How to Be Your Own Best CEO 📈
Stuff no one tells you about running a podcast company
I got the playback from the Multitude Podcasting Conference — available online here — and as I clicked through the offerings, one of the sessions really spoke to me. The panelists were all people I admire, being forthcoming about their experiences running their own podcast companies. I watched the whole thing in one sitting.
I am bringing my big takeaways from this conversation to this week’s newsletter because they apply to most Besties. We're all basically the CEOs of our own podcast company, whether we've genuinely started a small podcast co., we’re freelancers, or we’re the CE-Everything for our indie show. Even if we're orbiting the giant hairball at a Big Podcast corporation, many of these same principles apply.
Jenny Radelet Mast, founder and CEO of Wave Runner Studios, which produces mostly scripted fiction “blockbuster podcasts that sound and feel like movies,” as well as a weekly show for Spotify called Dope Labs
Your career (and life) is finite; act accordingly. Fascinating to learn that part of Laura Mayer’s move out of Big Podcasting was a re-evaluation of her work life after having a near-death experience. No wonder Shameless Acquisition Target is so fresh and unique. If you’re not happy at your job, find a job that does make you happy — or create one, shamelessly.
Use industry jobs as a paid education. Anthony Frasier got a job as an engineer at NPR and used it to "hack the system" and better understand the industry, which helped him start his company. I loved his analogy to artists who say, "you have to learn how to draw in order to break the rules" — that's what he was doing during his time as an employee, learning the rules so he could break them as an entrepreneur.
"Once I figured out what the rules were, then I found out that some of the rules don't apply to me."
Kill unnecessary meetings. One of the rules Frasier broke when he started his own company was minimizing extra meeting time so he could work faster. (Amen, I hate pointless meetings.)
Throw your hat in the ring before you’re 100% ready. Frasier got his NPR job with perhaps less technical experience than they were expecting, which is a hack in itself — put your self-taught skills on your resume, and don't be afraid to apply when you're a little under-qualified if you're willing to work hard and learn on the job.
Use your company to solve your frustrations with the industry. Before Jenny Radelet Mast started her own podcast company, she worked at Stitcher during a time of tremendous growth. There were so many projects coming in, but not a lot of control about what specifically she got to work on, and that level of production volume brought concerns about quality control — "it was a pipeline problem." So, for her, deciding to venture out on her own was a situation of "frustration meets opportunity."
“It was sort of twofold. It was like, I want to drum up business, yes — but also I want to learn from these different companies and clients what their strategies are and how they're approaching content creation and how they're approaching their pipeline. And if I'm being hired to produce these different things with different clients, I can kind of learn from the inside how they're approaching these issues that I'm frustrated with.”
Find your project(s) that make your podcast company financially possible. For Mast, it was Dope Labs — her involvement came about serendipitously, but it was a show she was excited about that also allowed her to start doing her own thing. Now Wave Runner has been doing that show for four years. Since then, Mast has been able to amass more clients and move into the scripted fiction space. She says, "I think that's a huge part of it is you've got to sort of find those first couple of opportunities that help you get on your feet as a business owner."
Reinvest in your company as you grow. You're going to discover things you "should" be doing along the way, but you can't yet afford to do them. So keep these in mind when the money starts to flow back in. Frasier advised, "You get your first few wins, and you just kind of reinvest in the startup in a smart way."
Don't be afraid to send a cold email. Getting good at networking is essential. Frasier found one of his mentors through a cold email. Frasier came from the tech industry, where there's a lot of fundraising involved, so he was used to sending these types of emails, "Hey, I have this thing I'm working on, would love to talk to you about it." You're not entitled to a response, but you are allowed to ask for advice. And don't sweat it if someone doesn't get back to you; it's a numbers game.
Find mentors, but trust your gut. Frasier suggests “creating a filter for mentors, because sometimes the mentors you get can lead you down a really bad path.” If someone is giving you advice that you know isn’t right for you at the moment, don’t take it!
Everyone has imposter syndrome. That's just a fact. You have to lean into it or shake it off. Everyone on the panel agreed. Mayer is hosting for the first time in a decade, and her show features conversations about podcasting that weren't really happening in public. Still, she decided to "jump into the deep end" and go for it — judging from the response to Shameless Acquisition Target, it's working. Frasier agreed:
“One of the other reasons why the imposter syndrome started to fade away was because I realized nobody knew what they were doing.”
You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. According to Mast, "One of my imposter syndrome symptoms was that I am a rule-follower, and I really felt like I had to have it all kind of planned out ahead of time before I made any decisions." She was terrified of doing it wrong, but she realized this mindset was bottlenecking her momentum and stifling her progress.
“I was trying so hard to find like, who is the person — where is this magical person who can just tell me how to do this correctly and I can dot my i's and cross my t's, and I have started my company, and I'll have done it all right? And then, I can move forward with doing the work. And it's like, that person is you. You just come to a realization that there is no person out there, that person is you, and it's you having done the work and put in the time to just do research and make decisions.”
A company is a state of mind. This is such a good takeaway! I read Sapiens recently, which was a refreshing reminder that all of humanity’s shared fictions — money, religion, our legal system, etc. — are entirely made up. There is no edict from above about any of this stuff; we decide… you decide. Use that to your advantage as you create the narrative for your company. As Mast revealed:
“What no one tells you really is, and it seems maybe so elusive, but a company is kind of a state of mind and it’s a lot of how you present it and how you market it.”
Investor money can help you grow faster, but it’s not without downsides. According to Frasier, investors are looking for a 10x return, so there are high expectations, which can add pressure.
“When you take on investor money, the clock starts like chess. You know, start the clock, what’s the next move? … Now there’s a timeline.”
You will make mistakes. Duh. Just try to learn from them.
Be a good person. When in doubt, let the golden rule guide you. When it comes to successfully running a company, being a CEO, and/or having employees, Mast said, “So much that is tied to just being a good human.”
You can still be an advocate for yourself within another organization. Mast called out “Class Photos,” the latest edition of Skye’s newsletter, which helped visualize the industry’s lack of diversity among top leadership… and it was disappointing. Mast said it’s no surprise that many women and POC are breaking off to do their own thing. However, it’s crucial to have people advocating for themselves in their positions within these companies instead of everyone leaving in a mass exodus. But of course, to stay or go is a personal decision — and there are challenges either way.
Various Positions, Weekly News Podcast at Sugar23 Audio | New York, NY preferred
Managing Producer (part-time)
Senior Producer (full-time)
Associate Producer/Researcher (full-time)
Story Editor (part-time)
Sound Designer and Mixer (one day a week, roughly)
Private Parts Unknown: A Brief History of Sex Toys with Hallie Lieberman, Author of “Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy” - Hallie Lieberman, author of Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, literally has a Ph.D. in sex toys, so she’s the perfect guide to talk us through the highlight reel of sex toy history. We discuss how sex toys were illegal in Texas until 2008 (and scary indicators that sex-related laws are regressing!), Japanese shunga, Anthony Comstock and his terrible legacy of sexual suppression, Betty Dodson and how she linked masturbation to women’s liberation, the incredible story of Gosnell Duncan, her future predictions for the intersection of sex toys and politics, and more. Plus, we swap gigolo stories!
The Bleeders: Work in Progress: Shelby Hinte on “Howling Women” + Prompt Me, Daddy - I know Shelby Hinte because we took a Chloe Caldwell workshop together this spring (all roads lead back to Chloe on this podcast, lol). Shelby explains her writing process and query experience for her work-in-progress, Howling Women. There are so many priceless little takeaways from this interview — like the importance of interpreting notes through your own voice and, oh yeah, writing is supposed to be fun! Plus, we end the episode with a new edition of Prompt Me, Daddy, so make sure you stick around to the end to get a lesson from Shelby.
So… ROLL CALL! 🗣
Did you attend Multitude’s podcasting conference? What were YOUR favorite takeaways?