Since 2008, Colin Gray has been advising podcasters about getting started in business. Now, as well as creating great, inspiring content of his own, he’s leading his team through a transformation of its own…
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
My role is managing the team here at The Podcast Host, from content creators to developers, helping them to produce the content, the tools and the resources we offer to help the podcasting community. A lot of my work is in creating content – written articles, podcasts and videos – and in improving the way we reach our customers, from email campaigns to onsite marketing.
What is it the company does?
We create tools, training and resources that help individuals and companies to start their own podcast. The aim is for those podcasts to inspire, entertain or educate and grow an audience for the presenter or company. Alongside that, we also produce our own shows on a range of subjects, from mountain biking to space exploration. We enjoy creating great, inspiring content and a big part of our focus is pushing the limits on what a podcast can be or do.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I am the founder of ThePodcastHost.com, having created the site in 2011 to offer podcast hosting services. I have been advising podcasters on how to get started since 2008, and have taught the subject in both universities and businesses. I have spoken at Podcasting and Business conferences in the UK and internationally, in front of audiences of many hundreds.
My working background is in online education and web technology, and completed my PHd in entrepreneurial online education. That research centred around finding better ways to help people in work or in business to learn new skills which help them to achieve more. It’s an area that now helps us a lot in creating great effective online courses for podcasters, all of which drives success in learners. That helps grow the reputation of the business as a whole.
I have been self-employed since 2004 and have earned my living in dozens of different ways over that time. I have started a number of different online business ventures, some of which have been successful (and some not!). They range from an online beer shop to a mountain biking resource. My work is always targeted at creating assets for myself and my overall business and generating passive income long term.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think the best leaders are able to infect people with their own values and ethos. I believe it’s pretty hard to lead by direction, by setting tasks and managing people closely as they get on with it. It works in some cases, but it feels unscalable. The people I’ve seen lead most effectively have created a workplace where the early staff are literally infected by their values. That creates the early culture of the company.
Staff that can’t take on those values or that culture are ejected quickly – that’s another leadership skill, noticing that and acting on it quickly – so you gather people, not necessarily that think exactly like you, or even ARE like you, but who are able to share your values, your vision. That makes it scalable to lead a big company, because that core initial team then cascade your culture down to the rest. If you can manage that, then ‘management’ becomes much easier because people can make decisions based on those values, that culture, and therefore need far less direction overall.
I think it’s about creating an environment where you’re able to give your people a problem – the what – and let them figure out the ‘how’ themselves.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Recruitment, at the top. I remember the days when I thought recruitment just meant posting an ad and waiting for the applications to flood in. Nowadays I know that finding the right people – those that can take on your values – is so important, and so difficult, that recruitment is nearly a full time job. When we need new people, I end up spending 3 or 4 days a week working on it.
And I still haven’t cracked it – I’ve still made mistakes, taken on the wrong people. But, I think I’m getting better every time, and an extensive set of real world trial tasks is one of my most valuable tools.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
My family. My bike! By working really hard on being present wherever I am. In the past I’ve been prone to playing games with my kids, but only being 50% there, the other half of my brain constantly trying to puzzle through a current business problem. Same wherever I am, trying to relax – there’s always a bit of me elsewhere.
Nowadays I’m much better at separating it out. So, when I’m on my mountain bike, I’m focussed on that, 100%. Just on the trail in front of me. Some people meditate, but this does the same for me. It’s focus, being in the moment, and even half an hour of that is so refreshing for your brain. I can get off the bike, or finish a game with my kids, and then move to the next thing far less stressed.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Nothing new here – an astronaut! Although I did take it a bit further – I went to Edinburgh Uni and did a degree in astrophysics. Thing is, I discovered that Astrophysics is far less cool telescopes, and far more horrendously complex maths, so I lost interest pretty quick. The internet really kicked in as I was leaving Uni, though, and that’s when I started making websites. I discovered I had a lot more control over what I could do that way!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
With me, it’s when I edit people’s content. My pet hate is fluff and waffle and jargon, particularly in writing. The best way to connect with people in any way, whether it’s to entertain, to educate or to inspire, is to be clear. That means being as brief as possible – saying what you have to say in the least words you can. It means being as simple as possible – ie. using words and language that the most people possible can understand. A
nd it means being as friendly and engaging as possible – no putting on false airs, or pretending to be something that you’re not. It’s so obvious when people try to make themselves sound grand, by overcomplicating their language, by changing their personality, and it’s a sure-fire way to fail when you’re communicating. Particularly in writing.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
We’ll be helping tens of thousands of podcasters to run great quality shows by offering Alitu – our upcoming web app – as a way to automate the production and publishing process. It’ll let people simply upload a raw recording, and we’ll make it sound good, add their branding, and publish it to the web. That translates to a software as a service (SAAS) company with a turnover of between 20 and 30 million per year within 4 years, on our current projection. And it’s going to be fun getting there!
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Try things, don’t be afraid to mess it up, but don’t seek failure. The current trend failure-fetish is a bit crazy, some going as far as to say it’s impossible to succeed without failing a few times first. I prefer to go a bit slower, learn as I go, and succeed without losing everything a few times!
On top of that, don’t be drawn into others’ ideas of success. So many people I meet instantly ask “How many people do you have?” or “What’s your turnover?” People focus so much on the wrong metrics. Aim for the fewest staff to achieve the most possible. Aim for lower turnover and higher profit. More staff equals more logistics and admin, and more turnover equals more work to manage it, so always try to do more with less. You’ll keep stresses lower, costs lower and be more likely to succeed.
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