How To Launch a South African Podcast
Matt Brown should have given up on podcasting within two weeks. He had no listeners and podcasting as a medium had no data to draw from. Instead, he trusted his gut and followed his passion, and today celebrates 100 episodes with some of South Africa's greatest entrepreneurs.
The first rule of scaling your business, idea or concept is to do things that don’t scale. Matt Brown, founder of Digital Kungfu and host of The Matt Brown Show, a local podcast focused on bringing great ideas and entrepreneurs together to drive personal and business growth, intuitively built his business on this very principle.
“I should have given up after two weeks,” says Matt. “My downloads were almost non-existent. But it wasn’t about the downloads. If I could give just one person the information they needed to push through and not give up on their business journey, I was achieving my why.”
Although at the time podcasting was a relatively new medium, Matt understood their ability to generate huge amounts of trust and attention in a very short space of time. Podcasts sit comfortably at the nexus of authenticity, storytelling and conversation.
Two years later and Matt consistently receives feedback telling him how much his show has impacted entrepreneurs and their ability to see through their challenges and hold onto their dreams.
“It’s incredibly motivating to know you’re creating something of real value and that you’re making a difference,” he says.
“It’s what’s kept me going when things have gotten tough as well.” Over and above the motivational factor, there’s a solid business case for creating loyal fans as well. Kevin Hale, a partner at Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful incubators, has a simple philosophy: The best way to get to $1 billion is to focus on the values that help you get your first dollar to acquire your first user.
He believes that if you get that right, everything else will take care of itself. Entrepreneur and lead developer of Gmail, Paul Buchheit, agrees. According to the advice he most often shares with start-ups, it’s always better to seek deep appeal and to create something that a few people love, even if most people don’t get it right away.
The lesson is simple: Large-scale, long-term success depends on creating a product or service that truly surprises and delights your customers. But you can’t achieve that if you’re too focused on the big picture. If you’re too worried about building a R1 billion business, you’re not taking the time and effort to think about the individual customer experience.
It's All About The Why
“It’s funny, but failing in six different businesses actually taught me this lesson,” says Matt. “Success often comes after the lessons that failure brings.”
So how do you find your big idea? According to Matt, you fail — a lot. “If you don’t know what you really want to do, it’s either because you haven’t had real success — and realised you’re still unfulfilled — or you haven’t failed. Without failure, there are no lessons to push you forward.”
The problem is that you can’t fail if you don’t take risks. You need to start. And then figure out what’s working and what’s not working. “Are you in love with the vision? Are you making money? If you have a vision it’s about making it work, and where there’s passion, there’s a will and a way. There will always be people wanting to buy innovative products or prepared to change for the right reasons — you just need to offer them the right solution.”
If there’s one thing Matt has learnt along a journey spanning one hundred episodes with some of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs, it’s the value of passion and hunger. “It’s what you do every day in the trenches that culminates in something of value. You need to be hungry for experiences and lessons and what you can take from them,” he says.
“I’ve asked over 9 000 questions over the past two years, and this is the only consistent question I ask: Why do you do what you do? What’s in it for you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
“Even though I’ve spoken to so many individuals with different stories, experiences and backgrounds, their answer is consistent, and it’s the golden thread that binds them together.
“They always speak about contribution. Not about the money, but the contribution they’re making to the human race or beyond themselves.”
In other words, they have a ‘why’ that they pursue relentlessly. “Unlike in my other businesses, what I was trying to do with the podcasts was very clear and simple to me: I wanted to work towards something that can make a difference to one person, and start there. That’s the purpose of life; to make a difference to humanity.
“When you look back and you ask who you became, will you be happy with the answer? Will you know you followed your purpose, or even had one?
“You need to have an idea of who you want to be, and then paint a vision around what that looks like. Start with the vision, and then enjoy the beauty of becoming, because that’s what life’s about — failing, learning, succeeding and growing as a person — and in the process of doing that, contributing to someone else as well.”
Pivoting The Big Idea
Matt Brown launched Digital Kungfu in 2016. It was Matt’s ninth foray into the entrepreneurial space. Six businesses had failed, and two he had built and sold. He was heading up innovation at a major advertising agency, driving the digital products division of the group and thinking about what his next entrepreneurial play would look like, when he started realising how completely out of reach everything he did was for SMEs.
“I started thinking, what if we gave big agency thinking to SMEs? They can’t afford big agency fees, but if they had access to the knowledge, it could really drive SME growth.”
Envisioned as a digital media agency for SMEs, the podcast was a way for Matt to create content that would support the launch of the business.
“I wanted a way to distribute my ideas, give SMEs access to experts and build the brand through a medium that was largely untouched in South Africa, which is why I chose podcasting.
“It’s on-demand content that really suits busy entrepreneurial lifestyles, and it was still a blue ocean, with very few players cluttering the market.”
There were a few things Matt hadn’t thought through. For one, he’s an introvert, and although he liked the medium and wanted to create content with industry experts, he didn’t want to conduct face to face interviews.
“My first interview was with Arthur Goldstuck on tech trends. It was a skype interview, and he was typing messages to other people while we chatted.
“It was full of errors. I sent him the questions ahead of time, and without face-to-face rapport it was hard to take me seriously.”
In fact, Matt had already interviewed the likes of Vinny Lingham, Allon Raiz and Rich Mulholland before he even used a mic. But, practice makes perfect — as an interviewer, in the way he shapes narratives, and most importantly he began to enjoy the process of face-to-face interviews.
If you put in the time and effort, you will increase your skills and comfort levels, you just need to stay the course. That focus has been a huge influencing factor on the growth of the now rebranded Matt Brown Show.
“The people I interviewed enjoyed the concept. My interview style is really different, and we often have a lot of fun. They recommended me to other people, and slowly my brand started growing, in terms of listenership, my local profile and the calibre of people I’ve had on the show.”
Slowly and organically, Digital Kungfu pivoted into the podcast space. It became the product, and seeded the way for a media company, which is what the business has grown into, hosting blockchain/crytpo events that are streamed live and then syndicated on podcast networks around the world.
This formula is clearly working with one of Matt's events trending in the number one hashtag position on Twitter — the first podcast to achieve this feat in the history of South African media.
“If I hadn’t started something I believed in and really enjoyed, it wouldn’t have grown into what it is today. If your foundation is right, it will grow into something that other people care about and want to support.”
The Matt Brown Show
Matt thought he was building a digital consultancy. What he was really building was a media company, and almost two years into his journey, he realised he needed to rebrand the business and the show to reflect that.
“The vortex of what I was doing was entrepreneurship; digital was an enabler but not the core. I’m building a brand that gives you information that you need at the right time. How I do that might change. It started out as podcasts, and this remains a viable medium.
“According to research undertaken by Digital Kungfu, the addressable market for podcasting alone is 16 million people. When I do a keynote address and ask how many people listen to podcasts, 80% of the room put up their hands. We know that 50% of all growth in podcasting happened in the last 12 months. There’s a huge competitive advantage to being a first mover in this space. But it’s also not where the money is right now.
“For over a year people were asking me why we didn’t do video. I answered ‘why play in such a competitive space when I’m in such an untapped space?’, but the truth was that I wasn’t ready. I recently hosted the biggest live event on blockchain in the country — 600 people in a room, and we released the live video and podcast post the event. I’ve learnt that in order to create a sizeable impact, entrepreneurs need to behave like a media company and tap into as many channels as possible.”
The decision to rebrand the show with his own name was also deeply personal for Matt. “This was a big risk for me. Now whatever happens, good or bad, my name is linked to it. There’s no escaping your own name, but it also adds personality and authenticity to the brand and the media we create, which is important.
“Ultimately, we want to give our users a narrative that supports their business and personal development. Narratives are personal by nature, and so the brand needs to be personal too. If you want to make something truly immortal, it must be based on your name, and you need to make your name worth something.”
Business is about personal growth.
I often ask this question: Would you agree with the statement that your only barrier to achieving what you want is your own limitations? The answer is always yes.
Learn to shift your perspectives. I spent a lot of time saying ‘I don’t play there’ because I wasn’t ready to go into video. Instead, I needed to ask ‘what would it look like if I did play in this space? That’s how you evolve and grow.
Change your story and change your life. If you tell yourself something isn’t working, that’s the story that becomes fact. You need some sense, and to pivot if necessary, but don’t give up.
Use triangulation to find your truth. I call three people and ask them what they think about an idea. It allows you to pull yourself out of your own head, and evaluate different perspectives. It’s also a good way to stop obsessing over negatives. When a service provider let me down at a big event, it was all I could focus on. Triangulation gave me a different perspective, particularly when someone I respect told me that the people in his circles — his peers — really believe in what I’m doing.
Tell a story, and people will listen and learn. It doesn’t matter what information you’re sharing, people respond to narratives. If you’re able to craft a message that people understand and care about, you will tap into a loyal fanbase, and really help your customers at the same time.
Find your competitive advantage. If you outwork everyone around you, and really care about what you’re doing and what your customers need, you will achieve success.Podcasting is seriously hard work. It’s easy to produce content, it’s hard to create really great content. If you’re willing to put in the work, this will always give you a serious competitive advantage. In addition, if you care more about your relationships than your competitors, you will win.
Access to market is everything. In media, this means you need the right distribution channels — it doesn’t matter what you’re doing if no-one knows about you — but it’s true of any business. How are you accessing your market? If you can’t answer this question, you don’t have a business.
Ask for help. Not asking for help is the number one sin that so many entrepreneurs make. You aren’t invincible. If the market isn’t ready for you, or you need to pivot to solve a problem, you get through it by asking for help and advice. We all need support systems. I’m lucky — I have 99 people whom I’ve interviewed to reach out to, but we all need a network, and we all need to pick up the phone — and then pay it forward; help someone else in return. I’ve learnt entrepreneurs — even in competing industries and companies — will bend over backwards for each other. You just need to ask.