“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” - Socrates
Change can be a scary thing. Letting go of something to allow something else to flourish is part of life. Wether that’s leaving a job to start a new one, ending a relationship, retiring a trusty old bike or, in my case, renaming a podcast platform. It’s an unknown void to step into and I guess it’s ok to be a little apprehensive, right?
I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the evolution of The HKT Podcast, how it’s evolved over the years, the challenges, the opportunities and everything in-between. I’d hope that anybody reading this will come away with a feeling that you too can do anything you put your mind to. Seriously, if I can do it anybody can. In fact, you should do that thing that’s on your mind. Start today.The early days of The HKT Podcast.
Believe it or not I get emotional just thinking about this time in my life. It was early 2014 and we’d just launched HKT Products. The objective was to launch a UK based distribution company that brought new brands to the UK market, incubated them, built them up and had fun along the way.
Personally, I wanted to focus on ‘old school’ mountain bike industry values. Not selling direct to the public, good support from a sales and marketing standpoint and competitive margins. The twist was that I wanted to bring with it a ‘new school’ approach which would include unique marketing, social media support for our retailer partners and the odd event. The first couple of years were GNARLY, seriously… it was tough as hell. I put every single penny I had into the business, I was bouncing money from credit card to credit card, borrowing off parents, not eating, braking down in terrible vehicles all over the country whilst trying to visit shops and was in a bit of a mess with my mental health. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing though…
During this time I was on the road a lot, pretty much five days a week covering thousands of miles and I found endless comfort in podcasts. I couldn’t afford a vehicle with bluetooth connection so I’d have headphones in all day. My ears were so fucking sore!. But, it got me thinking about starting a podcast. The episodes I was listening too were motivational, they kept me going and I was learning while driving around. Still to this day I class any drive as a mobile university. The one thing missing from my podcast library was people/topics I was really interested in though, a mountain bike podcast didn’t exist, action sports was tough to find and there were a couple of good motocross ones. I got to work on launching a podcast that was connected to HKT. The HKT Podcast was born.
The very first episode has been deleted from the internet. It was AWFUL. I sat in my bedroom at my Mum’s house and talked into my laptop about how podcasts had changed my life. Seriously, my business partner ripped me to pieces for it and I lost all confidence to do more for a couple of months. Those couple of months allowed me the time to think about the direction I wanted to take the podcast, how it could support HKT and the friends I could reach out to for the first couple of episodes. I was also aware that HKT was struggling, it needed some attention on it and like I’ve spoken about before I was planning to try and break a world record to help grow the business. Times were desperate back then!
I don’t believe in business plans. From my experience they never work out, they always evolve and everything looks good on nice paper with a posh pen.. In my opinion it’s better to have a loose plan on paper, be prepared to throw that piece of paper in the bin and just keep going whatever comes your way. I asked a friend of mine, Cy Turner of Cotic Bikes if he’d be prepared to be my first guest. Cy is an awesome human being and was open to the idea but I do remember him saying “what’s a podcast?”… this made me nervous and I think I replied with “just imagine we’re in the pub talking shit”. ‘In the pub talking shit’ turned out to be the exact premise for this podcast. I don’t remember much about that first episode, I remember we recorded over Skype with no microphones and the sound quality actually turned out ok. It’s still one of the most downloaded episodes to date so I must have done something right! One thing that really kicked off the podcast was Cotic’s customer base. They’re an engaged bunch, they love the brand, it’s values and it seems like they were all stoked to listen to Cy’s stories and share the episode with there bike loving friends. The first episode did well, surprisingly really really well….
The HKT Podcast was officially born at this point. I remember after the success of the first episode I was full of ideas, passion and drive, the mtb media picked it up and ran a few stories and the feedback was incredible. The second one didn’t go well at all though. Si Paton of British Downhill fame was my guest. He’d also never heard of a podcast, didn’t own any headphones, was sat in a noisy room, his phone kept ringing, thought we’d only be recording for a few minutes and it was a total nightmare. A huge learning curve and it felt like being put back at square one. Like I already mentioned above, I scrapped the plan and just kept going. There was something here, the idea was good but it needed some practice and refining.
I could bore you with the details, challenges and successes from each episode for the next few months but I won’t. Instead, I want to share with you a turning point. A point I never saw coming and one that really did come out of the blue. That turning point was a message from Danny Hart asking if he could be a guest. I believe he was the reigning world champion, of course I obliged and got stuck into some research to record an episode with the first guest that I didn’t already know quite well. I dare anybody to try this exercise. To sit down with somebody you don’t know and speak with them for a couple of hours about anything, everything and more. I’m more confident now but that’s just because I kept going. There were times where I’d be so nervous before recording with a guest that I’d throw up.
Fast forward a couple of years to around 2018 and I think I’d be confident calling it a success. The success wasn’t monetary or anything that could really be measured but, I had an overwhelming sense of achievement with it. I’d actually built something good, something people were enjoying and were coming back to for more. There was a community forming around it. It had a small amount of influence. Athletes were starting to come to me to be guests. The major issue I remember having was time, I didn’t have enough of it. I was balancing being on the road, building the business, booking guests, scheduling guests, editing, posting and promoting. Like anything there’s always more going on behind the scenes and I was running myself into the ground. The problem was, I loved it!Turning points are strange. You can be feeling un-motivated, annoyed, tired and at times even with the podcast it could feel like nobody cared. I’d put hours upon hours into an episode and they’d sometimes just flop. Then, something happens and everything changes. The thing is, you need to be in the game for these opportunities to come up. If you’re sat on the sidelines there’s no way you’ll score a goal. I remember this exact moment like it was yesterday. It was raining outside, our house was cold and I’d just got home from a long day of driving when I opened my phone to check instagram. ‘Danny MacAskill mentioned you in a story’, I stood with my mouth open and could barely talk. I read it again, ‘Danny MacAskill mentioned you in a story’ and there it was, not prompted in the slightest a share from one of the all time greats. I’m not a fan of social media, I find it very strange but for some reason this meant the world to me. It was that little bit of validation that I needed at this point of my journey.
I replied to Danny to say thank you, kept it pretty cool and calm and we planned to record an episode together. As I’m sure you can imagine I was nervous as shit when we recorded, Danny had terrible wifi so we did the whole thing with no video. Now, put yourself in my shoes for a second. Just a couple of years into the podcast and I’m sat on the phone to Danny MacAskill for two hours asking him about some pretty personal aspects of his life and career. This episode is still the most downloaded of all time with over one million downloads to date. The moral of that story, stay in the game and keep moving forwards…
I guess we should skip forward to the present day and talk about the changes a little more in-depth. As I hope I’ve explained previously, the podcast evolved quite quickly, the community grew strong, it has become something that I NEVER expected it would be. This isn’t the part of the story where I blow my own trumpet but, to be brutally honest it’s one of the most important things in my life. I don’t take having the attention of people lightly and I take the responsibility really seriously. I’ve turned down lucrative sponsorship offers because they don’t ‘fit’ the audience and I’m constantly overwhelmed with the response and playing a small part in adding some positivity/inspiration to peoples lives. Again, if I can build this just think what you could do…
COVID-19. Yes, I said it. COVID-19. Chances are we will never see anything like this again. It’s been awful for millions of people around the world and when things started to get serious and we were forced to lockdown I saw first hand the impact it was having. Over the years I’ve grown close to the podcast community in many ways, we exchange messages via social media, sometimes I talk with people on the phone or meet up for a ride and I was over run with people reaching out to say they were scared. The signs were showing that this could go on for a while and it wasn’t going to be easy for people. A few years previously I’d done an episode of the podcast with Olly Wilkins, from memory it was a blast. We didn’t know each other going into it but it was an easy one. We riffed on various topics and it was one of those enjoyable episodes that could have gone on forever. It also spawned a weird friendship. We both listened to the same podcasts, liked the same aspects of riding and had a few ideas about doing more together in the future. We were both busy people though so nothing really came of it. Just the odd message to check-in with each other a couple of times a year.
The Lockdown Companion happened as quickly as the message above. No business plan, no content plan, no idea what would come of it. Just a couple of guys pressing record and putting something out to multiple tens of thousands of people. Not a crazy idea at all?! Something happened though.. it hit with people, it connected, it provided some much needed relief from the bullshit that was going on in the world, it provided an escape not just for the listeners but for us too. I promise you, we never planned a single episode of that whole series. The most planning that went into it was lining up the guests and paying a drunk Santa Clause impersonator £250 for 30mins of his time. It’s hard to think back to what was happening with the podcast before lockdown. I know I was struggling to think of where to take it next. I was close to signing for a studio space and really leveling things up. Taking inspiration from my (now close) friend Jase at Gypsy Tales and turning the podcast into a more polished media platform. Was that really my calling though? Was that where I really wanted to go or was it just where I thought it needed to go? I’m not sure to be honest…
This isn’t the place to talk about my thoughts on lockdowns and how the past couple of years has been handled but, I am weirdly grateful. Through the past couple of years I’ve made a great friend, formed strong relationships with some awesome brands, the podcast community has grown exponentially and I couldn’t be more stoked with how things have played out. I actually had the thought the other day before calling Olly on the phone that I still get a little nervous. After all, I used to look up to Olly’s riding and I’ve been a fan of his style on and off the bike for years. I mean, that’s the reason he first came on the podcast. I was interested in him and his story. To think we now have a weekly show together is still CRAZY to me. Again, stay in the game and be open to opportunities.
Hopefully by this point in this long winded essay you can see why I’m so attached to the podcast. Why the name has such deep rooted emotion for me and why any slight changes are thought through for many hours before making them. However, the name has had to change for a while. There are a few reasons why, mainly because I feel it’s been outgrown. I never expected the podcast to be a stand alone business and to make such an impact on the industry. The previous name has meant that certain brands have not wanted to be involved due to the strong tie with an existing distribution company, there was limited scope for growth and most importantly the logo didn’t inspire merchandise or fun branding exercises.
I’ve gone back and forth in my head about a new name for four years! Seriously, I’ve wanted to do this but didn’t want to confuse the audience, have to change all the settings in various hosting platforms and most importantly it can negatively effect five plus years of SEO, search history, hosting confusion, the list of negatives is actually super long but, it needed to happen.
The Ride Companion sums up everything this podcast is to me and Olly. It’s a community, we are each others companions on this journey and we want to be with you along for your ride on this flying rock through space. The last couple of years have been a massive learning curve for me too in a couple of serious ways…
Firstly, I’ve found who I AM as a podcast host. They say it takes five years to grow a business. Well it’s definitely taken me that long to find my true calling in the podcast world. Often times we go through life trying to please everybody around us, trying to be something we’re not and live up to unrealistic expectations. I am 100% guilty of this many times over. I've said yes to things I didn't truly believe in. I tried to be the super technical podcast, the deep emotional one, the one that covers topics like meditation, I’ve tried to do podcasts about specific bikes and there’s even been a solo-cast or two. There’s now plenty of mountain bike related shows so if that’s what you’re after then you will find it. It's just not me.
All the previous episodes add up to who I am today. I’ve learnt so much about myself in the past five years and it’s insane to think it could live on the internet forever. My personality is to not take things too seriously, to have fun, aim to build supportive communities, inspire and to focus on leaving a positive impact on the people around me. The Ride Companion allows all of these things to flourish.
Over the past couple of years I’ve learnt a lot about tech too. I dare you to look at one of the first episodes on YouTube and compare it to now. I’ve learnt some basic video editing skills, how to use YouTube, audio editing and we even now have a producer who does some of the work behind the scenes to allow me to continue growing the brand and for Olly to do what he does.
So here we are right now. One big circle and one very very proud dude sat here writing this. This email goes out to around four thousand people so I’m not sure where you are and if I’ll ever meet you in person to tell you this to your face. If not, I want to thank each and every person that supports this little podcast. I never in a million years expected this to happen and to have ‘fans’ of a platform I built. It’s because of people like YOU that any of this has been possible and I genuinely hope that any content I have produced in the past or, produce in the future has a positive impact on your life. If so, I’ll leave this planet a very happy person.
So there we have it. The HKT Podcast is now officially called The Ride Companion. You'll start noticing the changes immediately so don't be concerned if you can't find the old name or if it looks different. There's more coming soon too which I can't wait to share with you all. I hope you'll continue on the ride with us and you appreciate why I've had to make these changes. Feel free to tell your friends to check out the podcast. The shares, the engagement and the word of mouth goes a long way.
Please remember to always follow your dreams. Take a leap of faith and start something that you don’t think is possible. The results might surprise you and I guarantee you won’t regret it. As my favourite poem in the world says...
Jump, you might fall…. You might fly.