Jack Rhysider is the creator and host of Darknet Diaries, audio stories specifically intended to capture, preserve, and explain the culture around hacking and cybersecurity.
Jack Rhysider is the creator and host of Darknet Diaries, audio stories specifically intended to capture, preserve, and explain the culture around hacking and cybersecurity.
Darknet Diaries was started in 2017 and receives more than 300,000 downloads per episode. Jack has a Patreon with nearly 6,000 patrons for a total of nearly $20,000 per month.
Darknet Diaries adheres to journalistic standards by fact-checking and ethical sourcing of information. They adopt principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.
Jack is a veteran of the security world. He gained his professional knowledge of security by working in a Security Operations Center for a Fortune 500 company, a place where threats are detected and stopped. During that time he was exposed to hundreds of client networks ranging from schools to government, to banks, and to commercial organizations.
In this episode, we talk about Jack’s full production process, how he built an audience in the early days, why he turned down the opportunity to join a big network, and how his tenacity helps him market the show and secure great guests for Darknet Diaries.
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Jack Rhysider 0:00
So I knew there was probably a bigger audience for this. And of course, you know, I'm going to my dentist or the grocery clerk and we're talking about hacker stories. Like, why is my dentist talking about hacker stories? Everyone seems to be interested in this as well.
Jay Clouse 0:15
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. Thanks for being here and hanging out with me here today. And thank you to so many of you who signed up to receive emails about each episode of this show. If you aren't already on that list, every Tuesday, I send an email with a behind the scenes look at the show, and how I learned about and booked that guest. If that sounds interesting to you, take a second, go to the show notes or visit jayclouse.com to subscribe to that list. Today is a really fun episode because I'm talking with another Indie Podcaster, who is absolutely crushing it. His name is Jack Rhysider and before he was a podcaster, he had a really interesting background.
Jack Rhysider 1:21
I was a network security engineer working for Fortune 500 company, securing networks to keep bad guys out or whatever, watching logs to see if there is anybody in there and just kind of securing the system.
Jay Clouse 1:44
That may sound kind of intense, or maybe even a little bit boring. But either way, it probably doesn't sound like the typical starting point for a mega hit podcast. But Jack wasn't a stranger to creating things independently either.
Jack Rhysider 1:48
I had been blogging for about seven years before that, basically anything that I would hit professionally and couldn't find the answer to on Google, I'd be like, Alright, well, I'm, there's no map for this, I gotta go off the road. And so I just figured out and then blog about it, here's how I solved this problem. And I had also been throwing together all kinds of other projects, right? So I tried making different web apps and different programs and different things like that. They didn't have any real success. And I had always wanted to make something that was just really, like entrepreneurial or online or something like that, right. So I've just been watching people pass me by for decades of like, Oh, yeah, I remember when that website just started. And now it's a billion dollar company or a trillion dollar company.
Jay Clouse 2:34
So Jack kept blogging, and he also kept his eyes open to other opportunities to create something new. And as his blog grew, and he spent more time in the world of IT and cyber security, he noticed a gap. He was spending all day not only learning about cyber security, but also hearing some amazing stories about cyber security and cybercrime. And when you would tell other people these stories, he saw their eyes light up, people love to hear about them. So in September of 2017, Jack decided there might just be a market out there for a podcast to tell these stories.
Jack Rhysider 3:08
These are true stories from the dark side of the internet. I'm Jack Rhysider. This is Darknet Diaries.
Jay Clouse 3:33
Darknet Diaries tells stories specifically intended to capture, preserve and explain the culture around hacking and cyber security in order to educate and entertain both technical and non-technical audiences. And to say that there was a market for Darknet Diaries would be an understatement. The show is now nearly four years old with just under 100 episodes, and things have been going pretty well for Jack.
Jack Rhysider 3:56
I mean, it's changed everything about my life, right? So it's my full time job. I'm making more money now than I was as a as a network security engineer. I have 300,000 downloads per episode, which is in the in the podcast world. That's really amazing because that's like the top 1% of the top 1% in podcasts, so it's it's really up there. And when I go to conferences now, literally like half the conference knows who I am. So every other person I walked by, I'm like a mini celebrity to them, right? Yeah, these IT security conferences. And like you said, the Patreon is going really well. 18,000 a month there, so I've got the influence now, I've got the money, I've got everything that you know I dreamed of. But at the same time, the biggest takeaway of it is the amount of people that have just shown appreciation for it and said how much I've changed their lives, which I didn't expect this but this is the thing that really has paid off the most as far as feeling rewarding for making it. I've changed people in the world and it's just so crazy to think about just it's great all around.
Jay Clouse 5:04
So in this episode, we talked about Jack's full production process, how we build an audience in the early days, why he turned down the opportunity to join a big Podcast Network, and how his tenacity helps him market the show, and secure great guests for Darknet Diaries. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @jayclouse. And as you'll hear Jack say in this episode, he is the beneficiary of his listeners sharing the show and you can help me with just the same. Tag me, say hello, let me know that you're listening and now let's talk with Jack.
Jack Rhysider 5:44
I've always had this idea that I could make anything better, like any product better, like it just put it on my desk, and I can figure out a way to improve it. And that was just kind of something I've always felt like. And so I'm like, why don't I just make my own things if I'm if I'm so creative, not so much artistically and stuff but just I like making things, I like building stink things or designing or some there's put some ideas together. And it's just one of my favorite things to do on my spare time is just come up with ideas for products, websites, software, whatever. And so it just felt like a natural fit to me that I should be out there, doing some entrepreneurial thing, making something and getting it out there. And, and you know, at the same time, it did feel like there's it's rewarding to make something that people appreciate and you change the world, you made it better in some way. And so I wanted to leave that mark in some way as well.
Jay Clouse 6:36
As someone in engineering, with a background in engineering, when did you start to appreciate content, both blogging and then eventually audio as a product, as opposed to like really hammering down on why I want to build websites and build apps, something that was very technology specific?
Jack Rhysider 6:53
Well, the blog was started just because I needed a place to take notes, you know, I was hitting this same problem over and over and forgetting how I solved it last time. So I was like, I gotta write this stuff down and I might as well write it on a public ledger for everyone to see. Like, there's no difference if I do it privately or publicly. So that's where, you know, it kind of started and then I started seeing people appreciate it. They're like, oh, my gosh, I searched all over the web and I couldn't find the answer to this and now here it is. Thank you so much. And that was that was very rewarding. And you know, at the same time, I had some Google ads on there. And so there was a little bit of money coming in. So I was like, well, I, you know, I'm hitting all kinds of things I've liked. I'm teaching people things. I'm helping people. I'm making money off this, it's helping me because this is the notes, I refer to myself when I'm meeting these problems. And so it was just so valuable to me to just have a blog out there. And yeah, I didn't know where I was gonna go next with it. And you know, maybe it was a different blog, because I did make another blog, like a local city blog, and some cooking blogs and other things just, you know, dabbling with other stuff. But that one was pretty much the main one. And yeah, it was, it was pretty rewarding.
Jay Clouse 7:59
It was just like, you're blogging about how you are preventing or solving security vulnerabilities at the company you are working at?
Jack Rhysider 8:06
Yeah, I mean, it was it was like, Oh, we hit this syslog message, right? There's a log message that, you know, it's showing you an error message or something, and you Google it, and there's no, there's zero like literally zero hits for this error message. And you know, how could there be like error message 90076 and nobody has ever documented this ever on the internet, right? So now, I want to know what that error message means and how, what do I need to do to fix this problem to get over this? Right? So I had to open up a, you know, a case with the vendor and say, can you explain this to me? And then they would have an engineer explained to me on the phone, and then I'd write that down and blog about it or whatever, right? So these are the ways that I would solve these things and yeah, it was, it was super helpful.
Jay Clouse 8:49
In a world of trying to hack into systems and trying to protect systems. It always kind of seems to me like, an arms race. Like, is there ever really an advantage to one side? Or is it seems like the side of protection is constantly playing catch up to me? What's your take on that?
Jack Rhysider 9:07
Yeah, it does seem, it does seem a little asymmetrical, where the attackers just need to be right once while the defenders need to be right every single time, because if they miss once, then the attackers get in. But I do think that things are designed with security in mind, right? So like, the whole world has the defenders back, basically, you know, the vendors are trying to make things secure and it's a big story if it isn't, you know, so it's, it's the norm, it's supposed to be that way. It's kind of surprising, whatever it is, and so, yeah, it does seem to be very tricky for for us to defend when somebody, the thing is, is that when you have somebody with enough resources and motivation, they can get around anything. Even if the network is completely secure, they can find somebody who works there and pay them a lot of money or threaten them. You know, we're gonna we're gonna hurt your family or something if you don't steal these documents and get it to us, right? So there's always a way if somebody has enough, you know, resources and motivation, there's always a way.
Jay Clouse 10:08
So you're doing this blog, when does the blog become the idea for a podcast?
Jack Rhysider 10:14
I don't think the blog ever did become an idea for a podcast. But I mentioned the blog, because it was, it was something that I had practiced writing technical stuff, as simple as I could, that was one of the things in there, right? So I have to explain what a VPN is. Well, that's kind of tricky, right? So I kind of, you know, stood around in my head trying to figure out the best way to explain this and then I would write and scratch all that out and rewrite it and scratch all that out and then say, okay, I'm happy with this, but then a year later revisit and say, no, no, I, there's a better way to explain this now, right? So it was kind of fun to explain these technical concepts, in as simple terms as possible, because I think it was very important with the blog is, let's not mess around with anyone's time, let's make sure to give them the value that they want right away. And not like, you know, when you see a cooking blog, you see, like six pages of some story about Thanksgiving, or somebody you know, it's like, what I just want this, the, I just want the cooking recipe, I don't need your life story. So that was kind of my goal is let's move this stuff up to the top. And so transitioning that I think that was a skill of teaching people things of explaining things, simply, I mean, technical concepts are hard to explain, simple sometimes. So I tried to I tried to just that was kind of the practice. I think that without that, when I was doing a podcast about hacking stories, and IT and InfoSec, that kind of carried over. And I think that was maybe the biggest skill that carried over, but it didn't quite transform from a blog that the audience is entirely different.
Jay Clouse 11:44
So where did the idea for podcasts all come from? And why did you say I want to do audio?
Jack Rhysider 11:49
Yeah, it's like a million ideas. That's the thing, right? So growing up listening to Ira Glass, and This American Life and Radiolab and all these things that when you hear it on the radio, and you get to where you're going, and you don't want to get out of the car, because you just want to keep listening to it. There's something powerful in there that I was recognizing, you know, like, why was this dumb story about a dog so fascinating to me that I had to become late for my appointment, because I just really wanted to hear it, like it made no sense. Like, I'm not interested in that story whatsoever. But the way they explained it, they had me so glued and hooked, and I needed to know what was going to happen. And there was just something about that. And I just felt that that was just so powerful. So you know, you got that cooking in the back of my head for 10 years, 15 years, whatever. And, you know, the boom of podcasts after cereal and all this stuff. And I'm like, the where's the podcast about hackers stories. And at the same time, I'm going to all these conferences, and I'm meeting people who have amazing stories, that you know, the time where they were paid to break into a bank to test the bank security, but they broke into the wrong bank. And it's like, whoops, I had just hacked into the wrong bank. And I have no authorization to do this. Right. That's an amazing story. And I want that to hit the you know, general audiences, not just in those little circles in the in the IT security space. And so I knew there was probably a bigger audience for this. And of course, you know, I'm going to my dentist or the grocery clerk and we're talking about hacker stories. Like, why is my dentist talking about hacker stories? Everyone seems to be interested in this as well. So at that time, I also heard somebody tell me like at a at an IT security conference, you know, a lot of egghead technical talks, somebody's like, if you want to be a superstar in this space, don't try to give a talk at one of these. IT security talks, go give a talk at Comic Con or something right? And the people there if you tell them you're a hacker, they're gonna flip their minds, they're gonna be like, oh my gosh, tell me all the things about what you do and stuff. And I guess lastly, as I couldn't find a show out there that just scratch that itch of my wanna high drama hacking story that is, you know, open for everyone but not too dumb. I don't want it to be Discovery Channel of just like, well, we're not going to tell you any of the technical stuff. We're just going to tell you all the drama. Now I still want some of the technical stuff. I think I think a lot of people are more technical than they give themselves credit for. The I was just like, that show doesn't exist. I can't find it out there. And you know, the IT shows were were either very, newsy or nerdy or interviewee but they weren't filled with audio scores and, you know, multiple peat guests talking and stuff it was it was not the same. So yeah, I wanted to show and all these things were in my head, I was just like, okay, maybe I can make something and that's kind of where the idea came, as short as I can be.
Jay Clouse 14:44
After a quick break, Jack and I go step by step through his process of producing an episode of Darknet Diaries from beginning to end. And a little bit later, Jack talks about how he doubled down on marketing the show in its early days. So stick around and we'll be right back.
Welcome back to my conversation with Jack Rhysider of Darknet Diaries. As a podcaster, it's immediately obvious to me as a listener, just how much production and sound design Jack puts into each episode. And let me tell you, that's really impressive for an Indie Podcaster. So I asked Jack, if he expected this level of quality from himself, even in the early days of getting started.
Jack Rhysider 15:22
Yeah, I mean, the first Google Search I had was how does radio lab make their podcast and that wasn't very fruitful. But I eventually found a book called out on the wire, which is made by Ira Glass, people Radiolab, Roman Mars, and many more in that area of high production shows and that was the that was the book that really gave me the confidence that maybe I could do this. But of course, at the same time, all those shows are made by 10 or more people and that was really disheartening as well. So then I had to kind of analyze the space even more and say, Are there podcasts out there that are made by one or two people that have this same kind of high production value, and that's when I hit shows like, criminal is made by two people. And then there's some mixing by a third person, but it was it was mostly two people. And there's another show called, I think, First Day Back and that one is made by one person, and it has those, it has that you know, those elements of really high production. And I was like, okay, if one or two people can do this, then it is within reach. And here's the blueprint, right? The book explains it's, it's kind of like, here's, here's how these storytellers make their audio, right? And then and so it's like, okay, I think I can do this. So I had the drive, the confidence and the the know how, or the you know, the book on teaching me how and that's how I got started. Because if you just make an interview podcast, I can just be figured out in a weekend, you know, you can you can figure all the gear and stuff, but I'm, I'm doing like I said, high production. There's, there's music behind it. I got multiple guests that I'm interviewing, there's a story that we got, and we're following a story arc. So now there's all kinds of story telling elements and writing involved. And so it wasn't just the equipment and the logistics of it, it was really, how do you put together the production of it all and and that was quite a challenge at the beginning.
Jay Clouse 17:15
I haven't read out on a wire, but now I'm adding it to my reading list. What are some of the things that stick out to you almost four years later about that book that were so foundational to putting the show together?
Jack Rhysider 17:27
Yeah. So there's a storytelling formula. They have one, everyone has their different formula. But what are the formulas that stood out was one that goes like this. This is a story about x, but y happens instead. And this is really interesting to me, because what's, what's the story arc? Right? So let's say you know, that guy who wanted a pen test, a bank, but we got one guy into the wrong bank, right? This is a story about a penetration test. But they hacked the wrong bank instead, right? They got into the wrong thing, because that's that, but it's such an incredible part of storytelling because it's telling it means that something is going to go wrong that we don't expect. And that's kind of the one of the helpful things about storytelling is, we think the story is going to go this way but instead it takes a total left turn.
When you go into a bank, you see all kinds of physical security checks are thick panes of glass between the tellers and customers, vaults with the large heavy door, cameras everywhere, a security guard is walking around. But do you think about ways you could bypass all of that, you might notice a back door to the bank, wonder if it's unlocked, or the door between the tellers and customers is so short, that you can jump over it. Or maybe you see a blind spot and the way the cameras are pointing. In this episode, we're going to test the physical security of a bank but our goal isn't to steal cash, it's to get access to the teller's computer. In this episode, we're going to hear a story from Jason E. Street.
Jason E. Street 18:58
Jack Rhysider 18:59
Jason is one of those guys that has endless stories of incredible things that have happened to him. He's also a Diet Pepsi addict. When you talk to him, you hear him say random things like,
Jason E. Street 19:09
If they were drinking the Diet Pepsi that gets me, it's usually trying to get rid of the Diet Pepsi that gets me. I almost died being off a cliff in Bulgaria.
Jack Rhysider 19:16
While I was talking to him, I was kind of curious to hear the backstory of all these little footnotes that he was throwing at me. But it didn't take long before I heard him say something that I just had to hear the whole story.
Jason E. Street 19:28
I accidentally robbed the wrong bank the last time I was in Beirut.
Jack Rhysider 19:32
And that is such an incredible way for us to just as we're listening we're so huh? What? How could that have been? There's no way that have that that could have happened. That's impossible. And so we're learning about it as the person's learning about I don't know, it's, that's the formula. This is a story about x but y happened instead so sometimes when I was writing stories at the beginning, I was lost in them right? I didn't know how they were going to end or where we how we can go to the next part or all these things. And so then I would just kind of not just, you know, I knew what the story was about because I had the broad level, but now we can shrink it down. Okay, so in this 90 seconds, what's in this 90 seconds that I can explain in the same formula? Right? And so, whenever I got lost, I would just go back to this kind of scaffolding, this framework and say, okay, what am I missing as far as this goes, and then that all the pieces would just come together. And so I never really had any sort of writer's block, because I had these tools to help me get through it.
Jay Clouse 20:28
I love that I love that framework. And it's interesting, because on one hand, it almost feels like you're spoiling the punch line right off the bat. But then also, I mean, I get hooked by stories that start off with that, because even though I know where we're headed, the entire time, I have this open loop of like, okay, I know where we are in the story right now. I'm like thinking through how, how do I think we're gonna get to that end point that I know, we're destined for? It's an interesting duality, because it feels like I already know the outcome, so why am I so engaged in the story? But it works.
Jack Rhysider 20:58
And like, there's, there's some stories that you'd never think there were going to get to that outcome? Because like, you know, I was listening to one marriage podcast story, right? And at the beginning, they break up, I think, then that the person gets married to someone entirely else. And I'm like, how do they get married? They're already they're married to someone else. This isn't possible. And so you know, somehow they've got a, you know, they're going to separate and get back together at the end, and you're sticking around to figure out how in the world, are they ever going to do this or something. So it's, it's really fascinating.
Jay Clouse 21:28
At this point in the conversation, I couldn't resist getting into the weeds a little bit. With so much production work going into each and every episode, I wanted to get a full look into Jack's workflow from taking an episode from idea to reality.
Jack Rhysider 21:41
So I have a few ways I get story ideas, right? So I go to conferences, and I listened to a lot of people talk so it could be just somebody gave a talk at a conference, you know, these IT security conferences I go to, I could also just see the news, right? Because I'm, I'm tuned in because that's what I was doing for my day job. I saw what Russia was doing and China was doing a hacking stories and stuff like that, right? So those are fascinating. I could do something there but now I'm in the position where if enough people know my show that they're bringing me stories, so that's cool, too. Oh, I also have Google Alerts. So I look for things to tell Google like anytime there's a news article that says hacker was killed. That's the kind of unsuspecting, right? That's not we don't really suspect that but that could be a good story, or biggest hack ever, something like that, right? So these kind of keyword searches I'm looking for on a daily basis. And so you know, stories come to me in that way. And then I'll interview the person, sometimes it takes me a year to get the interview, I'll be not just knocking on shoulders,
Jay Clouse 22:37
Jack Rhysider 22:37
But asking over and over, like, please, please, please do we do this yet. And, you know, sometimes people are just too busy. They just don't see it or whatever but I'm persistent, and I'll try to get it. But yeah, I'll get the interview and then, if I, you know, probably do some research and more of the story before the interview, or something and do some more research after the interview, and then get the story together. So I'm writing the script and the narration, weaving in the audio, right? So I'm taking like I'm listening to audio on okay, well, this little clip here is great to stick right here and as I'm explaining this part, and stuff like that, so I write it out, and then I narrate it. And then I edit the narration, because I really suck at narrating so I probably say every line twice. And then I have to go back and take out those blips. And then I have to stitch it all together or assemble it. And then I'll just go ahead and add the sound to it. So there's probably like 15 songs that I add to each episode, on average,
Jay Clouse 23:32
Jack Rhysider 23:33
And then I listened to it. And it's only at that point that I can actually stand back and look at, look at the painting on the wall and say, does this look like anything even legible, right? Because when you're in all that mess to begin with, it's just impossible to tell. I mean, when you're when you're dealing with a 30 page script, you can't stand back and look at it and say, is this making any sense? So it's only when I, you know, I'm going to do some yard work or something and I am listening for an hour and I could just absorb it for the first time ever, then I can I can know if it's good or not. Yeah. And then and then I there's like six more rounds of edits. So that's kind of how the show gets put in and of course, I get some, some artwork, put it up and put it on the host and add a web page and stuff like that. But those those things I was doing all by myself for the first 40 episodes.
Jay Clouse 24:22
Well, let me let me zoom in on some of that first, and then we'll go to post Episode 40. You hear the idea? And you say, okay, that's interesting. That sounds like a good concept for a show episode. And you probably pretty early on know what the this is a story about x, but y happens instead. But as you're laying out this episode framework, you're starting to get into the script. Are you discovering that, as you create start to finish or do you start to like, create a skeleton of sorts and then fill in the pieces?
Jack Rhysider 24:52
I think be like, somewhere in there. As you know, maybe as I'm listening to the interview, I'm realizing like oh, he yeah, I'm taking a note on where the big turns are right? Because I think that's important. We're expecting the story to go in this direction but all of a sudden, it just completely changed gears, right? Everything is just switched over. So, that is an important part, that's probably the most important part of the story is when it completely changes in a new direction. And so it's not so much that I'm building that formula out today. I mean, I was at the early days. But now I'm like, okay, those, these are the moments that I that I really care about, right? So I want to take those slow. If we go through a moment like that, I will typically in the interview, say, let's go to the beginning and do it again, not repeat the same things. But now that I know that this was such a major change of the story, I want to know, like you told me that you told me the meat and potatoes of it. But now I want to hear the emotion behind it. Like what did it feel like when all of a sudden you learned about this? Because often our feelings are what we hit our first and then our logic hits a second, right? So they're telling us telling me what logically happened. But no one know what emotionally happened first, like when you open that envelope, what happened to you emotionally, because that's that happened first, not what you saw, right? So I go back and try to figure that out. I do take notes mentally on what my favorite parts are. And then just make sure that that gets in there. And then that kind of defines the story. As far as as major peaks.
Jay Clouse 26:23
When you talk about the interview, you pull in a lot of audio from the interview. But do you do a lot of these interviews as research and like supplements the story?
Jack Rhysider 26:34
And well, I don't typically like experts on my show. I typically like the people who were there and have the firsthand experience. So I will get those interviews first to hear what what they had. But then I do fact checking as far as calling up other people, their friends, or families or neighbors. I haven't I haven't called the neighbors yet. But I've called their friends and family, and messaging people and stuff to just kind of get more of the story parts that have I don't quite understand or something and I'll do some other stuff. I don't always put those audio bits in there. Because people don't want to have their voice in there or whatever. But it's typically just the person telling the story that was there.
Jay Clouse 27:14
Well, going back to, you know, September 2017, I think is when your first episode aired, and then for the first several episodes, it looks like you're releasing every two weeks. This sounds like an insane amount of work, especially if you are working at a full time job at the time that you're starting this. How many episodes are you working on in parallel at any given time, especially if it takes you a year sometimes to get the interview?
Jack Rhysider 27:36
Ah, yeah. I mean, at the time, it was insane but I was feeling rushed because every other podcast out there had like 100 episodes already out there. And I wanted to have like a good back catalogue. So people could binge and get part of it. If you have like one or two episodes, or even five episodes, it's just like, yeah, this is still new. I'm not sure if I'm gonna get into it or whatever and it wouldn't, but when the show has like 20 or 40 episodes, then you feel like, oh, wow, this one. I don't know, there was just something in me that was like, I need a big backlog. And I need to make this as like it wasn't so much getting it out there for the current listeners, it was just getting it out there for future listeners and that was was weird but I just needed to like turn it out really quick. At the same time, I wanted to turn it out because I wanted to get good at this and I knew I wasn't good yet. And so it's just matter of just keep doing and keep doing and get it on the schedule and go. And that really helped as far as like getting better at it and stuff.
Jay Clouse 28:35
Well, how long does it take you now to go like beginning to end on an episode?
Jack Rhysider 28:40
I mean, it still takes me about the same amount of time as it did before. But it's it's it's a good two weeks, right? So that's 40 hours of work. And that's now I have other people helping me so that 40 hours is kind of split between other people. And now I'm looking at my I'm looking at my episodes that I'm currently working on and there's 1-234-567-8910 that are that have started production. So that's kind of my cue right now. 10 are in production. That means I've already done the interview, or more.
Jay Clouse 29:13
Wow. Do you ever get these stories like mixed up?
Jack Rhysider 29:17
Yeah. I am not good at remembering the stories. So I've actually looked at a couple old ones and I'm like, I don't have no recollection making this. And yet there's my voice and it's on my website and I was like, how does this end? I can't wait to hear how it ends.
Jay Clouse 29:36
When we come back, Jack talks about quitting his job to focus on Darknet Diaries full time in the specific strategies he used to market the show. Right after this.
Hey, welcome back. As of this recording darknet diaries is four years old and is just about to cross the 100 episode mark with more than 300,000 downloads per episode. By comparison Creative Elements is about a year and a half old is nearing Episode 80 and has 10,000 downloads per episode. And those are numbers that I'm really proud of. So I asked Jack, at what point he took the leap into focusing on Darknet Diaries full time.
Jack Rhysider 30:14
It was about nine months into making it, which yeah, you're right, making a podcast like this every two weeks, it was a full time job was crazy. But there was something early on, which was, people really liked it. And I was getting messages from total strangers, I was meeting people at conferences who I never knew before, and weren't friends or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends. And they're like, what you were, you were the one who makes that show. I love it. I've listened to every single episode, and I can't wait for the next one. And there was something about that something the way that they came up to me, I mean, somebody who handed me $100 bill once at a conference, and said, you are so valuable to me, here take this. And I knew like even early on, even when I had just 1000 listeners, that was so powerful to me to know that I had something important, right? It's just that you get that glint of glimmer that you've made something, but you're not sure if it's good or not. But then when you see these people who just totally appreciate you, then you know, it's worth pursuing, right? So I don't want to, I don't feel like I had this like false dream that I was chasing but I felt like there was something really there that I knew I knew I had it. And so, you know, with with that, and being kind of burnt out at work. And you know, there was a total, we got acquired by a new company, and it was a new management and all this stuff just wasn't working out for me there. I was like, I think I'm gonna quit this and focus on my podcast full time for three months. So I kind of took a three month break of just work to see if I can get this get through this. And I was like, hopefully by the end of the three months, I'll start to make enough money to eat ramen noodles or something, right? And that this can sustain me to keep going another month after that or something, right? So that was the case, right? I took a I took a break and focused in in fact, during that time on that break, I switched to one a month, I slowed down to production of it, so that I could speed up the promotion, like the marketing of it. Because I think that was what the next step was. I had the good show, it wasn't I didn't like that is there's three things I always say people need to do for a good podcast, right? Is to make a good show to begin with a great show if you can, then market it, then monetize it, right? So you're not gonna be able to monetize it if you have no listeners, and you can't get listeners if your show sucks. So it has to be in this direct in this order. So I had the great show, I feel felt like because people are total strangers were approaching me and so now I needed to market it. So I slowed down to production to once a month so that I could just push out the marketing messages as best as I could. And I was mostly social media, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Yeah, after that started pick up and I got my first sponsor at the end of that three months and it was full time podcasting ever since then.
Jay Clouse 33:03
Was that around Episode 40? When you say you start bringing people in?
Jack Rhysider 33:06
No, that was more like Episode 20 or 25.
Jay Clouse 33:10
A lot of people who start a podcast, even if they get to Episode 20 or 25, which statistically they don't, even if they do they still have such a small audience that they're just wallowing in, like, who's hearing this? So how did when you started considering marketing as a serious part of the process here and you were using social media. What does that actually look like though? How did you actually get people to pay attention and to care?
Jack Rhysider 33:36
I've been wanting to get to this point, so bad in my whole life, right? To have something that is worth being an entrepreneur about. Right? So I've tried all these things before I've tried. I've gotten 99% of the way done all these projects, but never got it. The blog was there, but it wasn't just like bringing in, you know, tons of stuff. This I saw as potential like this could make some money. You know, and I could I could change my whole career on this and stuff. So I thought this was worthy. You know, it's something that I've wanted to and because I wanted it that means I've read tons of entrepreneurial books in the past, right? So Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, you name it, just all these all these entrepreneur people. I've just been bingeing all their books. And so by the time that I had something worth marketing, they had something made and now I just needed to get it out there. I had tons of tricks already. So I went crazy with it. Right? So one of the things I did is I made a list of 100 influencers, people who are journalists, bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters just people who are big on Twitter, right, just anything that has an audience because I knew if I could get them as listeners, then their promotion or their you know, suggestion to listen to my show is going to be much more important than a person who has just five followers on Twitter. So I sent an email to 100 people, two of them took me up on it right. So 2% success, but that 2%, one of them was a person with a million followers on Twitter. And they were like, you have to listen to this podcast. And that was such a big feeling for me to see somebody with a million followers tweet about my show, right? So that was a big one.
Jay Clouse 35:16
What was the email? What was the call to action? The email?
Jack Rhysider 35:18
Oh, it was, hey, I've got this podcast. I think it's right up your alley, you might want to check it out. It was it was kind of a soft pitch but it was something I don't know, something like that. I think you know, your, your audience would find this valuable, something like that.
Jay Clouse 35:35
So it was a it was an asked to listen, not necessarily to share about it.
Jack Rhysider 35:40
Yeah, but at the same time, I'm hinting like, I think your audience would appreciate knowing about this. So yeah, it was kind of a soft one, but 2%. And so the other one was the Guardian, Guardian newspaper. And they had a little mention of me, like, here's a new podcast you might be interested in. It was just like a two paragraph thing but I was like, oh, my gosh, I'm in The Guardian and somebody tweeted me, this is great. So that was, you know, I took those, it didn't really do much. I mean, I'm looking at how many people clicked on the guardian. It wasn't many. And there wasn't that many likes on that tweet, because things just don't go viral like that because people don't like things that they don't know. Right? So they like things they do know that they like, right? And so if you say, hey, check out this new podcast, nobody knows about that podcast. So nobody's liking and always retweeting it, it just doesn't work. So and if they do, they've got to stop what they're doing on Twitter, go listen to the show for an hour and then come back. And then like, it's just not gonna happen, right? You're, you're in that moment you either like or keep scrolling, or go subscribe or something. So nothing really came out of those. But I took those as social proof. I stuck them on the front page on my website. I'm like, look at this. People with million followers are tweeting about this, The Guardian is writing about this, why aren't you listening? Right? And so that really, when you land on the website, and you see that, you're like, oh, wow, this is like, like, you were telling me before this show started, like, I don't know how I missed this.
Jay Clouse 37:07
Totally, I mean, it was it was like, how have I not heard this as is so well done. And it's it feels like this perfect intersection of technology and true crime. And for all the true crime that I hear about, I hadn't heard about this, you know, specific bent on true crime.
Jack Rhysider 37:22
Yeah. And that's, that's kind of the feeling I want is, wait, how did I not know about this? And, and then you want to get into it. And if you don't have that social proofing, if it's if the show doesn't pop out at you in some way, and just hit you like that, like, you know, you find a new show, you don't always say that about new shows, even shows, I have like 100 episode backlog. You don't always say that, you know, how have you not found this? You just kind of feel like, oh, of course, a show like that exists, right. But you had a different feeling from mine. And that's kind of what I was going out is I want people to be really surprised when they find it. So yeah, I mean that these are some of the things that I was doing social on Twitter and stuff. I was just posting like crazy two three tweets a day getting it queued up and buffer or Edgar or something and just getting tons of stuff out there. It wasn't always self promo, right? It was often building up my social media, right? So I wanted to have my goal, my first goal was to have 10,000 followers on all three accounts, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, in one year. And so had that's a slow process, but you know, a year's gonna pass it, I mean, they're gonna have that or not, I might as well have that after a year. So it was it was a serious goal. And I hit it. And you know, once you hit like, 10,000, followers, things really start opening up, you get new features, you get new, you know, you know, a new people, messaging you because you, you know, bigger people are feeling like, oh, this is more important. Like you're saying, you got that feeling of how did I not know about this? Because my, my Twitter now has 60,000 followers, right? So it's like, wow, this is a big thing that I've been missing this whole time. Right? So it has that social proofing as well of like, why did I miss this? So that I mean that there's a bunch going on there.
Jay Clouse 39:05
Social proof, like plays to, for people to take something seriously, right. But there's still the need for traffic or distribution to get the website to see the social proof in the first place. So how are you now driving people to the website to see this and say, oh, I guess this is something I should be taking seriously, I'll take a listen.
Jack Rhysider 39:22
It was also word of mouth. And for that what I was doing is not really looking for new listeners but seeing what I could do more for my current listeners, right? So I knew I had these listeners, like, what would make the show even better for you? What would so there's this there's this thing I look at sometimes, which is how many downloads is one listener doing or the average listener doing? And if they're just listening to one episode and leaving, how can I get them to listen to two episodes and then leave or three episodes and then leave right? And so I want that list to grow. I want them to stay longer. And in order to do that, so I put a lot of folks I was just on my current listeners. In order to do that I want them to get more value out of it, I wanted them to be more surprised. I don't want them to be bored because they've listened to, you know, 5 or 10 or 15. And they're like, yeah, I kind of know what's gonna happen in the 16th episode, right? I want them to feel like I have no idea what's gonna happen in 60 levels, oh, but I'm sure I'm gonna love it and it's going to be enjoyable. And I'm definitely going to be there for it right. So it's, I don't want them to get bored with it. I want them to always be surprised by it, and wowed and stuff like that. So I'm always looking for ways to improve and over deliver and surprise, and all these things. And if you can get that if you can get somebody who's listening to 15 episodes and can't wait for the next one, then you've got somebody who's going into the office and telling their co workers, do you have to listen to the show, or telling their parents or sitting down with their family or playing it in a car roadtrip and saying, hey, let's, let's have everyone in the car, listen to this, I've got this great show, I want you to try to you. And this is this is where I knew I mean, this is probably where most of my listeners came from is word of mouth. And in order to get that word of mouth, I really have to win the hearts of my current listeners, and not really look for those new ones.
Jay Clouse 41:10
When you look back at the history of growth for the show, were their major inflection points. And if so, were there like certain events tied to that? Was it about somebody tweeting? Or was it more mathematically like, I got to this point, and I had enough true fans of the show that on a weekly basis now X number of them were sharing?
Jack Rhysider 41:31
I could go in a couple of ways here. I do feel like there is there was something that was fascinating with me at the beginning was where's the critical mass in podcasting? Where do you get a certain amount of listeners where then those listeners just kind of push you and share the show and you don't have to market it anymore? I did. I wrote a blog article about this. I have a podcasting blog called lime.link where I blog about stuff like this but I found that like, there was different, there were different points where this was would happen more at 150 listeners of people who I didn't know, they weren't my friends and family. I felt like they were already sharing it, right? So these strangers I was meeting in a conference like day 3, I had 150 listeners, because I had, you know, a blog that I could promote it on. That was another thing I was promoting it on my other blog. And so that was getting seven new downloads a day, right, just from that. So I was realizing 150 listeners that already at that point, they're sharing it. And I was growing at like one or 2% a month just from that. And that is kind of a big number too, because there's some there's some statistics out there in the podcast world that somewhere between 120 to 150 downloads per episode is what the average podcast gets. So that's 50% of all podcasts in the world get about 150 or less downloads. So it's because it's really struggling to get to that point but then when you get to that point, now they're starting to share it, right? So it's kind of that uphill roll of the rock until you get there. And now it's still an upholder or uphill thing, but now you got a few more hands helping you push up it. At the same time, there's that Malcolm Gladwell statistic of like, everyone knows 150 or you can only know 150 people and after that you start losing track of who you know, and stuff like that, and tribes, I think the book was tribes, wasn't it? No, that was a different book. I can't remember how often Glad was booked. But he talks about how
Jay Clouse 43:23
How outliers maybe but that's Dunbar's number you're talking about.
Jack Rhysider 43:26
Dunbar's number, okay. Yeah, it's it's fa it's fascinating that that number 150 exists in in different in different aspects, right? And so I feel like that's the first kind of inflection point. But then when you get to like, somewhere around 12, 1200 downloads per episode, or 1500 downloads per episode, you get this next wind of people pushing you up that hill. And then again, I think it's at 5000 downloads per episode, you just, you feel things moving faster. And like it's it's, it's, it's not like overnight, but you're like, yeah, wow, things are going a lot quicker now. So you get these extra things. But there was a there was another thing, which is when a guests first started bringing me stories, right? So a guy came out of prison, and he comes to me and he says, I don't know who you are but I've been told I need to share my story with you. Like, Well, okay, and he said, he gives me his subpoena and all his court records and I was like, holy cow, you've got like, the greatest story I've ever heard. And that was, that was really magical to me. There's lots of luck in the world that you can have, but but when you are the person who makes these kinds of things, these kind of stories or whatever you become the go to person for when somebody wants to tell you that story, right? So since then, I've had like 10 people come and bring me their incredible story. And I don't have to go find them. And that is not it's a type of luck, but it's the best kind of luck. It's the luck that when you're known for something that you get that experience that opportunity. And you know, I would never have known about these stories because nobody's ever talked about them, but I'm in that lucky position to have made my name here, so that I think was another big inflection point was when stuff started coming my way. And I didn't have to work so hard to find the stories.
Jay Clouse 45:10
Let's take the podcaster, who's been doing this for a while, and they're 50 episodes in, but they're at 500 downloads per episode. Where do you think they should channel their marketing efforts? Right now?
Jack Rhysider 45:22
I think there's two things. I'm a big fan of social media for marketing. I was not a player on social media before this. I mean, I did it only to market my blog, really. But I just am not like a fan of social media just in general but everyone is on social media so if you're like, I'm having trouble getting my word out. Well, social media is the place to be, and it's not so much. You need to make a podcast and then you'll get a social media following it should be the opposite strategy. It should be build that big social media following make a goal to get 10,000 followers in a year, and then convert them to listeners, right? So that's, that's flipping it over. So how do you get 10,000 listeners or 10,000 followers, there's tons of articles out there, I'm not going to be the one who's going to tell you what to do. Because there's so many great articles out there and YouTube videos on how to get listed how to get followers. And it's a lot easier to get somebody just to click follow and be done, versus to be a subscriber and listen to your show, and then promote it somewhere else. Right? So yeah, build that social media following, do it by posting a lot and not just like self promotion, promotions, but like, let's do some inspirational posts, let's do some funny posts, let's do some news posts. Let's talk about some thoughts I had. I mean, the classic thing is like, if you're a sports podcaster, you obviously like talking about sports for two hours on your show, or whatever, however long your show is, just keep talking about it on Twitter, like talking about sports for two hours a day on Twitter, like, that's great, everyone will appreciate that because sports is just non endless. It's not it's not it never ends. So yeah, just take your natural conversation, from your podcast, to Twitter, whatever and going crazy there. So that's one way. Another way is to really drive as much value to your listener as possible, figure out what you want your listener to get out of your show, do you want them to be happier because they're laughing at it? Do you want them to be more informed because you're teaching them something? Or whatever the case may be. What's that value, they're going to take away from it, and then deliver that in spades over deliver it to them, get them the most value that they could possibly get out of that hour, or whatever it is that your show is, the more that they appreciate what you've done for them, the higher chance that they're going to share it and when they're sharing it, that's golden.
Jay Clouse 47:45
What do you think about the future of podcasting? Generally, we're seeing, you know, Apple get into subscriptions. It seems like Apple and Spotify are really getting more intense about their positions in the podcasting marketplace. And we're also seeing a lot of consolidation with networks or even Spotify buying original shows. What's your take on what you think the next couple of years will be like in the podcasting industry?
Jack Rhysider 48:06
I was blogging about this as well, that I don't like when shows become exclusive on a platform. I don't think that that helps the podcast industry at all. I hate it, because it's like, the only thing that helps is the actual podcaster, who makes the show, which I can probably even argue that it doesn't even help them. Yes, 100 million dollars to Joe Rogan is great but now his influence is much less like that he's probably lost half his audience or more. So you know, if what's he doing it for? Is he doing it just for the money? Or they're doing it for the influence? Is he doing it because he wants his name out? So you have to really put all these things in consideration and I think some shows are losing huge audiences by going exclusive and making I don't know anyway, I yeah, I think it's not very good and for chose to become exclusive. It kind of ruins the whole point of it, or the spirit of it so I don't like that. I there's some ad tracking going on, that I don't like as well where certain hosts are able to see more information about you that they should just our listeners. And so I hope that goes away but it probably won't. And I think it's still growing. I mean, I'm looking at the pod news stuff and it's just growing tremendously. So podcast is going to continue to grow Hollywood's going to be entering it more celebrities are going to be entering a more I like that because it legitimizes podcast more it makes you know, where it goes from somebody who's never listened to a podcast to okay, I listened to this one podcast. And then once they're caught up on that, they're like, what other shows can I listen to? And then they find other shows that they like so it's it's it introduces new people into the space, and that's fine. But yeah, I love podcasts at this point and expect them to do well in the future.
Jay Clouse 49:48
Have you considered ever joining a network yourself?
Jack Rhysider 49:51
Yeah, I really had that kind of as a thought and a dream and a goal at first, to be part of one of these big networks but the deal actually came across my table and I didn't like it. The terms on there were just too much. It was like, we want to put too many ads in. And that was, I think, the biggest, biggest thing. And I said, Well, I only want to put two ads. But they were like, No, we want to do four ads. And I was like, well, I only want to do two, let's rewrite the contract to and they're like, well, that's a non starter. So I never actually got to join. But it was really nice getting that opportunity. Because I had, if I would have joined the network, I probably would have grown faster, and made a lot more money, but not doing it means that I was self built, right? There's this independence of it all that feels great to be indie to look back and say I made this without the help of a big network and all these things. And there's something so satisfying about that at the end, versus trying to get some shortcut to get there or something else. And you don't have to be affiliated to something else or you know, apologize for them or anything like that. So yeah, I thought about it. And I'm glad I did it because I feel staunchly independent and I'm happy I am.
Jay Clouse 51:09
You have been independently supported on Patreon from your listeners, and one of the most popular patrons that I've seen personally with over 5300 patrons $18,000 per month. For someone listening to this, who wants to be listener, a fan supported? When do you think implementing Patreon makes sense?
Jack Rhysider 51:29
For me, I don't you can you can do it on day one it's fine. I have no problem with that. Go ahead. But for me, it was when I had five people come to me and say how do I donate to the show and I had ads on the show. And I'm like, Well, I have ads. I'm fine. I don't need your donation. But once that fifth person came, I realized people want to show appreciation and they want to support this. And so I might as well give them the option. And so that's when I started mine was after the fifth person asked how do I donate? So yeah, then I said, Well, you know what, you know, do? Thank you. I'll give you an ad free version of it. And I'll give you some bonus episodes and stuff like that. And I've studied, I've studied what goes on and on Patreon to kind of figure out what's the best bait at best way to do this, you know, what should you offer and stuff and I look at the top 50 most popular Patreon podcasts, I see that people give bonus content and ad free feeds kind of as the most popular. They've also been there for a long time, like, you know, a year or so on Patreon. And they they have a very good show, right? So it's not something that people turn on it for a little bit and turn off they have loyal listeners. So I think that just the combination of those three things make can make a very successful Patreon. But even if you have 2020 Patreon supporters, that's still what, like $60 a month or so. And that's, that's pretty good.
Jay Clouse 52:52
Have you looked at some of the Patreon ask podcast specific things like supercast or glow.fm, before ultimately choosing Patreon?
Jack Rhysider 53:02
I think when I was starting, those ones weren't around. But I probably would have chosen supercast if it was but supercast wasn't around yet. I remember at launching after I started, it's really hard for me to switch because it's kind of a sticky thing that you got everyone already subscribed and stuff. But yeah, supercast is pretty cool. There's some others, but I actually probably if I were to redo it today, I would just run my own. There's a few other podcasters I know that have just figured out how to take the stripe API and implement it on to their website to build their own subscription system. And that seems more like my thing now.
Jay Clouse 53:37
Well, last question here. For somebody listening to this who is an aspiring podcast or hasn't started the show yet wants to be Indie? What advice would you give them about getting started?
Jack Rhysider 53:47
I think the best thing is to find something you're passionate about. Because when you are excited about a specific topic or whatever, it really shines in the show versus doing something because you think that's what's popular, or that's what people want to hear. Yeah, that's I think is the biggest thing is find something and if you're gonna be doing it for a long time I would ever you should want to have fun doing it. So if you're passionate about it, that's going to be great. Versus making something because somebody you think someone wants that in the world. So find what it is you really love talking about or getting into or getting crazy with and then that I think can go a long way.
Jay Clouse 54:31
What an incredible story to have the level of scale that Jack does before hitting Episode 100 is really impressive. Think about how many times creators on this very show talk about expecting that their first 100 attempts will be bad and that they want 100 attempts before they expect anyone to pay attention. Talk about a big difference here. Jack's story is really really aspirational for me as a podcaster. I would absolutely love to do this show full time and it's not impossible. And you as a listener can truly help make that happen. By sharing the show or even just leaving a rating or review on Apple podcasts, it goes a lot further than you think. If you want to learn more about Darknet Diaries, you can subscribe in this podcast player you're listening to now, or visit darknetdiaries.com links to both are in the show notes. If you want to learn about starting your own podcast, I've also linked to a short workshop I've taught on starting a podcast as well as my full length course podcast like the pros, listeners of this show can save 20% using promo code elements. Thanks to Jack for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork for this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for making this show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. Every week I send an email with each episode to tell the story of how I booked that guest. People seem to love it and I think you will too. You can get on that list by subscribing to my newsletter at jayclouse.com. The link is in the show notes. If you liked this episode, you can tweet @jayclouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.