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.
Before writing this chapter, I looked at my download stats for the year. Who was my most popular guest?
I expected it to be the founder of Riot Games, creators of the worldwide sensation League of Legends. Around 115M people played the game in 2020. More people watched the League of Legends World Championship in 2019 than watched the Super Bowl. Clearly, he has a following. He was a sharp guest with a compelling story. But no, his interview didn’t get me the year’s biggest audience.
The title of most popular Mixergy interview for 2020 goes to a founder whose company is significantly less known. Andrew Burnett-Thompson is a quiet developer who built SciChart, software that allows other developers to add helpful charts to their apps. Why was his episode so popular?
Andrew had good jobs working for big companies like energy giant BP. But he was fascinated by the entrepreneurs he heard on my podcast and in the startup world. He decided to teach himself to code by reading programming books and doing one lesson per day. Then, when he realized how hard it was for developers like him to create charts, he decided to launch a company to solve the problem. He got up early every morning and worked while his wife and baby slept. On his train ride to and from work, while others fiddled with their phones, he pulled out his laptop and coded the foundation of his startup’s software.
When his company finally broke the $1M revenue mark, he tweeted about it. A few people in the startup community congratulated and retweeted him. Several pointed out his accomplishment to me and thought he was the model for how they wanted to create a company. So I invited him on. His story was even more compelling when we got into the details.
As far as I can see, I was the first person to interview him. Meanwhile, a Google search for interviews with the founder of Riot Games leads to 660,000 results, including interviews with VentureBeat, GameCrate, and The Founder Hour.
And there’s the difference. The founder who was lesser known was someone my audience could relate to. He had already generated buzz in the entrepreneurship community by tweeting and blogging about his experience. But no one else had interviewed him. I had a monopoly on the Andrew Burnett-Thompson story.
That pattern has been true every year since I started.
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Podcasters seem to want the most recognizable guests. I do too. Landing a superstar is like a stamp of approval for your show. It elevates your reputation as an interviewer. Still, I’ve found that lesser-known interviewees can drive bigger audiences, and they’re significantly easier to land.
The key is to find people whom you know your audience will relate to. They need to see themselves in your guest. Look for niche communities where your audience hangs out. Following my listeners and their heroes on Twitter helped me land Andrew, but there are loads of other places.
When I started interviewing, some of my top guests were obscure entrepreneurs like Drew Houston and Brian Chesky. They were popular in a tiny online community called Hacker News,* the online meeting place for developers who built startups. It’s grown a lot, and so have its members. Drew’s Dropbox and Brian’s Airbnb went on to become massive entrepreneurial success stories. At the time I interviewed them, they were only famous in the small startup world.
Reddit has a small community called Entrepreneur Ride Along,* where founders post updates on their new businesses for other entrepreneurs to “ride along” and learn. Rohan Gilkes was a regular contributor, sharing how he was modernizing cleaning services with a site he created, Maids in Black. His updates were getting a lot of attention. I thought he had an interesting story, and the popularity of his posts told me that other entrepreneurs did too. So I invited him on. He was one of my most popular guests, and his interview continues to bring in new listeners—people who either want to see how he started his company or learn how they could take another industry like his into the online world.
Your go-to communities will change over time. When I started, Hacker News was my favorite place to find guests that people cared about. Later it was Product Hunt,* where tech and startup enthusiasts vote on new products. Most recently, Indie Hackers has become my best resource.* Entrepreneurs use it to share their startups, including revenue, and other entrepreneurs comment and vote on these stories.
A good way to find communities of potential guests is to use traffic analysis tools like Semrush* and SimilarWeb.* Enter a website into their search bars, and they can provide a list of communities that the site’s audience visits.
A better way to find potential guests is to talk with your listeners and ask where they hang out online. They’ll help you find communities that traffic tools can’t, like private chat groups. They’ll also help you identify nuances no traffic tool can communicate, like their level of passion for the community.
When you find communities full of ideal listeners, join them. They’ll signal to you who they want to hear from.
I strongly believe that you don’t need superstar guests. Less than 10% of the interviews I’ve done have been with big-name people. It hasn’t stopped me from building a solid personal brand, a large audience, and a strong business from my interviews.
Still, landing the occasional big shot is worth the work because they’ll help grow your audience and increase your credibility with other interviewees you’re trying to land.
The challenge is that celebrity guests who are in demand usually don’t have enough incentive to sit for an interview with you, or even respond to your request. There are times, however, when they’re eager to be interviewed. I call those times motivated moments.
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