Ep. 44 - Unexpected Entrepreneurs: How a Passion for Storytelling & Experimentation Built a Successful Podcast Business - with Cody Boyce, Hayden Lee, & Ben Gregson

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Today’s episode is a special one because it features the people behind the scenes of the Strategic Momentum Podcast -- the founder and first few employees of Crate Media, the podcast production company formerly known as Podcast Masters.

Cody Boyce, a musician and the founder of Crate Media, turned to editing podcasts when his career in music hit a wall. As he built his company, he used social media to find Hayden Lee, a sound engineer and fellow musician, as well as Ben Gregson, a writer and editor. From one employee to a talented collective of passionate writers, audio engineers, designers, and composers, Crate Media has now produced a broad range of shows across a variety of clients, from individuals wanting to share their own point of view to small businesses to F500 companies and – and it is just getting started.

In this episode, Cody, Hayden, and Ben share the challenges they encountered and the lessons they learned building a business, and the fuel that keeps them going. Because in the end, it’s a business built on their passions.

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The “Unexpected” Entrepreneurial Path

None of the entrepreneurs behind Crate Media intended to be entrepreneurs. They were freelance writers, musicians, and music producers looking to use their skills and fulfill their passions. Along the way, a great company was built, and it continues to gain momentum as the podcast industry evolves.

Cody Boyce wanted to be a record producer. He studied audio production in college and pursued that path right out of school in 2010, but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get the traction he wanted. He discovered podcasts only a few years later and fell in love with the medium. He realized that he could apply his skills in audio production and found freelance sites where he could find work editing podcasts. By 2015, this became his full-time gig. And as his freelance work exploded, he started building a team to support the growing demands.

Hayden Lee, a fellow musician and audio engineer, was the first permanent fixture of the team. Hayden was based in the UK, studied sound design in college, and joined a rock band post graduation. After touring for a few years, he went traveling and ended up getting into podcasting after starting one himself to share his travel stories. His desire to get more immersed in the space and network with others who shared this same passion led him to Cody through the podcasting community. It was then that Hayden realized his calling.

Ben Gregson, the third permanent fixture of Crate Media’s initial trio, also took a non-linear path. He studied journalism in college, and, post-graduation, took on several freelance opportunities for writing, podcast production, and web design. As a long-time podcast listener, he was also active in the podcast community and found Cody through Facebook when Cody posted about open positions on his team.

At the time, the three worked rapidly, producing and publishing without really knowing exactly what the big picture plan was for the company. But they were committed to testing and learning. As they found success and started taking on more and more clients, it was evident that this was just the beginning of something much, much bigger.


Culture, Communication, and Agility: Core Ingredients to Building Company Momentum

With no formal background in business or even corporate experience, the team organically learned some crucial tenants to building a strong foundation for their company.

First, and most importantly, they discovered the importance of company culture. For Cody, he knew that he wanted to hire only people who were passionate about the same things he was passionate about.

“I mean, there's obviously some skill set that needs to be there, but it's way more important for me to have somebody that is in love with podcasting, is very positive, likes engaging with the team, is happy to talk to clients, and follow up on tasks, and fix things. And just the enthusiasm and the positivity.”

Just those criteria, along with the correct answer to Star Wars vs. Star Trek (these guys only hire Star Wars fans), is how he and the team choose who they start working with. Consequently, the team is now full of positive, enthusiastic, efficient, Star-Wars-loving, hard-working people, and they’ve been able to create a work “family” that operates as a smooth and high-functioning unit.

And communication is key for this team because they’re based all over the world. All correspondence is digital, as they come together in person only once or twice a year. This has enabled them to be highly agile when it comes to delivering for clients, as they’re used to being online all the time and responding quickly to incoming messages. It’s another trait of a corporate company that they’ve discovered on their own and incorporated as part of their brand identity.


Experimenting, Learning, and Evolving as you Grow

As Cody admits, there wasn’t a plan in their early days. Their focus was always on delivering value to their clients by telling their authentic stories.

But as the company’s expanded and momentum has grown, they have learned to pivot quickly. Everything comes back to experimentation – trying out something new (whether that’s a new hire or a new system of automation), seeing if it works, and adjusting accordingly. They’re testing and learning through their evolution, and that practice has led to the natural transition from a production shop to a branding agency; from Podcast Masters to Crate Media.

And at the end of the day, it's helping people tell stories that drives them and gives them the motivation to keep growing.

Hayden says, “Business... is like hill running. While you're running the hill, it seems like a struggle, but you still go to that hill every single day, and you do it because you know it's worth it.”

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Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t have to have all the answers. If you want to start an endeavor, especially a business, you can test and learn along the way to get where you’re going.

  • Focusing on aptitude and passion instead of skills alone will help you find people that can grow with the business. It’s important to create a culture that suits the brand identity.

  • You don't get very far on your own so make sure you've surrounded with the right talent to help get to where you want to go. Because it’s the people on your team that make you successful.

  • Culture matters in a startup business and fit is very important when creating a team that will grow the business together. And the way you may realize that is through testing and learning what characteristics work and what won’t.

  • Being globally distributed doesn’t need to be a hindrance to progress. In fact, it can create the agility that’s highly desired in today’s business environment. It’s possible to make it work by staying dedicated to establishing tight communication and teamwork.

  • It’s always important to be client-focused because it’s about telling their story. That’s the value you deliver which ultimately drives your success.

  • Relationships, both internal and external, are critical in any business - they can’t be transactional. In fact, they can propel you forward in a way that you may not have ever expected.

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