A community of female podcasters supporting each other and asking and answering questions sounds pretty utopian. Especially if you love podcasts as much as She Podcasts founders Elsie Escobar and Jessica Kupferman.
But Jess admits that when she founded the group, “I didn’t really have an intention of helping anyone except myself.”
Jess began She Podcasts as a small group of female podcasters who wanted to share their advice and podcast-related problems with each other. She quickly recognized Elsie as a kindred spirit, and together the duo have grown the group into a 20,000-member community.
Growing from an audience small enough to fit in a group chat to one that could potentially found a moderately sized town sounds like a dream. And it is, especially since it’s made it possible for Jess to fulfil her vision of holding She Podcasts LIVE. The first live event was held in 2019, and the second took place between October 14 to 17, 2021.
However, as their community has grown, Jess and Elsie have also seen their roles evolve — whether they wanted them to or not. They’re now the ones answering the questions: and sometimes they have to step in and assert control.
Here’s Jess’ and Elsie’s advice on how to know when you need to step up as a leader, how to manage a live event, and what to look for in a business partner (hint: it’s not another you.)
From founders to leaders
When you first start a podcast, you worry no one will listen. If you keep at it, you eventually hit the Goldilocks of listener counts: Enough that you feel motivated to keep going, not so many that you can’t interact with all of them. And then more people join and you realize just how outnumbered you are.
Jess and Elsie experienced the same champagne problem with She Podcasts. They started the community as a place where female podcasters — including themselves — could get answers to their questions about the medium and industry. As it grew, their responsibilities switched: suddenly they were only helping other people, not getting help with their own problems.
At the same time, what had once been a self-monitoring community started seeing more incidents of bad behavior. Not exactly “Girl Podcasters Gone Wild,” but things Jess and Elsie didn’t want in their community.
Neither Jess nor Elsie can put her finger on exactly when the momentum shifted. For Elsie, it became noticeable when she realized that the majority of people joining the group were not personal contacts. “At first we knew everyone,” she says. “Now, I would say we know like 20%.” Jess says she felt like she stopped knowing every member after the community went over 5,000.
Once it became clear that their close-knit community had become an occasionally unruly crowd, Jess and Elsie reluctantly accepted that their roles needed to change too. They couldn’t just be two random members: they had to be leaders.
“I did feel like a reluctant leader,” Jess says. “I wanted the group to do something that a large group can’t do, which is lead itself. So there have been three or four times where we’ve had to go, OK, we’re either going to be the leader here, or it’s going to become chaos.”
One way Jess and Elsie are getting back to the smaller groups they started with is through the She Podcasts Super Squad. It grants paying members more access to the pair, and coaching and mentorship.
Building a community for your podcast is a challenge. Once you’ve done that — and while you’re continuing to do that — you also have to manage your community’s changing needs. At some point, that will probably mean creating some rules and enforcing them.
Finding the salt to your pepper
The most effective partnerships aren’t necessarily between people who are exactly alike. In fact, Elsie describes herself and Jess as, “completely opposite when it comes to a lot of different things.”
That can be an asset. If your podcast is a double act — or more — find someone whose skill set complements your own, rather than perfectly replicating it.
For Jess and Elsie, She Podcasts is just as much of a collaboration as putting out a podcast episode every week. And the secret to the success of their working relationship is that they agree on the fundamentals while also bringing different traits to the table.
For example, both women came to the conclusion that they needed to take more active roles as moderators, and their approaches balanced each other out.
Jess says that her strength is in setting boundaries and enforcing them. “The skill I have is [saying], I’m not putting up with that,” she says. Elsie’s talent is diplomacy. As Jess explains, she “speaks much more diplomatically than me … and knows how to say things in a way that doesn’t offend people. I don’t always have that skill.”
Of course, even the strongest partnerships face disagreements. Another skill you need to hone if you’re going to work as a team is compromise.
From the start of She Podcasts, Jess had wanted to do live events. At the same time, Elsie really didn’t. “I was like, Nope,” she says. “I was a dictator when it came to that.”
But eventually, as more and more people started asking for conferences, Elsie realized that she didn’t want to hold Jess back from achieving her vision. “If I love her and I respect her as both my friend and my partner, this needs to be something I get on board with,” Elsie says.
Find a partner who fills the gaps in your skill set and imagination — and when you inevitably butt heads, remember that those differing perspectives are the reason you work so well together.
Keep the chaos backstage
Live events are a fantastic way to meet loyal listeners and introduce your show to new people. They’re also very demanding, as Jess learned when she organized She Podcasts’ first conference in 2019.
One factor that worked in her favor (and also added pressure) was that before deciding to go ahead with the event, she held a Kickstarter to see if anyone was interested in tickets. Luckily, 200 people were ready to put their money where their She Podcasts fandom was. This proved that there was demand, and gave Jess much-needed cash. But if they are coming, you better build it.
Jess pulled it off, although it was down to the wire. The name badges didn’t get printed until the day of the event, and the bank was about to decline her new business account. “It was chaos. Chaos,” she says. “But all I got was really good feedback. Everyone had a great time. No one saw that stuff.”
Putting on an event naturally generates unexpected problems, some of which you can’t solve. But it doesn’t have to devolve into the Fyre Festival of podcasting. Prepare as much as you can, make people feel welcome and taken care of, and remember that you’re the only one who knows exactly how chaotic everything is. Everyone else is too busy enjoying what you’ve put on for them!
Make it thematic
A good way to give your event structure is by introducing a theme. Not in the same way as, say, a middle school dance: Hold off on the thematically appropriate paper streamers. It’s more of a general idea that speakers can organize their presentations around, and so that guests know what to expect.
“It’s not something that you lead with, and You’re like, Hey, together we rebuild,” Elsie says. “It’s just a drop of consciousness: It’s why you’re there.”
Keep it meaningful but broad. For example, the theme of She Podcasts Live 2021 was Rebuild. Elsie felt that this was particularly appropriate after the COVID-19 pandemic not only canceled She Podcasts 2020, but upended so much in our lives.
“It’s an escape … to go in there and refuel myself, rejuvenate myself, reconnect with myself, and feel like I can rebuild myself with like-minded people around me,” she says.
Having a clear direction helped even event-shy Elsie get on board with going live, and proved to She Podcasts fans that the community is only just getting started.
To hear more advice from Elsie Escobar and Jessica Kupferman about founding a podcast community and live events in the era of COVID-19, listen to this episode of Between 2 Mics. Be sure to subscribe to get future episodes directly in your preferred podcast player.
Natasha Lavender is a writer, editor and podcast nerd. She has a BA in English and American Literature from the University of Birmingham in the UK, which proved especially useful when she moved to Chicago, IL, in 2016. This content was produced collaboratively with PodReacher.