I winced at the unfurled scrap paper sitting menacingly in the palm of my hand. My 2016 goals, splayed out for the requisite self-flagellation. At the end of each year, I write down one personal, professional, and financial goal for myself to tackle over the next twelve months. For 2016, my professional goal was to launch my own podcast on early stage startups. I crumpled up the slip of paper and tossed it into the trash bin across my bedroom. Maybe next year.
“I really should start a podcast.” I can’t count how many people have heard me utter this sentence. When I picked up my pen last month to write goals for 2017, starting a podcast was absent — I triumphantly told my co-workers the day before that “I’m starting a podcast.” The pressure was on.
Step 1: Picking a Topic [10 Minutes]
It doesn’t make much sense to mimic the subject of an already successful podcast, so I took inventory of what I really enjoyed talking about and what was missing in the podcast ecosystem. I quickly realized the subjects of most entrepreneurship pods were leaders who exited massive companies or had major successes — not the innovators I ran into every day fighting tooth and nail for their next client, wooing potential co-founders, and criss-crossing the country for their next twelve months of runway. Having worked for a number of startups myself, I recognized the gap in conversation lay with the major decision points for early stage entrepreneurs. These conversations could serve as guidance for those thinking about starting a business themselves.
I locked in on 30-minute interviews, published each week on Monday, with founders of Seed and Series A startups. The initial focus would be on Boston, the innovation ecosystem I live and breathe, later expanding to founders across the country. Thirty minutes seemed like enough time to go deep into their challenges and successes without boring the listener.
Step 2: Naming the Podcast [10 Minutes]
I appreciate podcasts like Tech in Boston and Startup Boston Podcast for their focus on one city, but it limits the size of their audience as out-of-staters may be discouraged from listening because of the podcast’s title. To allow for a national audience, I decided to title the podcast “Early Stage.” Short, immediately recognizable, and specific. I did a podcast search to make sure the name hadn’t been taken already, and I couldn’t find anything. Pure gold.
Step 3: Designing the Logo [1 Hour]
While you can’t judge a podcast by its cover, the audience’s natural instinct is to make snap judgements on a podcast from the quality of the cover art. Having zero experience designing logos, I needed help. I asked my colleague Erika for some help over the holidays, and she produce two great options. Most podcasts in the iTunes “New and Noteworthy” section sported large words and vivid colors. Conversely, many of the top podcasts in the business, management, and finance sections focused on a photo of the host and the podcast’s title. After quickly polling a dozen friends, the photo and title option was the unanimous choice for its personal nature. Beautiful logo, check.
Step 3: Buying Audio Equipment [30 Minutes]
Audio equipment is a tough one. I would have loved to make use of the beautiful new PRX Podcast Garage, but they aren’t open on the weekends. I could have grabbed my colleagues Gonzalo and Jeff so I could mic up the participants like a pro, but I wanted a solution that didn’t rely on others constantly helping me out. Blue Audio manufactures great USB microphones, and I bought a couple Snowballs [and picked up a Yeti after the fact]. After pairing those two up with a mic lent to me by a friend, I was ready for showtime.
Step 4: Wooing Your First Podcast Guest [10 Minutes]
Deciding who to bring on as your first guest is pivotal. They have to be likable and fun to talk to, but also full of intrigue and experience from their startup journey. Having spent quality time with over 200 startups since I started at MassChallenge made the decision difficult, and I chose Patrick Boyaggi and Mike Tassone from RateGravity. Coincidentally, the startup just got featured in Bostinno’s “17 Startups for Watch in 2017” list — guess I picked a good one! I respect the guys a ton from interacting with them on a daily basis, and they had just launched their platform in beta, added a couple team members, and finished up their first big funding round. These milestones provided great conversation fodder. If you have any recommendations for startups to host for future episodes, please send me a note!
Step 5: Researching Discussion Questions [2 Hours]
In order to help the conversation flow smoothly, I did a ton of online research into RateGravity and its founders, jotting down notes and organizing my questions under 5 main categories: 1) Elevator Pitch, 2) Origin Story, 3) the Leap, 4) Path Through the Innovation Ecosystem, and 5) Business Deep Dive and Traction. I also wrote out two pages to read at the beginning of the podcast to set the stage for the first conversation and those that will follow. After we stopped recording, both Mike and Patrick complimented my preparation. The research step is critical for anyone about to launch a podcast — quality of content matters most.
Step 6: It’s Go Time! [1 Hour]
With notes in hand, microphones in place, GarageBand fired up on the Mac, audio already tested, and the subjects of my first podcast episode sitting across the table from me in a conference room, I was ready to roll. To help Mike and Patrick feel at ease, we started with small talk to warm them up before hitting record. Thirty minutes flew by as we delved into RateGravity’s elevator pitch, the moment they knew it was time to leave their jobs at Leader Bank, the challenge of adding a technical co-founder, pitching the startup to their wives, building the platform, and beta testing with their first hundred clients. After recording about 40 minutes of reel, I clicked the red stop icon, thanked the guys profusely, and went home to my editing room — a comfy couch.
Step 5: Editing the Audio [4 Hours]
My colleague Jibran told me the best free starter editing platform was Audacity, and he were right. After reviewing the manual wiki, it didn’t take long to understand the basics and get to work chopping the audio. Because I wanted the conversation to feel as raw and unedited as possible, I didn’t cut out more than one minute of content. I was embarrassed to listen to the first 2 minutes, which were full of ‘um’ and ‘uh.’ Using the delete function, some of the longer audible pauses at the beginning of the podcast were removed. I got more comfortable as time went on, and my speaking style started to flourish.
There were two mistakes made during recording that lowered the audio quality. First, I didn’t make sure my guests were positioned super close to the microphone. This caused their voices to be much lower than mine, making the recording more difficult to edit. Second, the sensitive microphones picked up the buzz of the air conditioner above our heads, causing a dull noise throughout the audio. I’ll definitely remedy those problems for episode 2. Audacity’s leveling, compression, amplify and normalize effects helped me equalize the voices on the recording, but I was never able to get the volume to the optimum level. To my listeners: sorry if you have to crank up the volume for episode one!
Step 6: Deciding on a Host and Setting up the RSS Feed [1 Hour]
iTunes doesn’t host podcasts, and there are a ton of opinions on which host to use. Libsyn is popular, but I used SoundCloud because I’m already familiar with the UI. My podcast logo served as the cover photo, and I filled in the blanks in the settings page. I then uploaded the track and added a title, category, and episode description. Next, I went through the steps to get verified on Podcast Connect. After iTunes, I tacked on Stitcher and TuneIn for good measure. While iTunes sees over 80% of podcast listenership, it is important to allow anyone to avail of my podcasting experiment.
Starting a podcast has been such a fun journey, re-igniting a love for trying new things and iterating over time to drive improvements. Expect one new episode every Monday morning. Expect the audio to become more crisp and clear with each week. Expect my questions to get more creative and conversations to slip down crazy rabbit holes. Expect me to do my very best, because that’s what I expect of myself.
In the meantime, give the first episode of “Early Stage” a listen! Please leave a review or send a note to JohnMValentine@gmail.com or @JohnnyStartup with any suggestions, comments, or ideas for future guests. See you next week!