Idea Fountains

5 minutes

Holloway Editione1.1.1

Updated September 14, 2022
Stop Asking Questions

You’re reading an excerpt of Stop Asking Questions, by Andrew Warner, a veteran podcast host of 2000+ episodes. The book explains how to lead high-impact interviews and learn anything from anyone. Master the craft of interviewing with this complete digital package. Purchase now for lifetime access to the book and extensive audio and video resources.

Develop Ongoing Sources

Bob Hiler was tired of hearing me talk about my struggle to find strong interview guests. Every week we’d get on a coaching call to talk about what I was working on, and every week I’d talk in circles, grasping for ways to find my next guest.

“This isn’t working,” my coach said in frustration. “You can’t keep looking for ideas. You need idea fountains.”

I immediately Googled to see what it meant.

“It’s not in Google,” he said. “I just made it up. On each call with me, you look for one guest. What if instead of looking for one new guest each week, you search for one source of new guests? Try it now. What do your most recent best guests have in common?”

I looked at my list and said, “They each sold a company.”

“Perfect,” Bob said. “So your new idea fountain is to search for the latest companies to be acquired and invite the founders to do an interview.”

“That’s no good,” I shot back. “Days after an acquisition, founders often can’t talk publicly. The company that acquired them wants to manage the story. But if I search for companies acquired three months ago, that would be pretty easy.”

“Excellent!” Bob cheered me on. “Now you have your first idea fountain: companies that were acquired three months ago. Do this search for yourself first to see if you like the results. Then pass it on to your assistant to manage, and we’ll move on to finding more idea fountains.”

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Together Bob and I found other idea fountains, each of which provided a steady stream of new interview guests. We discovered that authors of upcoming books were eager to do interviews and had thoughtful things to teach, so Amazon’s upcoming book section became an idea fountain.

We realized that listeners shared my interests and often met people who’d be perfect for me to interview. So we added a “Suggest an Interviewee” link to my site’s homepage. Anyone can use the link to connect me with an interviewee to consider. This became our best idea fountain.

Some idea fountains ended up leading to less-than-spectacular results. For example, I tried pursuing founders who were recently on other reputable podcasts. I thought the screening process for those shows would vet guests for me. I also assumed the guests would be better storytellers since they’d been on other shows.

In fact, the opposite was true. Having told their story before, guests sounded too scripted or kept mentioning that they’d already told the story on another podcast. I hated hearing a guest respond to one of my questions with, “As I told Courtland on Indie Hackers …” So I dropped that idea fountain.

The important lesson I learned from Bob was to stop looking for guests individually and instead look for sources of guests—idea fountains.

I also applied idea fountains to other areas of my business. Searching for good advertisers is a constant challenge for a podcast like mine. Instead of thinking of individual companies, I started looking for idea fountains. I put a “Sponsor My Podcast” link on the site, and it became a major source of new advertisers. Emailing my audience was another source of sponsors. I made a list of the products I paid for to run my business—if I’m already a customer of those companies, they’re more likely to become sponsors.

Idea fountains have also helped me create better in-person events. When I travel to conferences, I host dinners to get to know other attendees and find potential podcast guests. Finding dinner guests one at a time became a time suck that turned dinners into distractions. So I looked for idea fountains. One was conference speakers. If the organizers thought enough of someone to invite them to speak at the conference, I’d want to meet them, so I invited them to my dinners. Another idea fountain was the Contact Plus app. It simplifies finding friends in cities I travel to by adding location data to my online contacts.

Stop searching for one guest or one idea at a time. Instead, look for sources of people and ideas. When you find your idea fountains, you’ll develop a strong pipeline for every part of your business.

Fans, Assemble6 minutes, 2 links

Ask Your Audience To Help You

The startup community was enthralled by Fred Wilson. As a social media pioneer, he was an early user and investor in some of the world’s most popular apps: Twitter, Kickstarter, Etsy, and other companies that reshaped the internet and our communities.

My audience wanted to hear from him, and I wanted to interview him. But he wasn’t replying to my emails. I’m not sure he even saw them.

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