Craig Hewitt and Castos

Craig Hewitt is a guy who knows podcasting, so I was super excited to talk to him about his acquisition of Seriously Simple Podcasting. He took a relatively focused WordPress plugin and turned it into a SaaS, and that’s what we talk about in this episode. Lots of great advice here!

Show Notes

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Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Today I get to talk about one of my favorite topics: podcasting! Craig Hewitt has been in the podcasting game for a long time and we spoke shortly after he acquired Seriously Simple Podcasting – a plugin for WordPress. We talk about the acquisition process and how he’s transformed SSP into a new service, Castos. All that and more next, but first, a word from our sponsors.

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of How I Built It. The podcast that asks how did you build that.Today my guest is Craig Hewitt of Seriously Simple Podcasting. Craig how are you today?

Craig: Doing great Joe. How are you doing?

Joe: I am fantastic. So we are trying out a new … I’m trying out a new system for recording the podcast. I’m excited to see how well that goes. Hopefully to you, the listener, that will have no effect on how you listen to the show. It’s just stuff on the back end, that I’m pretty excited to try out.

But today we’re talking about Seriously Simple Podcasting, which is a product that, Craig correct if I’m wrong, you purchased this a while back. Is that right?

Craig: Yeah that’s right. It’s coming up on a year, I guess, since I purchased the plugin from Hugh Lashbrooke. So most folks in the WordPress world know Hugh. He works at Automatic now. And like a lot of other folks that listen to the show, probably know that Automatic has a kind of rule that people who work for Automatic can’t monetize their own products in the WordPress space.

So he had this really fantastic WordPress plugin for podcasting, and couldn’t really take it anywhere because of his employment situation. And I was already in the podcasting world from another business that I run, called Podcast Motor. Which does like concierge, audio editing, and show note production for podcasters. So yeah, it was a pretty good fit. And the opportunity kind of was right in a lot of ways.

Joe: That’s awesome. So I’d love to get into, kind of, the acquisition process for that. But first why don’t you tell us little bit about who you are, and what the product exactly does.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. So my name is Craig Hewitt. And specifically for Seriously Simple Podcasting, it is a plugin for WordPress that allows you to create and manage your podcast feed, and your podcast contents, right from WordPress. So instead of using a podcast hosting platform like Libsyn, or Simplecast, or SoundCloud to create your podcast feed and manage your episodes, you can do it all right from WordPress.

So a lot of people like this because rightfully, they want to kind of manage all of their own domain, and not be relying on any third party tools or anything like that. So when we purchased the plugin, that’s pretty much what it did. And it had a couple of add-on modules that went along with it, that kind of extended the core plugin. And since I purchased the plugin, we built a hosting platform on the back of it. So if you’re familiar with the WordPress space, or the podcasting space, you can think of the analogy of how PowerPress is the plugin that folks who use Blubrry would use in their WordPress site, and then Blubrry is the hosting platform. We did the similar kind of thing and built Seriously Simple Hosting, which is a hosting platform, just for WordPress users, to host their podcast episodes, if they’re using Seriously Simple Podcasting.

Joe: Nice, nice. So you kind of have an all-in-one solution there. Which is, I can vouch for the value of that cause I don’t have that now. I use Blubrry, but I also use Libsyn. And my own add-on for the Blubrry plugin. It’s a lot of work, you know. Certainly something to consider as I move into my off season switching platforms, because you gotta upload it in one place, and then add everything in another place. And then, ’til you have things all over. So it’s nice that you offer a kind of this all-in-one easy solution for WordPress users who might want to do podcasts.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s really turned out to be a great product. Definitely Hugh had built a fantastic plugin for us to build on top of. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t have been possible. But you know, a lot of really happy users from the core plugin, that we were able to kind of share this with. And the adoption’s been pretty good. Yeah, we’re really happy with it.

Joe: That’s fantastic. So I always like to ask what kind of research, if any, you did. Right that’s always my second question. And I think there’s kind of a two-fold answer you can give here, which is, what kind of research did you do when you decided to buy the plugin? And what kind of research did you do in order to add the feature set that you have now? I suspect that your background at Podcast Motor probably helps with that, but let’s start with what made you want to buy the plugin.

Craig: Yeah, so I mean … So Podcast Motor is a productized service. It’s kind of the term you would use to describe it. So we do as much of the same thing for every customer as we can. We do audio editing, we do show note writing, we do transcription, and then we publish your podcast for you. So it’s kind of like an all, like a one stop shop for everything you need for getting your podcast out the door.

And through that, we had exposure to every type of setup possible, right. In terms of how people run and manage their podcast. So it gave us a lot of breadth of knowledge, as to what a podcast looks like from a customer perspective. I’m a podcaster myself too. But I think it didn’t quite give me the exposure to the broader market. But we saw the ability to buy Seriously Simple Podcasting as a ways to diversify our business exposure a little bit. But also take advantage of kind of the name that we had built for ourselves in the podcasting space. And transition it into kind of a more product instead of a service type business.

So at this point, Podcast Motor as a service is pretty stable. We were coming up on 3 years old at this point. And kind of saw a way to fork a little bit of our interest and time and energy into a product which, you know might have a better opportunity to scale and things like that, as we move forward.

Joe: Gotcha. That sounds great.

Craig: And to answer your questions, I’m sorry I guess I didn’t quite answer your question of what kind of research we did as we were looking to buy it.

So yeah, I mean a lot of … As you know, a lot of the WordPress stuff is like word of mouth and reviews, so just talked to some people who had used the plugin, looked at the reviews and the dot org repository. I used the plugin a couple of times, but I really dug into it some more. And then from there, I think that the knowledge that we had from working in the podcasting space so much kind of let us make it make sense pretty easily, if you know what I mean. That we knew the market pretty well to understand what a good product is and isn’t at that point.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. So doing a bunch of client work, essentially, through your service gave you a lot of insight right. You talked to people who probably have a bunch of different setups like you said. Or do things differently and so you probably feel like you can streamline that a little bit with the Seriously Simple Podcasting, and Seriously Simple Hosting.

Now as far as … I know I was involved just a little bit in this, but did you talk to people about like the features, business advice, direction for Seriously Simple Podcasting after you bought it, or did you have like a pretty clear vision before you made the purchase?

Craig: Yeah, I definitely fell in the trap of thinking I knew what all of our customers would want. But no, going into it, I definitely said, you know the market has been proven, that a strong integration with WordPress and a hosting platform makes sense with the model that Blubrry has kind of proven. So going into acquiring the plugin, I knew that was the road we were gonna take.

The other road that we’re currently taking is statistics, and better statistics for podcasters. It’s something that everyone will tell you is lacking in one way or the other. So I think that we knew a lot of the things that paying podcasters, specific to Seriously Simple Podcasting, there were definitely some things that we knew needed to be improved on the core plugin. And we’re in the process of rolling some of those out now, like an updated media player. That just looks really great, and functions beautifully on anybody’s site. So we knew that was a place we needed to up our game a little bit. And we’re in the process of doing that now, which is really cool.

Joe: Nice, very nice. And so, actually this transitions nicely because I have a bunch of questions about, kind of the technical side of things. I’m gonna say I’ve been professionally podcasting for a year and a half. And that’s profession in a sense that I’ve got sponsors, the audience has been very good, I’ve hit some pretty good metrics. And I podcasted a little bit before that, but it was just kind of a disaster. It was like a Google Hangout with like 5 of my friends. The audio quality was not good, nor was the content, cause we were all talking over each other.

So I feel like I’m a little bit keyed into now, the things that at least me as a podcaster, I’m interested in. And so, when we talk about how did you build it, right, you inherited a lot of code and then you started making improvements on top of that right. And so I’m gonna ask you kind of 3 facets that you can think about here. What did you do once you inherited the code? Like how did you build on top of that? What does hosting look like? Because having reliable audio hosting is very important. And what does measuring statistics look like for podcasts? Right cause I know there’s like some guidelines, and Libsyn might do it a little bit differently from Blubrry. And I’m very curious about that. So it’s a three-fold question, if you need me to repeat any of it, I’d be happy to.

But we’ll start with, what was it like inheriting the code base and building on top of it?

Craig: Yeah, so I think that one of the … Going back a little bit to the decision to purchase the plugin. A big part of that was knowing that the core plugin was really solidly built. And Hugh had done a great job of building what we had already. So that gave me a lot of comfort in knowing that things aren’t gonna to break, most likely. Which in the WordPress world you know, is difficult to say with any confidence. So we knew we were building on top of like a strong foundation.

And then look kind of forward to how we built it, I guess we should use the caveat here, that I am not a developer. I pretend to be a developer with our team sometimes, and do some front-end things. But, we hired a developer who was actually a friend of Hugh’s in South Africa. And he’s been the one to architect and build, almost the entire hosting platform, up until this point.

Yeah, so Jonathan has been really instrumental in helping us build things. But I mean in terms of kind our tech stack, we built the podcasting platform on Laravel. So Jonathan is able to do both the WordPress side and the Laravel side, since it’s both PHP, which is pretty cool. We host all of our files and kind of a app on Amazon AWS. So S3 and EC2, and then we use a CDN called StackPath, to deliver files. And that was something that we didn’t start out that way. We used Amazon’s own CloudFront CDN. And it just wasn’t the right technical fit for us, in terms of cost, and scaling capacity to their CDN. So we made the switch to a different CDN provider about 2 months after we launched. So we launched the hosting platform in May.

And about 2 months later, we realized that Amazon’s CloudFront CDN was just not a good fit for us. So we moved to something with a little more flat cost structure. Cause the CloudFront is a lot, dependent on where files are delivered, geographically. And so StackPath, used to be MaxCDN, is kind of just gigabytes or megabytes, or however they measure it for you. And they kind of have tiers too. So as we move up in tiers, it’s not an incremental increase, but it’s just kind of different levels.

Yeah, so starting out with development, I knew that we needed to build a hosting platform. We used a lot of the bests, and kind of best in class technology. So AWS, Laravel, Stripe for billing, and yeah. I just try to take a lot of the fancy guesswork out of it, if you will. Just trying to say like, what’s the absolute best decisions we can make? And we made a lot of those. And it took 5 months to build, and we launched with something that was very complete, I think, for a first version. And have iterated quite a bit since then. And our … By the time this goes live, we’ll have made kind of a big update to the app. So it’s cool to see it evolve as it goes.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. And that’s really cool to hear.

That’s really interesting that Amazon solution is based on where the files are delivered to, right. It’s like paying per mile. So, cool.

So that’s cool that you were able to kind of iterate pretty quickly. Like you saw the writing on the wall, and decided like hey this is … we need to change this quickly. So that’s pretty cool.

Craig: Yeah, so I know I answered one of the questions. Did I get into the last two?

Joe: I would say you answered two, right. Cause you talked about hosting the audio. And then the third question, which I am probably most interested in, is statistics surround podcasts. Cause as a podcaster who looks for sponsors, statistics are very important to me and I … Like you said, I feel like they’re lacking a little bit. Not in the sense of like, well number of downloads doesn’t really tell me how far along the user listened, but I also don’t get a lot of demographic information outside of most of my audience uses iTunes, and most of my audience is from the United States.

So how do you measure? Is there a guideline for measuring statistics in podcasts? And how do you guys go about doing it?

Craig: Yeah, so there is a guideline. It’s called IAB. And I can’t remember off the top of my head what IAB stands for, but we can look it up and put it in the show notes. And yeah, so our podcast statistics do conform to the IAB standards. And so the tough thing as you’re getting at with podcast statistics is for a person who listens to a podcast on their iPhone or Android phone, once the file leaves wherever it’s hosted and lands on your iPhone, we don’t have any visibility. We as a provider of statistics don’t have any visibility to what happened. So, do they listen at all? What time of day do they listen? How long do they listen? What speed do they listen at? Did they skip the part where there’s a commercial segment?

Right, so this is a big thing for you, as a content creator, and owner of a show. But it’s even a bigger deal for your advertisers, right. So not to make you have like sweaty palms or anything, but imagine if you had podcast statistics that said that only 30% of your listeners made it to like that mid-roll segment, where you have your advertisement. Your advertiser probably will come back and say, Joe, your payment just went down by 70% right, cause only 30% of your listeners are making it to the spot that I’m paying for on your show.

Joe: Right, right. Exactly. Yeah.

Craig: So I think this is a potentially really big paradigm shift in podcast advertising because when this kind of data becomes available, it will give advertisers more confidence to enter the space. Which is a really good thing. I think it’ll change CPMs a fair amount after we get some more data about what is quote good in terms of this kind of number.

But Apple announced last year at their big conference that they’re gonna start giving some of this information through iTunes Connect. They didn’t give any sort of timeline on that. And you might know more than I do about when is that expected. But it’s definitely supposed to be coming, and sort of like, on aggregate for an episode, they’re gonna give like a percentage list or something like that. Through the Apple Podcasting app.

Joe: Yeah, and not to interrupt, but the word on the street is that by the time this show is out, the target, I think, was December 2017. So by the time this episode comes out, hopefully we’ll have that. Cause right now, like the information that Apple Podcasts gives podcasters is abysmal. As in, it’s nothing. Your podcast is live and on iTunes. And if you go on iTunes, you can see ratings. And you can see relative popularity, which is like, well it’s more popular than your other shows this week.

So I’m very very excited for that because I would say most … If I’m looking at my statistics at least, most people are using Apple Podcasts to listen to podcasts. So their statistics should be really good. And like you said, advertisers will have … I’ll have more confidence in offering certain advertisers spots on my show. I could say reasonably, I think your show will do well cause my audience is this. But advertisers will have better numbers to back that stuff up.

Craig: Yeah, and as a provider, we’re offering some of this information from our hosting platform. So again, by the time this show goes live, the hosting platform around Seriously Simple Podcasting is gonna be rebranded, and we’re calling it Castos. So C-A-S-T-O-S. So if anybody wants to kind of check out this, they could go to castos.com But the reason we’re rebranding the hosting platform, is we’re gonna be rolling in play back duration statistics for your podcasts that are hosted on our platform. So anyone hosts their podcast on Castos will get play back duration data for anybody who listens to your podcast in the browser, where we have our embedded player. So our player will track how long someone listens. And then give you analytics on that.

So Joe, you’re talking about most people listen to the podcast on the Apple podcasting app. That’s very true of most podcasters, I think. We just don’t have control of that. So the thing we do have control of is, if people are using our hosting platform, we’re gonna give them analytics on when the listeners are using our player to play an episode. And we see that distribution be anywhere between 5% and 10% of listeners. So, we think it could be kind of a representative sampling of your broader audience. So that depending on what Apple ends up giving you, we’re gonna maybe give you something complementary, or slightly different for a different part of your demographic.

Joe: Yeah, and I mean, that sounds excellent. Obviously the more information that I as a podcaster have, the better. And that sounds about right. I think about 5% of my audience listens on the website. Hopefully with the redesign for Season 4, that increases a little bit. And that’s something I’m very excited to see more of because just like having kind of one-off conversations with some listeners, I’ve realized that I need to start adding, which I have for Season 4, like a sponsor spot in the end-roll. Like having the top of the show sponsor spot is nice, but having it at the end is probably a little bit better, gives my sponsors more visibility. And that’s one of my big goals for this season, is to become a partner for my sponsors, without alienating the listeners. That’s always the dance that you have to do, right?

Craig: For sure. For sure. How are you using the statistics you have now to communicate with your sponsors? I always think this is interesting.

Joe: Yeah, oh man flipping the script a little bit.

Craig: Sorry, no I don’t mean to. Sorry.

Joe: No, no, no. This is great. Cause this is an episode about podcasting, and I’m very happy to share that information. So the information that I have over on howibuilt.it/sponsor is most of the stuff that I share with my potential sponsors, right. So downloads is the big metric I have, which is, I’ll do the aggregate, the total amount of downloads I’ve had all time, and then I’ll like a 3 month running average. I think that’s probably most representative of my current audience, right. As well as downloads per episode in the first week, which has been very nice. I find like things teeter off a little bit.

I also try include as many demographics as I can, based on what I know, and what my popular shows are. So, I’ve got mostly iTunes users, primarily in the United States, followed by the U.K. and Australia. Those are things that Libsyn tells me. What I can glean from episode popularity is most of my listeners are probably WordPress developers, or business owners within the WordPress space.

You know, my most popular episodes as of today have been about like building a WordPress community, and then some of the pretty heavy dev episodes with like Pippin Williamson, or JJJ John Jacoby, which are, we get pretty dev heavy. So I’m actually bringing this up now as we speak, my most popular 3 episodes, oh wow, Episode 1 with Jason Coleman, and that was pretty dev heavy. Episode 2 or the second most popular episode, is actually Mike Rohde from Sketchnotes. So I suspect that that one’s popular because he’s a popular person. And then number 3 is Gravity Forms, which is one of the more recent episodes at the time of this records. I think it went live in October. And it’s already the third most popular episode downloaded.

So I think that’s pretty indicative of my audience. So that’s kind of the thing. I’m doing a little bit of guesswork based on what I have. I’ve also recently installed the Facebook Pixel, so hopefully for Season 4, I will have better statistics for demographics. Last night I learned that 28% of my listeners who visit the website like Gary Vaynerchuck. So that’s probably information that I could use somehow, right?

Craig: Sure. Yeah, there you go. Interesting.

Joe: Yeah, I think I answered your questions there. I talked a lot. I think that was …

Craig: Yeah, no it’s good … it’s always just fascinating. I think it’s tough, and I think a lot of us are using a lot of the tools the best we can to infer a little bit about our audiences as podcasters. And yeah, like you said before, there’s just a ton of work that we all can do there. And especially us as like a content or service provider, to help folks understand their audiences better.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, like you said, it is tough. I had a survey … I tried putting out a survey, but I didn’t really incentivize it very much. So I only got a few responses back. I was hoping to really understand the core audience through that survey. But I think the Facebook Pixel is probably … Between the Facebook Pixel, posting statistics and hopefully when Apple Podcasts rolls out, I can get a really good picture of my audience. And you know, I know that this was fairly sponsor specific as far as what we’re talking about, but knowing my audience means I can deliver better content for my audience, right? I can say, oh alright well, mostly developers probably aren’t gonna wanna hear about, I don’t know, you know kittens or something.

Craig: Who doesn’t wanna hear about kittens though? Come on.

Joe: Yeah. That’s I know, that’s a good point. That was a really bad example.

Awesome, well we are coming up on time here. I know we kind of hit both the transformations and plans for the future right. But is there anything any other big things you wanna talk about, as far as your plans for the future go? As you’re rolling out really cool statistics, you’re rebranding to Castos. So are those the big things we can look for on the horizon?

Craig: Yeah, and I think the other thing about that, and kind of why we’re rebranding to Castos.com is we’re opening up our hosting platform to not necessarily be WordPress, I’ll say, dependent. So right now, the only way to use Seriously Simple Hosting is through the WordPress plugin. By the time this goes live, you’ll be able to sign up at Castos for using hosting platform like you would Libsyn or Simplecast. Or, use it right from WordPress like you do now with Seriously Simple Hosting, where you’re using the plugin to kind of manage your content and feed. And then we’re hosting the files for you. So we’re opening it up to where everyone can use our platform. And I think with the statistics capabilities we’re rolling out, it should be pretty fun to see how it resonates with folks.

Joe: Nice, that sounds fantastic. Everything that we’ve talked about today, I will link in the show notes. And before we wrap up, I wanna ask my favorite question. Which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Craig: So I don’t know if it’s a trade secret, but it’s been a big kind of change in my work lately. I have a standing desk, which is definitely not a new thing, but I was a skeptic of it for a long time. And it’s really been great just for my happiness at work, and my longevity. It really changed, kind of how I feel after I get done with work at the end of the day. Yeah, it’s really wonderful.

Joe: That’s awesome. That is a trade secret that I can also vouch for. I am currently standing at my standing desk. So I agree with you wholeheartedly. I feel a lot better at the end of the day. Like I’m not just hunched over. I had some lower back pair for a while that I feel is going away because I’m standing a lot more.

So, what standing desk do you have?

Craig: It’s just the new automatic one from IKEA. I don’t know the name, but yeah, it’s great. Couple hundred bucks. Good investment.

Joe: Yeah, not bad. I like got the Jarvis standing desk because that’s what Wirecutter recommended. And basically, whatever they say I should buy, I’ll buy.

Craig: There you go. That’s gospel, right?

Joe: Yeah, exactly. So awesome. Well Craig, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Craig: Yeah so if you wanna check out Seriously Simple Podcasting by the time this goes live, you can go to castos.com. We’ll have a link in the top, in the nav there. Or you can follow me on Twitter, I’m @TheCraigHewitt on Twitter. I would love to chat.

Joe: Awesome, sounds great. Well thank you so much. Thanks to everybody listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.

Outro: Fantastic. Thanks again to Craig for joining me. Castos is now live and there’s a link in the show notes – you should definitely check it out if you’re interested in podcasting. It’s a great service

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at buildpodcast.net/liquid. They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at buildpodcast.net/jilt.

For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/75/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to patreon.com/howibuiltit/. You can support the show for as little as $1/month.

And until next week, get out there and build something.

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