How I Built The Tim Ferriss Show to 700+ Million Downloads — An Immersive Explanation of All Aspects and Key Decisions (Featuring Chris Hutchins) (#538)

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Chris Hutchins (@hutchins) is an avid life hacker and financial optimizer. He’s the host of All the Hacks podcast and the Head of New Product Strategy at Wealthfront.

Previously, Chris was co-founder and CEO of Grove (acquired by Wealthfront), co-founder of Milk (acquired by Google), and a partner at Google Ventures, where he focused on seed and early stage investments.

Chris reached out with many questions about podcasting. He had already read much of what I had written and listened to several interviews, and this is intended to be an updated guide to all things podcasting.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs recruitment platform with 770M+ users, Athletic Greens all-in-one nutritional supplement, and Helix Sleep premium mattresses. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#538: How I Built The Tim Ferriss Show to 700+ Million Downloads — An Immersive Explanation of All Aspects and Key Decisions (Featuring Chris Hutchins)

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is usually Athletic Greens, my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body in 2010 and did not get paid to do so. I do my best with nutrient-dense meals, of course, but AG further covers my bases with vitamins, minerals, and whole-food-sourced micronutrients that support gut health and the immune system. 

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This episode is brought to you by Helix SleepHelix was selected as the #1 overall mattress of 2020 by GQ magazine, Wired, Apartment Therapy, and many others. With Helix, there’s a specific mattress to meet each and every body’s unique comfort needs. Just take their quiz—only two minutes to complete—that matches your body type and sleep preferences to the perfect mattress for you. They have a 10-year warranty, and you get to try it out for a hundred nights, risk free. They’ll even pick it up from you if you don’t love it. And now, to my dear listeners, Helix is offering up to 200 dollars off all mattress orders plus two free pillows at HelixSleep.com/Tim.


This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear one of my favorite conversations with a fascinating polymath? Listen to this episode with Kevin Kelly, in which we discuss population implosions, The Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more!

#25: Kevin Kelly - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Chris Hutchins:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

SHOW NOTES

  • Who is Chris Hutchins, and how many episodes of his new podcast, All the Hacks, does he have under his belt thus far? [04:47]
  • A few choice pieces of advice anyone should consider when aspiring to start a podcast: you don’t have to commit forever, only do this if you’d do it for free, and don’t worry about how big (or small) your audience is. [06:51]
  • Don’t commit to forever, but start with a reasonable number of episodes to aim for (I chose six). If you don’t love the direction it’s going, change direction until you do. Choose a game you can win. [09:11]
  • Expect technical SNAFUs. Always have a backup plan. Better: have several. “Two is one, and one is none.” [14:01]
  • Is it still early in the days of podcasting and ripe with opportunity, or is it too crowded and people should consider new mediums for content? [15:16]
  • Why did Chris want to start a podcast, and what has made it worthwhile to continue? [19:25]
  • Gear I use and why most of my podcast conversations are done remotely. [22:48]
  • How many technical difficulties would I endure before just rescheduling an interview? What precautions do I take to make this less likely? [25:25]
  • An easy way to test if your remote guest’s proper external mic is selected. [29:05]
  • I once advised podcasters against recording on video, but I’ve obviously changed my tune. What are the pros and cons? [29:47]
  • How different did my operation look when I was just getting started, and how has it evolved over time with the addition of metrics for monetization and staff to assist with production? [36:05]
  • What Chris has considered when weighing the rewards of monetization versus its costs, and my two cents’ worth on sponsorship best practices and options available. (Bonus: why my books aren’t available in paperback.) [40:45]
  • Can’t get big-name guests? Prioritize getting good guests even if they’re not household names. People like good content more than they like bad content with a fancy name (and you’ll probably like not having to get through a phalanx of publicists and lawyers and managers for a year to get that “famous” but potentially less interesting guest). [52:11]
  • How I’ve found guests from the very beginning. [56:00]
  • Chris asked me to listen to some of his podcast episodes and give my honest feedback. Here are my thoughts on his interview with Leigh Rowan (note: not a household name, but an incredible guest who brought his A game). [57:35]
  • You may not be able to “fix” a bad guest no matter how well-practiced you are as an interviewer. But you can always record long and edit liberally. [59:08]
  • Questions I ask and conversations I’ll have with guests to put them at ease and get them to a place where they can trust the process. [1:00:51]
  • Why I find Twitter to be an excellent, low-risk way to source guests. But there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it. [1:05:02]
  • Illustrating the importance of technical redundancy, Chris confesses that he had to re-record the interview with Leigh Rowan from scratch. At least it was a lesson learned on day one. [1:11:34]
  • The value of reading transcripts (and, perhaps more painfully, audience feedback on social media) of your interviews early on in order to improve, as well as other methods of soliciting torture from select friends for personal development. [1:13:42]
  • Why becoming a better interviewer is really becoming your best self as an interviewer. Remember: what’s worked for Joe Rogan or James Lipton or Larry King may not work for you. [1:20:46]
  • How long do I spend on prep prior to an interview? What are some helpful shortcuts and processes to squeeze the most juice out of this time? [1:25:04]
  • Have I ever done too much research before an interview — to the point that the ensuing conversation was devoid of any meaningful surprises? How might I avoid such a scenario? [1:30:57]
  • What might cause me to push pause on publishing an interview, and how do I break the news diplomatically to the guest? What efforts can be made to salvage something useful from the experience for both parties? [1:33:55]
  • Do I always read a guest’s new book before I interview them? [1:35:48]
  • Have I ever had to pause during an interview to regroup and replan its direction? Do I have a way to afford a guest the same opportunity? What steps do I take to make sure the guest and I sound as good as possible? [1:38:13]
  • Chris says I understand my audience well. How did I build that understanding, and what did I learn about relating to an audience from Wait But Why‘s Tim Urban? [1:42:19]
  • Tip: How to avoid getting your AirPods case mixed up with a significant other/family member/roommate who lives with you. [1:47:40]
  • Do I pay attention to number of podcast downloads and other listener-quantifying metrics? What would motivate extra scrutiny of those numbers? Bonus: a Kevin Rose-approved Chartable tip. [1:49:01]
  • Why you probably want to funnel your listeners to your own website instead of something like a Facebook page that uses algorithims you can’t control. [1:53:42]
  • Is growth as important as creating good content? What are the most effective ways to grow an audience that will find that good content? [1:58:56]
  • Is there a point to putting audio-only content on a video platform like YouTube? While growth has no magic bullet and the tools are forever changing, here are some evergreen references that might help you find the anchor that will work for your needs. [2:04:42]
  • Want to be of the best service to yourself and your audience? Stop trying to please all of the people all of the time. Find the cadence, content, and and frequency that fulfills you first. [2:08:17]
  • Someone might tune in to your podcast for a certain guest, but if they come back, it’s because of you. This being said, is it necessary to go out of your way to remind listeners that you exist in every episode? [2:11:57]
  • How can you make your good question a great question while making your guest sound even smarter and get your listeners personally invested in the conversation? [2:14:00]
  • Speaking of which, what is one of Chris’ best investments? [2:16:47]
  • How (and why) did I make the transition from being “The 4-Hour Guy” to the host of The Tim Ferriss Show (rather than starting something like The 4-Hour Podcast)? [2:17:53]
  • You have a personal brand (even if you’ve never tried to build one). But how do you know what it entails? [2:28:50]
  • To eliminate the bother of selling ads and securing sponsors, is it worth it to join a podcast network that promises to take care of monetization for you (for a hefty cut)? [2:31:32]
  • How do I handle a follow-up question if I’ve thought of it well past the point it would make sense to fit it into the conversation? [2:40:34]
  • Do I have any tactics for getting introductions to potential guests from other people in my existing network? [2:42:15]
  • A question you can ask to improve your interviewing prowess (courtesy of Adam Grant). [2:44:00]
  • What kind of processes do I go through when I reassess the direction of the podcast after reaching a preestablished milestone? [2:46:09]
  • The time-saving power of batching recording sessions. [2:48:36]
  • Parting thoughts. [2:54:39]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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8 Replies to “How I Built The Tim Ferriss Show to 700+ Million Downloads — An Immersive Explanation of All Aspects and Key Decisions (Featuring Chris Hutchins) (#538)”

  1. Hi Tim, I just watched your Youtube video “My Daily Practices and Habits to Fight Depression”, I’ve suffered from MDD for more than a decade, and am curious about the psychedelic part you mentioned. I’m wondering did you just use it for a period of time then you never feeling severely depressed ever since or you have to use it in a microdose continuely?
    I’m from China, have been a fan of you since the TED” Define your fear”, I admire you for trying to thrive despite the fact of having to fight mental health issue.
    It’s quite hard to accesss to psychedelic here in China, but Psilocybin seems to be a tightly controlled medicine here, I’d talk to my psychiatrist next week, hope you can respond to this comment by then and give me some advice.
    Thanks.

  2. Dear Mr Ferriss,
    We are working on a viable solution for preserving biodiversity. My in mail to you on linkedin kind of went in the air. So trying this way to grab some moments of your attention. IN terms of biodiversity most tree planting projects are monoculture and bad for the soil, our idea is different and greens planet earth under a decade (trees must grow longer, I know) but it allows us to plant trillions in a smart way using millions and millions of small communities in stead of megalomania monoculture, we do it through networking small one. Site will be online (beta version) coming Monday 18th of October in the afternoon. Please have a look because we need help to get this going. You have a great network which could help us do something really cool. Thank you for reading. It only takes you 15 minutes to visit and make up your mind. But this is cool, really cool. I think you will like it. [Moderator: link removed per link policy, but contact info preserved in intake field.]
    With kind regards, Erwin Vanmassenhove

  3. Hey Tim,

    really like your podcasts you should check the shows Long Way Round, Long Way Down and finally Long Way Up and do a podcast with Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman I think it would be a great addition!

    Best

  4. Tim, I’ve been a listener to the show for years and the four hour work week was the first book I read cover to cover and actually took action on from the information within.

    I’m curious as to how you find podcast guests as I believe that a conversation between the two of us would be something valuable and unique that I have not yet heard something similar to on the show.

  5. Hi Tim, Thanks for this episode! I learned so much. Can you suggest any AI solution to transcribe episodes? Thanks, long time fan, Jenny

  6. Immensely helpful episode. I run operations/biz dev for a popular podcast for institutional investors. I can relate to a lot of the difficulties in data, analytics, and tracking growth for our show. If possible, I’d love to connect with someone on your team to share best practices and discuss the business of podcasting. Like you mentioned in the episode, most of this active is outsourced to other agencies. It’s rare that people’s full time job is just the business of the pod (while the host is focuses strictly on content). Look forward to hearing from you.

  7. Thanks Tim

    My key takeaways:

    Only commit to 3-6 episodes (1 month)

    Do it for yourself, questions you want to know, your voice, your guests

    It’s a lot of work – elephant graveyard of failed podcasts

    All platforms will fail at some point always have 2 backup options in each calendar invite

    Have each person each record audio locally

    Zencaster, riverside.fm, squadcast – have backups

    Conference line recording with cell as extreme backup

    ATR2100/2500 mic

    Carpet, drapes, absorb sound? Pillows in corners of a room

    Test the mic being selected by tapping it

    Set devices to DND/Silent

    Use phone to look things up during the conversation – not keyboard

    Content over names

    Have your reasons why you want to do a podcast. Where can you fail and still win?

    Will the guest bring their ‘A’ game? You cannot fix a bad guest

    To buy time, you can ask a question where I can reciprocate (to save the interview)

    Send some FAQ in advance

    Talk to people beforehand, to loosen them up – in the warm up – “What would make this interview a home run? When people ask you what your favourite 2-3 interviews are, would make this one of them” – inform how I try to steer & promote

    Is there anything you don’t want to talk about, or that you’re sick of talking about?

    All guests have final cut – make that clear

    We can always cut things later, but we cant put interesting things in, we cant put the fun in

    Edit out details, flag personal details, family, where they live, pending lawsuits, email addresses

    Transcribe each podcast and read yourself (don’t re-listen other than to check audio quality, read instead), identify words/phrases you commonly repeat and reduce the redundancy

    If seeking feedback (Be wary, this is very time consuming), be specific – “if anything is confusing, please note that, doesn’t matter if you love it or hate it”. “If your mind starts to wander, please note that via time code.” “If you could only keep 20%, which 20% – and/or if I had to cut 20%, which 20%. If anyone loves something, then keep it.

    Where is sequencing off, reorder questioning?

    Collect questions and be a tester of these questions

    Preparation Generally a few hours (2-4hrs) to prep for each interview (big break, Arnold 5 days)

    Ask guests to send their favourite 2-3 long form interviews, exploratory topics/questions that could be fun for us and the audience, and anything else – weeks/months in advance – this helps me where they look good and where they stall out – gather greatest hits stories. We all have stories we have told more than once – I want to know what those are – “is there a story/anecdote that I can cue that always get a response/funny – what do you think about that? Plant this greatest hit story within the first 10 minutes

    Look for the most unique citation on wiki, look at social media, any number of things could happen between when you book and when they come on

    If we have common friends/acquaintances, ask them for stories, places to explore

    “If it’s interesting to you, then it will be interesting to other people. You can’t fake it, the audience can smell it out. Gotta make it interesting for yourself.”

    Pick 5-7 questions I most want to cover, don’t get held up on getting all your questions answered

    Communicate always bathroom break, water break, chance to restate, start over

    Its my job to make you look your best, put all your nerves on me, be your self

    Gotta clip ticks “you know”, “like”, “that’s a good question”, “umm”, “hmm”

    Pay attention to my excitement, fears, goals, things I struggle with, things that bother me, etc

    Look for outliers in stats/analytics – was there something that outperformed unusually – i.e. an outlier that isn’t easily explained? The vast majority of easily attainable data is not actionable, hard to determine causality

    First thing to look at is technical problems

    Link podcast episodes to website with multiple links to podcast players

    Offer/incentivize a newsletter from website (free), direct line of communication

    Follow your own interests! If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it!

    Interject if you suspect the guest is having difficulty answering the question, give the guest time to think by adding examples

    Ask which is one of the best as opposed to what is the best

    What can I improve at? Push on this, be insistent (after recording)

    How do you feel when you look at your calendar when you have a podcast – is it a whole body ‘yes’? In your gut, your chest

    Podcasting needs to nourish you, not deplete you

    You can build in the ability to take breaks

    When evaluating guests, how do you feel about them 1-10, no 7 allowed

    Batch things! Batching as needed, enough so that you don’t feel under the gun