Paul Spain isn't your average media personality. The scruffy haired 40-year-old geek owns IT company Gorilla Technology, has more phones than all the pockets in his wardrobe to hold them in and is incredibly up to date with the latest gossip on the government's fibre roll out. Spain is a technology podcaster – and he also happens to be the country's top one at that.
Just over two years ago Spain launched the NZ Tech Podcast, along with Brad Burrows (who would later start his own podcast). Within three weeks it was already charting at the top of the iTunes podcast charts, now sitting in a more humble position but still able to claim to being the top local non-syndicated podcast in the country. His latest podcast about digital media which launched two weeks ago, the NZ Digital Podcast, is already at the top of the business section. Spain keeps his listenership figures close to his chest, but says over 6,500 people tuned into NZ Tech's top episode.
Spain's podcasting has led him to a regular technology commentating spot on TV3 and put him in touch with interesting characters such as rapper Xzibit, Ford chief exec Alan Mulally, and Verge editor Joshua Topolsky.
I talk to Spain about his hobby which so defines him now, the struggles of working in a relatively new type of media (at least for New Zealand) and the art of podcasting.
What initially got you into podcasting?
Around four years ago I started listening to podcasts myself. One of the first was a marketing orientated podcast which funnily enough was talking about making your own podcast with pieces of advice.
What did you learn from that?
If there's already one or two podcasts on particular topic in your region don't bother, it's really hard to get market share if you're not the first or second. That's really stuck with me.
Looking around after we started NZ Tech I found out there were already two other podcasts about tech in New Zealand that weren't doing so well. So maybe that wasn't such great advice.
How did your first episode go?
What I call episode zero was recorded at Microsoft and hasn't seen the light of day. We didn't get all the bits and pieces together soon enough.
We gave it another go, which would become episode one, the end result is much rougher audio than what we're producing today.
What makes a good podcast?
Good consistent content ... Here in Auckland we're really close to the pulse of where our news [technology] is being made. We have access to a lot of the products early on so we can provide more than just commentary from afar, which I find our listeners really like.
What we talk about is really just a reflection of what's happening inside of Gorilla. Part of my role is to evaluate the technology coming into the market, which has a lot of relevance for customers and listeners. Once you get going having a great panel of guests is important and I've been lucky in the networks I've been able to create and guests we've had on NZ Tech.
Was technology always the topic you wanted to focus on?
The things we were talking about was a reflection of what was happening with Gorilla. Part of my role at Gorrilla is to evaluate the technology coming into the market and see if it's of relevance to my customers, so it's a natural extension of that.
You have a business, wife, kid – and now two podcasts. What's been the biggest challenge in maintaining all these bubbles?
The challenge has always been the investment in time and trying to deliver a consistent result.
One of the stats I heard early on is the large majority of podcasts don't get past 10 or 15 episodes.
You've made it to .
Yeah, because it gets Gorilla's name out into the tech community I can jusitify it because of the benefits it brings to the business. Also you have to understand this is a passion and not just a job, if it wasn't I don't know if I could put in those extra hours I put in during my own time.
How do you promote your podcast?
Through blogs, social media and even just emails. When I started I sent out emails to everybody I knew to drum up interest which was handy because of the network I've built working in IT. Now it almost self-perpetuates and guests really help by giving it a plug when they're on.
Currently NZ Tech doesn't carry advertising. The benefits to your business, has that been enough to justify the time you spend podcasting?
Probably not yet.
Will you consider advertising or some other revenue generation method in the future?
Right now it's not a focus. There's potential to have more commercial elements to the podcasts, but this is a long term thing. I expect to be doing this for a number of years so I've got some time to see.
If I do [advertise] I think it will need its own advertising person. It's a lot of time and effort to make that work, I'm not sure I'm the right person for that.
Do you have any advice for people or companies looking to get into podcasting?
Buy or borrow some professional recording equipment and software, as sound quality is really important from a listener’s perspective.
If you do a podcast make sure you have the time to commit to it. Regularity is key and it takes more time than you realise to create something meaningful.
I couldn’t have launched the NZ Tech Podcast on my own. The team of Brad Borrows and Skip Parker were essential in allowing the NZ Tech Podcast to become such a success. The lesson here is to find a great team to work with.
Disclosure: Sim Ahmed is a regular guest on the NZ Tech Podcast and also a contributor to the NZ Digital Podcast. He does not have any financial take in either podcast, although you can always argue exposure is a form of payment.