Episode 88: businesswoman special
Published April 14, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman.
Gina: And I'm CYG producer Gina Delvac.
Ann: On this week's agenda, the business of Call Your Girlfriend behind the scenes.
Aminatou: Hey Gina!
Gina: Hi guys!
Ann: Welcome to the other side of the mic.
Aminatou: Wow, the elusive three-way episode.
Aminatou: I've been waiting three years for this. I'm very excited.
Ann: Oh my god, has it been three years?
Aminatou: It's been three years, right?
Gina: I think so.
Ann: Since this episode is about the business of CYG, CYG LLC, but even before . . .
Aminatou: Yeah. That's the only thing on the agenda today is we're going to talk and probably cry about what it's like to be podcast moguls. When did this podcast -- how did you start this podcast, ladies?
Ann: Okay, let's go back to the spring of 2014 when . . . [Magical sound effect] we started a podcast.
Aminatou: Right? Was it spring? Are you sure it wasn't like January?
Ann: I'm positive it was spring.
Gina: It was May. It was May. It was a couple weeks before my birthday.
Aminatou: Why was I in LA in May? Oh, you're right, we probably started in May. I just remember a frantic URL-buying session from Ann's car on the way to some Hollywood hotel. [Laughs] That would've been in January.
Gina: There was a lot of pre-production.
Ann: Yes, I think that was in January and it took us until May or thereabouts to actually produce our first episode.
Gina: To launch.
Gina: And we have those secret pilots.
Aminatou: So basically Gina conned us into starting a podcast and it worked out.
Ann: Coerced us gently is how I like to think of it. [Laughter]
Aminatou: Gina the scammer. That's how it worked out.
Gina: You threw out a good idea and I ran with it.
Ann: Gina was like "I'm going to tell you how to get rich quick. Let's start a podcast." [Laughter]
Aminatou: Well, we're not rich yet so table that.
Ann: Oh my god. Okay, well, I'm trying to think about whether we even thought about business stuff when we launched. Was this -- did we talk about business stuff?
Aminatou: No, we obviously did not because I think I'm already on the record of saying this is that if you and Gina had come to me and said "Hey, Amina, let's do a podcast and let's get business married and run a small media company together."
Gina: Run away with us.
Aminatou: I would've probably said no like immediately. And also I don't think we would've ever been successful if that's what we had set out to do. All we set out to do was make a podcast every other week and now it's weekly.
Gina: Every other week even then was a struggle. Even launching was a struggle.
Aminatou: Yeah. Remember the many lost files? [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god, so many lost files. Well even now Gina just said remember our unpublished pilots? I had completely forgotten that happened. But business-wise, early, early on, it was Gina told us what equipment to buy and you and I both paid out-of-pocket for our mics and stuff, right? That's how I recall it.
Aminatou: Yeah, because we were not moguls yet so we paid out-of-pocket.
Ann: Not a girl, not yet a mogul.
Aminatou: For these microphones that I will not name but mine promptly broke and I had to order a new one on Amazon.
Gina: Now many USB podcasting microphones did you reorder Amina? I think there were at least three.
Aminatou: I went through three microphones, okay? But it's not my fault. It's the state of the USB podcasting industry.
Ann: Yep. Okay, so we bought the mics ourselves. I think you paid Amina or we split the cost to register the domain name, right?
Aminatou: Yeah. I like paid for our domain. Gina made us register for this weirdo software that we had to pay for also.
Gina: Oh yeah.
Ann: Oh yeah!
Gina: Audio Hijack.
Aminatou: Yeah. Why was I going to call it something Amiba? [Laughs]
Ann: So our startup costs were low, but . . .
Aminatou: But when you're not making money our startup costs were all -- they were all costs, you know?
Aminatou: So yeah, and then we signed up for . . . I don't even remember how that happened. I think, Ann, you made it happen. We signed up on some podcast network.
Ann: We used a platform called Blog Talk Radio that I don't know if they had reached out to me at some point.
Aminatou: I think some bro reached out to you and then didn't work there promptly as soon as we started podcasting.
Ann: Anyway, but we were like oh, this is a publishing mechanism for us so that is where we published. Although it didn't cost us anything, but it didn't earn us anything either. It was kind of just like the Tumblr of podcast platforms. Yeah.
Aminatou: You know, but to our credit we started podcasting every other week and didn't miss a beat.
Ann: We missed like one or two beats.
Aminatou: Are you sure? We never missed an episode.
Ann: Yes, we did miss a few weeks. Gina?
Aminatou: Stop it.
Ann: I think we might've missed a few, seriously.
Gina: I think we took a couple off on purpose. Am I remembering this correctly?
Aminatou: You guys, I want to say in the first year we did not miss a week. I'm going to go back and check this because my honor depends on it now.
Gina: Well and there was also an early -- like when we were trying to launch the show I was finishing up an intense job and so it was super-delayed on getting one episode out there and then missed my chance to use a really great Pitbull music interstitial that I still regret.
Ann: Wow. Have you been hanging on to this for two years? What did you miss?
Gina: Oh yeah, it's like the thing that keeps me awake at night. I could've used some really great dale sound effects. It was such a natural transition and I was finishing an edit on an airplane and just did not make it happen. I still think about it.
Ann: Other early on business points, maybe we should talk about the song.
Gina: Should we?
Aminatou: Well, early on we were kind of living in the wild, wild west, right?
Aminatou: So obviously our theme song is by Robyn. I believe very early on, maybe even before we started the podcast, we kind of have a conversation about how do we get rights to this? We don't know how this world works. So I think, Ann, you sent her an email right? Because you had just profiled her.
Ann: Yeah, that was like slightly -- that was a few months into the podcast that I met her for other work, but yeah. She didn't complain and I took that as a tacit yes. [Laughs]
Aminatou: We kind of didn't deal with it and it became just a very low-grade ambient anxiety.
Aminatou: Until the good people at Universal Music Group reached out to us and then we were able to license the song, but they were really -- I don't know, it's like the process seemed really daunting but actually it worked out fine.
Gina: Yeah. We were lucky that they were excited to have a source of revenue rather than trying the old way of punishing us.
Ann: Totally. So I think part of this is timeline, right? Because by the time they reached out to us we had already started selling advertising and actually had a little bit of income which I think is really different than when we started and had zero dollars.
Gina: Yeah, it was less scary. It was less scary to pay something for the license even though they cut us a pretty reasonable deal.
Aminatou: They cut us a really reasonable deal because when I say that I had no idea, you know, like let's license the song, I was like is that two million dollars? I don't know. I just didn't have an idea or what the number would be and I think that that's what made it even more scary. And then it turns out that, you know, it still costs money but it's not like two million dollars.
Aminatou: It's just like it was in the five figures, so that seemed less like . . . I don't know, I feel like I got a good data point for like oh, this is how this thing works and was a lot less scared.
Gina: Can I back up and ask? Because some of the cavalierness with which we're talking about licensing songs or using music, from my end of things, I had no idea how many people would listen to the show. So the idea that we were doing much more than a project that we enjoyed doing and that our friends would listen to and maybe would share with their friends, I didn't necessarily expect it to get much bigger than like a podcast book club honestly or I wouldn't have bet money on that.
Ann: Oh my god, no. Not at all.
Aminatou: Yeah, I think that that's fair, right? But I think that, one, that defense doesn't hold up in court for anybody. [Laughs] First of all, really, it's that we kind of had nothing to lose, you know? And also we didn't think of it as a professional endeavor, right? I think for me that's kind of the frame. When I think about our wild, wild west era that's what I think of is that it wasn't a job and truth be told I didn't have any obligations to anyone beyond just this like okay, I showed up because I promised my friends I would show up. But if Robyn was like "I'm suing you guys," I would've given you and Ann the peace sign early.
Gina: Yeah, cease-and-desisted.
Ann: Oh my god, I can't even believe this. You would've left me and Gina to field the lawsuit?
Aminatou: No, not to field the lawsuit. But I'm like if Robyn doesn't want it to happen then I guess it's not blessed by God so podcast out. Because the other thing is at the time we all had day jobs. Like I actually worked in an office, you know? And so . . .
Ann: I did not.
Aminatou: But yes, so anyway, music is squared away. But also I think that the structure of the show has changed in we don't need those -- or maybe we changed, right? It's like we used to do a ton of music early on and people were like "We're trying to discover new artists," or whatever, and I feel like we do that a lot less. Our really good friend Carolyn has made all of the original music for the show which it just feels awesome to be able to have a pal do that, you know? And pay them for that also.
Ann: How did we get the money to pay our pals, Amina? How did that happen?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Big jump.
Ann: I mean little jump, right?
Aminatou: So we go from making zero money at that first network to we were approached again -- I love that this story is always us being approached by other people and never being proactive, right? Which there's kind of a lesson in there somewhere. So we were approached by this kind of new kid on the block, Pod Network, and they were looking to launch -- I guess they were established in Europe and they were looking to launch in what country is this? In America. In the United States of America. Sorry, I'm so tired.
Gina: New country, who dis?
Aminatou: I am so tired. You know, one thing that I think also happened for our show that I was really surprised by early on -- which sounds dumb now because I'm just like oh, yeah, we know everybody, is we got really good press out of nowhere.
Ann: But don't you think some of that was -- I mean part of it is who we know, right? In that you know every human in media and Gina and I both work in different corners of media. Part of it is just our social world. But part of it is also -- and I remind people of this sometimes, when they're like "How did you guys build a big audience?" it's we launched in 2014 which is the year that Serial came out and was a year when a lot of people who hadn't paid a lot of attention to podcasts before were paying attention to them. And I do think we benefited from timing, you know? In addition to who we know which is definitely true.
Aminatou: Oh, 100%.
Aminatou: I think the timing, it was -- obviously we were there before Serial.
Aminatou: But when people were like "Oh, who are the other women in podcasts?" And it was like oh, here's a show that's female-driven. And also we were consistent. You know what I mean? It was like by the time that people kind of started paying attention to us we had a back catalog.
Ann: Right. Do either of you remember how big we were or how many listeners we had when we were first approached about being repped for ad sales?
Aminatou: So I think at the first network they approached us about ad sales. But by the time that that had happened we had already started talking to Acast, our second network, the European startup. And honestly at that point I was not paying attention to numbers at all so I could not have -- and I think part of it was the CMS was hard to read or whatever and also I couldn't believe that people beyond our friends were listening to it. But I don't think I had the -- I didn't have it in me to see how many people it was.
Gina: You still don't believe the numbers.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, I still don't believe it. I'm like convinced . . .
Gina: So like however many people follow us on Twitter, we don't have more audience than that.
Aminatou: Yeah, this is totally a scam. It's like every -- each of us has like six friends that listen to the show and then we get press and that's it. Nobody listens to it.
Gina: My recollection is around the time we left the first network we had in the range of 50,000 weekly listeners.
Ann: Which is, for people who are like "I want to start a podcast and make money," I feel like that is as I understand it now kind of like the minimum threshold for getting someone interested in selling ads on your behalf. Maybe it's a little bit less than that, but I think for us . . .
Aminatou: Yeah. Like we know podcasts who are smaller, like way smaller than that who sell ads. But I think in general that's a good CPM base.
Ann: But they have institutional affiliations.
Gina: Yeah, that's fair.
Aminatou: Well, not all of them.
Ann: Really? So we'd been going for at least a year I think when we had these conversations and had about 50,000 listeners an episode roughly.
Ann: Or so we thought. This is the thing about podcast numbers where Amina is totally right is that they're all kind of a scam and nobody really knows how many people are listening to anything with any degree of sureness.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's super nefarious. It really is. You know, it's like in my old life . . .
Gina: To our advertisers we love you.
Aminatou: No, it's true. But in my old life I was a marketer and sometimes I think about man, the amount of balls you have to have to take something like this at -- you know, to be like here's the spend that we're doing on this thing that we're not really sure what the results are, like sometimes it really scares me. But at the same time here's the thing about podcasts, right? It's probably the only medium where people sometimes are actually happy to hear ads because it cuts through the conversation people are having. So in that regard it's like well, this is a good place to advertise actually.
Ann: Right. Okay, so in the timeline it is now 2015. We are now affiliated with someone who is -- or at least talking to someone who was saying they're going to sell ads on our behalf. Maybe we should talk about why we wanted to do that? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Well, it's like the show had gotten bigger obviously and it kind of also had started to take -- so it started taking a life of its own, and I think by then we started seeing the potential, you know? Like for me at least it was like oh, okay, this is like a viable revenue stream for all of us. Because to be fair we've put a lot of work into it. It basically has turned into a job and nobody is acknowledging that it is a job because we're not being . . .
Gina: It went from side hustle to a job.
Aminatou: And I mean still like a beloved job and a beloved side hustle, but I think that at some point you start looking at all of the stuff that you're doing and it becomes hard to justify spending so much time on something that you're not even attempting to monetize.
Ann: I think also by this point, and correct me if I'm wrong, all three of us were not 100% working on our own but were self-employed and working on multiple projects. And so when that is your income structure fitting in the podcast, which trust me I also loved then doing, but you're taking time and hours away from work that you do get paid for. And so that's an additional incentive, or at least it was for me, because, again, yeah, at that point . . . and especially for someone like Gina whose expertise is in radio, like part of me, the way I thought about myself, is oh, I'm just screwing around with this new thing I don't understand. But Gina is an expert who gets paid to do this by other people. And, yeah, obviously your time is worth way, way more than zero dollars too Amina. And so thinking about it in the overall calculus of the money that we were each making I think was part of it too.
Gina: Or what we would've charged a hashtag brand to do a similar thing was a good reframing for our own rates or our own time.
Aminatou: Another thing too I think that happened is we have kind of had a conversation about taking it to the next level, LOL, like rolling up. But that requires money, right? We wanted to invest in this new equipment and we wanted to -- it's like we have 50,000 listeners. How do we get to 100,000 listeners? And honestly the sound had to improve a lot. So I remember when we first had that conversation about equipment I'm saying "Oh, is this going to cost two million dollars? I don't have two million dollars." [Laughs] And then Gina broke it down and honestly it was like in the low thousand dollar -- like it wasn't anything crazy, but it was still one of those I felt really militant about not having to pay for this equipment out of my pocket. So yeah, it's like when this new podcast network comes to us we're just like "Oh, new microphones and equipment." That's the only thing I hear.
Gina: New listeners binging through the back catalog, this is why our old episodes sound the way they do.
Ann: They sound like we're calling from the bottom of a tin can. That's why they sound like . . .
Aminatou: Seriously. Oh my god, I don't even want to go back there. But you know, honestly, it's really funny thinking about those early conversations we had with Acast, how kind of low our sights were set where we were like "Will you loan us equipment?" [Laughs] You know what I mean? That was like a selling point instead of thinking no, we can own our own recording studio one day. Hello.
Aminatou: So still thinking fairly small.
Ann: But I do think, for me anyway when I think about the arc of our business -- I'm going to get comfortable saying that, the arc of our business -- the decision to work with someone to sell ads against the podcast was a huge, huge turning point because it meant that we had to actually become a business or professionalize in all these other ways. Then we needed a bank account. It meant we needed to incorporate because none of us were going to shoulder that burden alone, so that's when we became CYG, LLC.
Aminatou: That's right. Business wives. What's up?
Gina: Business married.
Ann: I don't know, and that to me -- to your point about if someone had said to you in 2014 "Hey, do you want to start a business?" it's like no. But it sort of, through all these little choices, became an inevitability, right? Like oh, if you want to get paid for the time you're putting into this thing that's bigger than a side project, guess what? You need a corporation to put that money through. Yeah, you need a bank account.
Aminatou: I finally understand why politicians pander to small business owners so much because I'm like you just messed around a little bit with a podcast and now you're a fucking business owner. [Laughs] Like this is exactly -- this is how they get you. So yeah, it's really funny. Remember when Acast had a check to give us and we didn't have a bank account? [Laughs]
Ann: Yes, yes. Oh my god.
Aminatou: And it was like oh, we have money to deposit and we need to figure all of that out. And then the saga of finding a bank that would take all of us. We are severely under-banked in this family.
Ann: I mean now we are properly credit unioned, not under-banked. We're okay.
Aminatou: We're okay. I like our credit union. They treat us right.
Ann: They do.
Gina: Shout out, Robert.
Ann: Shout out to Robert.
Aminatou: Remember when we went to sign our bank account and Robert looked at us and he was like podcast entertainment? [Laughs] He was just like -- he just looked like a really concerned dad, like these girls, I'm worried about y'all.
Ann: A couple of things about that. First of all, yes, podcast wives, three-way partners in this business which I think is . . . we are the only people I know who have a healthy, collaborative decision-making model. Like I have yet to be a part of some other endeavor or hear about something that is collective decision-making in the way that we do it and be like that seems functional. I mean I'm continually surprised.
Aminatou: Why do you think that is?
Ann: I don't know. I mean I think we have a general understanding of -- we have shared values, that's part of it, like fundamentally I think. I don't know, I think we're all pretty reasonable when it comes down to compensation and tracking hours and things. Like we all want to feel equally bought in in terms of time and effort. And generally I feel like everyone pulls their weight and is personally responsible for making sure that they're pulling their own weight where not every arrangement I have been a part of or read about or heard about that is collaborative on decision-making is also a situation where everyone is putting in equal time and effort. So I think that is an advantage we have.
Aminatou: You know, I think too that one thing that was a strength really early on for us is because there were three of us everybody kind of picked up a ball.
Aminatou: It was just one of those things where it was like ugh, this is not my area of expertise, or I don't know how to do this, or frankly I don't want to do this. There was always somebody else to do it. It's like when you go on a trip with people and you wake up every day and the house is clean. [Laughs] You're just like how did that happen? Everybody pulls their weight around here. Like that was something that happened really organically and I think that we were really lucky in our partnership that that happened.
[Music and Ads]
Aminatou: Here are questions from Twitter: "I get how you can make money off podcasts when you're established, but what about when you are new?"
Ann: You can't.
Aminatou: You can't. You've got to get established. Next question. [Laughs] "What kind of equipment is needed for a podcast?" Look up or Google episode 22 of Call Your Girlfriend. "Do you approach sponsors or do they approach you?"
Ann: Well I think our reps do a little bit of both, right?
Ann: The three of us do no approaching sponsors.
Aminatou: We did last year. We totally did last year, or I did. But you know my favorite sponsor stories though are when people email us and they're just like "Ugh, my little marketing intern says that your show is good and we're looking to advertise on the show." And then it turns into money for us.
Ann: Shout out to marketing interns.
Aminatou: I know. Shout out to ladies everywhere who persuade their bosses to spend money on our show. Like you are the unsung heroes on this podcast.
Gina: Shout out to every person listening to this show at work right now.
Aminatou: But also it means, Ann, my early prediction about who our core listener is is true.
Ann: Oh my god, do you want to repeat it for the listeners?
Aminatou: I'll let you tell it. [Laughs]
Ann: Amina always says the least powerful person in every office is the biggest CYG fan. And I love that because I'm like you know who's about to be the most powerful person everywhere? The CYG fan.
Aminatou: That's right.
Ann: I'm just waiting for everyone -- everyone to come into their own. I know. Yeah.
Aminatou: Okay, next question. "How much time does it take to prepare and produce each episode?" It takes time. I mean it depends what kind of episode. If it's just our general shoot the breeze episode, I think whatever time it takes to find the articles that we want to talk about. But I think that the real secret here is Gina is who does all the heavy lifting. Like we have the conversation we would have every week regardless.
Ann: Yeah, how many hours does it take you, Gina?
Gina: Usually between about eight and fifteen hours to edit, mix, and post the show.
Aminatou: What? That is bananas. You should ask for a raise.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: This is crazy.
Gina: It's okay, I've got equity.
Aminatou: Oh my god, I'm going to work even harder to make you more rich, Gina. This is nuts. Okay. "Do you ever struggle to balance CYG with other work commitments?"
Aminatou: Sure. [Laughs]
Ann: Well I mean it's one of those things too where there are some weeks where it does feel like it just totally seamlessly fits in my schedule and there are other weeks where it's like two of the three of us are traveling and someone else is on deadline and it's actually a huge burden to get an episode out the door. Like that's the answer.
Aminatou: Yeah. I think especially since we've moved to this weekly schedule. So we're on a weekly schedule and we both travel a lot. I feel like I'm perpetually like "Ann, I'm ten minutes behind" every week and I feel awful about it. But also recognizing that of probably all my work commitments, this is the most flexible. Not that it's that flexible. And so, yeah, making a thing every week is tough.
Gina: But the fact that it's fun and we get to work together definitely makes it better. It's the only thing I'm ever willingly doing at 1 a.m. on a Thursday night.
Aminatou: Yeah. You're kind of my hero. I know you did an episode about merch before which I loved but would love to hear more about how that process has evolved.
Ann: The short answer is we decided we wanted a shop and didn't want to do the research ourselves to serve everyone with great, high-quality products to buy. And so we put up an ad and interviewed people with that expertise and hired someone who we work with who we pay hourly to do shop admit -- shout out to Carlie -- and order and source new products for us and be thinking smartly about all things merch. So that's the answer.
Gina: Follow her on Twitter at [0:31:05].
Ann: So good.
Aminatou: Also we have some exciting stuff coming in the store very soon so keep an eye out.
Aminatou: "How were you able to secure the rights to Robyn's original song?" We already covered that. "And what kind of licensing was required?" I'm not a lawyer but whatever licensing for a podcast song is required we got. [Laughs] I don't know.
Ann: Although it is worth, I think . . . Gina, if you want to talk about how you sourced stuff that we -- like in the interim after we were selling ads and big enough that we wanted to pay for the Robyn song, but not so big that we could afford every single thing we really wanted?
Aminatou: DJ Khaled.
Gina: There's a lot of royalty-free or Creative Commons licensed music. I tend to use freemusicarchive.org. There is some really good stuff if you listen through. You can find some good tracks that will help create transitions for songs, and that's a lot of what you heard. Now we have all original score by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our dear friend.
Aminatou: Yeah. And also honestly if you have a little bit of, I don't know, Christmas money, just look into licensing a song. It's not as crazy as you think it is.
Aminatou: "How much do podcast sponsorships pay?" I don't know. It depends. [Laughs] "I understand there's a wide range. How much does it cost to produce per episode?"
Ann: Well you just heard eight to fifteen hours of Gina's time, so obviously we're not paying her an hourly rate that she truly deserves.
Aminatou: Yeah. Gina, you should really redo your contract. [Laughs]
Ann: But the answer in terms of production cost is really the production cost at this point, now that we've invested in equipment, is our time, correct?
Gina: Yeah. Sometimes we rent a studio, like the Huma Abedin interview that we did we rented a studio for that. We found a professional to record with Huma on-site. The campaign took a photograph for us. We had that. We paid for transcription. I mean there's some stuff for special episodes that we shelled out a little more money just to make sure that it really pops for you guys.
Ann: Do we want to answer how much podcast sponsorships pay?
Aminatou: I mean it just depends on the CPM. I think we even have different CPM every week, so don't take less than $20 or something like that. [Laughs] I think it depends how big your audience is or whatever.
Aminatou: Because I've seen kind of on our invoice list, even per-week, like it fluctuates how much money we make just depending on what ads were sold and what the relationship with the advertiser is.
Ann: Right. But essentially, I mean correct me if I'm wrong and maybe we don't want to say this on-air, but we're talking like, you know, four figures to get onto our show minimum. Right? Like it's not like there's a sponsorship for a couple hundred bucks.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, no, definitely. Definitely. And no one-offs.
Ann: Right. Okay. Good rapid round.
Aminatou: I know.
Aminatou: Okay, let's go back in the timeline. [Magical sound effect] Oh, one other thing that I was going to say is when we joined this podcast network we were really kind of excited to partner with someone who we felt at the time was like -- they had an app and they were working on solving the problem of discoverability and they were going to give all these other people . . . like a bunch of people had approached us and we took all these meetings but Acast was the only one where there was a woman who was making the decision and that was important to us. It's like rule number one of Call Your Girlfriend, if you have us going into a meeting, put a woman in the room even if it's your goddamn intern because we -- like nothing will make me eye roll more than just walking into a room full of dudes who are like "Well let's make a lot of money off of you." And it's like well, actually, this does not align with my values.
Ann: Right. Or that feeling of like "You're an important demographic for us." Not that we actually care about the same things that you care about; not that our institutional values match yours in that we want a diverse leadership. Just like we like your demo. We want to buy your demo. It's like ugh, I feel like that was an aspect to some conversations we've had with outside people regarding this podcast which is just like we're all three of us very aligned on that being a red flag.
Aminatou: Yeah. And it's such a telltale sign too of like you have never listened to one minute of our show.
Ann: Oh my god, completely. Or you've only listened to the most recent episode.
Aminatou: Or you would at least know how to mitigate against it, right? I'm not saying that you have to listen to it but we're all playing a game here.
Ann: Do your research.
Aminatou: The game that you play when you have us is that you plant ladies in the room. It was also so emblematic of just how many podcast companies are just like so many bro dude companies. Even when they're super liberal I'm just like how? How do you start a podcast company in the 2000-teens and it's literally just you and dudes? You're not even slightly embarrassed?
Ann: And I just realized we kind of skipped over another thing that we were all aligned on which was essentially having someone sell ads on our show in the first place. I don't know. I mean for me personally it's interesting because Call Your Girlfriend started similarly to other side project or media things I have done that are a passion project for a small group of women, right? And I'm thinking specifically of this blog Feministing that I wrote for for many years. It was always a huge subject of debate among the collaborative leadership of that organization of how to structure it, like should it be a business? Should it be a nonprofit? Are ads okay? Are only certain ads okay? It's because it was a bigger group. But in the time I was working on that we never really found agreement or clarity I don't think. It was like honestly so, so difficult. It meant recurring, hard conversations about feminism and capitalism. Everything like instantly escalated to these huge, macro-level conversations as opposed to just are we feeling supported? And are we making work that we're proud of? And I think one thing -- maybe it's getting older, maybe it's having a smaller group, it's maybe that the three of us are really aligned, but like when it came . . .
Aminatou: Or maybe it's just that your partners want to be rich. [Laughs]
Ann: Listen, but that's what I mean, like actually asking the right questions of what do we want to happen as a result of this? Like yes. Yes, we do want to be rich.
Gina: Amina is showing us the way.
Ann: Yeah, right? But anyway.
Aminatou: Listen, I grew up really poor. I know what it's like to struggle. I don't want to do that ever again. So it's really funny, I've never had an issue squaring away like yes, I'm a feminist, but also I live in a capitalist society so I want to be rich. That's not anxiety I have.
Ann: Right. But I guess what I mean is even though I think we all come to that question in different ways, the fact that we were all like yes, we should definitely monetize this because our time is valuable and we want to be compensated financially for the time we put into this podcast.
Ann: Joking aside the fact that we agree on that I actually think is pretty huge, you know? And really set us up for success.
Aminatou: It's true. There's a lot of Swedish clothing to be bought in this family.
Ann: A lot of fancy sack dresses.
Aminatou: A lot of fancy sack dresses, but also I don't know, for me that's such an important value though. You're right, joking aside I completely understand working on passion projects or whatever. I've done it my whole life. We are such advocates of the side hustle here. But at the same time I'm just like we're three women who work really hard at something. I don't apologize for the fact that we should be compensated for that, like ever. It's always really funny how it's always the female-led side projects that kind of don't lead to money, you know? I rarely hear my guy friends have these kinds of conversations or have these kinds of anxieties. And also making money means we can make the podcast better which that's a win/win all around.
Ann: Right. Yeah, no one says to men working on a side project "Are you really passionate about this if you're trying to monetize it as well?" That's not an either/or that I think men are forced to choose, you know?
Aminatou: Yeah, they don't. And I guess, okay, to open up the conversation about ads, it's like now at this point Acast is selling ads for us. And I remember distinctly when we were signing onboard with them having very pointed conversations about here are the kinds of ads that we will do; here are the kinds of advertisers we will absolutely not work with. Because all advertisers see when they see us is vaginas, you know? Let's be real.
Ann: Or demographic.
Aminatou: It's true. And we've all been there. Like the way people sell things to women frankly can be really obnoxious and offensive. You know, and I think there were some things that we were really picky about where we were like if X brand comes to us and they want to do a general thing we would be okay to it, but if they wanted to do some sort of body empowerment mind matter garbage then absolutely not.
Ann: Yeah, the body stuff is so real when you talk about being a demographic like ours. Sorry, go on.
Aminatou: Right. It's like people are always like "Have a beach body." All of this to say if the Fit Tease people come to me I will 100% take that money.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: For my Instagram.
Ann: I can't even, that's like a . . .
Aminatou: That's a dream of mine.
Ann: I can't believe we're using this episode to try to get a Fit Tease sponsorship for your own Instagram. Oh my god, I can't.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Ann, the game is ruthless. So anyway, but all of this -- okay, getting out of joking mode and back into serious mode, the truth is that we definitely left some money on the table because we are difficult people to advertise with. That's fair.
Ann: And that said I think that there are always going to be more minor conflicts when you're talking about the nuances of reading an ad or who is everyone who is an investor of every company we've ever taken ad money from? You know, you can really kind of pull out the lens and start to see why all advertising would be terrible.
And so, you know, we do things all the time that I'm like okay, is this the number one ideal advertiser for this show? No. But do I generally feel okay with this company and their business model? Yes. And I'm thinking of a specific instance too where at some point in the first year, it might've been at some point last year, Glossier advertised which is amazing. These are products we all love and use. Which is kind of the ideal, right? Like an advertiser that it is very easy.
Aminatou: Where you're like this is already in my bag.
Gina: Right. Free ad right now.
Ann: Totally. And the specific product that they were having us sell is Boy Brow which on the merits as a product I love. It makes my brows look great. I hate the name so much. It's like the boyfriend jeans of cosmetic products, right? I hate the name, I don't like that I have to say it, but the truth is I use the product and I love the product and in general I like the company and it's really aligned. And so it's like a pick your battles. That's one of those where I was like don't love the name. I'm cool with this. I'm going to let it slide, you know?
Aminatou: Yeah. It's also the thing where I think recently, and even early on, we've gotten some criticism about some of the companies we've taken on. And two things to that. One, I really want to say I wish we could tell you everybody that we're leaving on the table first of all. [Laughs] It's just like listen, I could sell you beach body shit every week and go to the beach with that money and have zero qualms about it.
Ann: Go to the beach with your actual beach body.
Aminatou: That's right. But I also think because we are self-identified feminists and progressives, we're definitely in that space, I think that people also think they can hold us to a higher standard.
Ann: People meaning listeners.
Aminatou: You know, where it's like somehow it's some sort of really big cardinal sin if we . . . it's just like welcome to capitalism. All money is dirty. Name one company that you're proud to support that can afford to advertise anywhere. That's the truth.
Gina: And email firstname.lastname@example.org if you know that company. [Laughter] We will get that lead to the appropriate people.
Aminatou: But at the same time, you know, I don't think that we have taken money from anybody who is more evil than the regular evil norm which that should not be like the standard for ethical being good or whatever. But at the same time, hello, we're all in this together. Be a smart consumer also. If you don't want to spend your money somewhere, don't do it.
Gina: It's kind of a clich but the other piece of it is we wanted to continue to deliver the show for free for our listeners because we know that a lot of people who listen come from a variety of economic backgrounds and means and students. So it keeps it accessible. Not to say that there's a strong in this business conversation. There isn't a strong paywalled business model. But some people do it, right? It's like I think This American Life you can get the most recent episode and then other ones are behind a curtain. So ads let us be compensated for out time without constantly hustling and pitching our listeners for money which I personally like.
Aminatou: Yeah. I don't ever want to take money from our listeners, like ever, which . . .
Gina: Unless you want to buy our merch.
Aminatou: Yeah, but that's like a different endeavor, right? But I think that to make the show consistently the way it is and keep the amount of hours that we keep doing it and kind of in the spirit we want to do, yeah, it's that. Do we trust that people will pay for things? Well, you know, like sorry millennials. Y'all don't buy anything. [Laughs] I know because that's me.
Ann: I also think, and we kind of glossed over this a little bit, but when we were talking to different networks to represent the show we did talk to a few that had models that were either 100% listener-supported or had some form of fundraising from our audience, like a model of maybe doing a pledge drive and some combination of that and ads.
Aminatou: Yeah, I remember that.
Ann: Yeah, and we made a decision that we thought the show would be better if we went with a more traditional advertising model for all the reasons we've discussed. I certainly don't begrudge anyone who makes that choice or someone who only takes the most ethically-pure advertisers. Like good luck and Godspeed. But I think this episode is just like here are why we made the different choices we made, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. Remember -- so another thing that happened recently is that we had an honest-to-god business retreat. [Laughs] And one of the conversations that I remember that to me was the most important conversation we had then was what is your ideal compensation and what is the ideal amount of time that Call Your Girlfriend takes to do for you? And to me that was hugely clarifying. I was like oh, okay, this is what we're working towards. It's a different conversation to me if I know that you want to make XYZ money and this is 75% of your time versus like 20% of your time, right? And I think that the decision to stick with the advertising model to me too was so informed by that, you know?
Gina: Amina made us do a SWOT analysis, honest to god. It was helpful though.
Aminatou: Listen, I already told y'all I'm trying to be rich. [Laughs] And we run a company so we're going to do company things.
Gina: It's true.
Ann: Also do you think you could go on a business retreat with someone who reads as many business books as Amina reads without doing some kind of analysis like that? Like please. Please.
Aminatou: Tell me you didn't enjoy all those exercises.
Ann: Oh my god, I loved them all. I loved every minute.
Gina: I loved them even more than our poolside Instagrams.
Aminatou: That's right, you know? And also we're good at business and pleasure. That retreat was great. I can't wait for the 2017 retreat.
Ann: It's true.
Aminatou: But so anyway, to rewind, that's where being honest about the kind of conflictedness about advertising is good. But at the same time just recognizing that, you know, for what we know this is the best way to do it.
Aminatou: All of that to say we had a pretty banner 2016 so it worked out.
Ann: How banner, Amina? [Laughs] I'm not going to make you do it.
Aminatou: Well I'll tell you this: I bought some really nice things last year. Everybody got Christmas presents. This podcast makes a healthy six figures, or last year it did.
Ann: Which we split equally.
Aminatou: This year we'll see . . . yeah, which we split equally, because we are three partners in an LLC. And also . . .
Gina: Some of it goes to the government.
Ann: Yeah, a good chunk goes to the government.
Aminatou: Yo, when Gina sent our tax paperwork today and I saw that we were paying into Medicare I almost started crying. I was like look at these good citizens.
Ann: None of the business books you read mentioned paying into Medicare?
Aminatou: [Laughs] But, you know, within the podcast we have other revenue streams right? Like we did events last year which actually did really well for us even though we only did a couple of them. And that's something that we want to revisit, like cha-ching there. We also opened a store, like good job Carlie. The store is banging. It feels really good to just see how she's taking the store and really running with it. But also on a selfish note it feels really good to be able to pay her and be like "Hi, thank you for making us money and here's your share." Or being able to give someone a bonus over the holidays, because being a lady business owner like that makes me feel awesome.
Ann: No one's getting rich on CYG sweatshirts here. We're just getting cozy. But we also . . .
Gina: They're so comfortable though. [Laughter]
Ann: But it is a nice -- I mean I think with this and with the live shows, at least my feeling about them, is for right now they feel like little cousins to the big project that is doing the podcast. But again you never know where things are going to go. One of the things I really like about our business partnership is we're all really down to experiment with these things. Like the live shows.
Ann: We did four last year and we did them all in really different ways, like the ways the tickets were priced, the way the partnerships with the venues were, the way we sold them or someone else sold them, there were all of these variables.
Gina: How much money we made.
Ann: Yeah, big variables. And so essentially being part of a team that's like we just want to gather this information and then we can honestly check in about whether and how we want to do this in the future is again something that I really value about our partnership.
Aminatou: Yeah. And I really value too that I've just learned a lot, you know, like smaller-scale about merchandising, about event production, and all of this stuff. And taking it back to the bigger career stuff, how you're always like "Ugh, I want to learn new things," or "I want to jump into this new team at work," or whatever, and how hard that is to do. And with this opportunity we've just gotten to do so much. It's like when I think about last year . . . because there was a point in the year where I just felt like I was really overwhelmed, you know? And then to go back. I remember when at the end of the year Gina sent our PNL around I was so . . . that was such a different perspective for me.
Gina: How so?
Aminatou: Where I was just like oh, look at all of our hard work. Like I do think we have too much overhead and we've got to work on that but . . . [Laughs] That's a different story. But it was really interesting to be like "Oh, man, here was this crazy year." Because, surprise, we switched networks after that other network to go back to the timeline.
Gina: A second time.
Aminatou: Where it's like we had this kind of huge upheaval in the way we run the business. We tried out all of these new things. And at one point I was just like all of this is too much. I'm doing too much. What am I going to do when I grow up? Like terrified. And then to just see this kind of piece of paper and be like oh, here is the fruits of our labor, that felt awesome.
Ann: So yes, maybe we should back up and talk about that where at the end of 2016 we moved to a different network. Like networks I guess, there are sort of two functions that many of them fill. One is as a publishing platform that actually pushes the podcast out to all the various apps and things you use to listen, and one is the ad sales piece of it. When we were at Acast they did both of those things. It was like that was our publishing system and they were the people who sold our ads, and at the end of the year we sort of split those things apart sort of, kind of. I don't know, Gina, maybe . . . you're making faces. I want you to describe this. [Laughs]
Gina: Yeah, so as of January of 2017 we're represented in our ad sales by Midroll which is the parent company of Earwolf, shout out to Brett and Andy engineering our sessions, at Earwolf Studios in LA and New York respectively. And you may know Earwolf as a comedy podcasting network but the Midroll piece of it sells our ads and then they work with a really robust but essentially kind of white label technology platform called Art 19 which is how we push out the show. So it's like a little collaboration but it's all packaged into one thing. But that kind of church and state quality means the folks here are very accomplished and very focused on selling ads and that's what we most needed and we felt like we had our editorial vision on lock and we kind of wanted to take away the worrying about which advertisers and how and how that all works and a kind of network that was still establishing itself versus someone who was really established in the game.
Ann: Yeah, and I think it's not always apparent to people who are listening but networks can fill a variety of different roles. And so there are some podcasts you probably listen to that are produced and edited and all this stuff by people who are employed by various networks and there are others that are different. And our situation is the three of us are the only people who really work on what you end up listening to.
Aminatou: 100% independent, baby.
Ann: I mean and it's funny. That is something we have discussed other options for how to structure the podcast but at this point, which is easy to say after coming out of the other side of a lot of hard work on business stuff, I have never been happier that we made the choice to be just like a three-woman operation.
Aminatou: I mean, one, I'm really damn proud of it.
Aminatou: And it feels really good to just look at kind of the caliber of show that is on our level. You know, like shout out Best of iTunes two years in a row. [Laughter]
Ann: No brag, total brag.
Aminatou: You know, think about that. You know sometimes -- like I remember a bunch of meetings that we had last year where we were just like "Oh, I don't feel supported?" Yeah, a lot of our competition is housed in these big media companies where there's like five people who produce the show. Gina is the only person who touches our show.
Ann: I know. She's like the Hulk of editing and producing.
Aminatou: She really is. The Lance Armstrong of podcast editing. It's like what do you take?
Gina: It's all the blood doping.
Aminatou: Right. But I think about that a lot. We don't have an infrastructure for like oh, we want to do a tour. Oh, yeah, our events marketing team will take care of that. We do everything ourselves and I think that took me a while to understand what was going on. And I remember that was kind of the question for us a lot of times last year. It's like how do we get support? How do we get -- we were in a situation that was no longer tenable and we're like how do we get support? And this splitting of here's where the show's hosted and here is who is going to sell the ads and have them laser-focused on that, I feel like we made a really good decision and I feel so much calmer because every system we worked to fix last year is kind of . . . a big piece of it is now we have professional consistency that makes it a little easier. It's like oh, yeah, now we can focus on when are we going to take this podcast on the road for a tour? What's going to happen with the merch store? Because the central piece of how we make money advertising, that's doing fine.
Gina: It's in place. Yeah.
Ann: It's interesting too because when you're talking about that time period when we were all like "I don't feel supported," I feel like if we were to make internal-only CYG apparel it would just say "I don't feel supported" or something like that. But, you know, it's really hard to see at the time when you're in it what is growing pains, like what is us getting our shit together, and what is just like this is a disaster, what are we doing? And I think now I feel very much like that was us leveling up and we'll probably level up again and we'll be really frustrated again at some future point. But maybe because we've already been through this once I will feel a little bit more like oh, this is a phase where we figure this thing out and make it more sustainable as opposed to like oh my god, is it all crumbling? Which I definitely know I have my moments of like is this going to be the rest of my life? Just worrying about the business part of this that is not -- where we're not supported.
Aminatou: Right, where we're not supported. And I don't know, I think we also kind of -- or at least I'll speak for myself -- learned some really valuable this is where you walk away lessons. Like obviously growing pains are hard. At our other network we made some kind of fundamental mistakes that everything snowballed, right?
Gina: Like what?
Aminatou: Well, like trusting that an upstart was the place for us to go. They had growing pains and we didn't recognize that. It was like we signed with them I don't know when but it took them months before they sold our first ad. You know, which was so much time -- time kind of wasted. And also I feel like I just have a better . . . it's like now when I go into a meeting of "Hi, we really like your show, will you sell it to us? Can we do advertising? Blah, blah, blah," I have a better sense of the questions I need answers to as opposed to like oh, wow, this pitch was really beautiful and great. I feel like I have matured a lot. Like here are the needs of our team as opposed to here is what these people are selling us.
Ann: Yeah, knowing which questions to ask has been a huge, huge thing. And the other thing that's happening, like the context for this, is the business structure around podcasting or the industry that is podcasting is also really young relatively speaking and in a ton of flux. So simultaneously as we're trying to figure out what is our business, what kinds of choices do we want to make, how do we operate, everything around us is like "Ugh!" Totally unset as well. And so I think that's also what's going on. It's one thing that is in some ways kind of exciting because it's like I don't know what the industry is going to look like in the not-too-distant future, but I think having a little bit of context and being easier on ourselves for some of those choices, because really a lot of people are just guessing when it comes to this stuff right now, you know?
Aminatou: Yeah, they're all guessing. They're all kind of trying to become the next iTunes. Everybody has their own agenda, and god bless. That's the way business and innovation will always work. Like I want to do this check-in at the same time next year and see how we feel. But I'm super excited about 2017. It's like one big part of what we do is super stable and doing well and I think that now we're kind of focused on what is next for Call Your Girlfriend? Like how do we grow our audience? When is the TV show? When is the everything?
Ann: Oh my god, I just put my head back in my knees when you say stuff like that.
Aminatou: I did that just for you. Obviously you know we're both terrified of television so like no.
Ann: I mean anything I can't do in leggings.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, at our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can leave us, however, a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac who is here today!
Gina: See you on the Internet, y'all.
Ann: See you on the Internet.