►Tell us about you and your podcast
My name is Bernard Leong, and I run a weekly podcast called Analyse Asia, a weekly podcast which focused on business, technology and media in Asia. The podcast brings together the global thought leader and industry players, observers and journalists which cover the Asia Pacific ecosystem with China and India included. The podcast has over 250+ episodes till today.
►Why & how did you start this podcast?
Someone asked me why I have decided to start another podcast. After all, I have actually worked on an earlier podcast called “This Week in Asia” (or in short, TWIA), where a few of us from different parts in Asia sat down together and discussed interesting events happening in that particular week. We typically discussed the major news of the week, and had a lot of fun bantering over where the major players in Asia would go in the near future.
The primary goal of Analyse Asia is to produce a podcast which discusses, dissects and deeply dives into business, technology and media in Asia, made in Asia by people who are involved in the day to day of their respective ecosystems.
Given the vast landscape of possibilities, we focus on people with a deep understanding of his or her own respective country and ecosystem or who have been observing the trends and movement in Asia from the outside. After all, Asia has a total population of 4.4 billion, represent two thirds of the world population and housed three of the five major emerging markets (China, India and Indonesia).
The idea is to cover interesting trends in business, technology and media in Asia through three channels:
- Industry watchers or correspondents from media who cover Asia as a whole,
- Business leaders within the technology or media industry who are operating within Asia, and
- Important thought leaders coming from both startup, investor and business ecosystems.
There are also secondary reasons for the project. First, I have been bothered by the quality of the TWIA podcast for a while. I have a previous background in theatre and I have produced high quality plays on stages during my PhD days at Cambridge University. The same goes with building digital media products. What makes me happy in content creation, is a high quality podcast which I can consistently build and manage in a proper way. When multiple people speak via a single online communication channel, the sound quality tends to degrade over time. The problem is with the varying broadband speeds across Asia.This also often leads to multiple breakdowns. This in turn makes editing very tedious and arduous. Therefore, for Analyse Asia, I will only be doing one on one interviews.
Second, the job to coordinate a few people across the Internet is not an easy one, and with many of us working in corporate jobs, getting married and having kids, the task to get a few people at a common time to chat has become difficult. With the advances of modern communication technologies, I can reach out to anyone in the world by a skype call and have a wonderful conversation with them on the subject matter at hand.
Third, there is a very little information about Asian companies and how they actually innovate within their challenging and difficult environments. The purpose of the podcast is to highlight how these companies found their competitive advantages and provide the audience from other parts of the world insights into how Asia is finding its feet on the ground in the areas of business, technology and media. I drew inspiration from different podcasts which I have listened weekly, for example, the talk show with Jon Gruber, Exponent with Ben Thompson & James Allworth, The Critical Path & Asymcar by Horace Dediu from Asymco, Tech.pinions Podcast (with Ben Bajarin), This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte and the Andreessen Horowitz a16z podcast (with Benedict Evans).
I started the podcast on September 2014.
►How'd you find the time and funding to do this podcast?
I released each episode weekly. It takes me 5 hours to record, edit and publish each episode. I fund the podcast myself, and spend about on average $500 per month to maintain the site, hosting, editing and marketing as well.
►What do you gain from podcasting?
I have not taken sponsorship because in Asia, there are lack of advertising networks focused on this medium. The US advertisers will not work in Asia geography. I am currently running with 20K++ subscribers and reached 1M downloads by the 3rd year.
►How does your podcasting process look like?
Every episode goes through five stages in the production:
- sourcing and setting the date with the guest,
- recording of the podcast episode,
- editing of the podcast episode,
- publishing the podcast episode and
- distribution of the podcast episode via social media and channels.
To manage the podcast production, I rely on a couple of tools: the project management tool, Asana where I broke the tasks down to the 5 stages and resolve each one with a deadline, google apps for the following: email correspondences, scheduling dates for interview with calendar, a simple google document to be shared with my guest to pre-empt them in advance what I will be asking them. Over all, in my first year, I have spent about US$500 per month from monthly hosting, social media advertising and getting mugs made for my guests.
Stage 1: Sourcing and setting the date with the guest
As a start, I sourced my guests from the people who I know personally. In the early days of Analyse Asia, I relied on my friends (Jon Russell from TechCrunch, Michael Smith from HOOQ, Serkan Toto, Sameer Singh, Gen Kanai, Rama Mamuaya from DailySocial, Dave Corbin & Terence Lee from Tech In Asia, Gwen Tan from Mashable, Josh Horwitz from Quartz, Arnaud Bonzom from 500 Startups) from the technology and media landscape. To build credibility and also grow the audience for the podcast, I have set up a simple spreadsheet to track the list of people who I want to invite on the show. Sourcing and setting the date with guests are similar to prospecting and closing the sale with customers. I adopted a customer relationship management (CRM) approach to ensure that I do follow ups for those who rejected me the first time.
One of my goals for the podcast I have set for myself is to get 50:50 representation of men and women guests on the show. As of now, I am still stuck at 80% male and 20% female guests and I failed miserably. I am not giving up on this objective and I will continue to get to 50–50 in a commitment for gender diversity and how Asia can lead the way with just a podcast.
Probably, a lot of people do not appreciate that for every guest who came on Analyse Asia, I get about one hit per ten rejections on average. As I treat it as part of the process for me to understand how to build a “sales pipeline” for guests, I have to continue relentlessly on getting people on the show, and at the same, deal with rejections or silence from people who I have invited.
On a silver lining, I am also thankful to Ben Bajarin, Benedict Evans and Horace Dediu who are leading global thinkers on their subject areas and we have enjoyable conversations which I have learned tremendously a lot. They came to the show with grace and humility. The question I get asked: How were they achieved? Simple, it was just me emailing them direct with no referrals. You will find it surprising that I often scooped the big guests, for example, Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt for my show via direct email instead of referrals. In fact, very few referrals have worked for me. For the many people who gave their time to come on the podcast or help me to source for guests, I am eternally grateful. Hence, I have started to show my gratitude with giving a simple gift of an Analyse Asia limited edition mug to them.
Stage 2: Recording of the podcast episode
Essentially, how do I record each episode of the podcast? Two options: either face to face or recording online. Almost 90% of the interviews are done online via Skype, using a simple recording tool called “Call Recorder for Skype”. Usually, I have a pair of headphones (which any will do) and a microphone which I used for recording podcasts online. If Skype fails and it has happened to me before, there are other solutions available. One interesting solution, recommended by my friend, Paul Papadimitriou fromLayovers.to is Zencastr, which is a web recording tool, where the conversation is recorded locally via the web browser (with HTML5 web audio capability. I have yet to use Zencastr in a real situation but so far, the reviews have been great.
For the online recording, I used the Samson Go Mic, a portable USB microphone which is really simple to set up. What is amazing is that I have been using this microphone for more than 8 years. In fact, my friend, Daniel Cerventus Lim bought it for me from Malaysia when we started the predecessor to this podcast, This Week in Asia. This microphone has been following me around the world, and the sound quality with this microphone is high. It is perfect for an online recording but not suitable for a face to face recording.
For the face to face recording, I have tried two microphones. The first is Apogee Mic 96K, which I first thought, would solve my face to face recording issues. It turned out that it was not very good, and the issue lies with sound quality and it is unable to deal with background noises filtering.A recent solution that I have used is the H2N Zoom recorder (recommended by my friend, Michael Cheng). This recorder is better and I am able to get very good sound quality with the recording with the 4 channel recording.
For those who do not know, here’s my little studio from a glance.
Stage 3: Editing of the podcast episode
Typically, the editing of the podcast episode takes up the most time. For every minute recorded, I typically spend at least 3–5 times more time to edit. As an Asian podcast trying to penetrating into the US, Canada and the European market, the quality of the podcast is extremely important, just as the content of the podcast. The reason is that as an Asian speaker, my accent and pronunciation is not natural to an American audience. Hence I have to compensate in the editing phase. Of course, to make myself sound better, I have started to engage voice coaches to help me finding the right voice despite I have been trained in theatre and have been involved in theatre productions at an early age.
My solution for editing the podcast is Garageband, which I believed it is the easiest podcast editing tool to use. There are other possibilities, for example, Adobe Audition and Audacity. Before I do the actual editing, the file will be sent to an online audio processing tool called Auphonic (recommended by Ben Thompson from Stratechery over a tweet) to process the sound quality. Actually, Auphonic can also help you to do the publishing and distribution at the same time, but I have decided that I want to separate the workflow.
How do I edit to ensure a high quality podcast to be produced? I typically edit out repeat statements, slurs and sounds such as “hmmm”, pauses and phrases such as “you know”, “right”, “I think”, “and so”. In fact, I discovered after editing many episodes with such precision, I have removed an average of 12–15 minutes of wasted time per episode for my audience. It means that my audience have an additional 12–15 minutes to either listen to another podcast or do something instead of hearing two speakers saying “mmmm” many times in the conversation. To me, I have never compromised on this principle and the Shokunin approach has helped me to discover problems in podcast editing and I am working now on an automated solution to resolve this issue.
Stage 4: Publishing the podcast episode
Where do I publish my podcast episodes? Typically, after production, I create two audio files for the podcast episode: a medium quality mp3 file and a high quality m4a file. I distribute the mp3 file through the blubrry podcast hosting service as it integrates my wordpress main site seamlessly with the audio files, the m4a file through soundcloud, where the audience expect a better quality file. Typically, the file size is about 30 megabytes for a typical mp3 file in a 30 minutes recording.
What remains a challenge is whether we can get a audio format that can be reduced to 5 megabytes. The reason why most audience for podcasting are mainly in US, Europe, Australia and developed cities in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Taiwan) is that the sound files are too large for downloads in emerging and frontier markets. In order to get more audience from emerging markets (Indonesia, India, China and Vietnam) to come on, there are two ways: one via streaming the content and the other is a smaller file within 5mb size to distribute via 3G or 4G networks.
Stage 5: Distribution of the podcast episode
The challenge for podcasting is in finding distribution for each podcast episode. For me, when I first started Analyse Asia, I have faced competitors within the same space. Believe me, I have monitored the content and the numbers of my competitors that I realised that distribution is key to winning the podcast audience. I have utilised different growth hacks for distributing my podcast and I will explain why most of my competitors gave up.
On growth hacks, I gave my content free for distribution using a creative commons license. In podcasting, I do not need my audience to be on my site, but they need to find a reason to listen to my podcast. If you are an Asian podcast trying to penetrate into the US market, you have to work doubly hard in getting your audience. Hence getting different sites to embed my content is an essential step to increase distribution. Of course, you must be everywhere from iTunes store, RSS, SoundCloud, Stitcher, ACast and even Google Play (which I have placed an entry there and will let you know when it’s launched). Other means of distribution includes leveraging Product Hunt for podcast discovery and Quibb to get a sense of what content people will be interested to listen. Putting an episode synopsis in Product Hunt podcasts is useful for new audience to understand what you are doing. Every time, I get an increased number of downloads in Product Hunt if I placed the episode synopsis in the comments section.
One important rule is that you have to consistently engage your audience particularly, your fans and try to understand why they listened to your podcast. The most interesting tactic in making your podcast distribute better is to be gracious, and I can use this to explain why my competitors failed. First, don’t be an asshole and be gracious, while promoting my own podcast via social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I promote podcasts which my guests have done without any expectation. In fact, one of my competitors tried the tactic of banning my podcast content on their site, and they later collapsed on their own. In being gracious, I always promote the episodes by thanking the guest and acknowledging the people who helped me with getting the guests on the show.
Given that I have limited time for my podcasting project, I usually prepare all the scheduled tweets, facebook and linkedin posts in the weekend, and fired them across different timings of the week. The tool I used for this is Buffer, and I experimented with different messaging for each episode of the podcast, and iterated on the approach week on week. In addition, I have curated and annotated interesting statistics or diagrams which I have discovered from other sources and released them in the morning and evening two times a day. Getting the word out required repeated postings of the content but with different headlines and summaries to grab the attention of potential audience. With the right questions and hashtags, you also spread the word of your podcast to the outside world.
The second rule is tenacity. Podcast audience growth is a slow burn market i.e. it grows slowly and steadily till it reached critical mass. Most of my competitors started with good numbers similar to myself, but when their numbers started to dip, they gave up on the podcast. In fact, this is a pattern which I have observed in growing Analyse Asia. Every dip actually presents an opportunity for growth. In fact, Analyse Asia went through two dips, after the first 5 episodes and after a major guest showed up. This is important to those in building podcasts. You must figure out new content and ways to distribute content in order to counter the dips. Listening to feedback is an essential process to podcast growth. In fact, each dip pushed me hard in thinking means and ways to improve content distribution, experiment new content and quality of podcast. The result is that each dip ended up helping me to grow my audience by another order of magnitude.
The third rule is consistency. The most difficult part of maintaining a podcast is to ensure that you have an episode every week. I often state it as a weekly podcast, but I have produced an average of 6–8 episodes a month as I ramped up my production at scale. It is to ensure my commitment to my audience and being consistent is important.
►How do you market your show?
I market my show via Overcast Ads, facebook and twitter ads. So far, overcast ads have been most useful in acquiring new listeners.
►What advice would you share with aspiring (new) podcasters?
Learn from everyone, Follow no one, Observe the patterns and Work like hell.
►Where can we learn more about you & your podcasts?