a new thing.
Today, normal people can have big audiences but are not prepared for it
It used to be only celebrities had to deal with this. Yeah. And the advantage for celebrities is that they were in their own social group, like they had their own parties in their own, you know, neighbourhoods and their own circle of life.
(Matthias: “their own support system…“)
And they also had the financial means they had financial means to have security to have PR people. You know, the challenge now, is that normal people are attracting pretty big audiences. And but they don’t have the same you know, they don’t have security, like… If you’re an Instagram influencer, you might have millions of followers, but have no money. But you still might be attracting tons of death threats and really creepy DM’s and need security.
But you don’t have the money for it! This is a brand new era…
Interesting phenomenon! … My service is called “Get the audience”. Maybe I should have another service called “How to endure your audience”. (both laugh heavily)
Yeah, yeah. I think part of the answer is just having a “enough”, like, everyone wants to grow the biggest audience possible. And I think it’s okay to… Yeah, definitely, there’s a threshold you cross, like when you’re “Tim Ferriss-famous”?
And he actually has a great blog post about all of the downsides of being Tim Ferriss-famous, you know, death threats, and some really challenging stuff that I would not wish upon myself at all.
Yeah, I think part of it is being okay with having a smaller audience, not needing to have such a big audience.
And I think we are going to need help, we’re going to need help from psychologists, sociologists, from services, PR services and security services. This is a brand new era that we’re in.
Yeah, as you say it everywhere, even normal people encounter these things, right.
Yeah. And, I mean, I’m somewhat fortunate also that I don’t live in a big city. So it’s hard to find me in real life. But you know, I’ve gotten a few messages and I’m like, oh, like, “I really hope this person never comes to my town!” You know what I mean? Like, yeah, it’s, it’s just, there’s this threat there that I think people don’t always consider. And as soon as you have any sort of limelight, it, it becomes a possibility.
We need a new “social philosophy” to deal with this
So there’s no easy answers. And I think anyone who’s thinking about building an audience…
Building an audience has been incredible for me. Like, there’s been so many advantages. And there’s lots of it that are really great but there is also downsides that, especially personal audiences, and having a personal brand, and a personal blog, and your name on everything, a personal Twitter handle that you use for tweeting things out all the time…
As soon as you’re doing that, now that normal people have the ability, even if you had 100 followers, your tweet could be retweeted to a million people!
That’s right. That’s right.
That possibility carries with it some risk that we need to be aware of.
We’ve created spaces online that sometimes feel like nice, close, safe knit, tight-knit groups, right, like, “oh, the indie hacker community, we’re all supportive of each other”.
And we, you know, I and we we develop parasocial friendships with each other, right? Like, oh, “I listened to Matthias’s podcast all the time. I feel like I know him.”
But the truth is, you don’t personally know most of your audience, right? they’ve, they’ve developed a social relationship with you. And it’s we need to develop some new social technology, some new social philosophy, for how to deal with this new reality.
This would, this would be my next would have been my next statement, I think the the solution is to, to reach within yourself and, and get the security and safety within from within, right.
For example, I, I used to meditate in the morning, and I do some Yoga. This gives me the strength that I need to get through the day, right?
So it’s kind of like an energy reservoir that I can access. And when the world becomes too crazy for me, I simply think, “okay, that’s one way to live in the universe”. (He laughs)
So yeah, for example, when I started GetTheAudience after, I think 200 followers or So no, not even after 100 or so I got my first hater. And that was totally new to me! And I first tried to find out what he wants and try to interact with him. But I quickly saw “no, this person is not the one you can really interact with”.
And then I sat down and I thought, “yeah, okay, he’s creating a certain kind of universe for himself”. So it’s not mine! It’s a different universe. So it’s simply accessed in this kind of way. And finally, I had to block him.
Yes! And it’s manageable at that stage. Because really, I’m at that stage, too, like, you know, let’s say even one hater a month would probably be pretty high for me. But those, those tables can turn pretty fast.
We are interacting in an environment that is still very new. And I think I’ve seen friends of mine have to deal with not just one hater a month, but in an hour, suddenly, the switch gets flipped.
Maybe they made a mistake, maybe, you know, somebody else accused them of something, who knows what it is! And instantly the tables have turned.
And I mean, we saw this with base camp, you know, this, this much beloved company, who had built this audience forever. And then now, in that case, I think, for at least from the outside,…
This is i i’ve been friendly with David and Jason. I wouldn’t say they were friends. But you know, I’ve been friendly with them, they’ve been advisors for Transistor. It was pretty clear that they’ve made a mistake, and that they didn’t deal with it very well. And you know, when you have 20 of your longest employees quit, then that’s probably an indicator that something’s gone wrong.
I mean, they always had haters, but the, you can see that whether it’s deserved or not deserved, and that both happens, sometimes. Sometimes you’re getting a lot of hate because it’s deserved, or at least you’re somewhat culpable. And sometimes you’re not.
And the getting that much inbound is much more difficult to deal with. And it’s a risk! It’s just a risk. Like we all just hope that we, are doing the best we can and we’re being you know, as sensitive as we can and trying to care for people as much as we can. I’m trying to be empathetic, trying to understand but when I’m getting, you know, replies to my tweets, if I get one hate comment, I can like go to that person profile, scroll back, look what’s going on in their life. I can, you know, I can get some context. But if I’m getting a 1000s of those…
yeah, you can’t do that. That doesn’t scale. No!
I have no idea. And you have no idea what’s going on in their life! You don’t know what you’ve awoken in people. Yeah. And so I think there is an opportunity for way more training on this. I think this is just the new reality.
How do we occupy common social space with millions of people…
- who are incredibly diverse,
- and come from all sorts of backgrounds,
- who have had all sorts of experiences
- who are in all sorts of contexts
- who are at different stages,
…just even emotionally, in a moment, psychologically, in a moment?
How can we all occupy the same space together?
This is a brand new experiment that we’ve never run before, as humans. And there’s, there’s an opportunity there for a lot more thinking, a lot more philosophy, a lot more training.
And because we need to figure it out, because sometimes people are going to call me out and they’re right and I need to listen! But sometimes it’s difficult to know: Who can I trust? Who can I who should I be taking feedback from? who shouldn’t I?
And there’s, there’s when they’re in your town, it’s a lot easier to do that. But when they’re online, and all you can see is a little tiny 140 pixel wide photo…
What can you say? Difficult? Yeah.
So it’s, it’s an interesting time. And, again, on the plus side, it’s incredible that a Canadian who grew up in a small little farm town in Alberta could reach this many people. That’s unbelievable!
That’s right. That’s right. That’s the attractive thing. I think these times they are so incredibly full of opportunity for the good and the bad.
There isn’t even “one single Twitter” but many
So let’s create let’s create kind of parallel universes that may intersect. I think of even Twitter, right? Twitter is not the same for everyone. Everyone is creating their own Twitter.
Yeah. So in some in some of that is also dependent on who you are. Like, you can just be a different gender. And all of a sudden, Twitter is a completely different experience for you.
And it may it makes it so tricky, because my experience of Twitter is as a white dude. Yeah. And that’s the only experience I have. And if I, you just change one variable…
If I was a woman, how does my experience of Twitter change? And from what I can tell from speaking to women and listening to them, it changes a lot! I’m very concerned about your appearance. You get a lot of like, really gross sexual DM’s, you get like, there’s your experience of Twitter changes.
Just you just change one variable and all of a sudden, it’s different. And this is, this is a lot of advice on building audiences comes from white dude. I think especially white tech dudes. Yeah. And it’s okay to be a white tech dude. But we’re missing …
also from the marketing dudes, right? The “Build your audience” marketing dudes… (laughs)
Yeah, it’s, it’s okay to be that person. But we have to understand that, like, we’re actually the minority in the world. And people’s experience building an audience on these platforms is very different, depending on where they were born, their contexts, their gender, like, the the lot, they were, they were given in life.
That needs to be part of the discussion for building audiences. It can’t just always be, you know, grow your audience from the perspective of a white dude. Because a lot changes as soon as you change some of those variables.
The fundamental thing should be empathy. I don’t know what it’s like to not be white dude on Twitter, but I can at least empathize and try to imagine and try to listen to folks who have a different experience than me and internalize that.
And then also, you know, if someone says something rude to me on Twitter, instead of just shooting back and going, “Well, you know, screw you too”, or whatever, to take a breath and go, “okay.”
Number one, I’m really in the most privileged group on Twitter, you know, like, it doesn’t get any more privileged than that, right. And so let’s just, let’s start there.
Number two, this person’s experience is definitely different than mine! They’re a different person in a different context and I need to understand that. And maybe if I can empathize with their position, seek to understand my response can be better.
The problem is that some of the tech of Twitter has just, it’s been such a magnifier and an amplifier, that sometimes you just can’t do that! When if you’re getting 1000 or 100, or even dozens of responses, you don’t have the bandwidth to slow down.
Towards a vision for future social networks
So some of the answers are going to need to be technical. Some of the answers… again, like this is part of the work that needs to be done.
And I think for you, there’s actually a lot of opportunities here. For to help people figure this part out. Because there’s a lot to figure out here.
There’s ways of modifying Twitter even to make it more mindful, to make it more a a kinder, gentler place.
There’s ways of including more voices in the discussion, you know, like, it’s fine to have a white dude like me on your podcast, but you can also have other guests (that aren’t people like me, right?) and getting their perspectives.
There’s all sorts of actions we can take that I think will help and it feels like we’re right at the beginning of all of this!
So we’ve got this incredible opportunity, this incredible stage where we can build audiences, and we can build meaningful businesses by connecting with 1000s of people online that we would have never met otherwise!
But what hasn’t had a lot of attention spent on it is the flip side, the underside, the underbelly of all of this, which is, you know, all the things we’ve just been discussing. There’s a lot to do a lot of work to do there for sure!
Wow… Thank you, Justin! It has been an amazing ride, from the “death wish” via the problems of modern society (both laugh here), to social networks! And that’s right. It has been amazing. I love that!
Thank you so much, and … yeah, keep up your good work, right?
Well, thanks. It was fun to have an opportunity to discuss this!
Thanks for listening to The Audience Explorer podcast, today.
You can find me on Twitter at @GetTheAudience and you can check out the blog at gettheaudience.com
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