Extra: Meetup with Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson
Justin Jackson talks to Karen Unland at the Edmonton Podcasting Meetup on April 9 at Variant Edition Comics and Culture. (Photos courtesy of Mack Male)

Justin Jackson of MegaMaker was brilliant and inspirational at our Edmonton Podcasting Meetup on April 9. Unfortunately, there was a glitch with the recording, so I couldn’t share the conversation on the Seen and Heard in Edmonton podcast, as I usually do with the meetup audio. But I didn’t want Justin’s insights to go uncaptured, so here is a transcript of our conversation. (We’ve done our best to create an accurate record, but the sound was a little off — if you were there and you remember anything differently, let me know. And many thanks to my wonderful husband for producing the transcript.):

KU: Justin Jackson is a former project manager for Mailout and Sprint.ly and he has consulted on marketing and growth for startups all over the world. Last year, he decided he wanted to make his own stuff (I have also made the decision that I want to make my own stuff), and he published his first book, which is Marketing for Developers. This year, he challenged himself to make 100 things, and he chronicles those efforts and the lessons he’s learned along the way on the MegaMaker podcast. When he’s not working, he’s chasing his four kids and spending time with his beautiful wife in Vernon, B.C., where he moved to live in a beautiful place, leaving Edmonton. Disappointing. (laughter) Anyway, please welcome Justin Jackson. There are a million things to talk to you about, but we’re at a podcasting get-together, so what first attracted you to podcasting?

JJ: The first show I did was called Product People and that came out of… I don’t know how many of you know Kyle Fox? He’s a local designer, product person here. We’d get together and we’d talk about products, I mean, software products, web applications, mobile apps, things. We were really into that and we also had all these heroes who we wanted to talk to. Kyle was the one who messaged me and said, “What do you think about starting a show?”

I loved talk radio, my whole life, growing up listening to CBC all the time. My dad was a die-hard conservative and we listened to 630 CHED all the time. Sometimes when I was in the car, as a kid, you know, a teenager, I would practice being a talk radio host and kind of imagine what that would be like. I would actually do a show and pretend I had callers and it was really embarrassing.

So he said, “How’d you like to do a show?” I said, “I’d love to be in it.” Doing it with someone else at the beginning made it more kind of possible. It got me over that initial hump and we did about 30 to 40 episodes together. Kyle was getting into startups and didn’t have as much time, so I decided to keep doing that show. I just loved it, just loved being able to talk to people and just loved being able to build an audience, interacting with people all over the world. The internet still blows my mind. Like the fact a guy in Vernon, B.C., which no one in the world knows where it is, can put something up on the internet, whether words or audio or video, and connect with people around the world, is unbelievable to me. I just love, I love the internet and I love the idea that I can communicate with all these people no matter where they are. Still, every day, when I click publish, I’m like, “This is freaking magic. This is amazing.”

KU: You’re pretty good at harnessing the magic, though. When you publish something on Medium, tens of thousands of people read it.

JJ: Yes. The other thing I’ve gotten interested in is the science of amplification. It’s not really a science, but part of amplification is what kind of messages resonate and how you can take a message you think will resonate and, actually, amplify it and have it connect with a bunch of people. I think there’s this myth that if you just make something great, people will discover it. I don’t think that’s true. You need to create something great, then you need distribution channels and ways of getting the message out.

Most of it is tricks that work for a little while, things that aren’t fair. For example, Product Hunt just released a podcast directory. Like a lot of ranked lists, there’s a lot of things that aren’t fair about it. One of them is that only certain people can post directly to the home page. Figuring those things out and figuring ways to get into those channels — I like that stuff. I’m thinking whenever I publish something, and I feel it’s good, I want to get the biggest audience possible.

KU: So, what came first? The decision to make 100 things this year or the podcast?

JJ: My wife and I got married pretty young, got married at 21 years old. We lived in Stony Plain for most of that time. We had our first daughter at 22. I’m a guy who’s always liked doing all sorts of things. I try them like crazy. When we started having kids, we decided together that I would just work full-time for a living. I would try to minimize the amount of projects that I worked on. Also, I’d not do anything purely entrepreneurial, so I’d have a day job, pay the bills, pay for diapers, all that stuff. Kind of what we decided as 22-year-olds was once our kids were all in school full-time, then maybe Justin can look at doing whatever.

So I’m 35, and my youngest, Liam, was in Grade 1, and we started a consulting company, about 16 months ago. We’re consulting to these startups in Portland and San Francisco. The contract ended and we had planned on doing one more year of consulting and get some money in the bank there. To Lorinda, I said, “What if I just didn’t go out and get another client? I’ve got this idea to make 100 things and it will be like a creative sabbatical. Some of these things will make money and some of them won’t. Some of them are tech-related and some of them are not.” It’s been like an early mid-life crisis. I asked her, “What do you think about that and she said, ‘No.’ “

I persisted and said, “What if the show…” What I’m thinking about the show is that I have a lot things in my head and I wanted to iterate on what I’d done before. So Product People was an interview show and I was (doing another show called Build and Launch, building and launching a product every week). So I wanted to iterate on those two ideas and make version 3.0 of what I’d done before. If it was a Venn diagram, it would be that and this idea of community and building community and the third one was branding. I always joke I didn’t think people would buy a Product People shirt. If you’ve seen the logo, it’s just my face… it looks like a horror film. You wouldn’t put on these shirts.

So I went and explored those things, then when I learned I couldn’t do it, I said, “Well, what if I did a show about this tension between wanting to live a creative life and needing to make a living?” A lot of the show now is about making 100 things but every month my revenue counter goes to zero and I have to build up enough money for us to survive, which some people say is terrifying. I just frigging love it. My wife doesn’t like it back. That should be a recurring part of the show, my wife saying, “Justin, can you go get a job?”

All of these ideas were going in my head and I could have made a video show. Maybe I still will. There were some things I still wanted to do in podcasting. There were some things I wanted to do with community, and I figured, the best way to do lead a movement would be through podcasting.

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KU: What are some of the ways you’ve tried to make money?

JJ: There’s all sorts of ones. Part of it at the beginning was I knew I wanted to tell some good stories. So, No. 3 on the list, if you go to megamaker.co/list it goes to a Google Doc (and sometimes you’ll see me typing in there, people suggesting things). Item No. 3 was a burrito. I got a lot of people on Twitter going, “What’s up with No. 3? It’s kind of lame. A burrito? I thought this was a podcast about making stuff.” I was like, “That is kind of lame.” So I decided to take it up, escalate it, it got escalated, and I convinced a local restaurant owner to let me come into his restaurant and create a Friday lunch special from scratch to finish.

This is funny. I’m a terrible cook. My wife was like, “This is hilarious.” I don’t know why he did it. I just ended up telling the story and meeting this restaurant owner. He was like an amazing BBQ chef. He’s got an interesting story, too. So I just started taking people on this journey and it got crazier and crazier, like I said.

One of the goals is I want to blow their sales record out of the water. I knew I had to sell at least 60 to do that. I’m a business guy, so I took out a spreadsheet and put every person I could think of in Vernon and called them, getting them to commit to buying burritos on Friday. Then it got even crazier. My friend challenged Kamloops, which is an hour and a half away. There’s a co-working place there and he said if they bought more than 10, he would deliver them for free. So there’s all these things that happened… So on the day of, I show up at 9 a.m., and the first thing we do is that Eric, the owner, sits me down and goes, “All right, are you ready to work?” I’m like, “Yup,” and he pours me a double shot of Scotch — which was the hardest part of the day actually, I could not keep up with him drinking all the time. He put me to work, and I’m working in the kitchen with the other staff, just working along side them all day, and having to go from a guy who’s pretty confident behind a desk and keyboard to a guy who had no idea what I was doing in this kitchen and, you know, getting bossed around a bit.

People showed up. It ended up being this insane day in Vernon. Probably, you know, it will end up being in the top 100 moments of my life, I think, just because it really did bring in all these people from all over the place. They were there for the story as much as they were there for the food. I’ve got this great clip from that where a guy pulled me aside and said, “Do you know why people are here?” I said, “I don’t know. They like burritos?” He’s like, “No. They’re all here for the spectacle. They’re here for the story.”

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Burrito Day at Station BBQ in Vernon, B.C. (Photo from live.megamaker.co)

That was really fun. So in the midst of that, I was like, “I wonder…” I’ve always been interested in how you can get people to use sponsors for journalism or content. In the midst of this, I was wondering, “What if I could get people to sponsor my burrito, sponsor me making this thing?” So, I put that out there and by the end of the day on Friday, I made $1,089 US from people who’d just wanted to sponsor this crazy thing. Most of that was $100 and $200 sponsorships. That was a really fun one because it was telling a story and people kind of responded to it. OK, it doesn’t really scale because there was a lot of work to get $1,000. To really make it scale you’d have to do other things. It was at least a little bit of proof that something like that was possible.

KU: So that’s the hard way. What the easiest money you’ve made?

JJ: The easiest has been the Secret Maker’s Society. So if you go to megamaker.co/secret (you’ll see) it is a secret club for people who like to make stuff. Most of them are disenfranchised tech workers in San Francisco and stuff, people who are tired of standing behind a desk and tired of being in a startup where they never get to launch anything. So that’s $129 a year and basically every time I’ve put out spots, they’ve sold out. So I do it in batches of 10. I use a platform called… I’ve used all sorts of community platforms but the one I like best right now is Mightybell. So if you’re looking to create, they have a really good mobile app, a really good web app and they can do payments for you too.

When people register in the Secret Maker’s Society, one of the first things I do is I send them something in the mail. They get a patch and some stickers and a letter, and I’ll probably send them one more thing in the year. So every six months, sending them something in the mail. That’s really fun. People like getting stuff in the mail.

I think a lot about… There’s this framework called Jobs To Be Done which explains why people buy products, by heart researcher (inaudible). The job I’ve been figuring out with the Secret Maker’s Society is that, in my case, a lot of these people are just like, “I want to be part of something a little bit weird and a little bit crazy.” I lot of them join… I mean, right now, you can’t even see screenshots of what this network looks like, right? There just joining because this is weird. They are curious. A lot of them are lonely, not in the sense they don’t have friends, but in the sense that they feel like nobody understands how they feel. They could relate to the Maker’s Manifesto that we put out. They could relate to… I put out this piece after consulting. I was, like, really burnt out. I jokingly said, I’m never going to get hired again. It’s called We Own You. It’s basically almost like a poem about how every time you do something creative for your employer or for a client, you can never get that back. It’s with them and it’s going to die with them. There’s something in me that just made me growl a bit, you know, and there’s a lot of people who can identify with that.

The thesis of the show is that everybody should make stuff. It gives you independence. I can help you make some money on the side. A lot of people put all their creative energy and give it all to their boss, just like writing a cheque. It’s like, “Here you go. That’s it. Everything.” I said, “No way. We’ve got to keep some of that for ourselves. I don’t want to land on the couch every day after work and feel like, well, I’ve got nothing left. People resonated with that. A lot of people in the Secret Maker’s Society are just, like, sharing projects. Sometimes it’s sharing, like, pretty emotional things. Have any of you guys ever felt like, you know, you’re ideas are no good and everyone is going, “Yeah.”

I mean, there’s no such thing as easy money but I think membership sites have been my favourite so far. Product People Club is still going to this day, even though I only release a few episodes of Product People every year. Product People Club has, well, I’ve always capped it at 100 people but it’s had 100 people paying $200 a year ever since I started it. It has a waiting list of about 400 people. Again, there’s no such thing as easy money, but once you have an audience and can identify a particular paying point that that audience has, if community is the answer, membership sites are a great way to do that. I don’t know if it will work with every community and every audience, but for me, that has been a good piece and it’s way more sustainable than chasing ad revenue.

I’m not… What’s the opposite of bullish?

KU: Bearish.

JJ: I’m bearish on advertising. I think, especially for indies like us, the rise of bigger networks like Gimlet has meant that the advertising pool, which is the same five companies, Squarespace, Casper mattresses, all of them, it means that the money we used to get as indies — and we used to be able to charge pretty good rates — but basically all the big companies have taken all that money off the table. I think it’s going to be harder and harder for us to get advertising. To run your podcast on advertising, it’s based on the fact that you can get it easy. Like, they were coming to you and saying, “I want to sponsor your show,” but now you essentially need a producer. You need someone who’s going out and pitching people on your show. The rates are going down. The number of downloads you have to have is going up. Again, it might be different depending on the show, but if you’re looking for mainstream advertising, I think I’m bearish on that.

KU: I’m bullish on the local advertising thing. We’ll talk about that a little more when we get into the network idea. I don’t know if I’m bullish, but I’m hopeful. Anyway, we want different kind of twist on that, but I agree. Last week I was in Pennsylvania talking at the America East Newspaper Conference, and I was talking about podcasting. I was on a panel with Lex Friedman from Midroll, which is the advertising arm of Earwolf, and they sell ads onto WTF with Marc Maron and those big guys. Lex doesn’t get out of bed if you don’t get at least 50,000 downloads per episode… I showed him a picture of you guys (local podcasters) and I said these guys are awesome, (but) there’s probably not 50,000 downloads per episode possible here. Yet there had to be some way. And I think it’s going to be lots of ways. But your ways are very intriguing.

JJ: Yes, I think it will be… I’m just testing everything, but it’s going to mean multiple streams. Membership sites are one. The other that I think could work is native advertising that’s interesting. Have any of you guys seen Vooza? I think I was talking to you about this. Have you watched any episodes yet? A good homework for you guys would be to go watch Vooza. It’s a video show about… It’s kind of like Office Space but for tech companies. But they have, as part of their… They have a little funny clip and the next one is another funny clip but a native advertisement. It’s so good. It’s very funny and you always remember the sponsor. I think that kind of advertising, differentiated advertising, there’s a hope, lots of opportunities for that.

One thing about, like, anything, unless you are unique or surprising in some way, listeners won’t listen and advertisers don’t care. Like, “What’s different between your show and Marc Maron’s show that’s got about, like, hundreds of thousands of downloads? Well, I’ll go with the reach.” Native advertising is completely different. You are almost a creative agency for the company. You’re saying I’m going to come up with a real cool idea. That’s what I’m testing this month with Peldi, that guy I was telling you about. He loves the show and his company, Balsamiq, is sponsoring this month. You know, we’ll see how it goes.   

KU: In a way, your burrito experiment was native advertising for that guy. He didn’t pay…

JJ: He didn’t pay me… After I did that, (people said) “That was amazing. You should go into restaurant marketing full-time.” I calculated all my hours and, like, it would have been thousands of dollars (at my) consulting rate or whatever. We sold 80 burrito specials. Eighty times 14 is like $1,100 or something like that. Thirty per cent of that goes to food costs. Thirty per cent of that goes to people, like staff. The rest is, like, fixed costs and stuff, so that’s just a crazy business.

It’s actually one of the problems with podcasting advertising — you need to charge enough to make it worth your time. One of the challenges for local advertising is that a lot of them have very small margins. I’m willing to bet this retail place has really small margins. The reason that Casper, Squarespace and all that advertise on the shows is that they have big margins. Squarespace is, like, it’s digital and it’s like, basically, the lifetime value of a customer might be thousands of dollars. That’s why we only see a small pool of advertisers.

That’s why… Eric at Station couldn’t sponsor. I’ve actually had other people in Vernon that are, like, “Man, can I sponsor your show?” Well, I’m, like, here’s some episodes I’m going to do. This was a doughnut shop and he’s, like, “Are you going to do anything on doughnuts?” (laughter) You know, it’s tricky. It’s tricky.

I’ve also experimented with merch, too, and I think merch could be another avenue. The joke at MegaMaker has always been, “This is an excuse for me to have a metal band without playing any music.” It’s true. I’ve experimented with — there’s a bunch of episodes on MegaMaker about this —   there’s a site called Printful. What it allows you to do is create apparel items on demand. If you go to store.megamaker.co and you buy a shirt, via web service, it pings Printful They print it on demand with direct print ink. They also print these (hats) on demand, this is embroidery on demand. They’ll do cellphone cases on demand. You don’t need to hold any inventory. They ship it international usually for $3. So we can’t even get close to that. Canada Post might charge you $10. It’s a little more pricey, especially if you go with the best quality shirt right now, the American Apparel tri-blend. It’s a pretty expensive shirt anyway. That’s what I use. That shirt with one hit on it, like one logo, I think is $18 or $19 US, I can sell that for $29. Obviously to make significant money, I’d have to sell thousands. That fact that I don’t have to have any inventory is amazing and they’re very fast. Their customer support is OK, if you run into trouble, but basically it just works like a machine. People just go and order, then I don’t even think about it. It’s almost worth doing just for the marketing.

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See Justin’s hat for an example of MegaMaker merchandise.

I think, ultimately, if MegaMaker is going to be a business, it’s going to be about memberships. The funnel — like, in software-speak, we always talk about the funnel with leads coming in on the top and it funnels down to customers on the bottom — the funnel is podcast listeners and email subscribers. They consume the podcast, they listen, they might see someone else wearing apparel. People like tweeting it and stuff like that, and it becomes another reason for them to get more and more interested until they eventually become, in my case, a member of the Secret Maker’s Society.

KU: Interesting. So none of this works if you don’t create something people want, right? The job to be done is not the job you want, it’s not “get my wife off my back,” it’s to make these people happy. So how do you make things? How do you figure out how to make things other people want?

JJ: I usually say start with this: It has to be something that you know and are passionate about.

It has to be something that you can easily connect with that community. I always use the example of a plumber. Maybe it’s a bad example, but if there’s not a subreddit for that group, I usually don’t like targeting it, because it means they are not accessible online. You can get a hold of plumbers in the Yellow Pages. They’re accessible, but they’re not easy to reach. I always try to go for groups that are easy to reach. Whenever I survey my audience, it’s 75 per cent software developers, and most of my followers and things like that are in California, California and New York. I have quite a following in Canada, too. So that’s one piece.

If you want to make money at it, they also have to be a group that pays for things.

After that, you have to go and hang out every single day in these communities and just listen and observe. Listen. And what you’re looking for are patterns. One pattern I noticed in my community was that … people that were making digital products were starting to call themselves the makers. Traditionally, a maker was someone that built something with, like, welding or woodwork or whatever. Now, all of a sudden, you got these digital people also calling themselves makers. If you are familiar with the site Product Hunt, if you submit something to that site as a software creator, they mark you as a maker. They give you a little “M” badge. That’s one pattern I recognized.

I also noticed that this group is interested in making digital things and physical things. They’ve got all sorts of interests. They know how to research things on the internet. A lot of them are tired at starting at screens all day. These were all patterns I was noticing. Then there’s also whatever that thread of discontent, at startups especially, where they give 200 per cent of everything they have to startups and a lot of them are discontent about that. They’re like, “Man, I gave everything to that group and then the startup died.” They start to feel like, “When am I going to something that is going to be mine?”

Those were the patterns I observed and now every time I make a show, I try to focus on those things. I think making something people want is all about observing where is the river rushing right now. So when people start to say, “Well, I’m going to start my own movement…” There’s a guy at my workshop and he was very passionate about BPA-free receipts because it’s bad for the environment or something. I said, “That’s honourable but my hypothesis is that no one gives a shit about BPA-free receipts.” You have to figure out what people care about.

Some people have successfully swam against the current, but I think it’s very hard. I like to see — sorry, I keep using water metaphors — but to me it’s like a big wave when you’re surfing. You can see the surfers are kind of like waiting. Then they see one coming and they swim out to catch that wave and ride it out. You can catch little waves or big waves, and if you really want to connect with what people want, I think you have to connect with the biggest wave in your community. So, don’t target the fifth-most important thing. Target them for the No. 1 or 2 most important things in that group’s life. And whenever I’ve done that I’ve found that that’s what resonates with people.

KU: You mentioned bearishness on traditional advertising and sponsorship. How do you feel about Patreon?

JJ: So I could be wrong, but when I go to Patreon the pattern I see is not very many people making money. Someone like 5×5, which is a fairly big network that’s well-known, I think gets $2,500 a month or something (note: It’s actually at about $1,500). That doesn’t make me super-encouraged about Patreon. I think one problem is that it’s a… It ends up being like a money donation, you know? Maybe we’re just not very good at that model yet. Maybe the charity sector could teach us some things about it, for example, but that’s not the way I think of people consuming content… I’m way more bullish on crowdfunding-type campaigns that have a start and an end. “I’m raising money for this season of MegaMaker,” or “This is a story I want to tell. Who wants to fund it?” I think that resonates with people more. It’s like, “I’m taking out my wallet one time.”

Recurring subscriptions with consumers have always been tricky because if you look at your budget every month, and, I don’t know, what’s the most someone would give a podcaster, 30 or 50 bucks per month? If they’re giving 30 or 50 bucks a month, and that’s a lot of money, and they’re looking at their budget they’re going, “Well, that costing me more that Netflix.” Even worse, “I’ve given 10 to 20 people $5 on Patreon.” They look at the total bill and it’s way more than Netflix. We start to make those comparisons.

I’m more inclined to ask advertisers to pay in a monthly recurring way. That’s what I did with Product People and I that model can work because, for a company, whatever your rate is, I think when I started Product People our intro rate was $500 a month, that’s a small monthly expense for a company. You only have to talk to one person. It goes for as long as you do your show. I like that model better. Patreon just doesn’t seem to have… It’s just not there. Maybe that’s because we’re not good at that yet. Recurrency was another one that just closed. There were other people that were trying to do Patreon-type stuff. There’s like a few unicorns that have done well on it. I don’t like things when it looks like only a few people have done well. I want something that’s seems scalable for a bunch of people.

KU: You are doing your own kind of crowdfunding experiments right now as well at MegaMaker.

JJ: If you go to sponsor.megamaker.co, that was the experiment… One example was, I’m going to create an episode all about making a zine and $5 will get you the zine mailed to you. That’s a consumer-level sponsorship. I had one that was $100 and you get a shout-out on the show. For $200, you get a shout-out on the show plus a mention in the email newsletter. For $500, you can be the main episode sponsor. If you sponsor the whole month, I’d give it you it for $300 per episode, which is, by the way, way above — $300 an episode is way above the rates I should be getting for the number of downloads I’ve been getting. That’s what I’ve found is, it’s hard to get those people. What I’ve is found is that, yes, you can get people to pay $5, but what really gets you to your goal is the corporate sponsorships: $100, $200, $300, $500 sponsors. Crowdfunding is an interesting piece, but I think there are always going to be those tiers that are, you know, we’re offering advertising. I said I wasn’t excited about advertising, but I think that kind of advertising, where you know there’s some sort of unique spin on it, that can be an interesting thing.

Sometimes you just might have an owner of a company that’s just like, “Man, I want to see you do that thing,” right? That may become a future model for MegaMaker where I might become like a Red Bull stunts-on-demand kind of show, where somebody comes to me and says, “If we were going to give you $10,000, what would you do with it?” I’d say, “I’ve got some ideas, you know,” and then bring together a bunch of people to make it happen. I think things like that could work.

KU: I’ve got one last question then we’ll open it up. You make a lot of podcasts and you listen to a lot of podcasts. What are some things that you wish people would do better?

JJ: Oh man. Well, a lot of these are things I did better, too. I listen to my show all the time. My show is pretty short, 10 to 15 minutes, and one thing I realize is people do consume them… What do you call it? Binge on them… What’s our favourite part of the show? It’s the intro, right, and the opening monologue. We all love that part. I’d have a bunch of music, intro music, and I would have a bunch of me just yacking then I’d get into the meat of the thing. I’d have more music and the same kind of trailer like, all these website links and things that they could get. If you’re consuming in bulk, you’re hearing that music every time, you’re hearing this monologue every time, and you’re hearing this bumper every time. It’s, like, not very fun to listen to. I’m trying — I’m not sure I’m doing great at it — but I’m trying to optimize for binge listeners so that if they are listening to them in sequential order, it wouldn’t feel like, “Oh god, here’s another…” I wish I did that better.

In Las Vegas, I met this guy that is writing a book. He actually has a podcast too. I’ll find it while we’re chatting. This is his first time writing a fiction book and one thing he realized is that his scenes were really, really boring. He couldn’t figure out why. Story Grid is his podcast. His mentor said, “You know, the best way to write a story is to just take Harry Potter, the first book, and just take every scene and just rewrite it as if it’s your story.” (laughter).

I mean, Harry Potter just took the same elements that were in other stories as well. I’ve noticed, like, a lot of my show is just me. I think what would make the show more interesting is, well, so what does Harry Potter have? Harry Potter has a mentor. You know, at the beginning it is Hagrid, then it becomes… Dumbledore. He has an enemy. He had a bunch of enemies. He’s got sidekicks, right? My show doesn’t have a sidekick. My show doesn’t have a mentor. My show has an enemy but maybe I need to talk about it more often.

KU: It’s not your wife, is it?

JJ: No. (laughter) Actually, if anyone is a mentor on the show, it is my wife…. I think those elements make for a good show. I’m trying to think about ways to incorporate that into shows more.

You do have to be interesting. I think the hard thing is that for some people podcasting is not a good medium. You have to be pretty engaging to be able to speak to people for a while. Now, that being said, you can get better at it, like you can practice and practice and practice and get better at it. You do, at the end of the day, have to create something that is interesting. Sometimes I think… Some people are making shows that just aren’t interesting and I think that’s a shame because they might have interesting perspectives but they just don’t know how to, you know, be engaging on the microphone.

I do super-cheesy stuff, you know, like power moves where you’re like supposed to put your hands in the air and it’s supposed to make you feel successful. I pump myself up and part of it is just to be as entertaining as I can. My problem is that sometimes I go overboard and I talk too fast and you can overdo it, too. I think that’s just a fact of life, that your show has to be engaging and interesting if people are going to listen to it.

KU: Excellent. Do you guys have questions?

Edmonton Podcasting Meetup
Questions from the audience.

Warren Semotiuk from KMFBZ: What is the No. 1 piece of advice for a beginning podcaster?

JJ: I usually say, “Start right now and start small.” I say, “Take out your phone.” So someone says, “I want to start podcasting,” as a few people have said. Take out your phone. Open up Voice Memos and just practice. “Hey, this is Justin and this is my show. I am just talking into a microphone right now.” Do that over and over again. Once you’ve practiced, you know, 10, 15, 20, 30 times, share it with somebody. Usually the scariest part is sharing something you’ve made with somebody. It’s an important part of the cycle. You can’t stay in your cave practicing with your iPhone forever. Eventually you have to publish it. You don’t have to publish it to the public but you can publish it to your friends. You can, like, release it to people. Start now, start small, don’t buy an equipment, don’t do anything until you’ve recorded, like, 10, 20 episodes just on your iPhone and shared it with somebody.

Troy Pavlek of Basket of YEGs: So you mentioned your consulting rebound point and that resonates with me because I’m also a software developer. I’ve thought about making money off my content in the past, but I’m always very bearish on the idea. No matter what, it pales in comparison to what I make writing software. You’re clearly targeting making money with MegaMaker but I know it’s not going to make you as much as if you write code. So, at what point do you say, “Well, this is a loss leader that I just like to do as a hobby,” and cut your expenses searching out advertisers. Just say, “This is a loss but I just like doing it.”  

JJ: That’s part of what I’m trying to explore this year. There are other ways I know I can get money right now. Did my wife send you or something? (laughter)

There are ways I know I can make money, but part of me wants the challenge of doing this. The other interesting thing about podcasting, though, is it’s still brand new, really. So there are more opportunities there than we think. Maybe I’m too early. Maybe I’m too late. Maybe I’m at the right point, right time. It could become something that does make a lot of money or it could be, you know… I might just make 100 things every year and it’s just a real struggle, but I love it and it’s enough to feed my kids and get braces for my kids and whatever else I’ve got to pay for. That’s what I’m exploring.

I’ve said from the beginning that if I have a couple bad months, I’ll go back to other stuff. I think that it is possible to make money doing this, but it’s going to have to be unique. It’s going to have to… Whenever you’re talking about making money, we’re talking about, “What is the job that has to be done for the actual purchaser?” For an advertiser, the job that they wants done is a return on their investment. If I can prove to them they’ve had a return on their investment, I can go back and sell more ads.

You know, eventually, if I had thousands of members in the Secret Maker’s Society…  I just had a bunch of money come in last month. I was like, “Man, am I going to make it?” then a bunch of money came in from Product People Club, because everyone had their annual renewal. The thing about recurring things like that is that you can sort of build a sustainable business on it because it’s cash flow you can count on. There’s churn and other things, but to tell you the truth, I think membership is still the one that I’m most excited about right now. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it. Especially since, that, like a lot of folks, you talk about, you know, the podcaster being in your ear. They just want to hang out, too, right? They want to have kind of an inside line to being on the backstage pass to the show.

Q: Did you not like formulaic, like the stinger, the intro, the stinger, the song? You don’t like that?

I’m trying to minimize it. So, it used to be that I’d have a long… I really like that Striker song I have at the beginning. It sounded like, “Yeah. This is awesome, you know?” Once I listened to three episodes in a row, it gets to the bumper and I’ve got more music there and it goes right back into starting the next episode. I also think that most podcasters talk for too long at the beginning of their show… Marc Maron does a good job of it but it’s the most contested part of the show. Some people (like) it and some people don’t like it. What I’m trying to do now is just challenge myself and shut up. Let me tell you a story and we’ll go right into it, because it’s engaging right away. For me, it’s only 10 or 15 minutes. If you’re going to have a longer show, maybe have a longer intro. For my show, it makes sense to minimize that as much as I can and actually get to, like, “Here’s the thing. Let me tell what’s going on right now.”

KU: You’ve got to serve your sponsors, too, which is another thing about the monotony of stamps.com or Casper. You listen to the Slate gabfests and I can recite them now. I fast-forward through them, which means that those advertisers are not getting their value.

JJ: Totally. Advertising, too, you’ve got to think about unique ways to put that in, like putting it in places where people wouldn’t expect. Marc Maron is probably one of my favorite podcasters. He’s sometimes pretty formulaic but sometimes he’s, just, like, the ad comes out of nowhere. I like that kind of stuff. I like getting surprised a little bit. There’s a lot of shows where I I’m like, “OK. You know, like, guys, that’s enough of the intro. Let’s get to the show now.”

Trina Shessel of Northern Nerdcast: For somebody that has no marketing experience, where do you suggest starting going out. Like, I’ve been looking into advertising and I don’t know what to even start charging people. Do you any resources?

JJ: Karen would have some data on what Midroll is asking. It used to be 30,000 downloads was the minimum. There’s ways to juice those numbers, too, right, so if you’re doing a daily show, just 10 minutes every day, you’re going to get way more downloads. Right now, advertisers are optimizing for downloads.

I would recommend you subscribe to Hot Pod, which is a newsletter for podcasters. That guy, he used to work at Panoply. He’s very good and has this kind of inside look at a lot of those things. For example, he’s the one that told me that iTunes just changed their ranking algorithm for podcasts. It just happened. There hadn’t been an update in years. It just happened. No one knows exactly what’s in it but my hypothesis is that they are ranking less for ratings and reviews and more for subscribes and downloads. The idea was to get rid of, you know, in the business category there’s all of those marketing shows. I think they’re trying to optimize for those going down and actually looking at people subscribing.

Right now, advertisers are optimizing for downloads. That’s what most advertisers are. But if you guys are a local show, I would take a different approach, which is to say, the best podcast sponsors are people that want branding. People who want direct ROI, that’s hard. That’s pressure on you as a podcaster to create some sort of return on investment.

A lot of it is just branding. What’s my favorite band? Striker. Iron Maiden. People know that about me. People know just by listening to my show all the time, they hear some things all of the time. That is one of the services you are providing. The other way to look at is, who is your target market in terms of advertisers? Just go and ask them how much they spend on advertising. How much of that is radio?… If you’re targeting local people, that’s what I would look at.

You also want to build additional things. Like, you should have an email newsletter, because that’s a direct way to promote a sponsor. I think $500 recurring per month is a good place to start, but a lot of it depends on what your download numbers are.


Many thanks to Justin for spending time with us. Subscribe to MegaMaker for a steady drip of inspiration. He’s a great follow on Twitter, too: @mijustin.

The next podcast meetup will be at Variant Edition on May 29. Join the Edmonton Podcasting Meetup page or sign up for the Seen and Heard in Edmonton newsletter for more details.

If you want to hear more things like this (instead of reading them), subscribe to the Seen and Heard in Edmonton podcast. It’s on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Show notes from past episodes can be found here.

 


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