Understand the landscape as much as possible. The audio landscape is forever changing so understanding the industry is vital. The exciting part of the industry is seeing podcasts become part of mainstream culture — over 37% of the UK population have listened to a podcast recently so the potential for growth is huge.
As part of my series of interviews about “5 things you need to know to create a very successful podcast”, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Mitra.
James Mitra is the Founder & CEO of JBM, an award-winning Executive Search firm that works with some of the world’s fastest growing startups and scaleups. He’s also the host of the popular 40 Minute Mentor podcast, and sits on the Board for the recently create ‘for good’ Accelerator, Unrest.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of your “personal backstory? What is your background and what eventually brought you to this particular career path?
After doing a History degree, I fell into recruitment at an international recruitment firm where I worked for 2.5 years placing talent into some of the world’s biggest banks and consultancies. I loved the process of changing people’s lives by getting them their dream job, but I found corporate recruitment too transactional and was fed up of being stereotyped, so I set up JBM in 2012 to be the antithesis to what I’d come from — a values and relationship driven business focused on connecting the very best entrepreneurial talent with the fastest growing firms. 9 years on, we’ve grown exclusively through word of mouth and have placed 100’s of executives and future leaders into firms like Deliveroo, Facebook, Starling Bank etc across the UK, the US & Singapore. At JBM we’ve always looked to give back and raise aspirations through mentoring and going into schools to talk about careers and the advancement of social mobility. This led to us creating our podcast, 40 Minute Mentor, in 2019 to showcase the career stories of world class leaders and talk about topics that are really important to us like D&I, mental health, social mobility etc.
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
People say don’t meet you heroes as they’ll only disappoint, but podcasting has given me the opportunity to meet one of mine, Will Greenwood, the former England Rugby international, and thankfully he was every bit as inspiring and friendly as I had hoped he would be.
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaways you learned from that?
As a lifelong Aston Villa fan, I was so excited to welcome the former Villa & Bulgaria football captain Stiliyan Petrov, onto the podcast. He came down to London and we had an incredible discussion about his incredible career and brave battle against cancer. It was a genuine dream come true to meet him and I knew the episode was going to be really well received. Unfortunately, there was a glitch with the memory card and the episode didn’t record… I foolishly hadn’t arranged a good backup so I had the embarrassing task of having to apologise, and asking for a re-record.
Thankfully, Stiliyan was incredibly gracious about it and a few weeks later I hopped onto a train to Birmingham and we recorded the interview for the 2nd time. This time, I brought a professional film crew with me to ensure I didn’t make the same mistake again. I now always triple check my equipment and always have a backup recorder…just in case!
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
We’ve launched 42 episodes of the podcast so far, and we’re just about to launch a brand-new season of the 40 Minute Mentor with some brilliant guests including Mo Gawdat, Alice Bentinck, Rachel Carrell and Brett Wigdortz, which is very exciting!
What are the main takeaways, lessons or messages that you want your listeners to walk away with after listening to your show?
I started the podcast because I was lucky to speak to some incredible people in my line of work, and I wanted to share these conversations for other people to benefit from. Mentoring advice can be incredibly valuable across audiences — whether that’s young people from underprivileged backgrounds or business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs seeking guidance on their entrepreneurial journey. I’d love for this project to have helped make business mentorship accessible to everyone.
In your opinion what makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or your content?
Firstly, the guests we have on the show are always really honest about their challenges, away from the smoke and mirrors of business. We can learn so much from business struggles — just as much as we can from our achievements. We also open every podcast episode with a ’30 second CV section’ where I ask my guests quickfire questions about their career to date, and round it up by asking if they can share something about them that we wouldn’t be able to learn from their CV. I think it’s always an interesting insight into what they might usually not share in a public-facing capacity and think it’s incredibly powerful (and reassuring!) to hear vulnerability from such talented business leaders.
Doing something on a consistent basis is not easy. Podcasting every work-day, or even every week can be monotonous. What would you recommend to others about how to maintain discipline and consistency? What would you recommend to others about how to avoid burnout?
My suggestion would be to try and get into a regular routine of when you’re recording the podcast episodes, for example, try and dedicate the same time to this roughly every week. I would also advise to take a decent break in between seasons to have a rest, take stock, and look for ways to improve the next one. I’d also suggest focusing on continually getting awesome guests that will not only be great for your listeners to hear from, but who will also inspire you. Amazing conversations will give you energy and remind you why you started a podcast in the first place.
What resources do you get your inspiration for materials from?
I’m always on the lookout for inspiring guests, who ideally have overcome some form of adversity, and who will be really authentic in the way they share their overall story, including their challenges and learnings. I ask friends, colleagues, clients and previous guests for ideas of topics to cover and/or ideas for guests, which often results in fantastic suggestions.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main questions of our discussion. Is there someone in the podcasting world who you think is a great model for how to run a really fantastic podcast?
I’m a big fan of Guy Raz. He makes podcasting so personal, and it always seems so effortless for him. He strikes the right balance between building a strong rapport, but also doesn’t shy away from asking challenging questions, which often makes for a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion.
What are the ingredients that make that podcast so successful? If you could break that down into a blueprint, what would that blueprint look like?
A mission — it’s important to introduce the podcast hook from the beginning so the audience understands what they are getting from each episode at the start — and hopefully keep coming back again and again!
Engagement — a podcast is even stronger if you can find a way to engage with your audiences and listen to feedback from the beginning in terms of what is and isn’t working.
Consistency — regular release on the same day every week, ideally over a long period of time to build momentum, helps create ongoing listener habits.
You are a very successful podcaster yourself. Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)
- Creating a compelling concept with interesting ‘hook’. The audio space is already crowded, so be experimental at the beginning with concepts that bring something unique to the space. Try to approach the project through the lens of ‘what am I bringing to the space that isn’t already out there?’
- Personalize your guest outreach. My top tip for guest booking is to think about the human on the other side of the Inbox. We build long term relationships with business leaders, and those always start with relevant, personalized conversations.
- Understand the landscape as much as possible. The audio landscape is forever changing so understanding the industry is vital. The exciting part of the industry is seeing podcasts become part of mainstream culture — over 37% of the UK population have listened to a podcast recently so the potential for growth is huge.
- A promotional and marketing strategy is key to any successful podcast. Consider how you’ll promote your podcast across your social channels, website, newsletter. As well as which other successful podcasts you could partner with to cross-pollinate audiences.
- Encourage a conversation with your podcast audience (and be ready to listen to feedback). A podcast is an opportunity for you to speak directly to your audience with an actual human voice and develop a meaningful connection. It enables you to have a two-way conversation between you and your listeners with authenticity and intimacy. Listeners should be continually encouraged to write in, leave feedback and engage with you — and also to keep spreading the word and recommending it to their friends and colleagues. Word of mouth marketing can be just as powerful as traditional PR.
For someone looking to start their own podcast, which equipment would you recommend that they start with?
I started my podcast with a Zoom H6 Handy Recorder and a pretty basic mic! It doesn’t have to cost a lot; the key thing is to crack on and give it a go!
Ok. We are almost done. 🙂 Because of your position and work, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Unsurprisingly given what 40 Minute Mentor is about, I would love to start a movement where everyone seeks out a mentor, but also becomes a mentor to others. Regardless of whether you’re a student or an executive, there will always be someone willing and in need of mentorship, and paying it forward will result in lots of mutual benefit. I am so lucky to have a range of great mentors who have had a profound effect on my career and now I’m the proud mentor to a number of others, and I learn just as much from my mentees as they do from me. It’s a win-win!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.