darknet diaries jack rhysider interview

Darknet Diaries - Jack Rhysider

Jack Rhysider started Darknet Diaries with no podcast experience and grew it to 3 million downloads a month. Jack explains exactly what he did to build Darknet Diaries. Music by Pocket Grooves

I want to mention that Jack is a really intelligent and incredible guy. He loves podcasting and he’s very involved in helping the community. I see him all over the podcasting subreddit helping people and never once does he promote himself. He also has a really good blog where he shares things that he’s learned about podcasting.


Mediocrity kills

People turn good stuff off to listen to great stuff but if you’re not good starting out that’s ok because it takes time and practice to get there. He feels both ways about starting out. One is to just go for it to get the practice and experience and the other is to spend the time learning to craft engaging content, which is what he did.

He didn’t “just go for it”

Jack spent 6 month seriously considering if he wanted to make a podcast, then 3 months studying the art of storytelling before writing the first episode. He got 70% done with it, then decided it was too complicated for a first episode and scrapped it. He picked a simpler story and then spent a month writing what would become the first episode.

Asking for specific feedback

After completing the first episode he didn’t immediately publish it. He sent it to 10 friends and asked for very specific feedback. Questions like: On a scale from 1-10, how excited are you about listening to the next episode? (This is a business strategy called the “net promoter score.”) He also asked them at what point did you stop listening,? So that he could improve any slow points. Additional questions he asked were, “if you could change one thing about it what would it be, and “what was the most memorable thing you heard?” He got back answers that helped him clean it up.

You can’t just have normal people talking about normal things

He watches the top 200 shows on apple podcasts a lot and rarely sees a casual show about nothing. The ones he does see are celebrities that had large pre-existing followings. You can’t just have normal people talking about normal things. You need normal people talking about extraordinary things or extraordinary people talking about normal things.

The hardest part is providing value

When starting out people focus too much on the equipment when that is the easiest part and can be sorted out over a weekend. The thing they should be focusing on is providing value to the listeners in a way that amazes and surprises them.

The importance of storytelling

He needed a good solid story that got listeners hooked and kept them listening. Jack didn’t want people to listen to just one episode. He wanted them to listen to one and then binge the entire catalogue. He lists a few resources he used. He learned a lot of little storytelling tips that give stories momentum and keep people listening longer than normal.


Find your voice

Initially he tried to copy the voice of certain people like Malcolm Gladwell, Aaron Mahnke, Elliot Alderson from Mr Robot and Edward Norton’s narration in fight club but he couldn’t make it work. He even tried staying up til 3am to get an insomniac voice but it just didn’t feel right. However doing all that he eventually found his own version of how he should talk. He suggests trying on a bunch of voices to see how they feel.

Grow Slowly

Any kind of growth is good growth. When you’re just starting out and getting low download numbers, look for an additional 5 listeners a month. Reach out to people personally that you think might like your show. After you are able to get 5 new listeners a month, focus on getting 10 new listeners a month. Don’t try to blast out mass messages and expect to go viral, you have to reach out personally and start conversations.

Every pedal matters

Marketing is like going somewhere on a bicycle. It’s not about one move that he did to reach 300k downloads per episode. He’s been pedaling up a hill for 3 years and it’s not about which pedal was the most effective because there was none. Every pedal matters.

Episode swap

He read a bunch of marketing books and one of the tactics he tried was to swap episodes with a similar podcast. So he aired their episode and they aired his. The podcast he chose could be considered a rival, they started about the same time and cover the same topics so he knew the audience would be a perfect match. Both shows ending up getting a significant boost in listeners. He put a download limit on it so they were getting similar value. 


The first ad he did was an affiliate code for a VPN. He thinks affiliate programs are a really good way to experiment when starting to monetize. It wasn’t until he hit 20k downloads per episode that he decided to run ads. He just wanted to give until that point without asking for anything too soon which he felt would sour the milk (the ask being listen to this 60 second ad).


He didn’t plan on using patreon but eventually he had 4-5 people asking him how they could donate. He told them it wasn’t necessary because he was running ads but they wanted to donate anyway. He was hesitant at first but figured there’s 4 people now, next month there might be 10. So he decided to set something up just for them. He soft launched at first by just sending those people a link but eventually started promoting it in the show and it turned into such a great thing that he now promotes it in every episode. It took him a while to get comfortable but now he loves it. Also he asked patreon for the download stats of the ad free feed he runs there and found only 30% of patrons are downloading the episodes. So those people are donating just because they want to support the show, not for perks. He says don’t focus too much on lots of perks.