How Joe Rogan Built The Most Successful Podcast On The Internet

Tom Stevenson

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

If you’re asked to recommend a podcast to someone, I’d wager 90% of the time people would recommend the Joe Rogan Experience. That’s a testament to the popularity and wide reach his podcast has.

The popularity of his podcast was exemplified by the recent $100 million deal he struck with Spotify, which gave the company the exclusive right to his podcast.

The numbers on his podcast are ridiculous. It’s estimated that Rogan earns somewhere between $50 and $250 million in revenue from podcast adverts. This figure doesn’t include the revenue he earns from YouTube, where his videos are known to rack up a million views in under 24 hours.

As of writing, Rogan has 9.74 million subscribers on his main YouTube account, with an additional 5.28 million subscribers on his second channel which offers short-form clips from his various podcasts. In addition, he claims his podcast has 190 million downloads a month, a mindboggling figure.

It’s hard not to look at these figures and assume that Rogan has always had this audience and level of reach, but that wasn’t the case. He started the podcast way back in 2009 when the medium was still in its infancy, and the difference between today and now is stark.

Back then, it was him and a few friends airing their thoughts to a random selection of people on the web. Nowadays, his podcast is a slick operation that features a variety of people from differing fields.

The success of Joe’s podcast wasn’t inevitable. Several factors contributed to the success of the podcast and are indicative of entrepreneurial success in general.

Nothing is inevitable, but if you follow the principles Rogan did, you can make success more likely than not.

Persistence pays off

If you’re a regular listener, or watcher, of the Joe Rogan podcast, you’ll be aware of the format. Joe hosts the podcast in his funky studio, complete with state of the art equipment and his own producer, Jamie, by his side.

It’s easy to assume that it was always this way. But if you search for the first few podcasts, you’ll see that the setup was very different to how it is now.

The first podcast is a case in point. I’ve included the video below so you can see just how different it is from today. Bear in mind, that the first episode of the podcast uploaded to YouTube was in January 2013, that's only seven years ago! Yet, in that time Joe has gone from a basic operation to a multi-million dollar podcast.

As you open the video, snowflakes appear on the screen, the background hints that Joe is filming in a spare room in his house. None of the elements that many of us associate with his podcast today are present.

Instead, we are left with something that resembles what anyone of us could rustle up and upload to the web. The point is that even the most successful podcast on the planet started from humble beginnings.

Joe could have quit at this stage before he made it big. I can’t imagine he pulled in the views he does now at the start, but he persisted. In a recent podcast with Jon Stewart, Joe hints at his lack of experience when he started.

“The early episodes sucked. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t think anyone was listening. It was just for fun. There was a lot of just hanging out with comics.”

If you’ve ever started a business or an endeavour such as this, Joe’s words will sound familiar. When I started my travel blog back in 2015, I had no idea what I was doing. Blogging was an alien concept and I figured it out as I went along.

It was only a couple of years into blogging that I realised I could turn it into a full-time job, and towards the end of 2018, I was able to do this. Without persistence and carrying on when there appeared to be no hope of success, I was able to get to where I wanted to be.

To be successful in anything, you need to be persistent. This is never truer than when starting a business endeavour. If you keep at it, make progress and struggle forward, you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Looking back on Joe’s early episodes, they primarily involved him talking with his buddies. As a comedian, he’d invite the likes of Joey Diaz and Bill Burr on to the podcast. He still has these guys on today, but the people he invites on today has expanded a lot since the early days.

Joe has had a range of people on his podcast, from the infamous chat with Elon Musk, to the illusionist Derren Brown, and the former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. That’s an eclectic bunch of people which only scratches the surface.

Joe is not afraid to experiment when it comes to his podcast. While the format might stay the same, the people he has on come from all walks of life. This is one of the reasons I keep coming back to his podcast.

Even if his recent podcasts haven’t featured someone I want to hear from, I know that I can scroll through his past episodes and find something I enjoy. This is because Joe’s not afraid to step out of his comfort zone and interview people from different backgrounds.

Although he could invite his comedian friends on all the time, he hasn’t done so. If he did, the format would become stale over time. The key thing about Joe is that he’s not afraid to invite someone onto his podcast who might be controversial, or who talks about ideas he might not fully understand.

This is one of the reasons why his podcast is so successful. His constant experimentation with guests is what keeps it fresh. Any business needs to stay fresh to stay relevant. Those that don’t, fall by the wayside.

Getting started is half the struggle

One of the biggest issues for many entrepreneurs is actually getting started. This is often the hardest barrier for many to clear. Whether it’s the superman complex of writing online or limiting beliefs that stop you from setting up a business, we’re often our own worst enemy.

What I admire about Joe Rogan is that he plunged headfirst into making podcasts. When you watch his early podcasts, and by his own admission, he was learning on the job.

The setup was rudimentary, he wasn’t the skilled interviewer of today, nor did he have the name or clout that he has now. His podcast is widely known today, but only because he took a chance back in 2009, and again in 2013 when he started uploading his podcasts to YouTube.

How many of us have had great ideas but never followed through with them? I suspect most of us. A lot of this stems from a fear of failure, or a reluctance to try. This is the wrong way of looking at things.

Not everything you do is going to succeed. Businesses come and go, and many ideas fall at the first hurdle. While this may seem troubling to many, our biggest lessons often come from failure.

Joe could have debated endlessly whether it was a good idea to start a podcast or not. He could have decided against it for fear of looking stupid on the internet. Instead, he went ahead, kept at it and seven years later is the host of the most popular podcast on the planet.

This invokes the adage, you won’t know if you don’t try. What’s worse? To have tried and failed, or to have never tried at all?

Get lucky

While all of the above is vital if you want to succeed at anything, especially business, there’s one factor that we can’t account for. Luck.

It may seem odd to describe Joe Rogan as lucky considering how well-known he is today and the scope of his podcast. But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that it would turn out the way it did.

Joe was fortunate that he was relatively well-known at this point. He’d been a comedian for a couple of decades and been a commentator for the UFC since 1997. He had a base of followers that he could draw off.

Despite this, he was still lucky that his podcast got to where it is today. Perhaps his biggest stroke of luck was that he had an established podcast when the medium really took off. His early leg work meant he could capitalise when interest in podcasting soared from 2017 onwards.

Another is that the lack of long-form content on TV has played into Joe’s hands. People flock to his podcast because he offers something different from what you’ll find on mainstream media. His two to three-hour podcasts allow for more in-depth conversations than a 30-minute talk show.

Joe was lucky that he was able to capitalise on a moment in culture when people were looking for something different. The conversations on his podcast are more organic and intimate than most of the other content we consume.

There’s no doubt that Joe worked hard to perfect his craft, to become a better host and interviewer, but I think he’d be the first to admit, luck played its part too.

Hard work will get you part of the way, but luck plays a large part too. In a way, it comes back to what the golfer Gary Player said about luck, “the harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

Nothing was inevitable about Joe Rogan’s podcast becoming the most popular on the planet. If anything, the odds were against this happening. Yet, here he is, one of the highest-paid broadcasters in the world.

The takeaways I take from his journey are that you need to be persistent. Bumps in the road are to be navigated, not shirked. Experimenting will stop your business from going stale and keep you on your toes.

If you never start you’ll never know, which is half the struggle. It’s better to have tried and failed than never to have started at all. Finally, in any venture, you need an element of luck.

Tie these four elements together and you’re setting yourself up for success down the road, just like Joe.

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