The massive podcast opportunity
Long-form business podcasts = B2B marketing gold.
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Today, we’re talking about why long-form podcasts are an incredible business marketing channel.
Also this week:
Why does Costco check your receipt?
Avatar 2 trailer
PS. And a some wild memes (Google Hangout version).
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If you had an ad budget and wanted to reach C-suite decision makers, where would you go?
Some good places to run ads: The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, CNBC, Bloomberg or the departure lounge of JFK-SFO flights.
Now, let’s flip the question a bit.
If you were an individual who wanted to reach those same C-suite decision makers, then what would you do? To be clear, an individual that is starting from scratch without a massive media or airport operation behind you.
Well, you should start a podcast.
That’s what David Senra did with the Founders podcast.
Founders is a simple idea. In each of his 270+ episodes, David reads a biography of a famous entrepreneur, athlete or creative and then creates a 60-90 minute podcast of the lessons he learned.
Some of my favorites include Michael Jordan, Jay-Z, Steve Jobs, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Malone.
It’s a very simple idea but the execution is phenomenal. David isn’t just skimming through the books. He reads them front-to-back while taking copious Post-It Notes. And to make sure every episode is A+, he re-reads and re-reads the notes (he says that this is his form of practice, like how basketball players practice free throws or I use Photoshop to practice making dumb memes).
David sent me photo of his latest read … and the Post-It game is on fire!
In total, David has recorded over 400 hours of audio and the episodes are all semi-connected (think of it as the Founders Cinematic Universe). There are common themes throughout the stories that Founders covers and David always references back to previous episodes (one major theme is how many professionally successful people are motivated by proving their worth to their fathers).
David recently came on the podcast I co-host (Not Investment Advice) to explain why well-done business podcasts are one of the best business-to-business (B2B) marketing innovations out there.
While David started Founders as a passion project, he told me that he’s now making educational content for the most successful people in the world (and then me on the side lol):
If you have a founder, an executive, an investor…they are learning machines. These people dedicate so much more time to continuous learning than like the average person off the street. It's not even comparable, right?
This is why I think audio is more important than video because these kinds of people, they don't have the time to sit around and watch videos all day. They’re listening to my podcast and your podcast when they're at the gym or when they're on a commute and when they're doing other shit.
[These listeners] have a high lifetime value as a customer. And an advertiser will pay an unbelievable amount to get in front of that audience. If you're the founder of a company listening to Founders and you hear me talk about something, you don't have to go and ask Joe from accounting [what the best product is to use]. You're like ‘Hey, we're gonna use this [product I heard on Founders]’.”
David’s not wrong.
For extremely busy people, audio is the best medium to fill those random double-tasking moments (walking, driving, gym, chores, losing in Fantasy Football etc).
Long-form podcasting also benefits from the fact that it’s very intimate. Someone is just yapping in your ear for hours on end. The parasocial effect — whereby one party in the relationship is emotionally engaged while the other party (in this case, the podcast host) is mostly unaware of the other person — is very real with audio.
Founders has built such a high-value audience that the show just got picked up by the Colossus podcast network, which is run by Patrick O'Shaughnessy (who hosts the world’s top investing podcast — Invest Like The Best).
To be sure, creating great content to attract a high-value audience isn’t a new invention (see: The Economist). And there are other hugely popular podcasts that cater to the business crowd (Odd Lots, How I Built This, Planet Money, Freakonomics, The Tim Ferriss Show, The Knowledge Project)
But here’s the key: David is one person doing it from a sound-proof booth in his apartment. It’s just him. There are no guests or scheduling. There’s none of the industry baggage of making an audiobook. The audio is barely edited. There’s no pricey studio with fancy production. There’s no elaborate script. He can record whenever he wants and publish whenever he wants.
That’s all. Simple (but not easy).
Another comparable podcast is Acquired, which has a slight twist in that involves two hosts: Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, who do deep dives on a single company. Meanwhile, Ben Thompson — one of the OG solo-creators for the business crowd — is turning his newsletter-first Stratechery media empire into a podcasting behemoth.
Back to Founders. The show is just damn good research delivered in an approachable and conversational manner. David describes himself as “the friend that reads a lot and you meet up with to hear what he’s picked up from the books”.
One of David’s podcasting idols is the comedian Bill Burr, who has an incredibly successful podcast on the lowest production possible. For over a decdae, Burr has gone to his garage and free-styled on current events (the world’s biggest podcaster — Joe Rogan — also started with a very sparse set-up and now only works with one other person and even books his own guests).
Another inspiration for David happens to be my favorite podcast ever: Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.
For the uninitiated, Carlin is a former radio host who started making super-long podcasts about historical topics (we’re talking 10+ hours on Genghis Khan and the Soviet-German front of WWII). Like David, Carlin only needs himself and a mic and some really-well researched takes.
Some of Carlin’s podcast series are so long that calling it a “podcast” is probably a stretch. But it’s def not an audiobook, either. Hardcore History is in its own category of audio content and the quality is so high that Carlin has attracted an insanely valuable audience.
Whatever your niche, a single person on a mic in their home can create the definitive long-form audio content for whatever is their “most valuable audience”. It’s a very simple idea …but not easy.
All of this is a long way of saying that I plan on making a long-form podcast in 2023. There will be history. And business. And it’ll just be me. And there will be insights. And (so many) dumb jokes. And I’m going to keep the bar high AF. And you readers can hold my feet to the fire on it.
(Conversely, I could just build an airport departure lounge)
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Links and Memes
Twitter update: Elon took over Twitter last week and it’s been hectic. On Friday, 50% of the company was laid off. It was the biggest of a string of tech lay-offs that included Lyft (13%), OpenDoor (18%), Chime (12%), Stripe (14%), GoFundMe (12%). Obviously, mass lay-offs suck and I hope everyone gets to their next gig soon.
In total, Twitter let go ~3k employees. A big question is “what will happen to the content moderation?”. To date, nothing has changed in the moderation process but Yoel Roth — Twitter’s head of Trust & Safety — said his team is down 15% (although that is much less than the 50%+ across the rest of the company).
On the product side, the big change is to the Blue Checkmark verification process, which will now cost $7.99 to be verified. Some thoughts:
Blue Checkmark: The Twitter blue check launchd in 2009 as a verification tool because celebrities and public figures were getting impersonated. It slowly morphed into a status symbol because in the early 2010, Twitter pivoted its value prop to “we are the best place to find live news” and they started handing out Blue Checks to journalists like candy (probably in hopes that said journalists would turn Twitter into a truly “news first” place, which it has become). Now, Elon wants to charge $7.99 for people to keep their verification and to onboard new people with the badge (it also comes with additional features like Popular Articles and priority in replies).
Critics say that the move: 1) dilutes the value of the check which will piss off a lot of power users (which is true and there should be a way to re-instate status on the platform, because humans are mimetic); and 2) there will be *more* scams because people will just buy Blue Checks (one way to protect against this is to widely implement official titles like Twitter already does for the US government).
Are subscriptions a good idea?: Let’s assume that Twitter can properly implement a pay-for-Blue Check scheme (including proper verification to make it very costly to run a bot army), is it a good idea? Per Ben Thompson ($), Twitter is uniquely-positioned among social networks for a subscription service:
Twitter is the only truly text-based social network and it would be an awful business idea for someone to create a Twitter competitor today (because the platform is so adversarial and the ad business just isn’t that great — video is a way bigger market and superior for ads)
Twitter’s power users really have nowhere to go and Twitter’s cultural cache and “news-first” importance — especially in media, tech, finance and politics — means people will always come back.
So, what do you do with a niche (but very sticky) audience? You have to increase average revenue per user (ARPU) and that means charging addicted people like me a lot of money (Twitter’s ARPU is ~$10 vs. Facebook at $31). And all things equal, you want sticky recurring revenue vs. the cyclical ad business, especially when the Twitter ad platform is so much worse than others. Thompson adds one big caveat: such a massive pivot could destroy the business before the benefits kick in (meanwhile, some big advertisers are already pausing spend due to some combination of moderation concerns and a weak economy).
How to implement a proper subscription: Patrick Campbell from Profit Well wrote a good thread explaining why Twitter should have lots of subscription tiers. It’s basically a misconception that subscription plans should be simple. Campbell writes: “Do you know how many tiers the fastest growing subscription mobile apps have (upper quartile in terms of growth)? 13 or more tiers! A user never sees more than 4 in their lifetime, but they use data and engagement to determine when to flag them”.
The one-price fits all $7.99 won’t get the job done for milking ARPU, so Twitter should have $1/month to $50/month plans (and you pay based on features and addictiveness quotient).
Finally, here’s a fun thread on how to monetize Twitter like a game. I love this idea: “TWITTER ACHIEVEMENTS” (Timed challenges where you try to get 10 people to like a GIF and if you win, you get special Twitter points).
Why does Costco check your receipt? The knee-jerk answer is “so you don’t steal stuff.” But what’s the official reason? Costco’s site says it checks receipts to make sure they don’t overcharge or double-charge you but here’s an actual employee answer via Reddit:
“If you have under 15 items, they count your items and check it against the number of items on the bottom of the receipt. If you have more than 15 items, they look for the stuff on the bottom of the cart or other large items that may have been missed by the cashier. Also any high value items, they make sure that the item is on the recipt.”
In the same thread, another Reddit user flagged an old Walmart scam:
“A common scam at Walmart back in the day was to buy a pack of gum. Put a TV in the cart and tape the receipt to the TV box. They would see the receipt and let you go on through. Or buy a pack of gum and then put other items in the bag that they gave you.” (They fixed it by having an employee bring TVs out to the car)
Avatar 2: The trailer for the Avatar sequel is here and the film is live on December 16. The first film came out in 2009 and is still the 2nd highest grossing movie ever ($2.7B, after 2019’s Avengers: Endgame). The original CGI was mind-blowing for its time but the sequel trailer seems blah (we’re probably just desensitized). Twitter comments are split between James Cameron super fans and people saying “this is just an alien version of Dances With Wolves or Pocahontas”.
Still, the movie will probably crush and there are 3 more sequels in the pipeline. VC Matthew Ball has an interesting note on Avatar vs. Endgame:
Avatar’s box office more impressive: Endgame was the culmination of 20 Marvel films and its marketing budget was larger than Avatar’s entire production budget. Further, Avatar was original IP and the global industry was smaller.
Global appeal: On a relative basis, Avatar outperformed Endgame in many key European, Asian and Latin American markets. Ball attributes this to the fact that the protagonists in Avatar embrace values of collectivism, spiritualism, and alignment with nature, which are particularly appealing to non-Western audiences.
The 2nd takeaway is an important insight for how future blockbusters might win. Either way, I’m probably gonna miss the film in theatres and end up watching the 3-hours on my smartphone over 10 different mini-viewings while on the toilet.
…and here some good tweets / memes:
For real though, the para-social effect in podcasts are way too real:
A classic running joke on tech Twitter is the complete disaster known as “whatever it is Google is trying to do with its various chat apps”. User @Kane posted the latest snafu…
…which triggered a Shakespearean response from @TomGara, who is — hilariously — a write at Meta:
About once a quarter, I’ll tell my wife that I found a new health hack and then I’ll do it for a week straight before quitting.
The two funniest examples — and ones she still roasts me about — are when I started waking up at 5am to go on a run after reading David Goggins’ book You Can’t Hurt Me…and the other one was when I started my day with a 30-second cold shower (it works but, yeah, I gave that up quick).
While I don’t think Twitter is replicable, some people are trying: