A true story of a failed podcast
Two years ago, I began one of my biggest endeavors yet: a podcast. ‘The Roots and Ropes Podcast.’
At the time, it was my steppingstone to success: a way to explore my passions, develop skills, and express my voice. It was ‘the thing.’ I had a vision full of listeners across the world, tuning in to my podcast. Youth from various ages, countries, wealth, all listening and connecting with me. I wanted to see my vision through.
But a little less than a year later, I hadn’t made much progress. I had started the podcast and published episodes, but the listeners or quality for that matter had remained stagnant since the beginning. My dreams were still dreams. As one might imagine, this was tiring. So a little later, I made my inevitable choice and quit. I ended the podcast.
Looking back at it today, I consider it one of my greatest failures. All that remained, was a bucket load of shame around it and frankly, I was comfortable with that. I didn’t want to ever revisit it again.
But, when I was reminded of the importance of failure and learning from it, I realized I needed to go back into the past. So, I decided to go all out and remember the podcast in various ways, including listening to every single episode I had published and of course, writing an article. To remember the failures, what went wrong, and if miracles exist, something that went right.
Here’s how it went:
“Hello, my name is Nathan, and this is the Roots and Ropes Podcast. Today…”
Listening to the first episode was painful. I remembered the clunky intros, poor audio quality, and messy structure. But above it all, I was reminded of one of my first mistakes with the podcast; my ego.
‘How to find your passion’ ‘How to correctly follow your passion’ ‘Finding the reason you’re alive’
Those were the titles of my first few episodes.
Ryan Holiday said in Tim Ferriss’ acclaimed Tools of Titans, “When you are just starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1) You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are; 2) you have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3) most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.”
He’s 100% right. When you’re starting out, you’re inexperienced and to be blunt, you have a large ego. In my case, my ego had failed to realize that the questions I was trying to answer were timeless. They’re questions civilizations had struggled with for centuries, some never knowing the answers. Yet here I was at 14, no work experience in hand, claiming I had the solution.
It was embarrassing really, to think I could answer questions like these. It very quickly became clear to me as to why no one ever listened to the first few episodes. I think I had gotten a total of 5 downloads for the first few, of which most were just me listening on different devices.
But at the time, this had been very frustrating for me. I believed I was putting out the best content, communicating it in the best way possible, and even though I didn’t have the best audio quality, I expected a lot more than 5 downloads (again, my ego).
As I proceeded to listen to the next couple of episodes, which didn’t have as bold titles, I remembered my impatience. I was demanding results because I believed I deserved it. You could hear the subtle demands and impatient requests in my CTAs. It was all so evident, and it reminded me of my second mistake.
When you’re just starting out, there’s only one thing that matters: getting good. That’s it. It’s not how many downloads or claps you have, not the amount of followers or even sales. The only thing that matters, is getting good.
Depending on the industry, that can mean several things. In the writing world, its good writing. In the podcast world, its recording good episodes.
But I didn’t focus on that. As soon as I started out, I thought I was good. Maybe a couple of minor edits here and there, but overall, I thought I was pretty good.
So, when listeners didn’t immediately start coming in, the first thing I looked at wasn’t my content. It wasn’t even the second. Or the third. I’m not even sure if it was on the list.
Instead, the first thing I thought best to do, was to get on social media. Start promoting the podcast, create a brand, post content. All that fancy stuff.
The problem was social media was a completely new world to me. Exposing and immersing myself in this entirely new world, when I hadn’t even mastered my current world -the podcast,- was problematic, to say the least. I was trying to learn the ways of social media content and at the same time, create it. But that wasn’t it. The mediocre content I was creating on social media was then going to be used to promote another mediocre project of mine: the podcast.
That was an enormous work load to put on myself and as you can guess, it didn’t work out.
Whatever CTA’s I put in social media to listen to the latest episode were completely ignored. Whatever CTA’S I put in the podcast to follow me on social media were also, unsurprisingly, ignored. I was forced to grow organically on each platform, and that was tiring for me. I think the audience got tired as well, because from there the listener count went from 5 to 2. It decreased.
How do you decrease in listener count? Especially, when you’re already so low. You’d think that maybe some kind soul would share your podcast and you’d go up 1 listener, or even stay the same, but nope, it went down. I was at my lowest point in the podcast, and so I decided things had to be changed.
The thing is, I didn’t know what to change. So, I decided to just change everything. A rebranding (if I ever had one). Total revamp. I was going to change the topics I covered, the headlines, the visual aesthetics, all of it. I was going to create a master plan.
The first step was to know what went in a master plan. In other words, I had to learn the elements of successful podcasts and social media accounts and figure out how to reach that. So, I started researching, looking for advice, things I had missed from the beginning. Basic searches like, “how to grow a podcast” to more advanced searches like, “Podcast Meta Description” and “Optimized Audio on Audacity.”
Soon, I had over 500 tabs. There were windows and windows filled with tabs of research on what to do. It was endless, but I thought it was the best and only thing to do.
A month later of research, I had created what I thought to be a master plan. I had new understanding of my brand, my audience, my content, everything. It was all going to work.
But the master plan was actually my last mistake. As I listened to the latter episodes, I was able to realize why that specifically was the case: 1. I believed I could research my way to success 2. I tried to change everything instead of experimenting, and 3. I called it a ‘master plan’
- Researching my way to success
As the saying goes, you first do the push-up and then you learn how to do it. It’s not, research till perfect form and then do the push-up. Doing that is deluding yourself into thinking learning is the exact same thing as doing.
But I believed I could create a bullet-proof plan. So, off I went, researching everything I could find, and gathering a comprehensive list of things I needed to change. That led to the second reason the master plan failed: changing everything.
2. Changing everything
If you change everything, you have no idea what works and what doesn’t. If something succeeds, you may think one thing was the key to your success, when it was actually the other. Changing everything also runs the risk of nothing working. For example, I could have really strong SEO but if I change my target audience, the SEO may no longer be applicable to the new audience. Changing everything is an act of desperation (or boredom) and it’s guaranteed to fail.
Instead, it’s better to experiment. Open the ground to radical ideas and test them in safe and measurable ways. This allows you to get concrete data and see what works and what doesn’t. However, I didn’t do this either, consequently leading to the creation of a ‘master plan’
3. ‘Master Plan’
A master plan carries the subtext of something grand. Something big, and epic. The solution to all your problems. One swift and final move to finish it all.
In actuality, that doesn’t exist. Change is a much more gradual process. A journey of sorts, as you learn techniques and begin to experiment with them.
Putting the label of a ‘master plan’ takes that all way, instead promoting a glamorous solution that doesn’t really exist.
I discovered that quickly, as after the implementation of the master plan, nothing changed. The listener count was still a problem. I was still at 5 episodes, and I didn’t know how much more effort I could put in.
As I listened to the final episodes, I could see it. My voice was filled with boredom, the quality had dropped significantly (when I thought it couldn’t get any worse), and the social media content was coming out a lot slower. I was nearing the end.
I soon reached the final episode, with a wistful nostalgia in hand, and listened. The familiar intro finished, and I proceeded to talk about writing; one of the new topics I had decided on in my ‘master plan.’ Though it was presented poorly, the advice wasn’t half bad. I continued to pay attention, eventually reaching the outro:
“Thank you for listening, and make sure to subscribe.”
That was it. After that, I quit. The uphill battle to gain an audience was over. I had lost.
I sat still pondering, as the moment continued to settle in. There was a slight sadness after I realized there were no more episodes to listen to.
I remembered the shame over the podcast, especially the first few episodes. Those were excruciatingly painful. But over time, the clunky intros became a bit smoother. The arrogant choice of topics transformed into something more truthful. And my voice wasn’t as annoying. Things had surprisingly, gotten better.
Maybe it hadn’t been so bad after all. And maybe, just maybe, I might’ve learned something.