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Everyone has a story, but few people take the time to tell it. My guest today started a podcast to tell his story, despite having little experience with podcasting. As a result, he’s growing an audience, making new friends, and learning a lot along the way.
Brian Sanders is a project manager and app designer who formed a startup to build a new podcast app and platform called Nexcast. He’s joining me today to share what he’s learned in his startup and podcasting journey so far, and how podcasting is helping him learn more about his target audience and his product.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- People will reach out to you if you take the time to share your story.
- People relate to struggles. Don’t be afraid to share yours.
- It’s important to go make things happen—don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
- If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.
- Podcasting, videos, and blogging all come back to opening up, sharing your experiences, and telling your story—that’s how you build community.
- You have to show up every day for two years before you can expect to see any results.
- You don’t always have to have the best equipment—use what you have and start telling your story today.
- Aaron: Joining us today is Brian Sanders from Nexcast.”>02:52 Aaron: Joining us today is Brian Sanders from Nexcast. Brian, you’re trying to build a podcast app and maybe a platform. What’s your backstory?
- 03:11 Brian: I grew up in Hawaii and I got into UCLA for mechanical engineering, so I came to LA and I’ve been here ever since. I started in the engineering world where I actually got to design some rides for Universal Studios and Disneyland. So I was doing engineering, but I didn’t like it that much. The company I was working for went out of business during the recession and I went to another similar company.
- 04:08 That’s actually when I found podcasts, when I was sitting at a computer working on 3D models all day. It was kind of boring, so I was listening to podcasts eight hours a day. I would be laughing in my cubical and none of my coworkers even knew what podcasts were. I realized I wanted to be more entrepreneurial—I liked to design and be creative—so I started doing that on the side.
- 04:43 I started doing design for other people and getting paid for it. I joined up with a developer and we started building whole products for people in LA, New York, and Chicago for a couple of years. It took a while to figure it out because I was learning on my own, but eventually I got a job. One of my clients hired me on and we started working at a tech company in Santa Monica where I got to learn a lot more about the processes of building technology and managing an engineering team.
- 05:38 I still had projects on the side. I had an app that was like Instagram for writing, where you could post a photo with stories and you add chapters. People could comment and follow you. I decided to sell it to a private company, quit my job, and started working on a podcast app idea that had been in the back of my mind for awhile.
Overlapping & Taking Your Side Project Full Time
- Aaron: In the seanwes Community”>06:15 Aaron: In the seanwes Community, there are a lot of people who want to quit their day jobs and start freelancing. It sounds like you worked your day job for a few years and saved up a ton of money and stripped back your expenses so that when you quit, you could support yourself doing your own thing.
- 06:55 Brian: Exactly. The biggest thing is to start pretending you’re not making a lot of money (even if you’re working a good job), and save as much money as you can.
- 07:09 Aaron: That’s very long-term focused. I think a lot of people struggle with that.
- 07:13 Brian: It takes a lot of discipline. I pretended like I was making minimum wage, but I was really happy. I had a couple of roommates from Hawaii that I grew up with and we still had a great time. You can get a lot out of life even if you aren’t spending much money.
- 07:37 Aaron: If you’re trying to go freelance or do anything that doesn’t guarantee you a steady paycheck, it’s important to practice for that while you’re working a day job. I know that’s not related to podcasting, but it’s important. Living cheaply is why I’m able to do what I do—podcast editing and helping people make podcasts. I learned in my twenties to save money and to really think about what was important for me to spend money on.
- 08:16 There are a lot of things that you can spend money on, but sometimes it’s better to not spend money so that later you can pursue your dreams. For example, you quit your job and you had this idea to work on a podcast app, maybe even a platform. Was that your plan when you quit your job, or was that a more recent development?
- 08:40 Brian: I didn’t pursue it fully until I put that platform bigger picture together. I wondered if we could listen to podcasts in a more interactive way or have more features. Why isn’t anyone building a better podcast app? The problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to make it a business and it seems like not many other people have either. The podcast industry is weird, but it’s growing. It’s hard to put together the business model. The day I figured out the business model, I started focusing on it for real and I put everything else to the side.
Your Life is a Story – Document It
- 09:24 Aaron: When did you start your own podcast to tell the story of what you’re doing?
- 09:31 Brian: It started about five months after I got the idea for the app. Now that it’s happening, it’s like, “Of course we should be doing a podcast. We have to tell our story and get people involved.”
- 09:59 Aaron: There are so many people who have stories, but they don’t document or share them. If you’re not writing, publishing blog posts, or even journaling, you’re going to regret that in the future. Brian, you’re going through a period in your life where you’re trying to start a company and you’re documenting the process so anyone who’s interested can hear it. Here’s a clip from Brian’s first podcast episode where he’s talking with his business partner, Troy, about starting the Building Nexcast podcast.
- 12:43 Aaron: The narrative style of podcasting you’re doing is really hard, but you made it sound good, and you’re seven episodes in so far. Do you have a background in working with audio?
- 13:20 Brian: No, but in high school I worked a little bit with video. That really helped. I haven’t done anything with video since then, but I always think I can teach myself anything, and anyone can learn. It’s easy these days with all the tools and resources online. You just have to start.
Getting a Team Together
- 14:52 Aaron: You’re trying to build a team to help you create this podcast app. How’s that going so far? I know you’ve been struggling to find a new CTO.
- 15:15 Brian: We had an interesting process of getting a team together. As a non-developer, it’s always really hard to get developers on your team. It’s the #1 goal of your life. You don’t want to hire people from other countries because that never really works out well, and great developers always have jobs and are very expensive. Sometimes it seems like there are no options.
- 15:47 Aaron: Do you have funding or enough money to pay a full-time developer’s salary?
- 15:57 Brian: Well, Troy has a good job, so he’s busy all day and he has some money, but we’re not paying anyone. We have to find people who are in it for equity. Our next episode is about this crazy battle with some teens in the Philipines that have my Twitter handle (we’ve been in this crazy journey for nine months trying to get it back from them). After that, there’s going to be an episode about getting our new CTO.
- 16:50 Aaron: I usually want to be paid for work I do, but at the same time, when I started editing podcasts, I was working for free. I started a podcast with some people I knew online and they needed someone to edit the show, and because I was interested in becoming a podcaster and podcast editor, I was willing to do the editing without getting paid. I’m glad you found someone though, because that can be really hard. Did he listen to your podcast?
- 17:45 Brian: He didn’t initially, but the fact that we had a podcast helped. I could point him to it so he could see we were legit. But other people who listen have been getting in touch. There’s another developer who wants to join who happens to be in LA who found us by listening. That guy just wants to be part of the journey. It’s huge, having a podcast has been great.
Share Your Mistakes
- 18:21 Aaron: It’s one thing to be a stranger randomly emailing people on the internet saying, “Hey, help me with my project.” It’s a whole different thing if you open up and you share your journey, what you’re struggling with, who you are, and where you’re planning to go—sharing your story rallies people around you. This is not just for startups or businesses. You will make connections and people will find you. You’ll build a community.
People will reach out to you if you take the time to share your story.
- 19:16 Brian: Looking back, I can’t imagine not doing a podcast. There were different routes to go down and it was important to us to share the shortcomings and the mistakes. We didn’t want to be startup bros saying, “We’re killing it! This is going awesome! Everything we’re doing is cool!” I edited the first episode and people don’t realize I left all the bad parts of the pitch. I made it sound worse than it probably was.
- 20:00 Aaron: So you went to pitch an investor. You recorded the conversation and included it in the first episode of your podcast. You left the rough parts in because people relate to struggles—winning all the time isn’t interesting to most people. The first episode really grabbed me and I’m pretty picky about podcasts. I’m choosy about what I listen to and I really enjoyed your show.
- 21:08 Brian: I’ve only had one bad podcasting experience. All the other podcasters I’ve talked to have been amazing. This one guy thought I was the worst sales guy ever because he listened to that first episode and he heard me stumbling my way through that pitch. When I was interviewed on show, he said, “So, you’re the worst salesman ever. What do you do? You don’t build the technology and you couldn’t even get through a simple sales pitch.” I guess he didn’t realize that I edited that episode and chose to put that stuff in.
- 21:56 Aaron: Did you find it hard to put out those imperfections and mistakes?
- 22:01 Brian: Yeah, I regret it sometimes. I worry that it makes us look like idiots. There could be VC’s listening and they might be discounting us now. It might make a better story, but I might be losing my chances at investment. Sometimes I wonder if I can pull the episode, re-edit it, and put it back.
- Aaron: You like to make things happen; you like to go out and pursue your dreams. You told me on the phone the other day that you’re trying to get on Planet of the Apps.”>22:50 Aaron: You like to make things happen; you like to go out and pursue your dreams. You told me on the phone the other day that you’re trying to get on Planet of the Apps. Can you explain why and give a brief overview of what that is?
- 23:10 Brian: Apple hasn’t released all the details yet, but they’re producing a show with some big names like Will.i.am, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gary Vaynerchuck. They haven’t told us the exact format of the show, but it sounds a little bit like Shark Tank, or a reality show about app developers. The developers who are accepted to the show get access to mentoring, funding, and marketing and promotions.
- 23:59 Aaron: It sounds like a great opportunity for you. So you drove across town to audition?
- 24:09 Brian: Yeah, there was an event. Will.i.am was there and he talked about what he wanted to see. There were a bunch of casting agents there. There was this one casting area that no one was paying attention to. Everyone was wanting to talk to Will.i.am or nervously milling around, and I told my partner we needed to just charge these casting guys. We needed to sound like we had something really cool, and eventually we did that.
- 24:46 We found the lead casting agent and got him to sit down with us. We said, “We’re building something cool. Podcasts are awesome.” He didn’t listen to podcasts, so we had to make sure he knew how big podcasts are. We told him, “They change peoples’ lives, and we’re going up against Apple, who has their own podcast app already. This is good tv! We’re taking on Apple and we’re already doing a podcast about us building this app.”
- 25:20 He said, “I’m going to skip you ahead of the casting process. Make me a 10-minute video.” So we made the video and they emailed us the next day and wanted headshots. They wanted to see the app, but I had to tell them it wasn’t ready yet. We’re hoping to hear back from them soon.
- 26:09 Aaron: The takeaway here is that you could have just said, “Our app isn’t ready yet. We’re probably not going to win this,” and you could have stayed home, but you drove across town and you showed up. You tried to talk to people and make stuff happen. I just wanted to highlight that.
It’s important to go make things happen.
Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
- 26:42 Brian: There was as a specific moment where we were nervous and it could have gone either way. We had a choice; either just turn in our 1-minute audition video like everyone else and hope we’d get noticed, or go talk to the casting guy and try to make something happen. I’m happy we chose the latter.
- 27:04 Aaron: It’s scary, but if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.
What’s Next for Nexcast?
- 27:26 Aaron: What do you see in the future for yourself and your startup?
- 27:33 Brian: We had a few hiccups, but now we’re finally moving and things are back on track. Our overarching goal is to make podcasting better for everyone. We’re working on an app that brings the content right into the app. For example, you’ve got show notes and you send people to your site, but not everyone is going to do that, so we want to put that stuff right in the app.
- 28:57 It will show the visual content, photos of guests, promotions, links to your products, etc. It’s all right in the app. We’re also working on discussions and comment threads.
- 29:06 There are different comment areas on the internet that aren’t so great, but podcasts audiences are passionate and enthusiastic. It seems to me like the best place to have discussions.
- 29:37 Aaron: We do something similar with the seanwes Community where we have an amazing custom chat application where we can discuss topics. What you’re doing almost sounds like SoundCloud where you can drop comments into timestamps, but that’s not really discussion, that’s more like commenting.
- 30:12 Having the ability to have a discussion about a podcast episode and go back and forth with other people inside the app would be really interesting. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, though.
- 30:48 Brian: It’s just the beginning, but I think we’re positioned in a good way. All of my team members have their own jobs, which could be seen as a down side, like they’re not focused or it’s not a career, but that’s what’s going to help us last a long time without investment. We’re going to see what happens and get advice from the community we’re in to see what features they want. It could take years, but I’m ready for that.
You have to show up every day for two years before you can expect to see any results.
- 31:28 Aaron: It make take even longer than that, but you’re learning in the process. You’ll make some mistakes but you’ll document them for others to learn from, which is great.
The Message is More Important Than the Medium
- 31:52 Alex Castro asked: “Should I document the development of my brand, maybe on YouTube or a blog instead of podcasting? Sharing the journey as I go seems super scary.”
- 32:08 Brian: It is scary. YouTube might fit better if you’re doing a lot of visual things or if you’re already good at doing video. Why not? It will be scary, but you’ll realize that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had 99.9% positive feedback, except for one weird guy on a podcast. He was just a hater who hasn’t really built anything of his own.
- 32:58 Aaron: Alex is a phenomenal visual designer, and I think sharing your story in a video format or blogging with pictures is fine. The lines between blogging, podcasting, and video are all starting to blur for me. I’m starting to think of these just as sharing a message or telling a story, instead of separate things. They are separate things, but if you start off by writing a blog post, you’ve got words that can be recorded and that’s a podcast. Or you could record a video of yourself saying those words. There’s different formatting and editing you can do, but it’s really all the same thing.
Podcasting, videos, and blogging all come back to opening up, sharing your experiences, and telling your story.
That’s how you build community.
- 34:09 That’s how you attract like-minded people and make friends. Opportunities will come from it. Even if you don’t think you have an interesting story yet, start telling it. You’ll find your story if you dig.
- 34:26 Brian: Just start doing it. It took us a few months to put everything together before we even went live with it. You figure it out as you go and you write ahead. No one has ever regretted putting their story out there.
- 34:54 Aaron: I have to ask: what do you use to record and edit?
- . I like Zencastr”>Auphonic. I like Zencastr for recording; it records high quality audio and saves it to Dropbox for you. You don’t always have to have the best equipment—use what you can and make it happen.
- 35:54 Aaron: I’ve heard clips of you interviewing people out in the field. Do you just use your iPhone when you’re walking around doing interviews?
- 36:04 Brian: Most of that was with my phone. I do have an Audio Technica AT2020 USB that plugs into my computer and take that if I know I’m going to be recording with someone.
- 36:22 Aaron: The NTG3 shotgun mic you have is fairly expensive, but the rest of your gear is pretty lower-end, normal stuff. It’s not super expensive and you’re still doing a great show with it. Most audio problems on podcasts are human error instead of equipment deficiency anyway. It’s not using a pop filter, or setting the input level gains wrong, or messing up the editing.
You don’t need the best equipment. Use what you have and start telling your story today.