Passion, integrity, and more: The British Podcast Guy breaks down essential tips on how to get noticed and captivate your market
By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.
Manchester-based Mark Asquith, known as the British Podcast Guy, is the Founder and Managing Director of an amazing podcast hosting and growth platform called Captivate.fm. He has built it with his business partner Kieran McKeefery in the northwest of England, hosting over 10,000 shows in a relatively short time.
In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, he shared how he managed to get his business so successful, ultimately leading to the acquisition by media giant Global.
Image from LinkedIn
Long Before Podcasting Became a Thing
The story of Captivate is really about that old cliche of starting your own itch. Mark has been in podcasting for over a decade, and he began back in the old days when there were only a couple of hosting platforms.
He was very fortunate to get into podcasting in the UK when not many people in the UK were doing it. Apart from him, there were only the guys at Cornucopia in Sheffield, Ant McGinley, and Colin Gray.
Mark’s nature is that when he enjoys something, he wants to know a lot about it. He used to own a digital and branding agency, and he was looking for a new creative outlet, and that was when podcasting came along.
In podcasting, he could go to conferences like The Podcast Movement and Pod Fest Expo in the US. He would speak at these conferences that everyone now wanted to go to, and he was probably the only British guy there, along with Colin. They were there before anyone else was, and it’s just because they enjoyed it. It was interesting because no one really cared too much about podcasting.
Image from Mark Asquith
Mark started a couple of podcasts, including pop culture and business podcasts. He considers himself fortunate in several ways.
Number one, when he gets into something, he gets into it. And, number two, he comes from a marketing, branding, design, and digital background. There were a lot of skills there that he could take from the sector he was in and apply to podcasting when no one else was applying them to podcasting.
Now, everyone’s talking about how to market grow a podcast — how to do this or that. Few people talked about these things when Mark got into it. No one was doing it, and yet he was there imparting to others how it should work for their podcasts.
The third thing is that when he was putting the technology together for his own podcast — i.e., the digital tech, the online tech, building a web presence, and the like — there was a huge gap in the market for WordPress.
He had a lot of entrepreneur people wanting to do websites and build integrated hosting with their websites for their audio and analytics. And no one was doing it, save for one company called Blueberry which was doing it at the tiniest little smidgen. Mark then built a business called “Podcast Websites,” offering fully-managed WordPress service with integrated audio hosting. That business led to Captivate later on.
On His Speaking Engagements in the US
Before the lockdowns hit in 2020, Mark was out in the US. He’d spend five to six months at these podcasting conferences. And it’s fortunate that he got to know everyone and got immense feedback without asking.
People would, by themselves, state the things they couldn’t do yet with podcasting. At the same time, he has produced 1,500 or so podcast episodes himself (He still does).
He then took all the user feedback he was getting from people on the ground and combined it with his experience of encountering things that a hosting company or platform can’t do. He brought it all together and created Captivate.
Screengrab from Captivate
His speaking in conferences in the US, not in continental Europe, wasn’t a strategy for customer acquisition. It was because there was nothing content to Europe. There was nothing in Britain. Everything was in the US.
If you look at the trends in podcasting overall, the market share of listenership, production, hosting companies — and even Captivate’s own market share — is still heavily biased towards the US. Though it’s equalising out much more now, the legacy customers are still very significantly skewed towards the US. And if you get to go to a conference in Vegas, you're not going to argue, are you?
But you might ask: If you're building a business in Europe or Asia, should podcasting be part of your strategy? Does it really make sense to have a podcast unless you're focused on America?
Today, the America part of the question doesn't matter anymore. For Mark, there are enough people in enough territories that know enough about podcasting that it will work if you choose to make it work.
However, the question of whether you should have a podcast in your mix is very different.
In his case, podcasting is something he loves. As mentioned, he’s been doing it for over 10 years. It’s his job and career. It’s what he enjoys doing. Even if he didn’t have Captivate, even if I didn't now work for Global, and even if he didn't speak all over the world doing it, writing on it, educating on it — he would still podcast. He would still talk about Star Wars or DC Comics or whatever.
Image from Freepik
What he wants to point out is that there’s no point in starting a podcast unless you can put time into it. Sadly, it’s often what happens with entrepreneurs selling podcast courses. They think they can make a quick book on how to podcast because everyone wants to get into podcasting.
The problem is it sort of used to be true six to seven years ago when there weren’t many podcasts around. There were only 200 to 300,000 podcasts compared to 50 million blogs and many YouTube channels. It was sparse, so you could create any podcast and generally get a decent listenership that is enough to build some kind of funnel and sales focus.
If that was your goal, you could do that. But now, you can’t. Now, there are millions of podcasts, and they get even parodied in TV shows and movies. That's how obvious it has become to have a podcast these days.
Think of when you’re creating a YouTube channel. You could do it now: You could set up a channel on your phone and publish something to YouTube. But will it grow? It probably won’t. because you’d need time, tactics, and strategies.
Podcasting is as good as any other medium. It even has a little bit of an edge over certain mediums — for instance, YouTube, in the sense that it can be passively consumed and it can be consumed in a more diverse range of places (whether you’re in the car or walking).
Keep in mind that podcasting won’t work for you unless it’s good.
How About Publishing Podcasts on YouTube?
Speaking of YouTube, Mark is also not into the strategy of taking a YouTube video and repurposing it to audio because the design is different. And the same is true if it’s vice versa.
Mark and his team ran an experiment during the lockdown. He thought: What if I just published my podcast on YouTube? And so they uploaded an episode, complete with some incoming music. On a podcast, it sounds great; on YouTube, the content is good, but they got comments about how the music is off.
During the experiment, he was also able to banter with commenters, saying that he could actually see why that kind of thing wouldn’t work — he knew he needed to do things differently, like the editing and the visuals.
Image from Freepik
Publishing a podcast to YouTube is great for getting noticed, but it has to be done properly. It can't just be tacked on like a lot of people do.
Mark compares it to what happened with search engine optimisation (SEO) back in 2007. Back then, local builders and plumbers were coming to his agency, saying that they need to do SEO. He would ask them if they did indeed need it. If 20% of enquiries were coming from Google and 80% from referrals, wouldn’t it be better to build a referral scheme instead?
Some things trend. But if you don’t do them properly, it won’t work. The same is the case for podcasting because it’s not as simple as just hitting record and publishing it.
How Did Captivate Captivate the Market?
Mark recently sold Captivate to Global, whose network includes iHeartRadio. It’s an accolade and a credit to what he built with both passion and technical expertise, considering that he hates investors.
Their company has no investment whatsoever — they were fully bootstrapped. He started working for himself because he doesn't like people telling him what to do. Captivate was built without asking anyone what they wanted.
Mark knows how to do good customer research because he’s done it for other startups. He did it through his agency. He knows how to do it, and he can do it well. But he’s never done it for Captivate because people only know what their deficiencies are and what they wish would solve a problem that they're having, literally, this second.
The old entrepreneur cliche, “Ask people what they're struggling with and give them a solution” sounds brilliant on paper, but, it doesn’t get you very far.
What the folks at Captivate did was make useful things. They didn’t ask people, “Would you use this thing?” or “Would you use a dynamic show notes builder that saved you 30 minutes in your show notes?” Some people might say they would, but if you ask them to pay for it, they would say no because it’s not much of a problem.
Screengrab from Captivate
Their strategy for Captivate is that the hosting and the analytics part of it should be the best-looking and easiest to use. But they shouldn’t be applauded for that because that’s the basic. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be in the game in the first place.
And so they made their platform the best it can be. It's the easiest to use, and they get commended for that, as you can see on Trustpilot.
The other thing is that they have the best support in the industry (which you can again look at on Trustpilot). They are support-focused, and even Mark still does support.
Another thing that they’re doing is building an ecosystem of products that will sit around Captivate's hosting offer and will help people with their daily podcasting lives. Mark thinks that they should probably give all of that away as part of the hosting cost because if people keep hosting, Captivate will get bigger and their users, too, will get bigger. Everyone wins.
When it comes to networking, marketing, and getting noticed, Mark is naively simple. His approach is the same as his approach to a conversation in the bar with friends: to just be unequivocally himself.
Through 10 years of speaking, giving everyone the time of day, trying to help as many people as possible — and connecting as many people as possible to others who can help them — he was able to build a great network.
On Getting Acquired by Global
Mark wasn’t looking to sell Captivate, but Global came to them when they were looking to acquire a hosting platform. And the folks at Global are nice people. They love what they do: They love audio, they love creating, they love on-air, they love broadcasting, and they love podcasting.
The good thing about Captivate is that their product stood alone. It’s incomparable to any other hosting company. On paper, it's about hosting podcasts, but where else do you get integrated guest booking, dynamic show notes, and other things that they do?
But it’s not just about integration. They have created a toolkit that simply didn't exist and still doesn't. You overlay that with the fact that he and Kieran have all this experience and he himself is pretty outspoken.
Nonetheless, he was out there not to get Captivate acquired but to test the water. If you watch Mark’s TEDx Talk where he emphasised the need to choose happiness and control, you’ll learn that he didn’t like anyone dictating what he does at all. To get acquired was the last thing on his mind. Why would he want to get a job and let other people be able to tell him what to do? It just didn't fit with what he’s been doing in the last 20 years of his life.
However, like any good entrepreneur and startup founder, you've got to test your assumption. So they got Captivate on MicroAcquire, a site to sell smaller businesses. Again, they weren’t there to get sold. In fact, the valuation of their company there was way off.
He and Kieran agreed that they don’t want to get acquired because they know everyone's a tyre kicker. Everyone is looking to get Captivate for the tools and strip it down to its bare parts. They don't necessarily want strong-willed founders in place.
Image from Global
Then Global came along. Because they at Captivate weren't looking to sell, they were much more open to the conversation. There was nothing to lose.
It’s not like they needed the acquisition. But the people at Global seemed decent. And they were looking at Global’s vision, which is to let Mark and company carry on what Captivate has been doing and keep building it. At the same time, they will get the opportunity to work on the wider podcasting industry — which is something that they wouldn't be able to do if they were just siloed into Captivate.
It was a fascinating experience but all that opportunity came from just being a genuinely active person in the industry.
Today, in podcasting and in a lot of other business industries, people would get into it because they think they can make money. And they can. But, especially in an industry like podcasting or any creator-led industry, it's obvious if you get into it because you want to make money. People can see through that.
And although many companies started podcasting because they thought they could get acquired in podcasting, they still haven't because it's obvious that they're in it for that. And in an industry like podcasting, buyers are not just looking to buy products. They're looking to buy people, and it stands out a mile. So it’s very important to be genuine.
Insightful Words on Getting Noticed
To get noticed, it’s fundamental to be wholly in the industry that you're in; to give to that industry, and to go and be present in all of the things. Without loving and being fully present in what you do — in your marketing strategy, product strategy, product development, brand design, and launch tactics — everything else will be superficial and will be about the numbers.
If you genuinely love what you do and you give to it, the numbers will naturally come because you will unequivocally be absolutely everywhere and be so well known that it's impossible for the numbers not to come.
Unfortunately, people try and do it the other way. They try and launch something, and then get well-known. Remember that you have to give to the thing first. That is not always easy, but it works beyond all else.
All you have to do is look at any business that you can think of that has done what you aspire to do — whether that's grown or it's been acquired; look at the founders, and you will notice that there will be that one common trait of starting doing something before deciding they wanted to make money out of it.
To find out more about him, check him out on Twitter, @MrAsquith.
This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.