Leadership Edge: Podcaster Jordan Harbinger urges readers to “think critically”
Jordan Harbinger is a Wall Street lawyer turned podcast interviewer with an approachable style and knack for securing high-profile guests. His show, The Jordan Harbinger Show was selected as part of Apple’s “Best of 2018.”
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us how you got to where you are today?
I used to be a Wall Street attorney, and now I host a very large podcast, but it was a step-by-step process. I started with an internship at a law firm. The firm had a ton of really smart, really hard workers who worked 7 days a week working 16+ hours a day. I started developing imposter syndrome–I thought I wasn’t good enough and they are going to figure out that I don’t belong.
Then, I had a conversation with one of the top partners, who was quite young. I asked him “Hey man, how come you are a partner, but you are never in the office?” I thought that he would tell me to work from home and have less visibility– that way, it will take people much longer to realize I didn’t belong there and give me ample time to figure out how to be valuable for the firm. (laughs).
But he said that he was never really around because he was generating business. And the key to doing that was relationship development. So, I threw myself into that concept and learned everything I can about networking, relationship development, persuasion, influence, and charisma. I studied networking systems, CRM’s– even hypnosis (which was mostly useless and just made things awkward when I tried to use it), body language, and nonverbal communication. I became obsessed, and that became something more important to me than anything else I was doing at work.
As my internship ended, the career services at my law school asked if I wanted to teach networking. I said yes, and started offering a free class, and no one cared. No one cared at all to come, except for 4-5 women who said “yes, we realize that law is an old boys’ network, and we need to be able to network in the legal industry.”
I moved my class to a bar, and we would dissect the patron’s body language, nonverbal communication, and we learned to read other people. My class got bigger and bigger until guys started to come because there were so many women there, and I realized that the guys wanted to learn some quick tricks–mostly for dating purposes. Over time, I developed CD’s to give to the new students and charged it $5 at first, then $20 due to the increased demand. Finally, a friend of mine said “look, there is this brand new thing called podcasting, where you can put mp3 files on the internet. You don’t have to burn them to a CD. It’s cool, and it came out recently, but we can figure it out” and that’s how my podcast was born.
What drives you?
I love teaching. A common theme throughout my life is getting to be an educator and teaching people and helping them get through hard times.
I come from a family of teachers and I always thought I would be some kind of educator. But I wanted to be an educator that can also make a bunch of money doing it.
As a podcaster, I get to do all that. For my podcast, I get to read books, talk to smart people, sort of scratch my itch when it comes to curiosity and learning, and build a seven-figure business. But I also get to create interesting content that people can learn. For example, we have Feedback Friday episodes, where listeners can ask questions, and we look for expert answers.
What are the 3 things you wish you knew and why? What did you learn?
One, I wish I knew that I was running a business. At first, I thought of myself as a lawyer and called podcasting a hobby. If I had known earlier that I was going headfirst into this, and that I can make money doing this and it was a viable option, I would not have stressed so much about whether or not I’m unemployable.
Two, I wish I had better clarity in my path from the beginning. When I was starting, nobody talked about entrepreneurship or owning your own business. PayPal was brand-new for the vast majority of people. I mean–if we wanted to start a business, how were we going to receive money from people? Will they mail us a check? Then we start seeing the tech boom–and PayPal, YouTube, and all these digital companies start to develop.
It took me a while to convince myself, and my parents, that what I was doing was worthwhile, and I wasn’t wasting my potential trying to do the podcast. I remember thinking that I’m going to just run this rinky dinky podcast that no one has ever heard of and no one even knows how to listen to things online, and I’m going to use that to make money even though it pays less than ⅕ of what I would make as an attorney, and I’m going to just try it and figure it out. I was at the forefront of building a digital business, and it is one of the best ways to build a scalable business.
The last thing I wish I knew is that it is okay to do it all on your own. I started with partners, and I loved having like-minded people around me. But I realize now that I probably could have grown much faster just by hiring people to do the work that I am weakest at. I was stuck in my comfort zone, and I didn’t want to rock the boat with my partners. When I finally split with my partners, I was able to build an income stream about 5x larger within one year. You need people around you, but you don’t need to share your business with somebody, especially someone who continually proves that they can’t or won’t do the work that’s required to grow the business.
What is something that you are working on that you are excited about?
Right now, I am working on scaling the Jordan Harbinger show and building a larger audience. It is the same amount of work to create a podcast for 10 listeners as it is for a podcast with 10 million listeners. I put a lot of time, money, and focus into the craft of creating a really good show.
I reinvest back into the company and the show. I work on everything from upgrading the equipment to making sure the guests have the right technology, to ensuring I’ve got a good acoustic environment. I’ve doubled down on influencer and growth marketing. Instead of buying a ton of Instagram ads (and getting Instagram followers), I’m invested in getting real endorsements from other podcasters and it’s paying off. We have almost doubled in size in 2020 and I plan to grow by another 50% in 2021.
What do you attribute your success to?
Focus and simplicity. I am focused on podcast growth, and it has really simplified my life in 2020 and 2021. I see people on ClubHouse, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and they are constantly online. They have videographers following them around hotel lobbies, or making a sandwich, or walking in an airport lounge. It is just a lot of noise broadcasting to the public.
I stopped posting on Instagram and Facebook, and I’ve mostly stopped tweeting. I’m not going to be on ClubHouse– I see all of that as a distraction. I am simplifying my focus and my activities–I’m opting out of the social media/influencer game so I can focus on creating the best content for my podcast audience. There is no reason for me to spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to hack the system or increase my income. And once you can get yourself out of the way and get rid of your ego, you can pare things down and do the things you enjoy.
If you can create a blueprint to where you are today, how would you distill it down?
In terms of a blueprint, I would recommend conducting a calendar audit first. Keep a calendar of everything in 15-minute increments for about 5-6 months. I did an audit of my 2019 calendar, and I was shocked at how much time I spent filming for YouTube.
Then, calculate the ROI of the activities in terms of time, money, and fulfillment (this is the one everyone forgets to consider). For example, if you are a podcaster, and you are filming videos for YouTube, and it’s costing $60,000 a year but you are making $15,000 a year from that, then you have a negative ROI in terms of money, and it might make sense to stop that activity moving forward. However, if you love it and you can afford it, then you have a positive ROI in terms of fulfillment, and maybe you want to keep doing it.
Of course, consider that activity and how it aligns with your goals or what you do. If I am a YouTube influencer, and I hate filming for YouTube videos, then I’m out of luck.
How do you make sure your podcast stands out from all the others?
To follow the concept of focus and simplicity, I am on a mission to help people learn to think more critically. We are better citizens when we can parse information and see-through agendas and propaganda and manipulations. When we think clearer, we live happier lives. It’s a foundational skillset, and I believe that when we develop the ability to think critically, all areas of our lives improve.
My podcast is centered on the theme of teaching ways to think critically, think well, and I do it in a way where I am not selling anything. Unlike my competitors, I am not selling a course or a get-rich-quick scheme. I make sure that there is no conflict of interest when it comes to helping my listeners. I give everything I know away for free, doing the thing that I love.
How do you snag all the best guests?
At the end of the day, two things matter–how many listeners and downloads you have, and your relationships. It’s about having a quick response time, being easy to work with, and helping publicists book clients with the path of least resistance. Publicists know that I will show up on time, be prepared, and make them look good. Also, at this point, my reputation and the reputation of The Jordan Harbinger Show precedes me, for better or for worse.
What do you want the readers to know?