In The Spotlight: Shankar And Vishnu Of The Writer And Geek Show

When we started Podhead, one of our most important objectives was to shine on the spotlight on the creators through a series of interviews. We’ve aptly titled the series “In The Spotlight”, and we are psyched to kick off the series.

The first interview of the series is with Shankar and Vishnu, hosts of the Writer & Geek show – a science and tech podcast.

To give you a brief of these two geeks, Vishnu quit his job at an MNC to be part of a startup which did not really work out. Shankar got fired from his HR job which led to him pursuing music. But they did not consider those endeavours to be failures. Rather, they believe those experiences have helped them lay the foundation for what they are right now; as a person and as a professional. Vishnu took the managerial skills he acquired from the startup and applied it to his current job with Dell Technologies and Shankar took the writing skills he acquired through music to start his own career in the field of media.

1. What are you guys doing in life currently and what’s with the bizarre career arcs? 

Shankar: I am a full-time Writer (mostly scriptwriting). Also, trying to grow a moustache. I’d say, the bizarre career arc is because I was confused and not following my heart till 2015.

Vishnu: I am a Software Engineer working as a Program Manager. Career arc is a result of following my heart, which I try to do every day.

2. How and when did you guys discover podcasting?

Shankar: Vishnu introduced me to podcasting in 2015. He started a podcast (Utter failure :p) back then and wanted to have me as the guest in one of the episodes. That’s when I got to know such a thing exists.

Vishnu: First time I listened to a podcast called The Shop Talk Show which is on web development and stuff because I was into web development. I liked the audio way of listening and learning stuff. Then discovered a whole lot of new ones out there.

3. When did you guys start Writer and Geek and what was the idea behind the podcast? One thing I always wanted to ask podcasters is – how does it feel when you launch a show, publish your first episode, and see that only a few people have listened to your show?

Shankar: We started prepping for Writer & Geek since the beginning of 2017 and the first episode aired on June 1st, 2017. The idea behind the show was (and still is) to put out the geeky livingroom conversations we have.

To be honest, I expected Writer & Geek to sustain for not more than three months. So, the number of listeners were never in my mind. I am actually surprised Writer & Geek still exists.

Vishnu: We launched in June 2017. The idea behind the show was to extend the geeky conversations we had casually in the comfort of our armchairs to an extended audience. The plan is not to give an expert opinion, but to make our listeners excited about stuff like the toothbrush and delve into the how things work or what really happened kind of stuff.

Initially, it is just your friends, relative and yourself listening. But we had a realistic expectation, so slow growth wasn’t a surprise.

4. You guys have explored topics such as phantom time hypothesis, Sherlock Holmes, AI and Pizza among others. What’s behind this eclectic choice of topics?

Shankar: It has never been a conscious decision. It boils down to our interests. The idea has always been to choose a topic which one of us finds interesting and talk about it. And we have never tried to limit ourselves to any particular genre.

Vishnu: We were good in general knowledge since we were kids, so naturally, we are curious about a wide variety of stuff. Mostly history, science, tech, etc. Also helps that we have a wide coverage in choosing topics for episodes, which can come back to bite us at times too!

5. Writer and Geek, seems like a passion project but long how can the passion last because the show has to be monetized sometime?

Shankar: It depends on what your definition of success is. Monetisation has never been a measure of success for me as of now. Yes, it would be wonderful to make a career out of Writer & Geek. But right now, success for me is when the listeners reach out back to us and tell how we have been able to add some value to their lives.

Everything takes time. If you expect things to happen in a short span of time, you are screwed. As Sean McCabe said, the idea is to show up every day for at least two years and put in the hard work without expecting any results. Have short-term goals and make it a reality while gliding towards the ‘Big Mac’ goal.

Vishnu: It is a passion project and might stay the same way. If we could monetize, it would be icing on the cake. We are using our podcast as a way to better our skills in another business area which might make us money and help in creating a new career in the future. I sincerely believe that the moment you bring money into the equation early in, you lose motivation to hit record. We still consider ourselves to be in the early stages.

6. How would you guys sum up the Indian podcasting scene?

Shankar: Back in February, I thought we are alone in this. But a lot has changed. Leave the Indian scene, Bangalore itself has a podcasting community comprising of 10-12 podcasts/podcasters. Amazing individuals with a helping mentality. That’s what I love the most.

Vishnu: Nascent, but actively growing.

7. Given the explosion in the number of podcasts being created, what would your advice be to wannabe podcasters?

Shankar: Concentrate on the Three C’s. Consistency, Curation, and Content.

Vishnu: Hit record and publish and be patient, very very patient.

8. This is one question I intend to ask everybody. How would you describe a podcast to a layperson?

Shankar: A podcast is a radio minus the time constraint.

Vishnu: Radio that can be listened to anytime on the internet.

9. What are your favourite podcasts?

Shankar: The Ground Up Show by Matt D’Avella (hooked), Audiogyaan, Be The Experience by The Shan Man, The Musafir Stories (A regular fixture), The Passion People Podcast, The Right Room by Rupen Paul, Work-At-Home Heroes by Caitlin Pyle, and many more.

Vishnu: Stuff you should know, The Ground up show, Hanselminutes, Seanwes, Art of Manliness to name a few (I listen to a lot of them.) and of course from India, Musafir Stories, Seen and Unseen, Passion People, etc.

If you are naturally curious, then you’re gonna love the show. If you aren’t, then get curious and start listening to the show here.

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The Weekly Podcasting Roundup

There’s a lot said and written about podcasts, but reality, most often than not is stranger than fiction. In this manifesto – Tom Webster, SVP, Edison Research, talks about what it takes to hit 100 million weekly podcast listeners. He takes a data-driven approach to dispel a lot of misconceived but pernicious notions about podcasting. – Tom Webster

Some exciting news about Android Auto. Users reported seeing the Google Podcasts app on Android Auto. The app doesn’t seem to be fully functional but it looks like an official announcement is imminent. – GSM Arena

Broadcaster E.W. Scripps announced its results and reported that the combined revenues from Sticher and Midroll grew by 50 percent. Scripps betting big on podcasts and had acquired both Sticher and Midroll at couple of years ago. – [a]list

Interesting piece on how journalists are using podcasts. – LA Times

Abhinandan Sekhri from Newslaundry moderated a panel at Media Rumble 2018 titled ‘Will Audio kill the Video star?’ with Amit Doshi (IVM podcasts), Christopher Lydon (father of the podcast) and Geeta Pandey (BBC India). You can watch the full session here.

Building a successful podcast is incredibly hard. Takes years of toil and a whole lot of luck to build a self-sustaining show. But curiously, podcasters tend to ignore some rather crucial things which end up being detrimental to their success. Here’s my piece on the six greatest sins of podcasters.

Voices from India

Storiyoh – the social podcast app, made in India, is now live! Storiyoh is a new way to discover, listen, curate, and share your favourite shows. You can now create your own community around podcast discovery and consumption. This is the first such platform in India. The app is available both for Android and iOS platforms. Learn more about Storiyoh here.

New launches

BBC World service makes its debut in India with the popular Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin’s My Indian life. In this series, Kalki follows real stories of the life of young Indian adults growing up in the 21st century. The first episode covers the life of Ehsan Hilal, a young male belly dancer who grew up in a conservative Muslim family, his challenges and his fight against all odds to follow his calling.

India’s premier podcast network, IVM podcasts is set to launch five new shows this August. You can check them out here.

The team behind In the field, a podcast about development, progress and social change, is creating a new podcast. The show titled Sea Change – explores societal change in the digital age and how to make an impact on the world we live in. This show is being created in association with Societal platform and Vakku.

What are we listening to?

Business Wars explores the fascinating rivalries of some of the biggest companies on the planet. I binged on the episodes chronicling the Nike vs. Adidas rivalry and gotta say, it’s was hard to stop listening.

WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg was on Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. Matt spoke about the origins and the success of WordPress, the current state of news and more. Thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

Order 9066 – A brilliant serialized, first-person account of stories of the infamous incarceration of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

History of India podcast – This wonderful take on Indian history, starting from the 6th century by the ‘bumbling’ historian, Kit Patrick is a fun way of learning Indian history.

Armchair expert featuring John Favreau – lot of great insights on what it is to be the speech writer of former President Barrack Obama! The host Dax Sheperd has an in-depth conversation with John Favreau, host of “Pod Save America” about his life, left leaning stand, his big break writing speeches for President Obama and his latest podcast about the Democratic party – The Wilderness.

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The Six Greatest Sins Of Podcasting

Every time I read an article that says “Starting a podcast is easy”, a part of my soul dies. All you aspiring podcasters out there, podcasting is incredibly hard! If you think that you have a good idea and a sonorous voice, then think again, because you are not the only one out there. 

Starting a podcast and building it up is an arduous task. Calling it difficult would be an understatement. I’ve never built a podcast, but I’ve had the privilege of talking to them. Creating and building up a podcast is much like starting a company. You need to have the right product, know the market, your competition, and most importantly, your customers. You also need to be at the right place at the right time and also need to be lucky.

Working hard to build anything isn’t in itself a guarantee of success. A series of factors need to align for your labour of love to truly succeed.

When I was working on building Podhead, I had to visit hundreds of different websites to link to their respective sites and also listen to them. While I was doing this, I noticed a lot of things, both big and small, which are detrimental to the success of podcasters.

You voice, front and center

I’ve spent countless hours looking at the websites of hundreds of podcasts and I can count the number of good ones on one hand. Folks, your podcast is your product. If it is not front and center then you are missing out on hundreds of potential listeners. Don’t bury your episodes, put them from and center. This is the thing that matters the most. All the other pages and fancy things come next. Platforms like WordPress and Squarespace have made the process of building a good-looking website a breeze. You can build a minimal and functional site in a matter of a few hours.

Talk to me

Your job doesn’t end with you recording and publishing an episode. You will have to talk to your listeners to solicit feedback. Search for and engage potential listeners. Scroll through Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and where ever your audience is. Look for discussions relevant to your podcast and join the conversations. This is one of the best forms of advertisement you can get and for free.

One of the most powerful things you can do is to build a community of hardcore listeners of your podcast. It’s not easy and it takes time, but it’s worth the effort. There are a lot of simple things you can do to build a loyal community around your show. Newsletters are one of the best tools you probably aren’t leveraging. Create a newsletter to communicate with your listeners. Talk to them as human and not someone stringing words together. Offer them a sneak peek into your life as a podcaster, the creative process, and the frustrations.

The hit podcast “In the Dark”, successfully demonstrated how podcasters can leverage Facebook groups to engage loyal audiences as well as monetize. NPR has a Facebook group called, “Your Money and Your Life, which has over 45,000 members. A captive audience of this size is invaluable. 

It’s not just newsletters and groups, podcasters are leveraging WhatsApp, Telegram, and a whole host of other platforms, big and small, to build communities.

There’s a whole wide world outside iTunes

There is no doubt that iTunes is the mothership of all podcasts but there are other important platforms. I, for one, am very hopeful about the potential impact of Google Podcasts on the medium. Today, there are growing audiences in India, South Africa, Philippines among developing countries and countries such as the UK, Canada, and Australia among the developed countries. In India, South Africa, and Australia, Android commands a market share of over 80%. Android has a market share of 44% in the UK, 46% in Canada and Australia.

That’s a substantial audience. Make it easier for people to find your show on both the platforms. Add Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts buttons on your website and leave it at that. Don’t go overboard and clutter your page with 100 different buttons confusing potential first-time listeners.

Not just your show!

I was reading this post by Tom Webster of Edison Research. In the post, he wrote about the findings of a recent survey they did. Here are some really depressing numbers:

48% of people weren’t sure how to listen to a podcast.
37% don’t really understand what a podcast is.
65% don’t know where to start.
80% think that they don’t have a podcast app.

This was just in the US. Who knows how bad the numbers are in other markets. Your job as a podcaster doesn’t end with your show. You will have to be a cheerleader of podcasts, not just yours, and figure out ways to get people new to podcasts to listen to them. Think of yourself as a salesman of podcasts. You will have to sell the concept of podcasts, communicate why they should listen to a podcast, get them to install a podcatcher, and start listening. Not so easy right? Well, this is what you signed up for.

Respect the listener and his time!

This is the worst sin podcasters can commit. A couple of months ago, I discovered a podcast that seemed interesting. Due to various reasons, I am not going to disclose the name of the podcast. The show had marquee names as guests but the sound and production quality were terrible. It felt like an insult to the listener as well as the guests. The medium of podcasting has a lot of problems, but one thing we cannot afford is for good shows with potential fucking up. When a listener discovers and listens to your show, it’s your responsibility to deliver the best listening experience. The catalogue of shows in any given genre is ever-growing and if you snooze, you lose!

Good content first

Podcasters tend to focus on a lot of things which distract them from the main goal – make a good show. I bookmarked these tweets by Aaron Mahnke, creator of the hit show Lore because they just about sum up what a podcaster has to focus on.

Put yourself in the shoes of a listener and think for a second. Would you forgive these sins? Your entire world should revolve around making things easy for listeners. This singular focus will definitely yeild rich dividends.

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Weekly roundup of the top stories in podcasting

Hey folks, we finally went live with Podhead on Monday, July 23rd and the response so far has been heartening. Thank you, for all the amazing feedback and words of encouragement. Our missions of spreading awareness about podcasting is a daunting one, but we’re game.

With that being said, here’s the first edition of the weekly podcast roundup.

Podcast Movement 2018

This year’s edition of Podcast movement conference was held this week and there were exciting announcements and stories. Here’s a roundup:

  1. Allaccess had a running coverage of the movement and here are some snippets from their coverage and some interesting stats. According to Rob Walch of Libsyn, Apple is the number one source from which users access podcasts and Spotify is a distant second.
  2. Todd Cochrane of Blubrry urged users to focus on Android which he said represents 12% of the audience.
  3. Monday’s panel also has a discussion about forming a professional podcasting association. This would be a really good idea given the infancy of the podcasting medium. An organization solely dedicated towards the promotion of podcasts would do wonders in increasing listenership.
  4. Tom Webster, SVP of Edison presented the “Podcasting’s Next Frontier: 100 Million Listeners” report. The study threw up a couple of depressing numbers. 37% of listeners admitted to not knowing what a podcast while 48% of the respondents said they don’t know how to listen to a podcast. I haven’t seen the full report and don’t know the methodology used but, will keep my eyes peeled.
  5. All eyes were on Zack Reneau-Wedeen, Google’s product manager who told that the Google Podcasts app would be preloaded on Android phones. This would open up the app to billions of Android users.
  6. On a panel by James Cridland on audience acquisition, Dan Misener of Pacific Content said: “It’s still way too hard… there’s way too much friction”. He advised podcasters to look at things from a perspective of what it would be like for first time podcast listener.
  7. You can read the updates from the final day here.

In a chat on The NZ Tech Podcast, Rob Walch of Libysn says that they are seeing a 5:1 ratio in terms of Apple vs Android. Another statistic which still shocks me in spite of being reported a bazillion times is that Apple is responsible 79% for all the podcasts downloads if you consider all the other apps such as Castbox, Podcast Addict etc which scrape off data from the iTunes directory.

A lesson for podcasters here, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. With the entry of Google podcasts, your show can be exposed to thousands of new listeners across the world. Make it easier for people to find your show on Google podcasts. Start by displaying the Google Podcasts (not Google Play Music) badge on your site.

Rob also shared his view on the entry of Google Podcasts, Spotify being the number 2 after Apple, and more. Interestingly, he said that Libsyn is seeing a lot of new podcast listeners from India. Lots of other useful insights including the growing use of private podcasts, smart speakers, the ideal length of a podcast episode, and more.
– NZ Tech Podcast.

What makes a podcast great? Here’s what Jarl Mohn, CEO of NPR had to say. – Radioink

The Knight Center for Journalism is launching a free MOOC course on “How to launch and grow a hit podcast”. The course will be taught by Caitlin Thompson, podcast consultant and co-founder of Racquet magazine; Tobin Low, co-host and co-managing editor of the podcast Nancy; Rose Eveleth, creator and host of the Flash Forward podcast; Jacob Kramer-Duffield, a podcast analytics and audience consultant; and Jennifer Barish, manager of content acquisition at Stitcher Premium. – Knight Center

Anna Bager, EVP of Industry Initiatives for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) spoke to TechHQ about the changing perception of advertisers towards podcast advertising. – TechHQ

Nielsen Marketer’s Guide to Podcasting – 3Q18 by Nielsen. Has a lot of interesting data about the consumption patterns of podcast listeners. You can check out the full report here. We’ll do a post on the report soon.

Email newsletters are one of the most effective tools you have in your arsenal as a podcaster but many don’t leverage them properly. It is an incredibly effective medium to build enduring connections with your audience and solicit active feedback. You might already know Dave Pell, who runs the awesome Next Draft newsletter. He shares some awesome tips on building a successful newsletter in this blog post. – Dave Pell.

New podcast launches

Business Insider has launched a new podcast in association with Sticher called Household Name. The show features surprising stories about some of the biggest and the most well-known brands in the world.

CNBC International has launched a new show called Beyond The Valley. The shows aims to showcase tech stories outside the silicon valley.

Axios, the news publication started by Politico Co-founder Jim Vandehei, is getting into the podcast game. It launched a show titled Pro Rata which covers stories at the intersection of tech, business, and politics in 10 minutes.

Redbull launched a new podcast tilted Nightclubbing. The podcast tells the “Story of nightclubs that have transcended their four walls, through the voices of the owners, DJs, doormen and regulars who spent countless nights inside of them.”

IVM Podcasts has launched a new show called The Colaba Cartel. The series documents what it takes to build a successful restaurant. You can catch the first three episodes here.

Voices from India

The third edition of the Indian podcasters’ virtual meetup has been planned for August 5, 2018 at 5pm IST. Details are in the image attached.

This is on the back of a successful offline meet up of podcasters from Bangalore in July. Here’s a summary of the meetup.

Some great news from The Whickers Radio and Audio funding awards – The Indian motorcycling podcast – Biker Radio Rodcast has made it to the list of five finalists selected for RAFA 2018! Read more here.  

What are we listening to

Rukmini Callimachi of Caliphate on the Longform podcast.
Crowd violence in India – Seen and the Unseen.
Vitalik Buterin on Cryptoeconomics and Markets in Everything on Conversations Tyler Cowen.
John Carreyrou on Breaking Open the Theranos Scandal on Masters In Business with Barry Ritholtz.

Recommendations by Saif Omar, host of the Musafir Stories and I.

From next week, this update will also be published as a newsletter. If you would like us to cover something in the weekly update, please write to us at hello@podhead.co.

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Say hello to Podhead: podcast recommendations by humans

My name is Bhuvan and I am an addict. I’m addicted to podcasts. Up until a couple of years ago, podcasts were an unknown drug to me. When I got my first fix, I wasn’t really looking for it but rather happened upon it. A year later, I’ve given into my addiction and I’m hooked, I can’t get enough of them!

The first podcast I ever head was a six-part series called A Beginner’s Guide to Neoliberalism by the Weekly Economics Podcast. This later led me to discover one of my favourite podcasts – Freakonomics, and so began my descent down the rabbit hole.

Hundreds of subscriptions, and a couple of years later, it dawned on me that apart from getting a couple of friends to listen to these shows, I’ve done nothing to support the creators of these amazing podcasts. I realized I was a moocher!

I needed to know the lay of the land before I could do anything. I started reading as much as I could about podcasts. The more I read, the more I kept coming across a recurring set of issues. Lack of awareness, poor discoverability and questions about the quality of programming were chief among them.

But as I heard creators talk about podcasts, I also wondered if the lack of awareness about podcasts was the most pressing issue of all? Podcasting has never been in the limelight up until these past few years. I know this has been said and written a billion times, but the massive success of Serial gave the whole medium a big boost.

But the real trigger for me to do something was when I was listening to Todd Cochrane and Rob Greenlee, two early settlers of the podcasting frontier on their podcast “The New Media Show”.
The episode was titled “Time Machine” and Todd and Rob were contrasting the current state of the industry. Halfway through the show, Rob posed a rather interesting question: is the audience growth keeping pace with the explosion in programming? This question coupled with the overarching theme of the episode about challenging listeners to educate others about podcasts got me thinking.

I live in India and to describe the podcasting scene here as being in its infancy would be a massive overstatement. There are a few amazing podcasters. The folks at IVM Podcasts, Audiomatic, Newslaundry (paywall) and a few indie creators are amazing shows but the list gets thin fast. This is the case across countries such as Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea etc.

As I was thinking about what I could do to spread the word about podcasts, I weirdly, remembered a line from a post on the Listen notes blog. It read “Podcasting is really about freedom”.
It also reminded me of an evocative scene from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. Jack and Elizabeth are marooned on an island. They find a rum cache, get really drunk, and start talking and the Pearl and, Jack says to Elizabeth:

Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not hat a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom.

The freedom as a listener to listen to podcasts, whenever and wherever you want. The choice lies with the listeners, but the problem is the lack of awareness.

It became clear that the this was the biggest and the most pernicious problem of all. Podcasts need their own loud and vocal fanboys. People who can preach the gospel of podcast awesomeness far and wide. There are a few, but not nearly enough!

Presenting Podhead – our goal is to help people find good shows that people can fall in love with. What better way to spread the word about podcasts than helping people find good shows. A listener who is hooked to your show will be the greatest advertisement you’ll ever have. In other words, turn as many listeners as possible into podheads!

How?

Two things: a discovery platform to help users share and discover podcasts. A blog to educate audiences, both listeners, and wannabe podcasters about how awesome podcasts are.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

And so begins out humble little journey. Damn, that was a long ramble. If you stuck around till the end, thank you! Ideas, brickbats, suggestion or just a simple hello, write to me at hello@podhead.co.