How I Built The Tim Ferriss Show to 700+ Million Downloads | The Tim Ferriss Show (Featuring Chris Hutchins)

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Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Think about what you can learn even if you fail at podcasting (transferable skills)
  • “Follow your interests and make it easy in the beginning” Tim Ferris
  • You do not need to invest heavily in gear at the beginning. The simpler you make it, the easier it will be to keep doing it
    • You can cover the podcast expenses without having to monetize the show
  • “The bulk of what goes into podcasting is finding guests, prepping for the conversation and having the conversation,”Chris Hutchins
    • Think about what guests will care enough to bring their A-game
  • Transcribe all your episodes and look for terms that you repeat a lot and trim them
  • Twitter is how Tim Ferriss connected with many of the celebrities, known figures, and difficult to reach people … “and to circumvent their multiple layers of entourage”Tim Ferriss
  • For 90-minute interviews pick the 5-7 questions you most want to be answered, especially if you want the freedom to go off-topic
  • Make it interesting for yourself, if it is interesting to you it will be interesting to other people- this can’t be faked
    • If you know yourself, your goals, fears, things you struggle with, you at least have a guaranteed market of 1
  • Highlight the guests and listen to their stories, but make the audience come back because of you

Key Products Mentioned

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Here is everything you need to know if you want to start or grow your podcast. In this episode, Chris Hutchins joins Tim Ferriss to discuss the foundation blocks behind building The Tim Ferriss Show to 700+ Million Downloads 
  • Chris Hutchins (T: @hutchins and IG: @chrishutchins) is a crazy life hacker optimizer, host of the All the Hacks podcast, documenting his journey to upgrade his life (money, travel, spending less, and saving more). He is “… a bit of a seasoned set of random things, jack of all trades, maybe master of none” – Chris Hutchins
  • Check out Chris’ website
  • Host – Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)

All You Need to Know to Get Started

  • “Podcasting is not the native element for all people”Tim Ferriss
  • You do not have to commit forever
    • Set a goal of doing a certain number of episodes and evaluate your progress after you complete that goal
    • The minimum effective dose for Tim Ferris was somewhere between five and ten episodes
  • It is a lot more work than it seems
    • There is a lot of work in making a podcast look seamless and improvised
    • Make it all about you; make it sustainable – guests that inspire you, the format you enjoy the most, questions that excite you
    • You will get bored otherwise (don’t do something for six episodes that you can’t do for 500)
  • Do not be afraid if you do not have an audience (yet)
    • Do not worry about the business side (yet)
  • Additional comments from Tim Ferris:
    • Think about what you can learn even if you fail at podcasting (transferable skills)
    • You can learn new skills and make new relationships
    • Tim focused on improving his ability to ask questions and plan interviews because he was already doing that with writing books

How to Build Big Audiences?

  • Podcasts will not automatically give you direct access to your listeners
    • Sometimes, hosts will build them on YouTube, and then that audience follows them to the new format
    • Tim Ferriss built his audience via books and moved that popularity into making a blog, and then a part of that audience followed him to podcasting
  • Building a large audience is not a worthwhile goal alone
    • Do not do podcasting because everyone is doing it
    • People who are honestly passionate about this medium will always outsmart and outlast you
  • “There is this gigantic, kind of elephant graveyard of 3 episode podcasts”Tim Ferriss
  • For the first 20 episodes or so, Tim only interviewed people he knew very well
    • Starting a podcast was a challenge, and he did not want to make it more difficult by interviewing a stranger
    • Edwin Catmull, co-founder of Pixar was the first person he interviewed with whom he did not have a prior conversation
    • It was fun but nerve-wracking; make it easier for yourself, in the beginning, stack the decks in your favor
  • “Follow your interests and make it easy in the beginning” Tim Ferris
    • For Tim, that meant interviewing friends

This is Podcasting’s Boom Time

  • In 2017, Tim Ferriss said it was not too late to start a podcast
    • That was when 24% of people listened to podcasts. Today it’s closer to 60%
    • There were a few hundred thousand podcasts, now it is over two million
  • Tim did not change his opinion in 2021; now is a great time to start a podcast
    • We are very much in the early days of the medium
    • The percentage of terrestrial and satellite radio advertising that moved to the podcast medium is surprisingly low
    • Amazon only came into the podcasting sphere very recently
  • There is a downside to starting a podcast in 2021- there is more competition, and you have to be better
  • In 2014, you could be in the top 50 on iTunes with relative ease. That is not the case for 2021
  • That is why, today, you need to be dedicated to the craft – study, practice, and have good reasons
  • Ask yourself, “Why do you want to start a podcast?

Why did Chris Hutchins Decide to Start a Podcast?

  • Chris loved talking about optimizing travels costs, and people loved hearing his stories
    • He wanted to talk about it on a larger scale and see how people would react
    • He loves learning about ways to upgrade life; how to save money, how to make better investments
  • Podcasting is a way to have conversations and learn from people who know more about the things you love
  • Having a podcast makes it more likely that certain people (celebrities, book authors, influencers) will talk to you when you contact them (you are not just a random person)
  • That makes it worthwhile to invest time in learning about the craft (postproduction, interview skills, audio engineering, etc.)
  • You do not need to invest heavily in gear at the beginning. The simpler you make it, the easier it will be to keep doing it

Audio Only Podcast VS Video Podcast

  • Tim prefers audio-only podcasts, but he will record video if he thinks it will improve the rapport of the episode
    • He also likes to have a lot of notes in front of him, and that would not look good on video
  • If you or your guest can’t remember a name of a book, an author, you can look up the information on your mobile phone or laptop, and no one will know
  • One of the major reasons Joe Rogan became popular is his use of YouTube (it is an enormous traffic driver)
    • Video is the core component of what Joe does
    • Tim does not believe he is as good as Joe in video format, but he is also not interested in that
  • Would recording more video make the Tim Ferriss show bigger?
    • Probably; but you have to be aware of your strengths and ask yourself if this is something that would be beneficial for the show
  • Tim would like his show to get bigger, but not at the expense of doing something he does not like
    • That is one of the reasons Tim doesn’t do much news. He focuses on continually relevant topics that people will listen to for years to come. That is his niche

The Mesmerizing Nature of Monetizing

  • In the early days, Tim recorded, edited, and published everything by himself
    • He did not have anyone to help him with the research
    • You can cover the podcast expenses without having to monetize the show
    • At the beginning (for 100 episodes or so), Tim did not focus on monetization
    • He wanted nothing impeding his focus on improving and preparing an interview
    • The craft and the product were Tim’s sole focus
    • Editing forced him to listen to everything meticulously
  • Chris took a similar approach. He did not want to think about monetizing until he was sure this was something that he could do forever. Chris’s priorities:
    • Researching
    • Making the content great
    • Finding the people to bring on the show
  • This is what will make or break your show
    • Anything else is a waste of time, including thinking about monetization and reaching out to sponsors
  • There are many other ways apart from sponsors or advertisements to produce income with a podcast
    • If you are a high price consultant, you can generate clients from your podcast
    • Affiliate relationships with certain types of products (domain services, hosting) you want to endorse
    • A paid newsletter that people will want to sign up for
    • Unique version of the podcast for paid membership
    • Offering people show notes (Hello, @podcastnotes!)

How Does Tim Ferriss Handle Sponsorships?

  • There is a simple constraint Tim uses, so sponsorship did not become an enormous distraction for him and his team:
    • He has his insertion order (an agreement between the publisher and advertiser)
    • It is a non-negotiable document and everyone had to pre-pay for their spots, everyone had to pay upfront
  • This allowed him and his team to remain sane and filtered a lot of sponsorship deals
  • Make the podcast so good that a few sponsors will make a risk and pay you upfront
    • It is also a litmus test for a commitment from sponsors
  • Question what you have to do because sometimes the best practices make no sense
    • “… and if you are not in a position to question best practices, your product isn’t good enough or you don’t have enough leverage,” – Tim Ferriss
    • E.g. Why did Tim’s books never went to paperback?
    • You have to sell almost twice as much to earn the same amount of money as you would with hardcover books

How to Find The Right Guests For Your Podcast

  • “The bulk of what goes into podcasting is finding guests, prepping for the conversation and having the conversation,”Chris Hutchins
  • The focus of the show will direct how you search for guests
    • Think about what guests will care enough to do their best
    • Regardless of their popularity and status, if they don’t bring their A-game, it does not matter
    • Some episodes with people no one heard of can outperform episodes with popular people
    • “Content is really important, people like good content more than bad content with a fancy name,”Chris Hutchins
    • For an example of content over the name, watch Chris’s episode with Leigh Rowan
  • A big part of guest selection is improving as an interviewer
    • It is very hard to fix a bad guest– sometimes excellent conversationalists get stiff and self-conscious once you press record
    • Having domain familiarity and expertise will help in dire situations and potentially save the entire interview
    • Before interviewing, Tim sends all his guests a list of commonly asked questions
    • Talk to your guests beforehand for 5-10 minutes to loosen them up
    • All the guests on Tim Ferriss show have the final cut, any edits they want to make they can make
  • He asks all his guests what would make this interview their favorite interview
    • This can inform them how he steers the conversation, how to promote the episode
    • Ask them what they don’t want to talk about
    • This will make them more comfortable with the interview
  • “We can always cut things later, but we can’t put the fun in”Tim Ferriss
    • Let your guests be themselves, go crazy, you can always cut later
    • He looks out for his guests, if they mention sensitive details (family information, contacts, etc.) about themselves in the interview, Tim double checks with them later if they want to keep that in

Guest Recruiting Platforms

  • Twitter is an excellent way to find guests, even though it is a very technology-centered environment
  • Twitter vs Instagram for guest recruitments
    • Instagram DM could work, but for Tim, there is too much noise because everyone can DM him
    • On Twitter, you follow someone, like something of theirs, retweet, reply to occupy their timeline and get their attention. If they follow you, you can send them a direct message
  • Twitter is how Tim Ferriss connected with many of the celebrities, known figures, and difficult to reach people … “and to circumvent their multiple layers of entourage”Tim Ferriss
  • Twitter might be an even better medium than e-mail (less crowded)
  • Contacting an agency or a manager can take that a lot of time, Twitter is the best alternative
  • All guest recruitment questions that Tim gets from other podcasters are really about the low percentage of guests that are hard to reach
    • If they used that time to work on their content instead of chasing celebrities, they would be much farther ahead

MMM… How to Become a Better Interviewer?

  • MMM… is something Tim did a lot when he got nervous
    • He was not aware that he was doing it
  • Transcribe all your episodes and look for terms that you repeat a lot and trim them
  • Tim does not re-listen to his episodes, he reads the transcripts instead (they are much better)
    • Lawyers make good proofreaders because they have a keen eye for ambiguity
  • “Becoming a better interviewer is really becoming your best self as an interviewer”Tim Ferriss
    • What does this mean?
    • Larry King did not prepare for his interviews. He wanted to ask naive questions. He did not want to know more than the listener or the viewer
    • James Lipton, the host of the Inside the Actors Studio never deviated from his cards
    • What worked for James Lipton or Larry King may not work for you, have your own thing.
    • For Tim, reviewing transcripts is the most important part of that.
  • “…be a collector and a tester of questions”Tim Ferriss

How Long Does Tim Prepare for an Interview

  • Generally, a minimum of 2-3 hours
  • The maximum he spent was 5 days when he was preparing for a podcast with Arnold Schwarzenneger
    • He wanted to be the best-prepared interviewer he ever met
    • If there is a big break interview, digesting everything about the person you are interviewing (movies, books, past interviews)
    • He asks his guests to send him their favorite long-form interviews
    • Questions they think would be fun for them and the audience
    • He deep dives into tiny weird esoteric Wikipedia entries about the guests he interviews
  • Ask them beforehand if there are any stories or anecdotes that always gets a good response from the audience
    • Plant one of those greatest hits stories in the first 10 minutes of the interview
  • Tim’s main rules for podcasting:
    • Make it interesting for yourself, if it is interesting to you it will be interesting to other people- this can’t be faked
    • Do not get drowned in your research, 90 minutes goes very fast
    • For 90-minute interviews pick the 5-7 questions you most want to be answered, especially if you want the freedom to go off-topic

Getting Familiar With Your Audience

  • Tim surveyed his audience to gather demographic data, average household income, etc. for sponsors
  • If your podcast is present on multiple platforms you have many ways to gather data, e.g. Facebook analytics
  • The way he got to know his audience was by growing together for 13 years since he started his blog in 2005/2006
  • It can be overwhelming to pay attention to everything (blog comments, social media feedbacks, number of downloads)
  • Listen to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Tim Urban
    • Tim Urban did not follow the usual blog advice, some of his pieces are like books (multi-part blog posts, 30-50,000 words)
    • Everyone should read The Tail End by Tim Urban to improve their life and family relationships (a 10-minute read)
    • Writing for your audience is easy, imagine the entire stadium filled with your doubles
    • He is writing what he wants to read. As simplistic and ridiculous as it sounds, it is effective
  • If you know yourself, your goals, fears, things you struggle with, you at least have a guaranteed market of 1
  • When writing, do not guess what other people need, you are not a super empath, focus on yourself
    • That person will end up being the most universal

Does Size Matter?

  • “Not caring is the ultimate form of caring”Tim Ferriss
  • Do not worry about the growth of your podcast to the extent that it becomes a distraction
  • How to increase the growth of your podcast?
    • Become a guest on different podcasts (downloads and subscribers) 
    • Be explicit with the host that growth is the reason why you are here
    • Take notes on the technology they use, how they prepare you, etc.)
    • Newsletters and email are powerful for everything
    • Big names (celebrities) don’t hurt, but do not chase them
  • A basic campaign on a platform of your choice will suffice, you do not need to have a blog
  • “There is no magic bullet for growth, and the tools change”Tim Ferris
    • He suggests reading The Law of the Category chapter from the book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly
    • These will give you adaptable principles to build unique positions in the minds of your diehard fans
  • Consistency and focus are key here, after that, a lot of other things will fall in place with minimum effort
  • Everything does not always have to be relevant to everyone
    • For this to be a fun experience, Tim needs to care about what he does, and not everyone will like that
    • Highlight the guests and listen to their stories, but make the audience come back because of you

Should you Join a Podcast Network?

  • Once your podcast gains some success, a podcast network can contact you
    • Tim does not work with a network, but a lot of people do
  • It depends on what you are trying to accomplish
    • Take the call, ask the questions even if you don’t ever hear from them again
    • Ask them about other “players”, further your education in informational terms
    • Listen to their value propositions, find out how they plan to grow your show
    • Find out the reach, is it geo limited, time-limited, etc.
    • Gimlet Media and NPR do a good job because they cross-promote new shows on existing properties
  • There are several ways you can sell advertisements
    • Publish on platforms that insert ads automatically (Spotify has this)
    • There are hosting companies that will use dynamic ad insertion to fill out inventory for you
    • You could work with companies that sell ads, that put sponsors in front of you, and vice versa
    • Very small shops that handle ads for larger shows only work with a handful of premium properties like Joe Rogan and Dax Shepard
    • Have a contractor or hire someone to handle all of your advertisement inventory

Parting Thoughts

  • Evaluate your podcast experience
    • How do you feel when you wake up and go to sleep 
    • Do a full-body check-in when you realize that you have a podcast to do
  • Is this something that nourishes you or depletes you?
    • This is how Tim frames his decisions nowadays
  • How do you feel when you record, and when the episode comes out? 
    • Is it positive or negative energy?
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