How to take your podcast from Zero to One

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Greetings from San Francisco,

I hope you’re having a restful break and enjoying time with your loved ones. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit lonely myself. This is the first holiday season without my family.

I tell myself that I enjoy spending time in solitude for reflection and meditation. I would trade that in a heartbeat to be sitting on my mom’s couch, overeating her Indian food, having my sister make fun of me, and having a drink with my dad. I know many of you find yourself in a similar situation. If you’re feeling isolated at all, shoot me a call. Always here to hang out. As you can tell, I might need some of your energy as well.

A question for you before we jump in: what’s something new and interesting you’ve been thinking about recently? Please reply with your thoughts.

For me, it’s been how to build and develop online communities through a podcast. Below are some of those reflections. Let’s get to it.


Lessons from building a podcast

I’ve joked that my dream job would be to get paid to talk to people. It seems like we’re slowly heading into that direction with Across the Lines. Outside of work, this podcast has taken a lot of my time and energy. It’s become a ritual to close my work laptop at 6 or 7 and open my personal laptop to start working on the pod. It’s a ritual I look forward to most days.

Context

Inspired by the “build in public” movement, this is a guide that highlights the stories and lessons we’ve learned in the past 6 months in building this podcast. It starts with how my co-host Angie and I met, where the idea originated from, how to invite high profile guests to join a podcast pre-launch, and the tools we’re using.

Our vision for the podcast is to humanize the leaders of today to inspire the leaders of tomorrow. My goal for this piece to highlight our own creative process to inspire you to pursue your own.

Getting started

Angie and I met on my first day on LinkedIn’s BD team. Seeing a new person on the floor she reached out for coffee. I told her that I was a bit busy that day, but would love to find some time the week after in person. That first day, March 6th,  on the new floor, ended up being the last day we were in the office. 

We never made that coffee chat happen in person but became quite close over bi-monthly calls during Covid. In one of these calls, she asked if I wanted to co-host a podcast together. I have always loved speaking to people, hearing their stories, learning about their upbringing, and finding a shared sense of humanity despite our backgrounds. I was keen.

I had also been admiring Angie from afar. She had joined a competitive entry-level program at LinkedIn the same year I did. She already had her masters from Penn in Behavioural Economics. She had just come back from a stint in Singapore and was on the corp dev team at LinkedIn; an analytical and rigorous function of the company whose goal is to guide LinkedIn through M&A opportunities. Regardless of the outcome of the project, I thought working closely with Angie would teach me a lot. I have not been mistaken.

Key takeaways

  • You can develop strong personal relationships w/o significant IRL connections

  • Work with people you admire

  • Work with people who share similar values

Why are we talking about Asian American identity?

Great, we were going to work on a podcast together. What would we talk about? Again, Angie’s idea!

“Why don't we speak to Pan Asian American leaders about their personal lives, professional lives, and the confluence of the two?”

I asked why that was important to her.

“As I’ve gotten further into my career I’m starting to become aware of the nuances of being an Asian American in the workforce. I’m starting to ask myself questions that have been hard to answer. How do I express my voice in a room full of predominantly white men? How has the model minority myth impacted me and how people perceive me? Why are there so few leaders who look like me in our companies?”

These are questions she had herself and we both knew others did as well. Why not channel those questions in the form of a podcast, she asked. I resonated with this deeply, yet became inspired for slightly different reasons.

For me, the summer of 2020 was the first time in earnest I thought about my race.

The racial tensions from this summer touched all of us deeply. It made me reflect on my own experience as a person of colour. I’ve said to friends that when I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror, and I’m surprised that I have a tan. “I feel like a white guy in a brown guy’s body”, I would say jokingly.

I began to take a step back and become curious as to why I would even say that. Why do I go by Jay, instead of my full name Jaideep? Why can I not speak my own language of Hindi? How do I think about supporting my parents financially, while still living the American individualistic dream?

I realized these questions are not specific to my own experience but are relevant to the broader Pan Asian community. I’ve been brought up with Asian values at home but have been influenced by the Western societies I grew up in. How has that confluence manifested? There’s also so much nuance within the Asian experience, and I want to know what those are. I want to see what those similarities are. And how those same similarities connect us to the broader world.

Key takeaways

  • Reflect on your past sources of insecurity

  • Tune into the pain and suffering of diverse communities

  • Solve your own problems

Why should we highlight Asian American voices in society when there are other underrepresented communities we could focus on? 

I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot. Should we not spend our time highlighting other underrepresented communities, especially for the African American population in the US? Aren’t Asian Americans (and Canadians) pretty well off anyways? Why do we have to speak about this issue?

I believe this perspective is short-sighted. I was inspired by the racial tensions this summer to finally think of race, culture, and identity in my own life. This is a concept not many Asians think through. Generally, we’re taught growing up to sit down, fit in, and work hard. But rarely will we openly discuss our identity as Asians, or our identities as Americans/Canadians, and definitely not the confluence of the two. Many of our immigrant parents were too busy focused on putting food on the table and working odd jobs to even think through these issues.

By refusing to talk about these challenges we’re further feeding into the model minority myth. Our generation is changing that. And for the first time, the Pan Asain American/Canadian community is starting to reflect more on their own identity. My sincere hope is that through elevating the consciousness of our identity, we can look outwards, and recognize how others have it as well. To look at the other underrepresented communities and share empathy with them. To support them and to find our shared humanity. Our goal for the podcast is to do just this.

Key takeaways

  • Be critical on your own motivations

  • Think through any negative externalities that can arise from your work

Building an MVP

For the first time in years, I was able to think through starting this podcast through the lens of starting a start-up. Even before arriving in SF, I’ve been a student of entrepreneurship. I love to nerd out on startup content, I helped to start an entrepreneurship club at UBC, took courses in venture capital, and would spend quiet Friday nights watching Youtube videos from Silicon Valley’s best founders. Finally was I able to think through ways to express those skills through this side project?

The first thing you learn about is a minimum viable product. This means to put something out in the world to see if people like it, quickly. Angie and I agreed that within 2 weeks we would reach out to a potential guest, record the podcast, distribute it on Spotify/Apple, and ask friends to listen to it. That was a pretty quick turnaround but we started getting in the groove. Our early supporters got us off the ground.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t over-analyze things when you’re starting off

  • Put something out there, see how it resonates, and begin to adapt

Guest outreach

In our first season, we have VPs at Facebook, Slack, LinkedIn, and Coinbase. We’ve brought on partners at VC firms, and Founders at fast-growing startups. We’ve done this without a listener base. How did we do it?

Relationships. Our “beta” guests were mentors, managers, and colleagues. Neeti, Jane, Kathy, Rohan, and Billy, THANK YOU. You can find their episodes here. For the others, we relied on warm intros and cold outreaches. Here is a warm intro request to one the VPs at LinkedIn who knew one of the executives at Slack we were hoping to have on the pod.


Hi [name],

Hope your week is off to a good start!

As you may already know, Jay and I have been working on a passion project over the past few months – Across the Lines, a podcast that highlights the stories of Pan Asian American leaders and explores the intersection of their personal and professional journeys. Our vision is to inspire and empower the next generation of Pan Asian American leaders through having candid conversations about identity, work, and the confluence of the two.

We’re looking to kick off our inaugural season with an impactful slate of guests and would love to feature [guest name] on the show. If I remember correctly, you worked closely with [guest name] during the early days of LinkedIn.

Would you be open to putting us in touch with him? If so, I’ll share a quick blurb you can forward along to [guest name]. For more colour, here are sample episodes we’ve recorded with Rohan and Kathy.

Really appreciate your help and support here!

Angie


This outreach led to an introduction within an hour. The person who introduced us knew both Angie and me for years and we’ve developed a great rapport with them. We also have brought on other guests by finding folks email aliases and sending them a cold email.

Of course, not everyone will agree to an introduction request. Of course, not everyone will answer a cold email. You should still try it. These messages must be of high quality. Be thoughtful in your outreach, but also try to focus on quantity. I have a few other templates I can share here if anyone is curious.

Key takeaways

  • Relationships matter. People will not make introductions to people in their network unless they trust you won’t drop the ball with them

  • When reaching out to potential guests, prospects, or candidates people over-index on quantity and not quality, or vice versa. Both are required.

Preparation

Now someone has set up a time with you. Now what? Begin your prep. In our prep, we put together interesting questions to ask our guests with the lense of their Asian American identity. This information can be found on their LinkedIn profile, blog, or YouTube videos. This is where we found that our first guest Neeti did classical Indian dance growing up. This was the first question we asked her about on the podcast. It broke the ice nicely and left all of us feeling calmer.

Next is holding the actual preparation call. For all of our guests, Angie and I hold a prep call prior to our podcast recording. Beforehand we send guests a prep doc that highlights what we’re doing and some questions we’d like to ask them. Here is an example of our prep doc with the VP of Product at Facebook Deb Liu. We send this document 24 hours advanced and leverage it when we’re speaking to our guests before we start recording.

Key takeaways

  • Preparation leaves everyone at ease and more comfortable when recording

  • Preparation makes you seem professional (even though we don’t know what we’re doing yet)

Recording, editing and distributing

Recording, editing, and distributing podcasts are becoming easier and easier. Back in college my friend Will and I started the process of creating our own podcast and boy were the barriers to entry high. We had to get certified by our radio station to get access to all of the equipment. Editing took forever. And we never ended up publishing the podcast.

Lowering the barriers to entry makes it easier for creators to create. If you have a unique perspective to share, which everyone does, then start a podcast. Write a newsletter maybe. Don’t worry about spamming people. If you suck at podcasting or writing people won’t follow you anyways. Do it for yourself. By using these tools you also better understand the industry and the major players. Entering into writing this newsletter and starting a podcast has allowed me to better understand the “creator economy”.

A brief explanation of the tools for creation. We record all of our conversations on Zoom, download it to our computer, and then edit it in Descript. We’ll also take the transcription, find some cool quotes, and share it through Substack. We also use Yeti mics for recording and distribute the podcast through Anchor.

Key takeaways

  • Do your research and pull together a patchwork of tools that all work together to suit the unique needs of your content

  • As the tools become easier to use, use them

  • Once created, emphasis should be put on the quality of content + distribution

Launch

We’ll be launching in the middle of January. We have an impressive and somewhat surprising guest list that includes executives at the biggest tech companies and partners at blue-chip venture firms in our inaugural season.

We’re excited to be featuring Jen at LinkedIn, Robby at Slack, Samir at Esusu, Deb at FB, Priya at Mayfield Ventures and others as part of our first season. Interested to know when the first episode comes out? You can subscribe to our newsletter here. You’ll get notified of any new episodes as they come out.

Conclusion

This has been a fun journey thus far. I haven’t felt this passionate about a side project since I was in college. I’m excited to build this community with you together. If you have any other questions on this process or have any advice for us, please let me know.

Happy New Years friends :)