Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
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Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

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My visit to the TWiT cottage

Posted by Al Doan under Gaining Experience, Travel


Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

Let me preface this with my admission that I am a huge Leo Laporte fan.  Ever since he took my call on “Call for Help”, his TechTV show from back in the day when I was 15, I’ve been following the man.  Like a mediocre song from the Police, I’ve been watching him.

Anyway, one of the business models that have always fascinated me is that of podcasting.  When Leo started his podcast network I instantly fell in love with the weekly update format, and was impressed he could support himself doing what he does.  From casual conversation during the program I’m guessing he does about $1.5 million in revenue each year for his network of podcasts and runs a budget of about $300,000-500,000 to make everything go.  Not a bad business model in my opinion, so I’ve listened (watched when I could) with interest to try and figure out how he does it.  Thus, one of my goals for the year is “Learn more about the podcasting model” and try and figure out where it goes from here.

So I decided I would go and spend a day with Leo and friends.  I emailed him asking if he ever let fans come watch, he replied that he did and then passed me on to his sister for the scheduling.  On my flight home from Hawaii earlier this year, I put a stop into LA on the way back, and my good friend Geoff graciously agreed to make the haj to Petaluma CA, about an 8 hour drive I think.

We got there early, intending to spend a show with him and ended up spending the entire 8 hour broadcasting day with him.  He didn’t have much time to talk, which is understandable, so I observed and asked questions only when I couldn’t piece it together myself.

It was fun to get a bit more of the behind the scenes look at the operation, and I am amazed at what he’s able to do with what is essentially a one man crew.

Leo hard at work in the TWiT Cottage

His operation is really pretty simple when you get down to it – he skypes the calls into a board where it’s mixed then output to a server and recorded.  A couple of mics and some video equipment and Leo has content that costs studios 10x the amount and investment to produce.

I didn’t really need to travel to see that, but I was still pretty surprised that it wasn’t more extravagant or dramatic.  He has built a huge audience and sponsored program with a relatively inexpensive setup.

The video wall

So what makes him successful versus everyone else that is trying podcasting, why is Leo blowing it out of the water?  The answer is expertise and a network of guests with interesting things to say.  You have to have a two edged sword to get people to listen to you anymore.  Leo has an awesome background in technology and progressing media, that’s his one edge, the other is that he can communicate it.

I’ve often noticed people will blog, tweet, or podcast and wonder why no one listens even though they can type and record just as well as he can (it’s all just bits anyway) and the reason is that you have to go develop your expertise in something before you can expect others to value your opinion.  The days of the radio disc jockey are numbered, and we’re moving to people who have the knowledge and background and who are able to convey that knowledge in interesting ways.

Rocking TWiT

That was the magic I picked up at Petaluma, that the future of media is moving away from the pretty faces and fancy makeup crews and shifting towards people who develop niche audiences around topics that they are well versed in.  People will begin to source their news from more strategic sources and the conglomerates will wane in influence as the small networks of great shows with real people will continue to rise.

So in summary, if you want to be a big internet super star, go be great at something before you start talking, and after you do that, the rest is simple.

He gave me his bouncy ball chair

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Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

Silence is Golden

Posted by Al Doan under Gaining Experience, techstars


Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

I couldn’t decide if this should be called “Silence is Golden” or “You Talk to Much” but this is another lesson that has been highlighted through my experience at TechStars, namely that you need to know when to quit talking.

One of the things you pick up on really quickly as you observe people who have achieved real / meaningful success is that they can state a question and wait for an answer, and if an answer doesn’t come, they wait longer and at most offer to explain the question if it’s not understood, then wait longer.  They are not afraid of silence.

New entrepreneurs or up and coming professionals out of college (or a lot of other business folk) have a tendency to fear silence.  So in a similar situation, where they ask a question, before they even let people answer it, they’ll explain it again, then one more time, then wait for an answer, and if the answer doesn’t come, they fill that space with more explaining.  Your audience will learn if they just hold out, you’ll give them the answer you want from them.  If you’re afraid of the awkward space where no one is talking you are forfeiting one of the greatest tools in business in my opinion – silence.

The thought here is often your audience may not realize you’re asking a question, particularly in a presentation where the tendency is to zone out, so the pause is imperative to snap people out of that.  Also it exudes confidence in your question, but this only works if you are confident that you are asking good, well thought-out questions.

I’ve also noticed that we are victim to the same insecurities when we are answering questions – we talk too much.  I once ran an exercise where we sat around a table, I would ask a question and then stop people as soon as they reached an answer.  It was funny because often the answer would come in their “warm up”.  Particularly in entrepreneurship, we feel like no one can understand our ideas, so we should answer, then restate the answer, then bring those two answers together, then finish with a cute cliché phrase, then be done.  Imagine stopping after you give the first answer then letting the person asking the question dig deeper and ask more specific questions.  It portrays a confidence in your answer when you only have to state your answer one way, it’s short, concise, and people will love you for it.  The rolling the eyes bit in meetings, I know for me that mostly comes when a simple question is asked –

“What did you have for breakfast?”

And someone answers

“I had lucky charms… you know the ‘magically delicious’ lucky charms…. It’s the cereal with the marshmallows AND the crunchy cereal bits…. It’s from General Mills it think… so lucky charms cereal…  yup, that’s what I had…. I had cereal”

They could have stopped with any one of those iterations of an answer but they went through all of them, sure that to be properly understood, everyone should listen to them talk around the fact that they had cereal.  It changes the tone of the meeting completely when you can answer “I had cereal” or at most “I had lucky charms cereal” then if they want to know more they can ask, and it’s those questions that give you real data about the person asking them.  What are they interested in, how technical do they want to get, etc.  You forfeit all of that data when you fill the space yourself.

So one of the things I do with the companies here at TechStars is I sit in on mentor meetings with them and take notes.  My notes have 3 parts, and the first part is “Questions following your pitch” and I’ll make a list of normally 6-10 questions they answer, with the intent that they can go back and build concise answers to each question that they regularly get from people.  It takes you from excited entrepreneur who maybe has a good idea | to guy who knows his stuff and has already done the research.  Plus here, a mentor can certainly appreciate someone who can give a direct answer and not waste time – because time is a scarce commodity here.


1)      Don’t be afraid of silence.  Think of your questions before you go into a meeting, ask them, and let people answer.  Often we’re just thinking of what we want to say, so give us a minute.

2)      Don’t speak around the answer, just give the answer.  Practice with a partner, have them ask you a question, then let you explain it back and have them stop you once you get to an answer.  Then have your business partner start kicking your leg in meetings when you hit that same point.

If you do this, your meetings will be better, your contacts and network will respect you more, and gosh darnit people will like you.

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Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
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