DURHAMJason Gillikin runs one of the Triangle’s fastest-growing podcast production companies, Earfluence, offering a full range of services, from concept to marketing, recording and production.

This Wednesday, March 16, Earfluence is launching its second studio – this time out of the Durham-based startup hub American Underground, a division of Capitol Broadcasting Company (as is WRAL TechWire) – with an eight-hour, “podcast marathon” featuring a “who’s who” in the Triangle’s entrepreneurial scene.

Starting at 10am and running until 6pm, Earfluence will livestream back-to-back, one-hour podcasts through various social media channels, featuring a slew of guests. Among them: The Diversity Movement’s Donald Thompson (an Earfluence investor); Momentum Learning’s Jessica Mitsch Homes; and Ricky Moore, owner of Saltbox Seafood and recent James Beard award nominee. (For full schedule, go here.)

‘Podcast marathon’ featuring who’s who of Triangle startup scene launches Earfluence’s new studio

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to catch up with him. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Take us to the beginning. How did you get into podcasting? And when did you decide to make it your full-time gig?

Jason: In 2017, I was 12 years into a career in e-commerce marketing, 10 of which I spent at the same company. It was comfortable and, with three young kids, comfortable isn’t so bad. But I started thinking about my professional legacy and building something from the ground up. Meanwhile, I was falling in love with podcasting and awed by the storytelling of shows like “How I Built This, Pretend and Startup.”

I started a podcast at that e-commerce agency, sharing how our clients built their businesses, and I was hooked. Then, in 2018, I convinced my wife to start a podcast. She’s a wedding planner with some jaw-dropping stories of the planning process and family dynamics. It was supposed to be a fun project for both of us, but we realized the crazy stories weren’t what resonated with the audience — it was the educational components.

Other wedding vendors were ravenously consuming the business advice that Megan and her guests were giving on each episode. Her career started to pivot from wedding planner to speaker, consultant and industry thought leader. That was the lightbulb moment for me that podcasting wasn’t all about creating viral sensations and selling ads for Squarespace and HelloFresh and MeUndies. Podcasts could truly be an extremely powerful medium for businesses and individuals to showcase what they know.

So, in 2019, I took the scary leap to entrepreneurship and formed Earfluence.

  • Give us the rundown of what you offer.

Jason: We build brands through podcasting, one conversation at a time. That’s a nice line for the website and social media, but that doesn’t really answer your question. We offer full-service podcast production, which means not only do we edit and mix podcasts to make them sound amazing, we provide all of the marketing to get the podcasts to the right audience and the pre-production lift. Goal setting, coming up with a name and brand, finding guests and topics, understanding storytelling, best recording strategies — that seemingly overwhelming pre-production work is what prevents most of the pod-curious people from pressing the record button. We do all of that so our clients can relax and star in their own shows.

Jason Gillikin recording a session in one of Earfluence’s podcast studios.

  • Earfluence specifically caters to the Triangle’s startup and business community. Why did you make this your target audience? 

Jason: The Triangle startup and business community found Earfluence, and I am forever grateful for it. Being a small part of the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that’s happening here is awesome, and I love the rising tide mentality.

Here’s how it all started: I connected with Donald Thompson (Walk West CEO at the time, now CEO of The Diversity Movement and regular contributor to WRAL Techwire) because he’d started a podcast and I wanted to see if I could help. He was into it, and the guests he was bringing in were connections in the startup community, like Katie Gailes, Molly Demarest and Tim McLoughlin.

With all of those connections, we started thinking about different podcast concepts, and two things happened. First, we worked with David Gardner from Cofounders Capital to produce the audiobook version of his phenomenal book, The Startup Hats. Then we produced a podcast called Startup Stage, where underrepresented founders could pitch their companies to a panel of Triangle investors  including Donald Thompson, Tim McLoughlin, Robbie Hardy, Grant Williard and Keith Daniel. All of a sudden, the startup community was our people, and again, I feel incredibly fortunate that that happened.

  • Tell us about the demand, and what kinds of shows you’ve produced. Which ones were your favorites?

Jason: The demand continues to grow as podcasts are becoming an essential part of showcasing your expertise.

And as far as my favorite podcasts, I mean, do I really have to choose?  Some have been transformational for me personally, like the Beyond the Obituary Podcast, where I interviewed families of loved ones who had passed on. The strength that these families displayed was truly inspirational. The podcasts from The Diversity Movement have been incredible in my journey to understanding privilege, workplace culture and why diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a winning strategy.

But my favorite story is my wife’s transformation. Her Weddings for Real Podcast is now on episode 171. It’s in the top 1% of all podcasts, and she has an online education platform with over 400 planners. Back in 2018, we were developing a top-of-funnel marketing strategy for a future business, and we didn’t even know it.  And, maybe more importantly, instead of working weekends, she can spend them at home with me and our girls.

  • Earfluence is growing quickly. You’ve got a podcast studio at Raleigh Founded. Now you’re launching your second studio at American Underground. Talk us through your expansion, funding, and what’s next for Earfluence.

Jason: Co-working spaces are a natural fit for us because of all the connections to startups. We partnered with Raleigh Founded specifically because the team there is all about lifting up other co-working spaces and entrepreneurs, whether they’re involved in Founded or not.  It’s uncanny how they could choose to be territorial or competitive, but they truly want the community to thrive.  We feel the same way, and it’s been an awesome partnership.

When we were thinking about expansion, we knew it had to be a co-working space with the similar rising tide mentality and values. That’s American Underground for sure, and we are so excited to be more involved with everything that’s happening in Durham. Down the line, we’ll consider expanding to other startup communities in North Carolina and surrounding states, but we have a lot of work to do here in the Triangle first.

As far as funding, Donald Thompson invested initially in 2019 to help get this off the ground, and since then he has provided invaluable mentorship and support.

You’re launching your AU studio with a podcast marathon, 8 episodes live streamed all day on AU, Earfluence social media channels. How did you come up with this idea? What are you most looking forward to? And how will you make time to go to the bathroom?

Jason: Oh my gosh, I’m so excited for this. We wanted to come up with a concept to create content that could be all about what’s going on in Durham, introduce Earfluence to the Bull City and, honestly, just have some fun. The hosts and guests we have coming into the studio are a who’s who of amazing people in Durham. If you want to find out what’s going on in Durham, you’ll be able to watch any or all of these episodes at WRAL’s Techwire LinkedIn page or at PodcastMarathon.com. To see the full schedule, go here.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in person and having all the awkward “Do we shake hands? Do we fist bump? Wave to each other?” interactions. As far as having time for bathroom breaks, this whole production is a team effort, so we can be supportive of each other when we need time to rest.

  • Podcasts are now ubiquitous. It’s projected to be a $94.8 billion industry by 2028. Do you see the phenomenon waning anytime soon? And what do you think makes a good podcast?

Jason: I wouldn’t call podcasting a phenomenon. Podcasts are part of an overall marketing strategy for businesses, just like blogs, newsletters and social media, and podcasts can be repurposed for all of those things. Podcasts make creating that content easier. And then, you factor in the networking and business development piece — asking someone, “Would you like to come on my podcast?” is much easier than “Would you like to see a demo?” — and podcasting has a long way to go before coming close to a saturation point.

The successful podcasts are the ones that can be both educational and entertaining. Those shows connect with their audiences and take their brands to the next level.