How did two cybersecurity experts build a top 50 podcast?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Hacker Valley Studio podcast co-host Chris Cochran shares how he and his co-host Ron Eddings have used authenticity to build a loyal fanbase and grow Hacker Valley Studio into what is now a top 50 podcast.
From his early career in the Marine Corps to working in threat intelligence at Netflix, Chris was never trained as a marketer but says the key to his success has been sharing his authentic self and being a keen observer of people.
Kathleen (00:00): Welcome back to the inbound success podcast. I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week, my guest is Chris Cochran. Who Chris, I have to introduce, you normally introduce people by their titles, but I have to introduce you by your LinkedIn headline because it describes so perfectly why you're here. Security engineering by day producer and host of the top 50 podcast, Hacker Valley Studio by night. Chris is officially the director of security engineering at Marqeta, as well as of course, the podcast host and producer at Hacker Valley Studio and a program advisor at Heavybit Industries. Chris, you have such an awesome resume. Welcome to the podcast.
Chris (01:07): I'm excited to be here.
Kathleen (01:13): I'm excited to have you, especially because you know, I'm about 150 episodes into this podcast. And I'm at that point where I've really begun to see some kind of trends emerging about what makes for a top performing marketer. And interestingly, one of the trends is that a lot of the top performing marketers, I interview are not actually marketers either by trade or by training. Right. And you are one of those people. And, you know, I, I started working in the cyber security industry within the last year. And and so I've gotten this really interesting exposure to all kinds of new non marketers who are doing really great work at marketing. So with that as an intro, could you please tell my audience a little bit about yourself and what you do and about the podcast and what it is?
Chris (01:58): Yeah, so I started my career in the Marine Corps. I was in the Marine Corps for five years doing Marine intelligence. And that's what really kind of pushed me down the path of cybersecurity. I got out and I was at cyber command as a contractor for about five years or so. And that's when we were doing like really threat intelligence focused things. I had my own company for a little bit, you know, standing up threat intelligence capabilities and ultimately did the consulting route. I was at Booz for a little bit. I was at Mandiant but ultimately I ended up at Netflix on the West coast and that's when everything kind of started for me. I had largely been silent when it comes to content marketing and things like that. But when I got over to Netflix, I had a post that went viral on LinkedIn.
Chris (02:49): It was so what ha this is interesting story to tell. So, you know, on LinkedIn you can, you know, when you change jobs, usually it tells everybody, Oh, Chris just changed jobs to this and you wait for the applause. And everyone says, Oh, congratulations, you're doing so good. That didn't happen. So I changed jobs and I waited the whole day. And then I came back and I had like zero messages. And I was like, what? A tree that fell in the forest though? Is it here? And I was like, what is going on? And I was like, Oh, I had the thing that says, do not share when I changed jobs selected. And so I was like, you know what, I'm just going to put up a little post, you know? I'm missing my fanfare, but I'm just going to throw something up.
Chris (03:32): So there was a picture of me pointing at the Netflix sign. And I just said something to the effect of Hey, just started in my role at Netflix. If this, you know, you know, Jarhead Marine can do it, anyone can. And a couple hours later it had like 40,000 views. And I was like, Whoa, what, is this thing broken? The next day, it had like maybe a hundred thousand. And then ultimately it got up to almost a million views, like 10,000 impressions and things like that. And that really started the whole process. I was like, wow, there's something here, right? Because you can't go viral on purpose. I think that's really a hard thing to do unless you're like this marketing whiz. But that really got everything rolling. I was like, you know, I'm going to use this platform to start producing.
Chris (04:21): And so that's when the podcast came and my cohost, Ron Eddings, and I, we just jumped on mics and started having conversations. And what I did was, I carried that, that authenticity, that from that post, because I mean, I wasn't like braggadocious, like ha ha ha. I'm on Netflix and you're not. It was more of like, Hey, you know, I'm just, I'm just a regular guy, Marine. If I can do it, a lot of people can do it. And I just carried that with me through the podcast. We're just Hacker Valley Studio. And we focus on the human element of cybersecurity which I think is, is a, is a great thing to focus on.
Kathleen (04:55): So tell me a little bit more about the podcast and the traction it's gotten and the growth it's had.
Chris (05:09): Yes, it's been tremendous. So we started June of last year. I think it was June of last year, maybe it was April. And of course when you're first starting a podcast, there's no traction, but slowly but surely we started getting more impressions and more shares than a lot of the other podcasts, big podcasts out there with a much bigger following. And I think it's because of how Ron and I engaged with our audience. We, I would say it really picked up at the beginning of this year, around the January timeframe. But honestly, we're, we saw the most traction actually against conventional wisdom is we actually doubled production during COVID. One of the things we were focused on is, you know, what, what is a way that we can support people that are out there, they're sitting at home, they're not able to do much. We could double our production and that's counterintuitive because there are less people driving in cars.
Chris (06:08): So there are less people listening to the podcast, but we thought that this was a time to invest sweat equity into the podcast and also produce for the people that are our loyal fans. Right. And so we give them two episodes a week to listen to. And it's so funny because if you look at our stats, our, our trajectory is like this, then COVID happened and there was a little dip and then it just shot through the roof as soon as things started to open back up. But it's just been a phenomenal ride and I couldn't be happier with the traction it's been getting.
Kathleen (06:39): That's amazing. I just love that story because it speaks to something again that I think I've seen with some of the best marketers that have come on this podcast. And another example of that is somebody named Marcus Sheridan, who is a, who has in the past been a mentor of mine. I've worked with him. He started out as a guy that owned an in ground swimming pool company. And he's now like a huge marketing influencer. He's written books on marketing. He is on the speaking circuit. And I've always thought about him, kind of the same thing that I'm hearing from you, which is that he is a successful marketer because he innately understands human beings and how they communicate and how they make decisions. And, and it's the same thing I think with that initial post you did on Netflix, as well as the approach you're taking your podcast.
Kathleen (07:28): Like you're just a guy who understands other human beings and, and that comes naturally to you, which makes you an amazing marketer, even if you haven't like gone and gotten the marketing degree. So when you and I first spoke, one of the things that you talked about and you're really passionate about is this notion of authenticity and that really being the driving factor behind the podcast's success. So I think it's, a lot of people use that word gratuitously. Right. And it's kind of like a, a fun buzz word that marketers, like, we all have to be authentic. What does that really mean? So, so I'd like to dive deeper into that with you. For you, how does that manifest? What does it really mean for you to be authentic?
Chris (08:18): For me being authentic is showing as much of yourself as, as possible. Whether it's in audio, video, whether it's in prose, writing, anything like that. It's showing us as much of yourself, your thoughts, your feelings as possible that you can relate to other people. Because I think humans are unbelievably amazing at detecting when someone is inauthentic. So if someone's like a used car salesman or they're trying to like sell you a bill of goods that you don't need, people are going to pick up on that, unless you're like this, like unbelievably suave used car salesman. Right. But I think that for the most part, I'd say 90% of the time people can tell when someone is putting on a show or putting on a face. And I think that the more authentic you can be, the higher likelihood you're going to develop a connection with that person.
Chris (09:17): Because if you come on and like, so take, for instance, our podcast. I can't tell you how many times people have been like, you guys are so laid back on the podcast, you know, this, that, and the other. And at first I kind of thought, I almost took it as like an insult. It was like, no, you guys just don't care. But no, it's actually, yeah, but what people really appreciate is that we don't over polish it. Like I don't try to speak in a, you know, radio voice. And there, there's a place for that. But for our podcast, because we want to be conversational, when we bring somebody on to the podcast, we want to have a genuinely deep conversation. Because a lot of times people come on and talk about cybersecurity, but then we end up talking about like their, their childhood. We end up talking about, you know, their relationship with their father. We end up talking about how much they love their kids, or we talk about their insecurities. You know, we talk about all these different things and you don't get to those topics unless you're authentic, friendly, and warm and willing to, to bring someone else's guard down.
Kathleen (10:22): Now you talked about sharing as much of yourself as you can. And there's, I think that can show up in different ways. So you mentioned being like informal for lack of a better word. But then there's the other side of sharing as much of yourself as you can, which is opening, opening up and sharing things that you might not normally say in a professional setting or, or talking about topics that might be uncomfortable or controversial. Like what's your approach to that?
Chris (10:52): Yeah. So I share that stuff whenever there's a greater good to be had. So if, if I'm sharing a failure of mine, its because I think that other people can learn from that failure. And that, and the message is stronger than my vulnerability, if that makes any sense. So if I'm sharing something, like for instance, I did a talk for SANS and the first five minutes or so is talking about how I, I quote unquote, failed at Netflix, because it's such a unique company when I got there. And I had to rethink how I did my entire tradecraft for the work that I do. And so by telling people that I know that there are other people that have gone into their organization or tried to build something and it just didn't work, and it had to go back to ground zero and that's, and I was letting people know that that's okay. But if I, if I share something that that might be vulnerable, but it doesn't impact anybody, and it's just me venting, I think that that could have diminishing returns. So like, whenever you, whenever I share, I try to make it so that I either help somebody and help somebody know that they're not alone in whatever situation they're in or give them some nugget of wisdom that they can take with them.
Kathleen (12:07): What about talking about difficult subjects? I feel like, especially in the world we live in right now, there are a lot of those, and there's a lot of people, this is a big conversation happening in marketing. There's a lot, there's people on different sides of this issue. Like, do we go there or do we not go there? When is it appropriate to go there, what's the best way to do it? Like, how do you, how do you approach that?
Chris (12:30): Yeah. So, and I think we talked about this a couple of weeks ago. I think that when companies want to say something and they want to show where they are on a certain situation, I think as long as you are authentic, I think you're always going to be on the right side. I feel like if a company tries to capitalize on a movement or tries to just show face, just so they don't lose customers, I think it's going to show through. It's going to show through and their marketing is going to show through on their, their, their copy on their website. I think people will be able to see it. But I do think that, like I said, whenever you're, you're vulnerable for a reason, you think that you're going to enact change in either someone or in a situation and you're vulnerable in that state, then I think that's, that's a good thing to do.
Kathleen (13:24): That's good advice. Now, being as authentic as you guys have been, do you get any haters?
Chris (13:33): Not, not so much anymore. I, we, we got haters in the very beginning. I think our first two reviews on Apple podcasts was like a negative.
Chris (13:45): I think it was because we talk about the fringes of cybersecurity. So we talk about things like fitness and mindfulness. And we talk about leadership. Like we don't just talk about tech subjects. And so in the beginning, I think that kind of put people on a spin, like, well, why, why are these guys talking about this stuff? But now I think people get it. I think people are starting to get like, Oh, okay. This. So they're focused on the whole cybersecurity professional. Like what are all the things that can make them better? And, and so now we just get nothing, nothing but praise, at least, at least to our face. I mean, I don't know about closed doors, but yeah, it's been, it's been a phenomenal response so far.
Kathleen (14:27): You know, you just made me think of something really interesting, which is that working in cyber, it's definitely a, it's an industry that, that by nature is not known for opening up and sharing, you know? You're trained not to share information. And it also tends to be an industry that is a bit more you know, I would say at the corporate level, at least kind of formal and, and, you know, stiff, if you will. I come out of marketing, the world of marketing to marketers, and that's a much more informal, fun kind of kind of industry. And I think there's a lot of industries out there like cybersecurity, you know, you could think about like banking and finance or you know, tech in general, insurance, a lot of those industries, you hear people say, well, I can't, I can't open up. I can't be informal. I can't talk about these things because it doesn't fit with my industry. How would you respond to that?
Chris (15:32): That's actually a really, really tough one. Because I, I was listening to Gary V and they were talking about, there was, I think there was like a mortician in the audience and they were talking about like, I have, I talk, my business is a really serious business. Like how do I, you know, show color and things like that. In some cases you can't, I mean, really, depending on what your industry is there, there's just some things that aren't going to fit, but there are you know, 10 other ways that you can be authentic in whatever that business is. So like, if you're, if you are doing like, say cybersecurity and you're protecting against like really, really like serious threats, like maybe advanced persistent threat level things, I mean, you can, you can, you can have a little bit of comedy but if, if like you're doing something like, like you're a mortician or you are supporting, you know disenfranchised children or you know, people across the world that just are underrepresented, there might be some tact that you might have to have when you are sharing authentically. Maybe you go to a different emotion. Maybe you, you, you share the emotion of, of how passionate you are about this, a particular arena, because there are ways to be authentic without being weird
Kathleen (16:55): Or callous. Yeah. Yeah. Authenticity doesn't always have to be humor. It's just right. It's, it's sharing emotion and making an emotional connection, really. So, so what are some examples of conversations you've had in the podcast or topics you've covered that have really, I think, showcased this, if you will.
Chris (17:16): Yeah. So like I was kind of alluding to before we had a guy on, Daniel Mead, and he came on just kind of talk a little bit about his company and the things that they were doing. And, you know, it just in the middle of the conversation, he started talking about his dad because I, I think what kind of put us down that path is where does his authenticity come from? Because one thing that I've really appreciated about him is he's a sales guy, right. And he's, he's a sales guy. And every interaction I had with him was like a funny interaction. It really was generally funny. And I said, you know, where did that come from? Because that's, that's a rare thing to number one, have the confidence to try to be funny in every interaction, but then all the, also to actually nail it right.
Chris (18:03): There has to, there's something that happened in his childhood. And so I kind of poked him on it. I was like, where, where does that come from? And he started talking about his dad and it just completely changed the trajectory of the conversation. But those are, are my favorite favorite conversations. We also had a conversation with a guy named Wilson who was also in the Marine Corps. A leader. He was a pianist for the Marine Corps, which is really hard to do. Ended up in cybersecurity, started his own company, wrote a book that did all these amazing things. And so we started kind of going down the rabbit hole with him and he told us about a time that he was with a leader that was really, really hard on him, like in a, in a completely terrible way. But, and we just went so deep into that reaction and how he felt during that time and, and the positive outcome that came from it and almost got it, got too deep from the standpoint of like, we, you know, we try to be as positive and uplifting as we can on the podcast, but it went deep and we didn't want to end it there.
Chris (19:13): And so my buddy Ron is like, Hey, should we, should we just keep going? Just that. I was like, no, this is completely fine because he brought it all the way back around to how he used that, that negative situation into a positive. So yeah. I love those conversations
Kathleen (19:30): Going back to kind of the story of the podcast. You started out and it was you and Ron having conversations and they were different kinds of conversations than people were used to hearing in cybersecurity. How did you guys build the audience for your podcast?
Chris (19:44): Yeah, so I I'd say the other thing that really makes us stand out is that I know that, so some people use you know, other like platforms to kind of like, you know, push their, their stuff out there. You know, they, they use the automation, they use, they pay for, you know, advertising and things like that. And, and that's good, you know, especially if you have like a product that needs to get put in front of a lot of people, but fortunately for us, we, we didn't have to do that because I think as we've grown, like, I'd say we've grown fast comparatively to like a lot of podcasts, but in some podcasts, like we've grown really slowly. But the people that do come on to like the family of, of Hacker Valley Studio, that the fans of Hacker Valley Studio, they come and they stay. There is a, Jack Rhysider, he put out an article about how can you tell that the interaction between you and, and your, your, your basically your listeners.
Chris (20:45): And one thing is he, I can't remember what the app was, but if you took the app again, I think it was representative of 2% of like all podcast listeners, but the math still checks out. It's the ratio. So if you look at how many listens you have on that platform, compared to how many subscribers you have on that platform, you can tell how many episodes those people are actually going through. And he was saying like a good number is like eight. So that means like if someone listens to your podcast, they listen to a minimum of eight or an average of eight. On our podcast, it was over 11. So if you come to our podcast, people listen to like around 11 episodes. I think, you know, some of the greats, like Joe Rogan, I think it's about 20. And so like that tells us that we are on the right path and we're putting out good content that people enjoy. And that's why we get so much interaction on, on things like LinkedIn, because everything, everything we put out, it seems like it speaks to people on, on one level or another.
Kathleen (21:52): And what, how do you, podcast metrics are notoriously difficult to track. So how do you get that data? What platform are you using to get that?
Chris (22:00): So I, on that one, that was a specific podcast platform. I can't remember if it was Podcast Addict or one of the other ones, but the ones that we use is Chartable. Chartable is a pretty good one, they have pretty good data. And then also our, our main hosting site which is Pod Bean.
Kathleen (22:19): Got it. And, and is there anything, well, let me back up to, what do you attribute your growth in listenership? In other words, is it mostly organic? Is it somebody telling somebody else about it? Is it a certain promotion strategy you're using?
Chris (22:33): Yeah, it's mostly organic. We just put out as much free content as we can. We used to do the micro content with the videos, but that, that just got crazy because we started doing two episodes a week. But now that we've scaled back down to one episode a week, I think we're going to bring the micro content back. We're also going to be doing some like live shows and things like that on LinkedIn, but it's all been word of mouth and organic. We haven't done any promotions. I think we're going to do our first promotion on the other side of this move. Cause I actually just moved to Texas. There's like boxes all over.
Kathleen (23:08): Which probably makes for great acoustics, all that insulation and cardboard.
Chris (23:12): Yeah. So there, there were no boxes in here and saw I checked the mic. I was like, Oh no, this is terrible. So then I brought all these empty boxes in to help with the acoustics a little bit, still an echo, but not, not as bad, but yeah, I think we're going to do our first promotion here next in the next month or so. And I'll let you know how that goes, but everything else has been organic and word of mouth.
Kathleen (23:34): I love it. So in terms of the future of the podcast are you planning on just continuing with the same format or anything else you're thinking of changing other than the, you know, doing the promotion or where do you see it going?
Chris (23:46): Yeah, so, you know, it's funny you bring that up because I'd say about a month ago Ron and I, we, we had like a, an existential crisis. We were like, do we change the format of the show, like completely and almost do like a NPR, this American lifestyle? Like, you know, because then you can have additional control over the story. You can have additional control over the show. And maybe, maybe if someone, if you interview someone and they're closed off defensive and they don't share a lot, then you don't get to the story is as easily as you can. I do take responsibility for every show. Like it's on the host to make the show good. Right. But sometimes you do get those people that maybe are, they're a little shy and they don't want to share. And we wanted to look at ways to be able to, to share those stories and still make it enjoyable and entertaining and, and, you know, educational for everybody. And we were thinking about going that way and we said, you know what? Let's just stick to what we know, stick to what we're good at because I think what Ron and I really have is chemistry with each other. And we're able to actually bring those conversations to life with our guests. And I think if we did the NPR style, we would lose a little bit of that magic. So I think we're going to keep, keep with the secret sauce and just keep getting better.
Kathleen (25:04): Nice. When we first started talking, you mentioned that the, the post that kicked all of this off was you saying, if I can do it, anyone can. Paraphrasing. And along those lines, you are not a marketer, but you have become a pretty successful podcaster. So if somebody is listening and they are not a marketer and they're like, man, I've always thought about doing a podcast, but I've been too intimidated. Can you just share, like, as, as a non marketer, how did you teach yourself to podcast? Are there certain resources or certain things that you would recommend that person do?
Chris (25:40): Yeah, so I would say, just keep trying. Like, be yourself and just keep trying. And I think if you do those two things, you're going to get to as good as you're going to be. Maybe, you know, do some education, read some books. I didn't read any marketing books or anything like that, but I'm sure there were some really good ones out there. Obviously, listening to your podcast would be a good resource for people to listen to. But I think just trying, just trying things. So I'll give you a quick story. There was a time, I think this was like two years ago where I was, I was really heavy. I was at my, at my heaviest, I think I was like almost 300 pounds or so. I was like, Oh, I gotta make a change. And I was like, what, what do I need to do to get my butt into gear? And so I hired a film crew to do like one video a week, and this is all on my Instagram. One video a week. And what they did is, they followed me through this like entire fitness journey. And of course its really vulnerable, like being that heavy, working out, showing yourself running. Terrible angles.
Kathleen (26:44): I was just going to say, Oh my God, it's like my nightmare come true to have anybody film me doing any kind of exercise.
Chris (26:53): It was, it was rough. But I was like, I'm just going to keep doing it. I'm going to keep putting out content. And you would think this would be like this amazing you know, triumph story. I lost the weight, but the traction was not there. There, there were people that were, you know, watching that my friends and family are all, wow, that's so amazing, great videos, but I didn't, I didn't, you know, blow up on, on Instagram or anything like that. But what happened was, I, I did learn every time I did a post, every time I did a post, I looked at what I was putting out like, you know, what resonates with people and, and, and is it authentic to who I am as a person? And so all of those learnings from trying that thing on, on Instagram translated to everything that I'm doing on Twitter, on LinkedIn. And so it's not going to come overnight, it's it? It could take a long time, but you just put in the work and I think you'll get there,
Kathleen (27:49): Man. Talk about walking the walk and being authentic. Having somebody come and film you while you do that, that is brave. So kudos to you. Well shifting gears for a minute there's two questions. I always ask all of my guests on the podcast and I'm really curious what you have to say, especially cause you're kind of outside of the marketing industry. You know, the podcast is all about inbound marketing. And so I always like to ask people, is there a particular company or individual that you've come across that you think is really killing it with inbound marketing right now?
Chris (28:22): That's a good question. I'm gonna, this might be a newbie answer, but as an individual, I think, and I guess as a company as well, Gary V is doing amazing. And the content that he produces, the way he puts out his content and the bite size pieces, that was really, you know, the blueprint we copied in the beginning with Hacker Valley Studio. I, I think he, he pulls just so many people and people just like to, to hear him talk about any, anything. He has so much life advice and career advice. And I think just by knowing who Gary V is like, you're more likely to do business with him because he puts out so much stuff for free. A company, and in full disclosure, this company is a sponsor of our podcast, but I like what they do in the sense that they're called Thinx.
Chris (29:12): And what they do is they do canaries, which are these little canaries in a coal mine for if your network gets attacked and this thing gets taken, then it notifies you. Right. What I like about what they do is they also don't do like the big marketing thing. What they do is they actually put out free tech for people to use on a, on, you know, just for free. And they can actually use that tech to secure their, their network, that can help secure their home, everything. And they put a lot of work into that. And I was just like, what, why wouldn't you charge for this? Because this is such a, an amazing thing that you're doing. And they just said, they, they just want, they, they want to put out free stuff of value to people. And that's what it is about. And you know, the stuff that we're doing with a podcast and stuff, the Gary V does, the stuff that thinks does is they're putting out valuable things for free, but they also have products that are on the books. Okay. And so when you meet with that, that free, that valuable thing, you're like, Oh, wow. If they're doing this for free, can I get from them if I actually give them my money and build a relationship with them?
Kathleen (30:23): Yeah. It's a real pay it forward mentality. And you definitely captured, that's really at the heart of what inbound marketing is. I liked that you mentioned Gary V because he is also not trained as a marketer. Right. so we have an awesome theme going here. Also somebody who just innately understands human beings and has tapped into that. So there's something there. Now I should say, because I have a lot of marketers in my audience, this is not to say that you shouldn't go get a marketing degree or it's not going to have one, or you're not a good marketer. If you're trained as a marketer, it's just that the best marketers, even those who were educated as marketers, still need to be people who are, who very much want to and are dedicated to understanding people and what drives people. So just wanted to make that clear. So Chris, the second question is, most of the marketers I know, the biggest challenge they face is that digital marketing changes so quickly and there's so much to keep up with. And you know, you're a podcaster and stuff is changing in the world of podcasting pretty quickly. Like how do you personally stay up to date and keep yourself educated on things?
Chris (31:30): To be honest, I watch people. I watch people. I see what people are doing well, I'm really good at seeing the tradecraft in a post or seeing the tradecraft in a, in the video. I'm really good at picking out like, Oh, I see what they did there. And that's really intelligent. So really just keeping my eyes out in a broad perspective on, on Twitter, LinkedIn would have you YouTube. So really just keeping an eye on what people are doing really well. And then if you're smart, you steal it, right?
Kathleen (32:04): Yeah. Shamelessly copying. Yeah. Well, I think that's the perfect answer. Given the conversation we just had. So if somebody is listening and they want to check out the podcast or they want to learn more about you or connect with you online, what is the best way for them to do that?
Chris (32:20): Yeah. My favorite place to be is on LinkedIn. So you can find me there pretty easily. And then the podcast is Hacker Valley Studio. That's the website. Just go to it, check us out, and let us know what you think.
Kathleen (32:33): Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me this week, Chris, this was really fun. If you're listening and you liked what you heard today, or you learned something new, of course I would love it if you would head to Apple podcasts and leave the podcast a five star reviews so that other people could find out about awesome episodes like this one with Chris. And if you know somebody else who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork because I would love to make them my next interview. Thanks again, Chris.
Chris (33:02): Thank you so much.
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