How This Podcaster Gets 10 Million Downloads A Month
Jordan Harbinger built a massive podcast audience. Here's what he did, and what other podcasters are overlooking.
Jordan Harbinger's podcast gets between 5 to 10 million downloads a month.
Those numbers will be eye-popping to most podcasters, who know how difficult building an audience can be. Just how hard is the task? Consider this: If a podcast publishes a new episode, and that new episode gets only 4,588 downloads in the first seven days, that puts the podcast in the top 1% of all podcasts. (That's Buzzsprout data as of January, 2023.)
In other words, 99% of podcasts do not get 4,588 downloads in the first seven days — let alone many millions a month.
So how did Harbinger build the audience he has? By diving deep into how the podcast ecosystem works, and what brings listeners back to his show. He's a former Wall Street lawyer whose show, The Jordan Harbinger Show, is designed for curious people: He interviews a wide range of fascinating people, and produces other episodes with different formats that explore listener questions and popular myths.
In this conversation on the Entrepreneur podcast Problem Solvers, Harbinger tells editor in chief Jason Feifer how he built his audience, along with:
- How to attract new listeners
- How to create new formats to keep listeners engaged
- What it takes to create something genuinely worth listening to
- And more!
Listen to the conversation here, or read an edited version of the transcript below.
At the very beginning, how did you build the audience for the show?
I had an existing audience from a previous show, but the bulk of my audience found me in the years since. What I did was I went on as many other podcasts as I could. I talked about things that were hard for me, things that were going well for me. I shared knowledge.
I also traded a lot of ad swaps with other shows. I don't see other people doing this. It's underutilized and it's free. I know the reason a lot of shows don't do this is because people say, "What if I recommend a show and people stop listening to my show?" I understand that, especially if you're a new creator, but people know that there are other podcasts. If you recommend a show and it's a good show, you're building your platform as an authority. What you'll find is that most people will not ditch you. I really don't see a net loss from this. If you come in with this scarcity mindset, it doesn't help you grow.
Once you get that listener, how do you create a connection and keep them around?
I try answering every piece of fan mail that comes in, every DM, every message. Over time this creates longer term listeners, which is great because acquiring a new listener is expensive. When you lose a listener, you have to replace that person. So I can reduce the amount of people that go, "I don't care about this guy, I don't care about this show," because I interact with them in some way that makes them feel heard or special.
And frankly, many of them are quite interesting! Then it becomes like they're a part of the show. People go, "Wow, he took my suggestion. He listened to my feedback." That creates relationships with your fans and your show grows over time.
You do this interesting thing at the end of your episodes — you run a produced trailer for another episode of your show. Why?
I run a trailer for another show on my feed. So if someone's like, "Wow, that episode about the spy cult was really cool," I'll run a related trailer and I'll send people back to episode 700 or whatever it is.
Those cost money to make, but I figure over time what happens is — and what I hear from audience feedback — they go, "Man, I listened to your episode with so-and-so because they promoted it, then at the end I heard a trailer for another episode from another guy who I like, and then I heard the trailer after that one…" and people just go down this rabbit hole where they're like, "Then I listened to 20 episodes and I was like, 'This is my favorite podcast. Oh my god, how did I not know about this before?"
That's what you want, because you're telling people what to listen to next. They don't go, "Oh, that Jordan episode is over. Let me see what else I got saved on my phone." They go, "I'm just going to go get episode 44 of the Jordan Harbinger Show because I already heard a trailer and it sounds cool."
It's like you're reducing friction where people may not even realize there is friction. The friction is that if an episode of yours ended, and you didn't tell people what other episode to listen to, then they'd have to decide themselves — or maybe not listen at all.
Your show is an interview show — and I know from personal experience, having been a guest on your show, that you do a ton of research on your guests. Not many people do that.
I watch the movie or read the book, whatever it is. I take a bunch of notes. I organize the notes in a way that makes sense. People will go, "Oh, you should have a free-flowing conversation." I disagree with that. I think anybody who is funny could have a free-flowing conversation, but congrats — you are in the middle of the pack of all other podcasts, and nothing sets you apart unless you are friends with Joe Rogan and you go on his show and he sends his audience your way. In that case, congratulations. Otherwise, you're screwed. So what I try to do is prepare more than everybody else and have a reasonably entertaining conversation.
You have different formats in the same feed, which I'm seeing more of in the podcasting world. Sometimes people run longer episodes, sometimes shorter. Sometimes a conversation, sometimes a solo episode. Can you tell me about that strategy and how you've seen it work?
Yeah. Every Friday I do an advice show. And I started adding debunking episodes on Sundays called Skeptical Sundays. That's something in 2023 that we're really leaning into, where it's like, why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why supplements and vitamins are kind of BS.
Now, why didn't I spin that off into another feed? I don't want to run two shows. And most people go, "I don't listen to the advice shows. That's not something for me." They start off with an interview and then eventually an advice show starts playing while they're cooking chicken and they go, "Wow, that was more interesting than I thought," and they start to binge those. So you don't want to make friction where they've got to go and subscribe to something else.
I suppose podcasters might worry about doing this, because they don't want to violate people's expectations. It's like, people subscribed for one kind of show — and now you're giving them something else. They might unsubscribe.
One person has written to me and said, "I wish these other episodes weren't in the feed." And it's like, that's one person who can't skip an episode? That's a weird problem to have. I don't really care about those outliers.
Some people might skip certain episodes; I don't really care. But what you want is a show where people go, "I'm not going to get sick of this because, even if one is an interview and the next one's advice, I can just push forward and it's going to be something in a different format."
It keeps people interested, and that's what you want. You want stickiness. If you've ever gotten sick of a podcast, it's probably because it's gotten to be the same thing over and over. Instead, you add variety in a way that makes sense for the personality type that might listen to the show.
Another thing that I probably shouldn't say out loud, but I'm going to do: When you subscribe to a podcast and you download the episode, I would like it if you listened to that episode, but if you don't, I still get paid. Not the best-case scenario, but also better than nothing.
So how many episodes are you putting out a week now? And how many days is too many days to release an episode?
I put out three. I would say three is the max, and not just for the listener. I suppose you could do more if they were shorter. My interviews are over an hour, my advice shows are about an hour, Skeptical Sundays are about an hour. So that is a format where people can binge it if they want to, but there's also room for other things in their life, or other podcasts.
For me, it's not just variety. I like doing the advice, doing Skeptical Sundays, and doing the interviews. But I'm not just mailing it in. I don't do that. I've got a bunch of notes. If I'm doing two interviews a week, I've got to read two books a week. That's a lot. I've got two little kids. I've got three episodes that I'm releasing. I can't do more than that.