'The West has a distorted view of Middle East': LA-based podcaster on what makes a successful podcast in the age of AI

Renowned host and unicorn entrepreneur, Tom Bilyeu, recently in Dubai, on how to make long-form human conversations stick at a time of AI-generated podcasts and how Dubai can capitalise on the medium


Somya Mehta

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Bilyeu during a talk at the 1 Billion Followers Summit in Dubai
Bilyeu during a talk at the 1 Billion Followers Summit in Dubai

Published: Thu 25 Jan 2024, 8:54 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jan 2024, 9:00 PM

An American entrepreneur, author, and influential speaker, best known as the co-founder of the billion-dollar venture Quest Nutrition, Tom Bilyeu’s impact extends beyond the entrepreneurial realm. As the co-creator of the YouTube channel ‘Inside Quest’, later rebranded as ‘Impact Theory’, Bilyeu continues to delve into the minds of successful individuals across various fields, providing valuable insights and inspiration, emphasising the importance of mindset, growth, and resilience.

In his own words, he recalls crafting the podcast show initially for his employees, driven by a vision to instill a mindset that would serve them well, whether they stayed within his company or ventured elsewhere. However, his wife Lisa Bilyeu, who now runs her own podcast show called ‘Women of Impact’, turned around and said, “Hey, if we're going to do this, we might as well put it up on YouTube” — a thought that led the couple to officially launch the show to the public and make it into what it has become today. In a conversation with Khaleej Times, the Los Angeles-based podcaster-entrepreneur talks at length about what separates a good podcast from a bad one at a time when there are new ones sprouting up every day, and how Dubai can capitalise on the medium going forward.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Khaleej Times (KT): You've mastered long-form content in an atmosphere where more and more people are trying to create Reels and Shorts, hopping onto the next viral trend. How do you maintain the sanctity of long-form content?

Tom Bilyeu (TB): We shoot roughly three-hour episodes. Just because sushi exists doesn't mean no one is going to eat a hamburger. Let's say hamburgers are popping off, and you're at a sushi restaurant, doesn't mean you start making hamburgers. I make long-form content. And as long as somebody somewhere wants long-form content, I'll keep making long-form content. In the world of social media, just know thyself. It's always the intersection of what the audience wants and what you are naturally good at and can deliver.

KT: Do you think the podcasting space is going to suffer from the problem of too many? There's a new podcast coming out all the time.

TB: There is, and there always will be a new podcast. Wait till AI comes in, and there are synthetic podcasts where 10,000 are coming out every minute or more. The name of the game is always going to be to capture people’s attention. Whether you're AI or human, that's going to be the job. How do you, as somebody new, cut through the clutter? The easiest way, honestly, if you're a new YouTuber or whatever, is to find what niche is currently being underserved. So if you're a Boomer and you want to launch a podcast, ask yourself, do you want to be a Boomer that speaks to kids? Maybe nobody's doing that, something like giving grandpa's advice. Or do you want to be a Boomer speaking to Boomers that are just discovering YouTube? You're always looking for the place where nobody’s being served. The most obvious place is for people to speak to their own demographic because you're going to understand them better than somebody else.

But no matter how good you are, one day you will be replaced, [Joe] Rogan will be replaced, Mr Beast will be replaced. That's just how the world works. If you want to delay the process, you’re going to have to keep reinventing. What I was doing seven years ago, even though it’s the same show name, is very different from what it is now. And that caused a lot of frustration to my team because you're doing this thing that's working, and you want to start doing this thing that isn't working yet. Can you make it work over time? You really do have to have a vision of where you're trying to get to, how to get there, and then the persistence to see it through.

KT: What do you think separates a good podcast from the rest of them?

TB: You have to add more value than the next podcast. It's that easy. We can give advice on getting good at the algorithm, all that stuff. But the truth is, you're conveying either entertainment or information. If you're trying to entertain, you're either making people laugh harder than the next person, or you're not. And if you're trying to educate, you either know more about that thing and can explain it in a way that's compelling, or you don't. So that's really the key. If you’re better than the next person, you'll build an audience.

KT: If you're speaking to that one person who wants to start a podcast but is going through self-doubt or questioning what they can bring to the table, what would your advice be to them?

TB: You need to be honest. Are you bringing enough to the table or not? If you're not, you need to be honest about that. And you need to have what I call the only belief that matters: that if I put time and attention into getting better at this thing, I will actually get better. Are you willing to put in the time and energy into getting good, yes or no? If not, that's your choice. If yes, great, then go get good. Think of it like your favourite footballer; if they can’t score goals, they're not good. I'm not going to pay attention, I'm not going to want them on my team, I'm not going to celebrate them. You need to go get good. It's that simple. What are you trying to teach people or how are you trying to entertain them? That's the thing people aren't being honest about. What they're trying to do is say, ‘Love me’. Well, if you're not good enough to love yet, that's that. You have to reflect on whether the value proposition you offer is exceeding the next person.

KT: Now that you're in Dubai, how do you view the podcasting landscape here?

TB: Here's the answer for Dubai: you guys have an opportunity to become massive, but you have to get your CPMs (cost per 1,000 impressions on YouTube) up. Right now, there's just not enough money in it. So you will not be able to attract talent. For instance, if I'm here in Dubai, and I know that my CPMs are going to be $1 versus over $20 in the US, which is 20 times more profitable for somebody in the US with US viewers, there’s less incentive. And you’re going to have a hard time convincing the best and brightest in Dubai to become a podcaster when they know there's not a lot of money. Now what you can do is leverage it to get fame, and do brand deals, etc. But even brand deals are going to be tied to CPM. So, you have to lay the infrastructure and there's space to build up the industry here because influence is universal. I'm sure it will happen.

KT: According to you, as an LA-based podcaster, what stands out in Dubai from a content perspective?

TB: I have a thesis about humans that intelligence is evenly distributed. So no matter where you go in the world, you're going to find people that are as dumb as a box of rocks and people that are absolutely brilliant. And for anybody that has spent time in Dubai, they’ll know it’s magic. Whatever Dubai is doing is really working. You’re now attracting talent from all over the world. It went from this, 18 months ago, I had never been to the Middle East even once in my life. In the last 12 months, I've been here four times. So, there's a ton of energy here, and they’re being very smart about translating oil money into the future.

It’s fascinating to see cultural energy move around the world. When I was a kid, it was just America. We had the market on lock. Now, it really is spreading around to different places in the globe, and nowhere as exciting as the Middle East. People here continue to invest and look forward to the future and I’m very excited to see what that could become. In the West, people have a very distorted view of what's going on in the Middle East. To see it firsthand, is a very different experience. Humans are the same everywhere, there's so much predictability in the way we process information. Are there cultural differences? Yes, of course. But that's really just a veneer at the top.


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