We all have personal passions and interests, but the challenge is to translate those into money-making ventures that will earn a viable income. Today’s guest on the Manager Mojo Podcast, Todd Cochrane, CEO of RawVoice, tells the story of how he took a passion for technology, paired it with the discipline learned in the military, and matched that with his love for monitoring metrics and has become one of the most successful podcast broadcasters and providers in the industry while also learning to trust virtual employees. Learn how this military man/entrepreneur has handled the challenges of a virtual workforce and multiple locations to create a business in a brand new industry. Connect with Todd either HERE or HERE.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT HERE:
Steve: Hello and welcome everyone to the Manager Mojo podcast! I’m excited today that our guest is Todd Cochrane. Todd is the Executive Producer of Geek News Central. It’s an audio and video tech show and he’s co-host of the New Media Show. He’s also the founder of the People’s Choice Podcast Awards and the Tech Podcast Network. In 2005 Todd wrote Podcasting: The Do-It-Yourself Guide, the first book on podcasting, and he’s currently CEO of RawVoice, a provider of podcast data, analytics, media hosting and advertising opportunities and represents 22,000 media creators and podcast networks, including hosting the Manager Mojo podcast. So this guy is actually CEO of the company that allows us to bring our content to you. Todd lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, is married and has four children. Welcome, Todd, to the Manager Mojo Podcast.
Todd: Well, Steve thanks for having me and, I guess, first and foremost thanks for being a customer is the first thing I should say. And thanks for having me on your show.
Steve: Well, I’m glad to have you and we are really enjoying working with your firm. It’s a real pleasure and today, Todd, I’d like for you to tell our entrepreneur and management audience what prompted you in 2005 to create this company and get into the podcast world, and how did that really affect your management style?
Todd: Well, to make a long story short, I was doing my own show without basically any type of a business. I had my podcast as a business, but I was approached in July of 2005 by GoDaddy to sponsor my show, which led to a nine-year – so far – relationship with GoDaddy being a sponsor of my own personal show, but then the keyword they said to me in about August of 2005, they said, “Do you know anyone else that would be willing to run podcast advertising?” and I said, “Yes,” and my brain started working and I said, “There’s a business here.” Basically, from that very point my focus changed and I decided I needed to open a new media company that represented podcasters. The business, like any business, has changed a little bit throughout the years, but amazingly, my team was built directly from the audience that listened to my podcast. They said, “Sign me up.”
Steve: How cool.
Todd: Yeah, I said, “I need a lawyer. I need a programmer. I need a graphics guy, business development guy,” and nine people applied and we had a conference call and I basically said, “Here’s what we’re going to do and this is how much money you’re going to have to put in – five of them hung up – the four people that stayed on the line are now my partners.
Todd: Yeah, crazy! (they laugh)
Steve: What a great story! Now, I know from your background that you worked for the Navy for a number of years and, so tell us how being in the Navy effected your approach to business.
Todd: I come from a business family. My parents have always been self-employed and entrepreneurs of a variety of different enterprises and, so I was the black sheep when I left to join the Navy. I spent 24 years in and retired as Senior Chief – which is next to the highest level you can get in enlisted community – and, at that point, was really managing a lot of different folks and money and, really, the Navy is nothing more than a big business besides the things that we do to protect the country. So, being a good steward of tax-payer dollars really taught me how to run a tight enterprise and – obviously there’s two different types of management styles – when you’re active duty in the military you tell somebody to do something they better do it. If they don’t there’s consequences.
Todd: And, in the real world, there’s a little different politics involved in how you manage people. But that background really prepared me. I’d also for a long time had this previous exposure to business enterprises with my parents and so forth – had a pretty good handle on how to manage and run a company. So, I think there’s a little bit of me that still kept a little bit of that military background that builds work ethic and demanding excellence out of people, while at the same time, I have the understanding that I hung that hat up a long time ago and have to use best business practices that are accepted in the world.
Steve: Right, well, any time that you’re in the military – and, yes, there are still consequences if they don’t – but, I’m sure you found yourself having to motivate even those to really perform at the level that you wanted them to.
Steve: And, how did you approach that?
Todd: Well, I rewarded good performance just like any other business. When you have an employee that’s done well you give them a bonus and you give verbal accolades and the same in the military, you would give verbal accolades and you would give them a good evaluation and essentially take care of them. And those folks that were underperformers, well you had an opportunity to shape what they would be doing if they would be serving in the future – as in any other business. If you have an underperformer in a business you have the opportunity to allow that individual to grow and find a new job, so, in some situations the parallels are almost the same.
Steve: Yeah, even in the commercial sector there’s no difference, but yet I continue to see managers that really don’t understand the value of a verbal reward – really letting somebody know what they did well – and what’s been your experience toward that?
Todd: Well, I think when I was low on the totem pole and had managers that were verbally recognizing me, doing it on paper as well, like having a positive recommendation or midterm review, that was positive and also adjustments to maybe something I needed to change was always positive, so I’m a big believer in fair, honest and frank evaluations of employees and the people that I work with and taking on issues head on and not letting them fester because that just drives down productivity over time.
Steve: No question that it affects productivity. You were talking about accountability and I find that a lot of managers struggle with holding people accountable. They tend to not be very clear in the expectations they have. So how do you approach that in your business, because you don’t have everybody working locally with you there. You’re working virtually with some of these people, so how does that affect your style and how do you hold people accountable?
Todd: Well, the way we set the company’s very unique. I’m here in Hawaii, the programming team is in Columbus, I have a guy in New York, the accountant and finance lawyer is in Michigan, my support team is spread amongst a couple of states. So we’re really spread out and for us communication has been priority #1. Because we’re not in the same office together, I spend a lot of time either on Skype or in a Go-to-Meeting session or on the phone and I’m touching base with the team multiple times a day. I’m lucky because the team is relatively small, so I don’t know if this would scale to 100 people. Our team is eleven and it’s manageable at this size and also one thing that we look for as we brought on new employees – some employees need to be in the office and we have an office location in Columbus, but some employees can telework and my big thing with the teleworkers is: I don’t care what you do as long as you get your tasks done for the day. We have clear tasking that has to be done every day in order for the company to succeed. I looked for people that were self-sufficient. You have to put a certain amount of trust into this as well, but at the same time, the employees love it because it’s a little bit flexible – if they need to go out for an appointment for an hour as long as you give me the hour back I’m not going to complain about a midday appointment – so, we’ve been able to have a little flexibility in the company as long as they meet goals, but one thing that we’ve always done is – on a weekly basis – the team meets together and we probably spend as much as two hours of chatting about issues and schedules and deadlines and where we have to be and when. My background in the military I did a lot of program management, managing contracts and so forth, so for me, I have a master planner that is pretty incredible. It tracks everything down to the day – sometimes by the hour – and I’m not a micromanager, when employees say, “I can’t make the deadline,” we adjust and extend, but at the same time, I closely track where we’re at on all projects and deliverables.
Steve: Well, there were a number of things I heard that really impressed me a lot. So many entrepreneurs running companies don’t really trust their people. I’ve learned over the years it’s not because they’re not people who trust others, it’s that they really haven’t set the expectations very clearly so that other people could understand what they needed to do and when they needed to get it done. So you’re talking about having a master planner, you have regular meetings and you’re conveying this information to your people all the time, so they shouldn’t be surprised by a deadline.
Todd: And, I’m never surprised by an extension because we’re communicating all the time and I’m like, “Okay, where are you at on this,” and, “I’m a little behind,” and, “Okay,” and “Why?” and, “Okay, I understand why you had to shift.” You know, business is dynamic.
Todd: If you start on Monday and think you’re going to be in the same place you want to be on Friday you’ve got a rude awakening because customers’ priorities, things that happen in the space, emergencies, you’ve got to be willing to shift on an instant to make those changes. That’s what we’ve really been able to flex. Now, that can sometimes be like an organized chaos, but when you’re small – and, again, we’re a small company, but we’re dealing with a large number of people that always want to talk to me on the phone.
Todd: It can be a challenge at times to juggle that, but so far we’ve done a pretty good job at it.
Steve: Well, not only having to handle all your customers, but I also know that you do a lot of speaking and a lot of traveling and still having to handle all of those things – that’s quite an agenda you have.
Todd: Well, it’s a work ethic that if you’re an entrepreneur you have mouths to feed and payroll to make. This is not 9-to-5. This is almost 7-to-midnight.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Todd: And, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to offload some stuff. We built the business, number one, on efficiency. Everything we do we look at from an efficiency standpoint trying to eliminate man hours because we are a small team. So we’ve often spent several months on code just to save twenty or thirty hours a week on maybe something we didn’t have to do manually. So we’ve tried to build stuff that’s been efficient and I have to laugh because people ask me, “How do you manage all this?” I’m like, “’Cause we built those systems into our systems to make it easy to manage stuff.”
Steve: Yeah, when you build everyone needs to be organized and have systems. I believe that any of us in leadership needs to understand that without a system of doing things we’re never going to accomplish anything.
Todd: And sometimes too, you want certain processes to be in place, you’re not able to implement and you have to weigh what am I willing to give up the most? Am I willing to push this to another project timeframe? It’s all things you have to weigh and sometimes we have to come to a dead stop on a project and shift to another thing because all of a sudden that priority’s become a higher one. If you had more bodies you’d just struggle with more bodies added, but when you’re a small business you’re looking at the finances and making sure you make payroll and you have to weigh that stuff and you grow at the speed you can. I think sometimes companies grow too fast. I think the reason we’re still in business – and survived some lean times when the economy was bad – is because we knew that what was coming in to the checkbook was staying ahead of what was going out and we didn’t grow too fast and some of those decisions that we made on hiring new people we put off even though we were biting our teeth. I could’ve gone to the bank and gotten money or could have gone to an account and gotten external funding, but we wanted to be here for the long term and not be one of those percentages of companies that fail.
Steve: Well, I think that’s very wise and you mentioned as far as the size, but I’ll tell you, even in the large companies, nobody has an excess number of people that they can delegate things to. Everybody’s stretched these days and efficiency is a real focus for every company, I believe. The problem is that so many people have never had your training, your discipline to actually organize to that level. Now, I also know from listening, not only to your podcast but in dealing with your company, that you are an individual that likes data and you get lots of statistics. You’re watching all of that data all of the time, aren’t you?
Todd: Yeah, I’m a data junkie and, as a matter of fact, to the chagrin of some of my programmers, I drive them crazy and say, “Let’s pull this report,” and over time it’s come to our benefit. We watch the trends in the space to be able to react and change the direction of the company based on what we’re seeing in that data.
Steve: What would be your recommendation to business people, in terms of really tracking their metrics? Could you give us two or three advantages for tracking your metrics and how that actually affects your management style?
Todd: Well, it depends on what business you’re in. Ultimately the goal of business is to make money and I break down each of our business sectors and I look exactly – in each sector – how revenue is and what growth is and then I balance that – because we’re dealing with media. I look back and say, “Now, the revenue’s coming from here, but how is this media being consumed? How’s it changing how it’s being consumed?” You know, for a while, we had some focus on the devices you can attach to your TV to get extra programming – and we saw a trend where that was growing and we put some time and money into building some channels into those . But really, what that was, we wanted to capitalize on that growth, even though those devices were only driving us 4%, 5% or 6% new viewers and listeners. A 4%, 5% or 6% growth on a business sector in a given two or three month period is a pretty good goal to have to grow revenue, so everything we did was focused on: #1 what gets us from A to B and does B result in more revenue? We try not to waste time on stuff that’s not generating revenue. That data from those trends helped and I hope I haven’t completely confused everyone, but we really looked at any use of our product and how we were delivering it and made sure that those two functions were married up.
Steve: Well, what I hear you saying and the takeaway that I get is: check your metrics, make sure that everything you’re measuring is going to eventually lead back to some type of revenue goal and make your management decisions and adjustments accordingly.
Todd: And, like any company, we’ve had some failures. We had some stuff we thought, “Man, this is going to be a great idea,” we invested some resources, threw it up against the wall and it just fell off flat.
Todd: And, we were also full understanding that, “Okay, I didn’t get traction on this,” I didn’t say, “Oh, we need to put more money into fixing it,” I dumped it.
Todd: I got rid of it. We got rid of the low-hanging fruit. Okay, this is not working, before it’s time or it’s too late, it didn’t resonate – so, what we actually learned to do a little better because of some of those failures, was some polling. We went out and polled the community: what do you want? Is this something you’ll use? And, then we applied that to programming priorities and so forth.
Steve: Right, right. Well, that makes a lot of sense to me. In some ways, polling is really a great day-to-day management philosophy of your people as well. You should be asking them, what do they think? What’s going on? I’m always surprised that business people don’t do that.
Todd: Well, our customers give us feedback, so any time a suggestion comes in – sometimes I roll my eyes – but what I will do is I will reply back and say, “Tell me the context of why you want this?”
Todd: And, then sometimes they’ll come back and say, “This is the context of why I need this,” and I’ll say, “Oh, okay, that makes sense.” We’ll put it on the spreadsheet and then what we do is – on a periodic basis, usually about every thirty days – we go through that stack and say, “Okay, where does this fit in with the company’s goals?” and we reshuffle our priority stack about every thirty days. But we do have times where the company comes together where we’re face-to-face.
Todd: We do have winter retreats. (they laugh) We’ll go to, like, Chicago in February and lock ourselves in a suite for three or four days and do nothing but shape the focus of the company for the year to come and it’s not like we’re coming to Hawaii where there’s distractions or going to Vegas. We go someplace where we don’t want to leave the suite. Where we want to order food in, so we always laugh at that –
Steve: I love it.
Steve: I love that. I absolutely love that. Just from listening to you today it’s obvious to me that you believe, because you do have a diverse workforce, in delegating to people appropriately. So do you have a tip or two that you could give us as far as how to delegate the right way?
Todd: Well, in the beginning, I had to wear two or three hats. I was the CEO, I was sales and I was marketing. (laughs)
Steve: Yeah, that’s tough.
Todd: So, as we were able to grow, as I gained trust in the people that we had I was able to say, “Okay, here’s this piece, let me take this out of my sandbox and put it in yours,” and I think entrepreneurs try to do everything. You can’t. You just cannot and even though the person that you turn the job over to may have not done it exactly like you did the delta between how you did it and how they did it and the difference in performance might be small and you just can’t get hung up on someone’s way of doing things – one is maybe not necessarily better than the other – as long as you’re talking, but delegation for us was more of , “Here’s what I can give. Here’s what I can do. Here’s what I’m good at,” and I used that to my benefit. Now, the gentleman that’s on our team that does all of our graphics development – I would never put him on any type of tech support – he’s not the guy for that. So you have to match talents with job task and sometimes someone’s good at something you never expected them to be and we capitalize on that. Having a small team you have to do that. Any business owner, you’re going to find the strengths within the company. My strengths, I know what they are. I know where my weaknesses are. One of the things is we do a blog post – Todd writes it, but Todd doesn’t publish it – it goes to another team member, they review, copy edit and they publish it.
Todd: Because sometimes Todd can get a little excited and (they laugh) my team is willing to give positive and negative feedback. They’re not afraid to tell the boss, “You screwed up,” and I’m not afraid to tell them they screwed up.
Todd: That’s sometimes hard for employees to do and goes back to tasking. You’ve got to trust your people and find out who has the talents to give those particular tasks.
Steve: Wow, what great summary of delegation — to bring it all the way back to trust — I totally love that conversation. Todd, maybe we’ve got somebody out there that’s thinking about doing their own business today, or they want that next level in their career, do you have a couple of recommendations or tips that you’d share with them?
Todd: If you’re going to start a business the #1 thing you have to ask yourself: is this a hobby or is this a business? And, is this business really going to make you some money or is it something that, again, is going to be a hobby?
Todd: You need to look at that and you should go and, if you’ve got some business friends, trust their opinions – and sometimes the answer you’re going to get may not be the answer that you want, but it’s better than spending two years of your life and maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars and ending up in bankruptcy or being one of the high percentage of companies that fail – so, that’s the #1 thing you’ve got to look at. #2 if you go, you’ve got to go all in. You have to be committed and you have to have a frank discussion with your family as an entrepreneur. You’re going to say, “Hey, it’s not 9-to-5. This is going to consume a lot of hours of my life and are you on board?”
Todd: The last thing you want to do is have an “unhappy wife, unhappy life”.
Steve: Absolutely. (laughs)
Todd: So, you want the Mrs. to be on board, or the significant other, whatever it may be. That’s a piece of advice I have for anyone going into business. You get good advice you need to be willing to shift. You need to be able to say, “Oh, this is not quite working I need to make a change now,” and don’t make that change too late because it may be the difference between staying black or being in the red.
Steve: Yup, it’s called “move quickly.” Don’t hesitate on making those decisions, right?
Todd: Yeah, but do it wisely.
Todd: Don’t change your entire business model, but sometime people have to do that. Ours has shifted. We started out advertising-focused and with the services secondary, now they’re pretty equal. Advertising and services are pretty equal and I see the services stuff maybe increasing a little bit more than the advertising, so it all depends on the economy and what the winds of this are going to drive.
Steve: Sure. Yeah, that’s very important. I’ll just back that up myself, I heard an example that I think really makes sense in this regard – when you take off from the airport and you’re headed from Hawaii to San Francisco if the pilot gets off course he doesn’t go all the way back to Hawaii and start all over again. What he does is make an adjustment and he makes constant adjustments until you arrive at your destination – and I think all of us need to do that a little bit more with our thoughts, but understand where our destination really is.
Todd: And, if you do change directions, it needs to be a team decision. You just can’t surprise people.
Steve: Well said.
Todd: You need to go in and say, “Okay, well, what do you think?” Collectively, you’re going to come up with a decision and you want the team members to be on board because their livelihoods depend on a shift – and it might be a small shift – but I think not every decision has to be run through the team, but you definitely want to use close counsel with those you trust within the company to work that out before you make that decision to make a change.
Steve: Absolutely. Well Todd, on behalf of the Manager Mojo podcast listeners I want to thank you very much for your time today. Thank you for being on the show. Your wisdom and insight has been terrific!
Todd: Thank you for having me and if folks get a chance, check out my personal show. It is not a hobby. It is a business. It selfishly does feed my family – MediaCentral.com. And check our services on it, RawVoice.com, or join one of our communities and be a content creator yourself
Steve: Absolutely. Tell people a little bit more about Geek News Central. Just tell them a little bit about what you do in the show.
Todd: I started off as a blogger. I wasn’t a great blogger, and then the podcasting space kicked off in 2004. I like to talk and I like to talk tech, and so I do a tech show twice a week. I talk about an hour and 15 minutes and I basically break all the tech talk down today for the common man, and a rant from time to time on policies that are affecting us in the world, like fair use, digital privacy and that type of stuff. Twice a week on Monday and Thursday. The show is released Tuesday and Friday morning on iTunes, and of course on Android. But lots of places to consume the show. Check it out. And of course, if you’re interested in new media, Rob Greenlee and I do a show every week talking specifically about the new media space at NewMediaShow.com. I’m passionate about this space, and if you listen to our content from time to time you’re going to gain a Ph.D of knowledge of the new media space.
Steve: I can testify to that. I’m learning every week from you and Rob. What a great show. So I do thank you very much for joining us today.
Todd: Thank you for having me on and everyone else have happy hunting on your business adventures!