How I Made $8,000 per Month Podcasting, and Why You Probably Don’t Want To
Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan
This is a rather personal episode. We have no guests this time.
It’s just you and me.
New listeners might not know that for about one year, Disrupting Japan was sponsored and was my primary source of income.
So today, rather than diving deep into a specific aspect of startups in Japan, I thought I would share the history of Disrupting Japan itself, about my decision to go pro (and then go amateur), my visions of a podcast empire, and how it came crashing down.
I'd like to tell you the story behind the stories.
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Welcome to Disrupting Japan. Straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs.
I’ve got a special show for you today. There will be no guests, no beer, no playful banter about making, marketing or monetization. For the next 20 minutes, it’s just you and me.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a solo show, and these solo shows tend to be some of the most popular. So today, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of my thoughts about podcasting and to tell you the story of Disrupting Japan itself. Why I started it, how I grew the audience, how I turned the show into over $8,000 a month in income, and how I started to put together Japan’s first podcast advertising network.
And, most importantly perhaps, why I walked away from all of that and returned Disrupting Japan to the non-commercial, sponsor free format we’ve all grown to know and love. Our talk today will explain why a number of more unusual things about Disrupting Japan are the way they are.
And you know, Disrupting Japan has been growing even faster since we went commercial-free. Today we have over 10,000 listeners in 160 countries. Including one listener in Vatican City. Now, I have no way of knowing for sure who exactly that one listener is. I mean, sure, it could be anybody, but I like to think … I choose to believe that Disrupting Japan has listeners in very high places.
But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, Japan is a very hard place to launch a podcast.
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Japan is not a podcasting nation. Most popular podcasts are recycled radio produced by major media companies. Good independent shows exist, but you need to look for them.
I’ve built a few startups in Japan, and the podcast was supposed to be me just talking with my founder friends about startups and innovation in Japan; about what it’s like to be an innovator in a culture that prizes conformity.
I christened the show Disrupting Japan, and launched to decidedly little fanfare in September 2014.
The podcast totaled 42 downloads that month. I thought that was great.
How Not to Grow a Podcast
My audience rose steadily each month, and after six months I had about 400 listeners. At this point, I decided to invest in growing my show, but most of the common sense marketing and production approaches I tried either had no effect or actually backfired.
I rented a studio to improve production quality, but it made my guests uncomfortable. Most simply could not relax in the unfamiliar environment and spent the whole interview looking at their mic rather than at me. I tried this with three different guests and didn’t get a single usable conversation.
It’s obvious in retrospect, but few things make people more nervous than shoving a microphone in their face.
So I gave up on the studio. I started going to their offices and using a pair of small lapel mics. The sound quality was lower, but after a few seconds, my guests forgot they were wearing these little microphones and we could talk like two human beings. Showing up with a couple of beers also helped my guests relax and made the recording less if an interview and more of a conversation.
It turned out that sacrificing a bit of production quality and so-called “professionalism” for more personal, honest conversations was one of the best decisions I made.
In this episode
- 01:14 - How many listeners can I expect for my podcast?
- 02:14 - What is the podcasting situation like in Japan?
- 02:28 - What is the Disrupting Japan podcast all about?
- 04:21 - What is one of the best decisions you could make for a successful podcast?
- 07:29 - How can I grow listener numbers for my podcast?
- 10:16 - How do you find sponsors for your podcast?
- 11:16 - What do podcast sponsors really pay money for?
- 12:14 - Should I do live podcasting events?
- 12:46 - What advice do you have for aspiring podcasters?
- 13:12 - Should I hire an agency to find podcast advertisers for me?
- 19:48 - What is the difference between podcasters and people who create podcasts?
- 20:35 - What are the benefits of podcasting?
- 21:21 - How can I have a meaningful conversation with people?
- 24:17 - Why do people respond best to honest stories?
Smash Notes summary for this episode
How many listeners can I expect for my podcast?
As of this writing in May 2019, Disrupting Japan podcast gets 10,000 listeners in 116 countries. That is after doing 147 episodes over multiple years.
What is the podcasting situation like in Japan?
Most podcasts in Japan are recycled radio shows. You can find good independent shows, but you really have to look for it.
What is the Disrupting Japan podcast all about?
It was supposed to be the host talking with his founder friends, talking about what it is like to be an innovator in a culture that prizes conformity. It was first launched in September 2014 to a small group of friends.
What is one of the best decisions you could make for a successful podcast?
Sacrifice production quality and "professionalism" if that means you could get honest and personal conversations that will resonate with your listeners. Also, don't spend money on social media to promote podcasts, it doesn't work. Whatever "engagement" these platforms are selling you, if they are not adding new listeners to your episodes, it does not matter.
How can I grow listener numbers for my podcast?
The most effective way to grow is via interactions - find a handful of LinkedIn and Facebook groups and connect with people yearning for your content. Go offline and speak on the topic you cover. Create an email list and let listeners subscribe. Some of your fans might want to be on the list and never listen to the podcast, but they will still engage with your other content.
How do you find sponsors for your podcast?
Figure out who your audience is and then really understand who are the companies that would like to connect with this audience. Who would you feel good about recommending? Start connecting to them via email, in person, or however you can. Talk to them about sponsorship and then you will figure out what they actually want from you. Make it happen.
What do podcast sponsors really pay money for?
Clicks and listens are great, but they are a commodity product which makes it a perfectly competitive market for you, and does not differentiate your potential advertisers. Instead of selling what everyone else is doing, if you can figure out a unique value proposition that will really make your audience connect with the advertiser, then you can charge premium rates for premium content.
Should I do live podcasting events?
If you do it right, live appearances can consistently bring people to future events and add listeners to the podcast itself.
What advice do you have for aspiring podcasters?
Be prepared to spend as much time on your advertisers as you do on the podcast itself. Finding advertisers, writing ad copy, explaining your audience and your metrics, and creating custom content for the advertisers, all of that will put huge demand on your time.
Should I hire an agency to find podcast advertisers for me?
It is tempting to let someone bring sponsors to you, but at the end, your sponsorship and ad rates are proportional to how much effort you are willing to put in it.
What is the difference between podcasters and people who create podcasts?
Podcasters are professionals for whom the medium is the message. Meanwhile podcast creators are artisan craftsman who do this for the love of the craft, for the unique connections that are formed through interviews.
What are the benefits of podcasting?
Podcasting lets you tell stories that cannot be told in any other medium. It creates a community that would not come together in the same way around other mediums. Podcasting could also be financially rewarding and be an amazing tool for networking and for building a personal brand.
How can I have a meaningful conversation with people?
It is hard to get people to go off script, particularly if they are not speaking in their native language, or trained to speak in front of a microphone. In order to get people to open up and talk about their challenges, you need to be empathetic and sincere. Being an objective and detached observer does not work. You have to get outside of your comfort zone and share your own hopes and fears and insecurities.