Ads

This is another big week for advertising on Sleep Tight Stories for which we are grateful, as without them we might not be able to continue doing what we do. At the same time I likely won’t sleep, as I fear our listeners will balk and bail, or there will be a tech fail. Our numbers are still just about the same from the last ad campaign but this I see as a sort of stress test for listener loyalty.


Colors

I’ve taken a new approach to running of late, partially a result of listening to a number of interviews of Courtney Dauwalter. She espouses a joyful enthusiasm towards getting outdoors and moving your body which has been lacking for me these last 8 months. No training plan just run as your body feels. Of course, what her body can do and mine are miles apart, 240 miles, as she has been the winner of the 240 mile MOAB race over all participants. Which is great evidence of what the mind is possible of doing.

She is also a refreshing change from the “dominate”, “crush”, “who’s carrying the boats son” testosterone addicted athletes I’ve been listening to for too long.

So I go out and run, look at my surroundings, take pictures, and don’t worry so much about pace. It’s been working very well and despite the increasing cold I’ve been enjoying running. I tried to do the same today, as it was the type of temperatures I’d love to see all winter, but alas my Achilles still doesn’t want to come along with the rest of me. This injury just does not want to go away.

My plans are, if I can heal my injury, to spend an increasing amount of time running on the trails culminating in some moderate distance trail race in the summer, ideally in Utah, COVID willing.


Mysteries

Living and now working under people gives you insight into strangers lives.

Our first year back in Charlottetown was a nightmare, as we lived under a neighbour we unaffectionately called “Stampy”. He and his family own a restaurant in the downtown and would look like model neighbours – always a smile. But surfaces can be deceiving and many nights were filled with parties and people falling down drunk. Not the neighbours I wanted at this stage in my life.

Now I work in an extremely quiet office below a publisher of a periodical, which my past experience tells me is primarily a sit down do work affair. The noisy days of setting type are over but for those who appreciate the craft.

And yet there are days when I hear people constantly walking on their heels, using what sounds like a cement mixer, shuffling drawers and dragging large objects across the floor (dead body?). It’s at times like working under the constant din of a hotel lobby.

I mostly have my headphones on and it’s not in the same league as Stampy but it often leaves me curious. Maybe one day I’ll just ask.


Coffee and Pineapple Cakes

Sheryl received an unexpected gift of coffee beans and pineapple cakes from Taiwan. Much appreciated and I feel lucky that she has such great friends. I’m anxious to try the coffee, not just because you can never have enough, but also to test the likely romanticized memory I have of the quality of beans in Taiwan. Pineapple cake is an odd pairing with coffee but I will give that a try too.


Still searching

I’m still looking for glasses for running and CrossFit that don’t cost $500 or more dollars. These come close in fit but still need some adjustment to overcome the sweaty slide. I think I’ve aged about 10 years since I returned home to the Island, which is the exact opposite effect I had hoped for.


A positive medical experience

The medical system on PEI has been a swirling cesspool of negativity of late with my own opinion being of the we are doomed when we get older type. I’ve been so concerned that I’ve starting questioning the logic of moving home, particularly as we enter the time when the machine that is our body starts to need concerted attention.

We don’t have a family doctor, and we have found it increasingly difficult to see a doctor at a walk-in-clinic. Often, the Water St. clinic will be full in less than a minute after registration opens. This week though, to my surprise I was able to book an appointment, which is in itself a cause for celebration. Upon arrival I was greeted with such positivity I had to ask the nurse what was going on. Why are you all so happy? She just chuckled and I forget what she saidw but I get the impression that these are people that enjoy doing what they do.

I’ve been experiencing some middle age malaise which has been interfering with my sleep at night – how I continue to function on so little sleep is a mystery, though yesterday was an exception and I went and bought groceries instead of doing what I had planned.

The doctor I saw at the clinic, was personable and gave me as much of her time as someone working in a clinic could afford. After our talk, she asked the nurse to take some blood in order to order some comprehensive tests and I was told to expect a 10 business day wait.

Well, yesterday after a scant 3 days the doctor called me to tell me that everything was better than perfect, made some George Burns references, and was again generally a beacon of positivity. The medical system in this case over delivered, what a joy.

I’ve had the (mis)fortune of interacting with medical professionals all over the world, and I can say I prefer those on the Island to most others I have interacted with. I just hope we can give them the pay and environment they deserve, and us the access we need.


Advertising

Reason #100 why I can’t lead a business.

October, November and December are big months for podcast advertising and we have been fortunate to have a number of baked in ads, feed drops, and our first campaign across all our audio inventory. We upgraded our hosting to Libsyn’s expensive enterprise plan specifically to take advantage of their digital ad insertion software which we need to be able to serve ads for larger campaigns.

We’ve been advertising our own products fairly consistently for almost a year but host read ads have been sporadic and not enough of a revenue generator to start paying a salary. Our call to actions for our listeners have been slow and strategic – we wanted to make sure that this model worked for them and we wouldn’t have a mass exodus. Until now we have had no push back from them.

The new campaign ads are different. Though the script was carefully crafted, and produced to be as relaxing as our stories, the pre roll is there to listen to before each and every story. The only escape is to press the forward button.

The email and messages have already started protesting the changes. Which bothers me and has me considering whether or not this is the correct approach for us. It feels like there is nothing worse than disappointing your listeners, especially when they are children. Yet, this campaign accounts for almost a 1/3rd of our yearly income and without 2-3 of these a year podcasting as a stand alone activity will be not be viable. We’ve had the longest runway imaginable and it’s now time to see if we can continue.

I dislike this focus on money and how it interferes with making nice things.


Inevitable death of Indie [insert activity]

Everyday I do much the same thing. I get up grab my phone to make sure there are no dumpster fires, drink coffee, prepare food for myself and others and read much the same news sources that I have been reading for 15 years or more. I used to run, and I sometimes go to CrossFit early, but these days I prefer to use this early morning caffeination for work.

On my 3rd cup I check stats and reports. I shouldn’t but I am competitive and want to see how our podcasts are doing (growth is flat btw). Lately, competition has been increasing, not from other Indie publishers but from large companies with huge marketing budgets. Companies who can afford to spend their way out of the discovery problem and later (maybe) recoup their costs by selling advertisers on their reach.

It’s sometimes disheartening. I’ve gotten past the times when the CBC would launch a show that competes indirectly with us, CBC has a sound that not everyone can identify with, and all our shows have more listeners than their’s 😊.

But it’s harder when a slew of private enterprises, with large investments, come in and flood the space with highly polished shows that feed off the category that small more personal creators have grown.

Indie creators are not competitors, they are colleagues. Many sound better, are more engaging, or have a voice that more people connect with. I learn from them.

Perhaps the larger organizations elevate the art. Give us goal posts. Jack Conte’s views aside, I do wonder if the same thing won’t happen to podcasting, that happened with so many other indie publishing movements of the past. Do many make money blogging anymore?


Children’s stories

I’ve been writing children’s stories. I don’t write well, but I feel it’s important to be a beginner, to put myself in a position for failure and growth. And it’s fun.

My available time is short, so I time box aggressively, and sit down and see what I can produce in, after all the inevitable procrastinating, what amounts to a few hours in an afternoon.

One of the advantages of having a couple stories podcasts is that I have a built in audience, an audience who will be very honest and forthright with their criticism or praise. An audience that shapes the themes I will write about – stories with girls in leading roles, with modern family arrangements, and different identities. For now I write for them.

The first couple take place on Prince Street here in Charlottetown where I grew up. One about a dog, and her gang who aren’t so welcoming to a different looking dog from away. The other is about a girl transferring to a local school, perhaps Prince Street, from far away (Mars) because her mother found a job here.

I hope to keep writing until I get to the point where I can sit down with someone and have them show me all the things I could be doing better. Then find an editor. Then perhaps put words to print.


The Problem With Subscriptions

The problem with subscriptions is often people, myself included, sign-up with the best intentions, but end up not using the service as much as intended, or at all. A few will signup and immediately forget that they subscribed. And as time goes by those charges continue to accrue.

The value of having monthly recurring revenue for a small business is pretty clear; keep your customers happy, the churn rate low, and have revenues you can count on. Our subscription service pays all our costs, while advertising and any other work I can pull in goes to my family. It’s a tidy arrangement for a mind absent of financial acumen like mine. Ideally, revenue would be large enough that I don’t have to rely on advertising and other things, but for now this is the model we have.

When you are small you can’t afford much automatization. You deal with people directly, including those who are angry that they forgot they subscribed to your service, and direct their angst towards you. Which is a drag and requires time out of my day to manage.

Sheryl often tells me to remember to smile, which I seldom do, so when in these situations, I smile, think of a sunny day and deal with it as positively as I can.


Old world

This showed up on my Facebook feed today. Why Apple photos cannot surface old photos with the same panache as FB and Day One is a mystery – it also can’t search.

The first picture was the office I worked out of in China, which came with all the trappings – olympic swimming pool, restaurants, proper running track, boxing ring, gym and on and on and on. Of course it also came with an office with astro turf, because having meetings while lying on fake grass was supposed to produce better results(?). When you are a billionaire CEO you can accumulate things.

The 2nd picture is the door to my current office.

It might look like I’ve fallen from the future to land on a set from West World, and in some ways Charlottetown is very old world, but despite my constant complaints about things, there is a calmness to this place not apparent elsewhere. Though I work more now than I ever did in China, it feels much better to be home.

I do miss the running track.


Birthday messages

In a recent conference call with the CEO of Supercast and his marketing team we briefly discussed our recent uptick in subscriptions and low churn rate. This was part of a broader discussion which I should find time to write about later this coming week.

It’s really difficult to know why people subscribe when they do without explicitly asking them. Podcasting is entirely opaque with very little data unless you take concrete steps to invade peoples privacy, which we don’t.

We ran our first promotion, which might lead you to believe that people are price sensitive, and our pricing is too high. Our ads were more engaging. It could be the time of year when parents invest in things for their children. Or it could be, like one parent said, they finally caved in to their children’s many requests.

There is one other possibility. We wish kids happy birthday on the show and there seems to be an extreme number of October babies. So many, that we may need to produce a show to just keep up with the demand.

The long cold nights of January and February might be a boon to indie children podcasts. We’ll be sure to run a promotion next September and compare the results.


Early mobile photography

I still appreciate and miss the results that early phone cameras produced. These may have been captured with an early Sony Ericsson, likely the T610. I loved those phones and remembered fondly helping an early startup develop ringtones, wallpapers and characters to match the devices they were selling to at the time.


Kids being kids

We must teach our children….
To smell the earth…
To taste the rain…
To touch the wind…
To see things grow…
To hear the sun rise…
And night fall…
To care…

~John Cleal

We were fortunate to be able to send our kids to a private kindergarten and elementary school that emphasized letting them experience the world without shoes. They built things, grew their own food and we hiked through the mountains and the tall grass. They learned about snakes and the dangerous sounds of killer hornets. They would whistle at stray dogs and got chased in return. It was a marvellous time. Catriona to this day continues to talk about elementary school.


Experimentation

Lindsay Patterson talks about their reasons for moving to Spain back in 2017. Coming from the US, healthcare and child care was on their list, but also they left for abit of experimentation.

Our podcast is built around the idea of experimentation — in science, and in business. When we started a podcast for kids, we had the hypothesis that families were eager for high-quality, screen-free entertainment. It turns out we were right. Kids Listen’s survey of parents who listen to podcasts with their kids found that 70% found kids’ podcasts because they were seeking screen-free alternatives. And when kids start listening, they’re hooked. 80% of parents said their kids listen to favorite episodes more than once — with 20% listening ten or more times.

Now that we know kids are listening, and the numbers are there to prove it, it’s time to find out how to make our podcast sustainable. Our hypothesis is that Spain is an inspiring and safe place to take that risk. Sure, our sample size is 1, but it’s a start. Maybe you’ll add to it?

Coming to PEI was in the beginning also abit of experimentation for us. Something new, yet familiar, with what we thought was the comfort of knowing that we would be looked after when sick or during some other calamity. In a place without much in the way of “social gathering with a purpose,” The StartUp Zone provided a soft landing and a cheap place to work.

It’s amazing how the effects of not being able to travel, the rising cost of living, and the lack of confidence in a social safety net has on your desire to take risks, or to experiment. I’m sure that I am not alone in feeling apprehensive about the future, here on the Island, or in Canada in general (economic uncertainty has many follow-on effects).

A couple weeks hiking in Northern Thailand, or a week eating my way from the north to south of Taiwan would be an antidote to some of the malaise, but Taiwan is closed and Thailand requires a 2 week quarantine.

So we enjoy small treats on the Island and hope to not need to see a doctor. I enjoy coffee with my daughter at The Shed, and get to listen to sounds of the Vietnamese and Chinese language. I eat once a week at one of the many Japanese restaurants around town, where you can hear … Japanese. And we recently went to a lobster supper, which I define as local food, where we incidentally got to listen to a Chinese visitor embarrass himself with how disappointed he was with his daughters meal. My daughter goes out for Korean and works at a Taiwanese bubble tea shop where the owners fly in from Taiwan to tell her to work faster. Working in Downtown Charlottetown is in many ways similar to Hsinchu.

These sounds and tastes make living here even more enjoyable.

Why I’m Moving My Podcast to Spain And You Should, Too


Catriona, 18

Somehow this little girl who used to run around Jusco singing songs turned 18 today. It is a cliché but I really don’t know where the time has gone. This morning while getting some coffee near my office I saw a group of young kids excitedly going to dance class, just like she used to, which made me wish I could experience it all over again.


Not my finest moment

I was sitting at the coffee shop while I did my end of week admin debris when I notice my 90 year old uncle in his car parked outside the optometrist office next door.

Getting out of his car after having a short chat, a guy started approaching me to let me know that I should inform Wendell that he ran a stop sign. While he was not particularly aggressive in his approach something about his manner triggered me and I became testy.

It took me many years to learn that in every confrontation, argument, or conflict of any kind, even a minor one such as this, one needs to be calm, polite and empathetic. Once your heart rate rises above baseline, and you loose the ability to think, your ability to choose the correct verbal or physical language for the situation diminishes.

While his delivery was aggravating, he was correct. Wendell didn’t see the stop sign. I should have smiled, said thank you, and moved on.

And now it’s time to encourage my uncle to get off the roads.


Surveillance

I’m not sure how long these have been in place, it’s amazing how one doesn’t notice these eyes encroaching on your privacy, but these cameras on the confed. centre certainly are an ugly accoutrement. It’s not like the building was attractive in the first place but one would think that more subtle methods for surveillance might exist.

While not yet approaching Asian state levels of surveillance, Charlottetown certainly does seem to be trying hard. Is there a crime problem I don’t know about?


Soy Milk Latte

I’m sitting here at what is becoming my second office trying a soy milk Latte, after tasting which I remember that I have always hated soy milk. The kids love of all things soy never took hold with me.

Today is supposed to be a day of writing, but with writing being my worst skill and with no real deadline, I’ve done every other possible task.

Perhaps next I should go home and clean out my son’s closet.


New Habit

Now that Catriona is attending University her schedule has freed up considerably which allows us to start having the ability to enjoy morning coffee and tea together at The Shed. I don’t think we’ve had this much time alone together in years. We don’t talk much, she reads, and I wade through piles of email and such, but I think we both share the characteristic of extended periods of quiet juxtaposed by periods of manic conversation.

She is studying medieval literature at the moment, which I warned her about as I always thought it got in the way of more important things, like the study of medieval music and the drinking of beer. She obviously gets her smarts from her mother as she thinks all the stories are easy, predictable and boring. I remember struggling.

We arrive early (to her) at 8:30am but the prospect of me paying for her tea and car ride into town (I get the feeling my bike would be stolen by end of day) gets her out of bed faster than the school bus ever did.


Undecided

Tomorrow is Election Day and I have still not come to a decision as to who or what party I will cast my vote for. Unlike past elections, held during our brief time back in Canada, there has been little in the way of outreach from party candidates, and with life being busier than the past, I’ve done little to understand their take on the issues that matter to me.

Here are the issues that seem to be pre-occupying my mind of late:

Cost of living. Coming home was in one small part an experiment, could we lead a similar middle class lifestyle that we lived abroad while enjoying a greater work-life balance. Before we left we knew that the medical system here was not comparable in access to what we were used to, but we felt otherwise the numbers worked. Recently at the behest of a friend and mentor, I more closely ran the numbers again (I dislike quant.) and discovered that our experiment has failed. At a time when we should be celebrating success, who the hell makes a living telling bedtime stories, we realize that despite having a household income far above the median, we just can’t make it. In many ways our lifestyle is a shadow of what it was – the cost of living is just too high.

Food has always been more expensive (Atlantic salmon is cheaper in Taiwan for some reason), housing costs are spiralling out of control (a house we thought of buying recently sold for double the price), services and education are multiples more expensive, and Canadian salaries like in Taiwan are depressed.

High taxation. To make matters worse we pay 6-7x the effective tax rate we were paying before and for what (where is the accountability)? PEI doesn’t have true universal health care, you have to pay for dental, eye exams, audiology and for any medications you might need. I have no idea if mental health is covered or where one would go to access that. If you try to look after your physical self, you have to pay for that too – physiotherapy is a thriving business on the Island.

I had this misplaced conception that by returning to Canada we would have access to greater social services, more security, and thus more peace of mind. What the pandemic has taught us is that this is far from the truth. We must be as self-reliant as in the past (in Asia we had no assistance available for anything), which is fine, but again, what do we pay such a high tax rate for.

Universal healthcare. What good is having great doctors if you can’t access medical services? Camren has an ingrown toenail, a minor problem, but one that has a dramatic effect on his quality of life. Competitive athletics are best performed without a swollen infected toe. He’s been told its a 3 month wait for a procedure that we could have been taken care of immediately by walking into any hospital in the past. I had been experiencing an irregular heart beat, was concerned and started my journey at a walk-in clinic. It took me over 6 months to get the prognosis that “if anything bad was going happen it would have happened by now.”

What is frustrating is that while you have to pay for some services, you aren’t allowed to pay for others. I would like more data as to why I have decreased energy levels and if there might be circulatory problems in my left leg. I can’t pay for blood work or get scans from a private clinic and the system here only starts to work when problems get chronic and then you begin the well known long wait.

Before I left the Island for education and work, I was raised by my mother alone on the modest salary she received. We lived in a 3 bedroom duplex, she drove a nice car, I was dressed in nice clothes, and I had regular visits to the doctor. We ate well. Sometimes it was tight, but I didn’t notice any difference between our family and those of what might have been my better off classmates. It would be impossible to have a similar life style today on a single salary. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, under similar circumstances, you would be food insecure and perhaps at risk of being homeless.

At present, I have no idea which person and party can best represent my concerns. And honestly, I have little faith any will make much progress. Lawrence Macaulay would seem the most qualified, but I’m not sure he has ever stepped foot in Stratford, let alone gone door to door talking to constituents. The Green party’s focus on climate is something I can get behind, but when your boat is already sinking, it’s hard to focus on rising sea levels.

I have about 12 hours before I plan to vote.


Cost of Customer Acquisition

I’ve been in need of a new pair of glasses for some time, particularly for when running or other sweaty fitness activities. My old Japanese frames, though seemingly still of the same look of many glasses you can buy today, look scruffy as hell.

Eye glass frames, along with razor blades and printer cartridges, are essentially all profit, with frames being especially “scammy” as most are manufactured by a single company. Seeing as we have a family of 4 to feed I wasn’t too excited to not only have to pay to get a subscription, eye tests are not part of our universal healthcare, and pay the $400 and up, I was quoted for new glasses.

So when presented with an ad on Instagram from Kits.ca I decided to give it a try.

I measured my previous glasses, used their tool to measure my PD, gave them my prescription, and submitted an order for the pair of glasses that looked as close as possible to my previous pair.

Total cost was ~$12 for shipping, plus the time I spent entering the data. They arrived in my mailbox a week after purchase.

Kits gives you your first pair of glasses for free because they believe that you will be so impressed with the product and service that you will be back to buy another pair. I’m not so sure. The quality of the frames is on par with anything else I’ve owned and they fit right out of the box. For running and other bouncy activities they will require some slight adjustment but otherwise they are fine.

The only problem is that I don’t really like them. Online try-on can’t really compare to the experience of what you get in store, and I’m fairly certain I would never have purchased them if I had tried them on in store. The software they use is somewhat akin to a Snapchat filter. They do offer a 30 day return policy with return shipping at their expense.

It’s a great deal and an interesting business model, but I’m not convinced its for me just yet.


Fancy

When I first arrived in Fuzhou I was required to stay in a dorm in the city – they had my passport for a couple weeks so I little choice as hotel stays are bit more strict in China than say the former Queens Arms Inn (which based on experience was of similar quality). Luckily the apartment I had later was in a different class all together. I remember being a bit salty when I walked into the room, but though I was recruited, I was still considered a local management hire and with their obsession with harmony, deserving of the same treatment as everyone else.

25+ yrs earlier, Sheryl’s tiny one room apartment in Antigonish had a similar arrangement in the bathroom which seemed more fun at the time.


Island Cam

Years ago I used to check the Island Cam(s) from half way around the world to take a peak into the goings on in the City of Charlottetown. Not much was ever going on during the times I checked but it served as a good lead in when talking to family via phone. “I see you have some snow there…” “How did you know that?” That and listening to local radio while driving in some remote locale was pretty magical in those days.

These days, with our weird and annoying changes in weather, I use to see if it’s fit to go outside. My current office doesn’t have a window.


Paid podcast subscriptions seem to be having a moment(?)

Paid podcast subscriptions seem to be having a moment: Breaking Points, a podcast and YouTube show, has seen 10,000 paying subscribers in just two days using Supercast. The company tells Podnews that their top ten podcasters are earning more than $9 million in annual recurring revenue from paid subscribers on the platform; and that their growth rate is outperforming Substack’s early published milestones.
Via Podnews

I know of only a handful of children’s podcasts that enjoy similar success, albeit at a smaller scale. We aren’t one of them.

I’ve often described creating audio for children as my happy place. As far as products go it’s a simple problem to solve, it’s creative, has seemingly endless possibilities for personal growth, and you get immediate feedback from your customers/listeners. And despite the long hours and no days off, it feels far less stressful than the 996 culture I was embroiled in in the past.

Our growth, though slowing (we may have hit peak bedtime stories), has been amazing; we average over 700,000 downloads a month on Sleep Tight Stories alone. And yet these seemingly large numbers have not translated into a truly functioning business. A great side-hustle sure, but not something that we could support our family with, particularly with the high cost of living on PEI.

I’ve yet to identify where our execution is lacking – value prop?, messaging?, community?, my propensity for introversion?. All these areas need work, and I’m trying to improve our execution in each of them to see if there is any improvement with our anemic conversion rate.


Extreme 996 Work Culture

I watched this last night and it brought back memories. Particularly the constant messages that you had to answer no matter the day or time. As a foreigner I had been given different expectations, but if everyone else on your team is working, it’s pretty hard to walk away. This work ethic was not limited to China, it was the norm in many companies in Taiwan as well. I still remember the first time I saw the Startup Zone in Charlottetown, it was just past 5pm and the place was dark and empty. I couldn’t believe that people at the beginnings of building a company would leave work before 5pm. And that in summer, so many office workers would be on their way home at 4:30pm.


Too short a stay

Foggy in New Brunswick and PEI, sunny in Nova Scotia

We had a short pit stop in Aulac enroute to a family BBQ in Truro. While we had little trouble entering Nova Scotia, the fact that we stopped at all in New Brunswick gave the “gate-keeper” at the provincial border significant pause.


Planned Obsolescence

Of all the tech. purchases I’ve made in the past few years none have had as positive effect on my quality of life as my AirPod Pro’s. The sound quality is fine, but it’s sound cancelling and integration with my other Apple tools is exemplary.

Being able to discreetly mask environmental noise has been illuminating, you don’t know what you are experiencing until it’s gone. The fact that they are the only wireless in-earphones that will stay in my ears while running, is a boon to being able to communicate while active.

But after a year of use they are starting to develop some quirks; each time I take AirPods out of their case one of the ear buds will have its battery drained and as such is unusable. A quick 10 minutes in the case brings it to life, but it casts doubt on the long term viability of the product. Particularly since is becoming a regular occurrence.

Perhaps this is the (hefty) price you pay for wireless earphones, or yet another example of how so many products we buy today aren’t built with longevity in mind. I have wired over the ear headphones that have last for years and years.