Imagine starting a podcast for fun and a decade later being offered $100 million from Spotify for exclusivity! Or offering to host a U.S. presidential debate because you know people like listening to you rant for 3 hours a week.
Yeah, that’s the story of Joe Rogan.
You can bet that 9 out of 10 of your friends have watched a clip from Rogan’s podcast at least once over the past few years. Today he officially tops the podcast income and is one of the biggest content creators.
But how did it all start and what can future creators learn from one of the pioneers of podcasting? Let’s break it down in this article.
The Rise of Joe Rogan
Rogan’s life story is the epitome of being persistent in pursuing what you love. From an early age, he strived for two things – martial arts and entertainment.
A martial arts champion at 19, he had to quit pursuing a professional career and became an instructor instead. At the same time, he shifted his focus to stand-up comedy.
His career started in 1988 when he performed his first gig, but he had to work multiple low-end jobs in between so he could survive. From delivering newspapers to driving real-life Sherlock Holmes around town.
This persistence and hard work helped Rogan survive while setting up the foundations for the things to come.
Over the next decades, Rogan performed both in live events but started closing minor TV deals. His rose to prominence started when he appeared as a passionate UFC presenter with deep knowledge of the sport.
Young Joe Rogan in 1997 (Source: Youtube)
Combining his two passions – entertaining the audience and interviewing prominent UFC fighters - conceived an idea that he would later bring to life.
The idea became a reality in 2009 (5 years since Rogan started building his name).
After honing his skills in the entertainment industry, he started a side-gig passion project that would change the future of broadcasting forever.
Joe Rogan Experience – The Ultimate Cash Cow
Joe Rogan Experience started in late 2009 as a free weekly podcast.
Initially, Rogan started the podcast with his friend Brian Redban with little intention of making it a money machine that is now. According to Rogan’s words, it was just the two of them “sitting in front of laptops and bullshitting.”
Important 💡: As you can see, Rogan’s beginning was scarce of any high-end equipment or a studio. He just felt that drive to start working and he cut to the chase. The goal wasn’t to get rich, but instead to do what he enjoys.
Half a year after the launch, Rogan branded his show The Joe Rogan Experience. At that time he managed to enter the Top 100 Podcast list on iTunes and got their first exclusive deal from the SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Since 2013, JRE has found it’s way on YouTube as well. This is where his podcast revenue really started to rise:
💰 Ad money from Sirius XM Radio
💰 Ad money from iTunes
💰 Money from YouTube
Rogan did the smart thing in the early days. By signing for Sirius, he managed to secure a reliable source of monthly income.
At the same time, he had the freedom to keep experimenting with guests and topics using YouTube. Thanks to the platform he managed to get first-hand feedback and track analytics that would help him tailor the podcast to his listeners.
Tip 💡: Securing a stable income is a major pain point for content creators while they’re experimenting with content and finding the best formula. Nowadays it’s easier to ensure recurring podcast revenue straight from the fans using membership websites instead of waiting for lump sums from big companies.
The Growth of JRE
The podcast’s concept didn’t change much over the years.
The things that make it unique are there today the same way they were during the show’s first outing.
On one end you have an outspoken, charismatic host in Joe Rogan who provides a platform for a wide range of interesting and sometimes borderline controversial guests. He uses his relaxed, buddy-like conversation style to cover topics from politics, and drug usage, to quantum physics and the fourth dimension.
His guests over the years include Elon Musk (the famous “joint” episode), Bernie Sanders, Edward Snowden, and hundreds of other prominent people from a wide range of industries.
Important: Sticking to a simple and effective strategy and remaining consistent in his uploads helped him exploit YouTube’s algorithm.
With people finding out about JRE from various channels (shares, recommended videos, social media), the audience number exponentially increased. You can see how he went from 2 million subscribers at the beginning of 2018 to 8 million just two years later.
A bigger audience means higher demand for his advertising space. According to Forbes, Joe Rogan podcast income was $30m in 2019. And that’s not counting YouTube revenue which also contributes to the amount.
In spring 2019, Rogan mentioned in one of the interviews that his show records over 190 million monthly downloads.
That same year, investor Andrew Wilkinson wrote in his blog that “Joe Rogan may be worth over a billion dollars even if he doesn’t realize it.” According to his calculations, he could easily earn up to $240 million per year!
Wilkinson might’ve been on to something, as Rogan announced in late 2020 that he’d be moving to Spotify in an exclusive $100 million year deal!
Spotify Deal and Post YouTube
The move to Spotify starts a new era for Joe Rogan and podcasting in general.
This also marked the new era for content creators, which is shaped by exclusivity.
Spotify didn’t pay only to have Rogan on their podcast. They wanted to have the show all to themselves.
With Rogan, Spotify is also getting an influx of users and a data gold mine. Millions of Rogan’s listeners now have to move to Spotify to listen to his favorite podcast. In return, Spotify gets deep insight and analytics about who the audience is. This data helps advertisers target specific people for the specific podcast, improving the quality of the ads and upping their price.
On the other hand, some argue that Rogan lost his main acquisition channel on YouTube. According to reports, it’s YouTube’s smart algorithm that kept Rogan’s podcast on top of recommendations, providing constant subscribers.
However, Rogan found a workaround. While his podcast is now Spotify exclusive, he still posts excerpts and best bits on his YouTube channel. This is one of the ways to keep his podcast relevant outside of Spotify and keep increasing his audience. A win-win situation.
Takeaway: The creator’s audience is the real golden egg. By owning your audience you are securing yourself accurate insights, longevity, and revenue. Second, you should never neglect your main acquisition channels - consistency is what stimulates growth.
Other Revenue Streams of Joe Rogan
When you work on growing your brand, new revenue opportunities will come up on their own.
So while most people now associate Rogan with his podcast, he has several other income streams.
Rogan has ties to UFC long before he started his podcast and is still a frequent fixture here as a presenter.
This job guided Rogan through the first steps of the entertainment business and some could argue that it paved the way to what he became today.
His first appearance on the broadcast was as far as 1997, 12 long years before he launched his pilot podcast episode (and 16 years before JRE!).
After a few ins and outs and more prominent roles in the broadcasting industry in-between (Fear Factor, comedy stints, and even Hollywood appearances), he returned to UFC commentary.
Due to the growing popularity of both the sport and Rogan’s brand, his appearances in the presenter's booth are always eagerly anticipated.
Since UFC is a private entity, Joe Rogan’s income from presenting a UFC event isn’t accurate. However, sources claim that he gets a hefty $500,000 compensation after a single event (and probably much more when you include bonuses).
Stand Up Events
Besides presenting, Rogan thrives in another type of presentation – stand-up comedy. He’s been doing stand-up for over three decades touring both U.S. and abroad.
He didn’t stop even after JRE’s initial success. Instead, he used his growing popularity to seal some exclusive deals and high-paying gigs.
He recorded several comedy specials, including a 2014 Comedy Central special and two Netflix specials in 2016 and 2018.
On top of that, he still tours and fills the venues across the country. His latest tour The Sacred Clown booked gigs in high-capacity venues such as BB&T in Sunrise, FL (20,000 seats).
While it’s a bit under the radar, no doubt stand-up gigs are another decent revenue stream for Rogan.
There aren’t reliable financial reports, but you can take into account the ticket prices, venue capacity, and the number of gigs per year. When you do, it will easily pass the seven-figure annual mark.
Rogan uses merchandise to add more voice to his brand as well as the Joe Rogan Experience.
His brand Higher Primate sells official JRE merchandise on a separate storefront powered by the Shopify platform.
All merch from t-shirts to socks and beach towels contain either the JRE logo or notable quotes from Rogan himself.
This way he accomplishes three important things:
He establishes his brand and increases awareness.
He provides his fanbase items to express themselves and develop that sense of belonging to a certain group/culture.
He creates another source of cash flow.
Learnings From Rogan’s Empire
As you’ve seen above, up-and-coming creators can learn a lot from Rogan’s journey. Now let’s completely focus on some of the stuff that made him successful over the years.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start
Take a look at the JRE pilot episode. Does it seem difficult to set up? It looks ten times worse than anything a young content creator could throw out there.
Yet, there’s a lot of people that are “waiting for the perfect opportunity” to start creating. When will it arrive?
The key is to have a clear vision of what you want to do. The idea is always bigger than the logistics. So when you feel the drive and passion to start creating – just do it. Don’t think about huge revenue, negative or no feedback, just go out there and do what you love.
Moreover, numerous tools can assist you in the beginning. So don’t fret over it – Rogan didn’t and now he’s a billionaire.
Consistency Is Key
Creators sometimes start with fire and burn out quickly. For example, they don’t rack up the views after the first couple of videos/articles and they think it’s all for nothing.
But take a look at some of the most successful content creators and their beginnings. They rarely ever have a high-flying start! It’s instead of the consistency in their motivation that puts them in the driving seat.
Rogan started his first show in 2009 and he only really “exploded” in 2018. By that time he already had 1000 episodes! The key here is that he posted frequently for years before and recorded consistent growth year over year.
The key is to produce content today and look for consistency and steady growth. As your audience grows and people start hearing about your brand, you’ll notice that everything you do points to the end goal.
Learning: Motivation doesn’t always pay off, but persistence in motivation does.
Work On Your Personal Brand
If you ask five people do they know who Joe Rogan is, four will probably say yes. That’s because he made himself indistinguishable from his content. With his podcast, he grew a huge following that can only help him in his future projects.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should call your podcast [First Name] [Last Name] Experience/Blog/Course. However, you have to work toward stamping your authority so people recognize that you’re the go-to person in your niche.
For example, Rogan built his entire reputation on providing a platform for a myriad of guests with conflicting ideas and opinions and not being afraid to bring up controversial topics.
Elon Musk smokes weed live on JRE
His audience knows that he can find a common ground with just about any of his guests. That doesn’t mean that he’ll nod his head in agreement, but he’ll set up a stage for a civil debate or discussion. Something that many feel is lacking nowadays.
Even after moving to Spotify, both Rogan and the platform assured the audience that “Spotify had no creative control over his podcast.” Which strengthens his brand further.
Learning: The key to building your personal brand is both in experimenting and sticking to principles that make you better.
Leveraging Platform’s Power
A content creator needs to understand all the parks of the platform they use to distribute said content.
YouTube was a platform scarce with podcasts when JRE made its debut in 2013. It took a lot of playing around the platform for Rogan to figure out how to leverage it.
Rogan’s podcast managed to turn YouTube’s algorithm into a consistent acquisition machine. According to The Verge, Rogan started a trend that made “creators figure out how to make podcasts work on a platform which wasn’t designed for them”.
Here’s how. Rogan broke JRE into two channels – one where he’d post long, 3-4 hours podcast episodes, and another where he’d just cut and upload interesting clips from the episode.
This other channel was more important for the growth of the podcast. These for short clips with hooky titles which would serve as an entry point for new fans. It was more effective than a paid advertisement on the network – growing podcast audience, making money, and expanding.
This is an important lesson for future creators. Ask yourself – What are your main acquisition channels? Then think about whether you’re using all its analytics and other features to your gain.
Low Profit Margins
The most amazing part of content creation is that you don’t need a huge investment to start and reach six-seven figures.
When it comes to passive income ideas, podcast is probably the first thing that comes to mind.
Let’s go back to Rogan’s first episode – cheapish set-up, bad quality camera, and that’s it. Over time he invested in better equipment, a studio, and expanded his team to two more people.
And that’s about it! To this day he earned a multi-million annual revenue and his profit margins are still extremely low. Other businesses need constant expansion, overhead expenses, year-over-year investments, etc.
But if you’re a creator, you can be a one-man team for a long time. Your entire investment would be in tools to make your operation work which could be easily paid off as your content career starts making revenue.
So if you’re thinking about starting your creator career, nothing is stopping you. You can start right now!
How to Replicate His Success
Let’s get straight – replicating Rogan’s success would mean that you’d become the highest-paying broadcaster in the world. And if that’s easy everyone would do it!
However, you can follow in his footsteps when it comes to creator fundamentals, and you have plenty listed above.
But first thing’s first. If you want to dedicate your career to creation – it needs to be something that you’ll love. Rogan started his podcast as a passion project, and even he admits that “the first episodes were s*it”. That didn’t prevent him from recording more – tweaking, improving, and thriving.
Second, you mustn’t dwell too much on when to start. If you feel like you have a great idea then start creating. It’s a hectic world online and the sooner you start the bigger the chance you’ll go a long way.
First Step In Bringing Your Brand to Life
Regardless if you have a podcast, a blog, course, or a digital store, you’ll need a site that ties it all together.
Hyax provides just that.
With Hyax, you can easily build a website that will help you publish, distribute, and sell any digital product.
So if you want to make a podcast it will help you build out an entire operation fairly easily.
Collect leads and maintain full ownership of your audience. Crowdfund your project through memberships and subscriptions. Sell your merch on a separate storefront and track analytics to see what’s working. You can do it all!
So if you want to start building but worried about the time it would take you (don’t want unnecessary expense), no worries! You can play around Hyax’s builder and set up everything for free and purchase a subscription later!
Joe Rogan was ahead of the curve in his niche and you’ll have to do the same. Therefore, there’s no better time to start working on your career as a creator than NOW.
Be consistent and don’t be afraid to experiment. Create stuff with fulfillment being the end goal and not revenue, and you’ll witness growth.
Get a head start over other creators by building your own audience and fan base. Start building an email list, social following, membership site, and use tools like Hyax that help customize and build unique experiences for your audience.
Jack Paxton is the co-founder of VYPER, a marketing tool that helps brands build email lists, social followings, and revenue using viral giveaways, referral, and reward programs. After millions of dollars spent testing different marketing strategies at his marketing agency. He then also co-founded Hyax a fast, conversion & design-focused course and funnel builder for creators.
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