From Naval Electronics to Podcaster and Business Owner with Todd Cochrane (1/2)

Welcome to episode 250 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of an interview with Todd Cochrane, detailing his Naval experience in electronics working on special projects for aircraft, experience in program management, how Todd got into podcasting and later became a business owner, the nuances of running a business part-time, and how a company and individuals can shift based on market conditions.

Original Recording Date: 10-06-2023

Topics – Meet Todd Cochrane, Naval Service and Technical Knowledge, Program Management, An Injury and a Different Role, Getting into Podcasting and Monetization, A Tech Wave and a Shift, Diversification of Focus and Expertise

2:30 – Meet Todd Cochrane

  • Todd Cochrane is the founder and CEO of Blubrry Podcasting. Blubrry is a full service podcast hosting platform.
    • At the time of this recording they are working with around 100,000 shows / podcasts at a variety of levels (some shows using Blubrry for hosting, some for analytics, some using the PowerPress plugin for WordPress).
    • The team at Blubrry is about 17 people, and they have been in business since 2005.
    • Nerd Journey proudly uses Blubrry statistics and the PowerPress plugin!

3:51 – Naval Service and Technical Knowledge

  • In vocational tech school Todd took 2 years of electronics and then joined the Navy in 1983. His official title at that time was aviation electronics technician.
  • Todd also served as a back end operator in specialized P3 aircraft used more as platforms for intelligence collection. Todd tells us he was involved in this kind of work for 25 years.
    • During his tenure in the Navy, Todd got exposed to something called special projects.
    • People would bring a box for a specific function in the plane (a “box de jour”), and Todd would do the mechanical and electrical designs for these to get them in the planes quickly.
  • Todd’s true Navy background was in synthetic aperture radar and involved work with Sandia National Labs.
  • To pair with his deep technical knowledge of electronics, Todd started to tinker with other things like bulletin boards and downloading shareware while stationed in Guam.
    • This was back in the days of dial up modems.
    • “I really was kind of a geek in all aspects of job and life….When the bulletin board era died, I basically became a blogger.” – Todd Cochrane, reflecting on his time in the Navy.
    • Todd calls himself a failed blogger, feeling he was not great at it. This was around 2002.
    • In 2004 Todd got into podcasting but continued to work another job. After retiring from the Navy in 2007, Todd spent 12 years as a tech rep (basically the same job he had been doing but as a civilian).
    • Todd continued to work with and for Naval personnel until 2019 while running his own company on the side.
    • “Needless to say those were some exciting years because there was not a lot of free time.” – Todd Cochrane, on working a full time job and running his own company on the side
    • Todd has only been out of aviation for about 4 years now but has been running his business (Blubrry) the entire time along the way since it began as a side project.
  • Todd retired from the Navy as a senior chief (an E8). He did have the opportunity to go warrant officer but was happy being a chief, “punching out” just before hitting the 26 year mark for Navy service.
    • This was largely because they offered him a civilian job, and he took the opportunity to make the change.
    • Todd tells us he was exposed to a great deal of high end technology during his work (much of it will remain classified for many years).
    • Looking back, Todd says it’s pretty amazing to see the advances in technology from 1983 when he joined to when he retired and up to the time of this recording because of the technology changing so fast.

8:10 – Program Management

  • Was designing the boxes for airplanes like being a product designer or a product maanger?
    • Todd’s degree from Emory Riddle is in professional aeronautics with a minor in program management, and he was able to put the program management skills to good work.
    • For systems that the Navy personnel designed, built, and owned they had input into the capabilities desired as well as features they wanted.
      • “It was a full scheme. Some of the systems were born from an idea – built, designed, UX, UI, the whole nine yards…that I was able to have a hand touch in.” – Todd Cochrane, on working with a team to design and build systems for Naval aviation
    • In the last 15 years of his work, Todd says someone would show up with a box that he and others would have to wire up / connect. These ranged from computers that needed installing to electronics that need to hook into multiple systems in an aircraft.
      • From day to day, Todd didn’t really know what might come his way. This made the job quite unique.
      • They might get a call from a well known company who wanted them to test something, for example.
      • “So our job was really to kind of test and evaluate, and more importantly, in a real world situation, not necessarily on some range….It was fun.” – Todd Cochrane
    • In the case of 787 or 777 commercial aircraft, they are built exactly the same (with exception of some of the electronics in the cockpit). Often times the supply chain is setup so you could walk over to the airplane next to you and “rob it” for the parts you needed.
      • In Todd’s situation, everything was unique, and each airplane was different in some sense. It was important to have configuration control across multiple aircraft.
      • Sometimes they would need to upgrade multiple airplanes at a time.

11:08 – An Injury and a Different Role

  • In 2004 Todd was hurt badly in a swimming accident in Bahrain, which grounded him from flying.
  • Todd was in Waco, Texas doing contract enforcement – making sure taxpayer money was spent wisely and monitoring aircraft builds.
    • Todd says he saw a lot of the government / civilian interaction during this time, and it was a very interesting job to do for a few years.
  • Todd had insight into the process of building aircraft from beginning to delivery of and testing of aircraft.
    • The team was multi-faceted and in multiple locations (i.e. teams with some specialties in the northern US, others elsewhere, etc.).
    • Specific systems might require their own reviews and discussions and planning.
    • Budget and what could be done within the time frame were also factors. It was a team effort.
    • Todd tells us there were also subject matter experts (or SMEs) for various systems.
    • Todd has publicly shared that his background was in electronic warfare, synthetic aperture radar, etc. while on active duty for the Navy. He would have been considered a SME for these kinds of systems during his service.
      • Todd would work with and support the team putting in systems for which he was SME as well as the sailor who was deployed and had run into issues (i.e. provide troubleshooting / fly out somewhere to resolve the issue, etc.).
      • The role was part design and implementation as well as ongoing platform support.
  • Nick feels like this SME role is extremely analogous to life as an IT generalist.
    • Todd says it would have been very bad for someone to infiltrate the software they used software. As such a number of security measures were put into place to help prevent this.
    • The IT group gave people like Todd the hardest time because they might lock something down so tight it causes something else to break. And Todd calls this “par for the course.”
    • Todd says having this experience set him up well for success later when he pursued working for his company full-time.
    • “For me the transition from military to civilian was pretty smooth because I had worked with civilians a lot….So I didn’t have this mindset of someone that maybe just came out of the military that had never had a lot of civilian interaction.” – Todd Cochrane, on transitioning out of the Navy and how it might be different than others leaving military service
  • Todd had been running his company as his part-time job for a number of years until he transitioned to working there full time.
    • While still working in the Navy, Todd had to be very careful about keeping his business and Navy work completely separate.
    • The separation was an important part of security clearance reviews, and Todd even had to ask permission to have his own business.
    • Todd would leave his phone in the car during his normal workday and take business calls either during lunch or after work to help keep the separation.
    • “But when I transitioned, it really made me realize I should have probably done it about 10 years earlier.” – Todd Cochrane, reflecting on his transition to running his business full time
  • For the last 4 years, Todd’s job as CEO of Blubrry has been coordinating with the software development teams, production, and marketing.
    • Todd says they use Scrum at Blubrry and that he is essentially the Scrum Master in many ways despite being the owner. His project management skills have come in handy.

16:39 – Getting into Podcasting and Monetization

  • When Todd speaks to being in Waco, TX he was in a full body clam shell after smashing his L1 vertebrae in a swimming pool accident.
    • Todd tells us he was lucky to be alive and be able to walk after the huge spinal cord displacement from the accident.
    • Todd worked in an unairconditioned shop after being able to walk again (still in Waco) and was exhausted at the end of most days.
    • He would spend evenings on his laptop surfing the internet and stumbled upon Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code, one of the early podcasts.
    • At this time (October 2004) Todd was a tech blogger who didn’t have many people reading his site, but he liked to talk.
    • Todd picked up a cheap portable microphone at Wal-Mart and started recording a podcast. He already understood things like XML that one needed to know to get a podcast online back then and was able to execute on his own.
    • “Really the eureka moment came when I woke up one morning and my webhost said, ‘hey, you’re out of bandwidth. We’ve shut you down.’” – Todd Cochrane, on an interesting situation after starting a podcast in the early days
    • There was no Blubrry at this time, and the only way to fix the problem was to spend more money on shared hosting accounts. Todd’s podcast website had to be moved around every few days at that time to keep it going.
      • October 9th, 2023 marked the anniversary of Todd’s 19th year of doing podcasting!
  • Todd was spending a lot of money to keep the show online. When he returned to Hawaii and let his wife know what he was doing, she didn’t really know what podcasting was (almost no one did at that time). But, Todd’s wife told him he needed to be making money from this endeavor after a year or two or would have to stop.
  • In November of the same year, Todd received an e-mail from a publishing company asking him to write the first book on podcasting.
    • At first he was not sure if they were serious. But it turns out they were and offered him a sizable advance to do the book even though he did not consider himself good with grammar or a writer.
    • Agreeing to write the book fixed Todd’s money issue.
    • Todd eventually started his own tech network and then in 2005 GoDaddy called Todd wanting to sponsor his podcast.
    • At this time Todd was one of the very few who had advertising on his podcast. He wasn’t quite sure how to charge in the beginning. After a month of sponsorship GoDaddy got around 370 customers and wanted to sponsor Todd’s show for a full year.
      • “Here’s one of those things where you have to understand your worth, and I really had no idea what my worth was.” – Todd Cochrane, on having to come up with an amount to charge GoDaddy to sponsor his show
      • Todd says he ultimately gave a price that was far too low (an underbid as he calls it), but in the moment he suggested a bonus if GoDaddy converted a certain number of customers as a result of the show. Ultimately Todd’s contact at GoDaddy agreed to this.
      • The lady Todd was working with to construct a deal asked if he knew anyone else looking to advertise with GoDaddy. Todd said yes and that he needed a couple of weeks to get back to her.
    • The tech network Todd had built had 12-13 shows he could potentially represent and take a percentage of the proceeds.
    • “And on my next podcast I said, ‘I need a lawyer, I need a MBA, I need a graphics guy, and I need programmer. And we’re having a call in 10 days. If you’re one of those, be on it……’ And in the end we formed RawVoice, which is the parent company for Blubrry, over the telephone. And we all had regular jobs, so everyone was working this at night.” – Todd Cochrane, on the beginnings of his business
      • Todd made the ask on his show and got all the personas he needed on a call.
      • The company was profitable from month 1, and each member of the group contributed some of their own money in the beginning to fund the startup.
      • Todd was told he was too old at 40 to receive a round of funding from venture capitalists in silicon valley. And it would have required the entire team to move there (not feasible with everyone having a family).
      • “But the one thing we were always smart with is we knew that we had to have money in the bank. We knew we had to be profitable. We knew we had to make payroll because…I didn’t have $25 million of VC to use. We had to build this slowly, and that’s what we did over the years. We built it slowly and never extended ourselves too far.” – Todd Cochrane

23:28 – A Tech Wave and a Shift

  • John mentions Todd identified what we would call a technology wave, was passionate about what he was doing, and he made a bet.
    • Todd maybe could have gone to work for someone looking to monetize in this space but made a bet. The structures Todd had put in place enabled starting a business without too much work compared to someone with a cold start.
    • Todd says in a lot of ways the team figured things out as they went with the first product being an “abject failure.” But the team learned from this experience and made changes to their model.
    • "We build a lot of stuff, and if something is not working, I don’t dwell on it. I don’t ride that ship into the ground. We move on. Maybe we keep the product, and maybe we don’t. " – Todd Cochrane
    • Todd mentions many people with a product or idea believe in it so much they burn all their money and don’t make a change or shift early enough.
    • In the early days Todd’s company was like a media agency and represented podcasters for ad deals. Most shows they represented were fairly small, and their second product in 2006 allowed them to track podcast listening statistics.
    • As larger more popular shows came online, Todd could see the advertising budgets shrink and shift to be put into these larger shows.
      • As a result of seeing this trend, Todd’s company did a strategic shift to become a service provider.
      • “So as the advertising revenue was declining the service business kind of crossed in the middle, and we dodged a bullet. We would not have made it had we not shifted to a service business….Keep your eye on the ball, what’s going on in the space. At that time I had 5 competitors. Now I have 30.” – Todd Cochrane, on a strategic company shift
    • Todd tell us his product is commoditized today and competes today on features based on feedback from customers and the market.
      • In the technology sector, companies have to look around and understand what is happening (cannot be blind to this).
      • “You do have to teach the old dog new tricks. You have to.” – Todd Cochrane, on the need for companies to adapt to changing market conditions
      • The above is also true for knowledge workers, especially with the growth and emphasis on AI (artificial intelligence). If people do not stay current and get educated on these technologies, they may find themselves out of a job in a few years.
    • When Todd originally built his show (that first podcast), he was trying to build authority. Todd wanted a press pass to CES (Consumer Electronics Show), which he eventually did get.
      • This was before his wife’s mention of monetization.
      • “I did it out of pure desire just to go and hag out and check that show out….Then things kind of morphed as time went on.” – Todd Cochrane, on the reason he started his podcast in the first place

28:06 – Diversification of Focus and Expertise

  • John says we’ve heard about startups and the term “pivoting.” It may not be a pivot of the company but a diversification of where success and money will come from (which is also true for an individual).

    • John shares that at one point his ability to crimp a CAT5 cable was a skill that brought money in. But if he had held tight to this and focused on it holistically forever, John would not have a job right now.
    • Diversifying a skill base or what provides value to an employer or a business (i.e. your own business) is something we can do to keep ourselves from having market forces destroy us.
    • As we age we get more expensive to employers, making it even more important to keep our skills current and requiring that we bring expertise to our next role.
    • Early on in Todd’s Navy career a friend / mentor named Randy gave him some great advice.
      • “You just need to attach yourself to the smartest person in the room and suck them dry, basically learn everything they know or everything they will tell you.” – Advice from Todd Cochrane’s friend Randy
    • Todd says using this strategy has really paid off for him long term, and he does this today with his CTO at Blubrry (someone who knows the tech well and someone that Todd trusts to provide direction).
    • “I think it’s more than surrounding yourself. I think if you are in a field that you’re trying to stay current on, you need to become the person other people want to attach to. But when you’re early in your career it’s easy to be annoyed by that older wise individual. But they have so much experience.” – Todd Cochrane
    • Todd tells the story of asking someone with more experience at Sandia National Labs for help on a schematic. The person told Todd exactly what to do to fix the problem (which worked). But Todd didn’t leave it there. He went back to the person and asked how they knew their suggestion would fix the problem.
      • “A 15-minute conversation I had with him literally fixed hundreds of problems that I had going forward years in advance. When you have that opportunity to get help from…a genius and they can bring the topic down to your level, man you just need to…milk that dry.” – Todd Cochrane, on picking the brain of a brilliant colleague with more experience
      • Todd thinks that advice from Randy (who is still a friend to this day) was one of those pivotal moments / pieces of career advice.
  • Mentioned in the outro

    • If you are someone who has served or is serving in the military, we thank you for your service!
      • For those making the transition from military to civilian life, don’t be ashamed of getting support through this transition. One such resource in the US is the Transition Assistance Program. *For the part time business owners out there, check with your employer before doing this to avoid conflicts of interest in advance!
    • The injury Todd suffered was not so devastating that he got depressed and did nothing. He started tinkering around and occupied himself with something fun (podcasting).
    • Each of us has a platform we can use to ask for help (social media, blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.). How can you use what you have to tap into personal and professional networks to ask for help?
      • We won’t know if we can get the help until we ask. People are listening!
      • Maybe you can ask for guidance on something you want to learn from your network.
    • Maybe we should ask others in roles we find interesting what they’ve had to learn over time to get better during the course of being in a specific role.
    • Perhaps as we shift our focus of expertise over time we can become more like the “T-Shaped Engineer” Chris Williams describes in Episode 229.
  • To follow up with Todd on this discussion…

    • E-mail Todd –
    • Todd is also on LinkedIn and many other places. Search for his name to find him.
    • Check out the podcasts he’s a part of as well:
      • Todd likes to say listening to the New Media Show consistently could essentially get you a PhD in podcasting. Rob Greenlee is the co-host of this show with Todd, and he has worked for almost every major podcast company over time.
      • Geek News Central is Todd’s twice-weekly tech show that is a broad range of everything technology.
      • Podcast Insider is a Blubrry podcast hosted by Todd and 2 others at Blubrry to discuss strategies for podcasting.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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