How “Podcast Princess” Hala Taha Turned Her Side Hustle into a Media Empire – Q&A
In 2018, Hala Taha worked as a corporate marketing executive when she started a podcast called Young and Profiting Podcast. Her goal was to help young professionals maximize their careers and learn from the best minds in business and entertainment.
Now, the Young and Profiting Podcast is the #1 Education and Self-Improvement podcast across all apps, with over 5M downloads. In 2021, she leveraged her influence from the podcast and LinkedIn and launched YAP Media, a white-glove social media and podcasting agency. YAP Media quickly became a 7-figure business with 50 employees.
We asked Hala about the origins of Young and Profiting and transitioning from C-Suite to business owner and “podcast princess.”
Q&A with Hala Taha, Founder of YAP Media
Q: What’s one thing you’ve done this week that helped your business?
A: My main focus each week is to further expand the newest part of our business, the YAP Media Network, a podcast network focused on the growth and monetization of network podcasts. We launched the network after successfully growing and monetizing my show, as well as three other shows we produced in-house. In just a few months, we have grown to over a dozen shows focused on business, self-improvement, and entrepreneurship! It’s my main priority as CEO to spearhead the network and set it up for long-term success, just as I have done with our first business, YAP Media, our award-winning social and podcast agency.
This week, I am focused on creating new sales partnerships and potentially selecting an exclusive sales partner for our network so I can focus on recruiting, improving, and growing our network’s shows. In fact, this week had a lot of “pinch me” moments — seems like everyone in the industry is courting “The Podcast Princess”— and it’s a really great feeling!
Q: What’s your favorite podcast (besides YAP, of course)?
A: It’s a tie between the Jordan Harbinger Show and The Ed Mylett Show. Ed Mylett’s podcast is so motivational – he just lights me up so much! I listen to his interviews to study for upcoming YAP guests since there’s a lot of overlap. I had Ed on Young and Profiting Podcast recently, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite conversations. They always say you should not meet your heroes IRL, but I liked Ed even MORE after we spoke in person! He’s such a genuinely good-hearted person with an incredible message.
I’m also a huge fan of the Jordan Harbinger Show. Many people have called me the female version of Jordan Harbinger because we are very alike when it comes to our interview style and topics. After having him on my show in 2020, I kept in touch and, through some strategic maneuvering, Jordan is now my mentor and an advisor at YAP Media. We speak every single day and he’s even in my Slack channel! He’s taught me so much about how the podcast industry works and I am super thankful for our professional relationship.
Q: You started Young and Profiting in 2018 as a side hustle. Why podcasting?
A: My love for broadcasting started in college where I interned for the New York radio station WQHT Hot97 on “The Angie Martinez Show” for free for three years. I was the associate producer of the show and was responsible for the daily show brief, research, running the boards, and even reading commercials on air which was my first experience as on-air talent. On the side while working at the station, I hosted online radio shows–the precursor to podcasts–with the up-and-coming DJs who also worked for free at the station. Podcasts did exist at the time, but they were super technical to create and even harder to access as a listener – so I didn’t pursue them.
After I left Hot97, I went back to school and started a blog called The Sorority of Hip Hop, which grew into a movement in the Tri-State with 50+ female bloggers that gained a lot of popularity. We had a buzzing blog, several online radio shows, and hosted the hottest parties in the city. After almost getting a show on MTV twice and ultimately being rejected, coupled with not being able to successfully monetize the blog, I shut everything down. It was a very low point in my life, and I completely gave up on the idea that I was ever going to make it in entertainment.
I let go of my dreams, got an MBA, went into corporate marketing, and thought I would NEVER get back on a mic…
But then I got the itch again four years later. In April of 2018, I was working at Hewlett Packard and didn’t get an opportunity I really wanted at my day job. I found myself with a lot of extra time and realized I had a ton of relevant experience under my belt to start a podcast. And now podcasts were way more mainstream! I figured I’d be able to utilize the skills I learned radio, blogging, and running social media for Fortune 500 companies to create something epic. And so I went on to do just that with Young and Profiting.
Q: What were your goals in the early days of YAP? Did you plan to make YAP a full-time gig?
A: No, I started YAP while I was a marketing executive at Hewlett Packard (and then at Disney Streaming Services). I thought I was going to stay in corporate forever and just rise up the ranks.
I started the show as a hobby to give back by helping others listen, learn, and profit. The plan was to interview the brightest minds in the world and distill their wisdom into actional advice that my listeners could apply in their life. I had been a failed entrepreneur, but then was rocking it in corporate, so I felt like I had a lot of value to add to the conversation as well. And to be 100% honest, I actually didn’t understand the business model behind podcasts at first, and never dreamed that we would be monetizing the way that we do today!
I first started to monetize by using my podcast as a lead generation tool. By year two of the podcast, I was a major influencer on LinkedIn and my podcast was doing great. The guests who would come on my show would often ask me if I could run their social and podcast channels for them given my track record. I used to always say no, and that I had a small team of volunteers who only had capacity for my show. But eventually, I decided to lean into the demand and launch a side hustle called YAP Media, a white-glove social media and podcast agency catered to CEOs, best-selling authors, and celebrities–the same type of people who are guests on my show. The company took off right away.
Q: You built your team initially by asking fans to volunteer. What motivated that choice to reach out to your audience?
A: I actually never reached out to my audience to ask for volunteers. My fans reached out to me! When I first launched YAP Podcast, I had a lot of experience under my belt. My podcast and social were great from the start, and since I had such pure intentions to help people–I guess many people were very attracted to that–it was almost magnetic! In fact, I had my first volunteer by episode 2, Timothy Tan, who is now my business partner. By episode 8, I had 10 volunteers in a Slack channel to support my show. Most people reached out on LinkedIn, expressed how much the show meant to them, and asked how they could help. They wanted to learn from me and felt very aligned with the mission of Young and Profiting.
For example, I had one volunteer from Estonia who managed my website, and one volunteer from Atlanta who would work on my videos. I would teach them how to run certain aspects of the show, which unlocked time for me to explore innovative ways to grow the show, and they were happy to level up their skills while doing good work for the world. It worked out really nicely and I am super thankful for it.
Q: Do you have any funny stories from the early days of recording and producing YAP?
A: I was running a pretty big podcast by the end of my corporate career, but since I was still working a full-time job, I used to record my interviews during my lunch hour–oftentimes in funny places at the office. Getting a proper meeting room was out of the question. If I was lucky, I would get a phone booth and sound like I was in a fish bowl! Sometimes, I would have to record in an abandoned closet; and one time I even locked myself in a girl’s bathroom because there wasn’t a quiet place for me to record. Luckily, this was back when my show was audio-only… so nobody knew, haha. And when I first was an entrepreneur and just got out of a bad breakup, I was recording episodes in my mom’s basement for nearly 8 months–even my interview with Matthew McConaughey was recorded in my mom’s basement!
Nowadays, I have a super cool studio with a branded chalkboard mural, mounted ceiling lights, a hot pink desk, and I even have a teleprompter. Getting a proper studio was a big moment for me. I often just feel so overwhelmed with joy when I think back to how hard I worked, and how far I have come! The come-up has been real!
Q: Was there a moment when you realized that YAP would be your full-time career?
A: It was after I launched my social and podcast agency, YAP Media. That was the first time I tasted what the future could look like and realized the full potential of YAP. In December 2021, YAP media was 8 months old and I had built the agency to a substantial size while working in corporate. I had about 30 employees and we were making over 6-figures a month servicing a handful of high-profile clients. That same month, I also discovered I would be featured on the cover of Podcast Magazine–a huge milestone for me. And just two weeks later, I landed an interview with Matthew McConaughey. That’s when I knew I had to take this opportunity more seriously, and I ended up quitting my corporate job at Disney in February 2021 to focus on YAP full-time.
Q: What challenges did you face making that transition?
A: Contrary to most new entrepreneurs, sales have never been my problem. The growth of YAP Media happened very organically because we had great product-market fit and very effective lead generation tools; my podcast and social channels.
I think the biggest challenge for me has been transitioning from a volunteer group to a real company. In the beginning, our YAP team was like a big family–composed of volunteers who simply wanted to learn, contribute and do good for the world. But once we started scaling and making money, believe it or not, it became much harder to retain talent. Volunteers are easier to manage because the expectations are different. When people are getting a paycheck–things naturally get more serious and competitive. Some people did not want to let go of the previous flexibility they had as volunteers. There was also friction between externally hired employees and volunteers who turned into employees. We had a big culture shift at one point to get out of that “volunteer” mentality so we could effectively scale as a media agency.
Q: What have you learned about yourself as a leader from this transformation?
A: I’ve always been a leader, since I was a little girl I was always “president” of something or trying to be. However, YAP Media is the first time I am a leader of a revenue-generating company, and it’s a different kind of responsibility. I am responsible for the livelihoods and careers of not only my own employees but also my clients. It’s a lot of pressure, but I realized this type of pressure is motivating for me.
I like to make an impact; that’s what drives me to close big deals, think of creative solutions, and so on.
I also realized I needed to work on my emotions a bit. Entrepreneurship can be a rocky road. We have witnessed periods of skyrocketing growth and it is thrilling. But of course, every company has both highs and lows. I used to let the specifics of what was happening in my business dictate my energy, but today, I try my best to keep an even keel no matter what the particulars are. My team needs confidence, strength, and consistency!
Q: You’ve had plenty of incredible guests on YAP, including Matthew McConaughey, Seth Godin, Yancey Strickler, and Heather Monahan. But which guest surprised you the most in what they shared?
A: The one that really sticks out to me is my recent interview with Wim Hof, the living legend known as the Ice Man. He holds dozens of world records involving the cold – including climbing Mount Everest in shorts and running a half marathon barefoot in ice and snow. His breathing techniques and cold therapy have been scientifically proven to increase control of our brains, innermost bodily functions, and systems to do things like reverse chronic illness. He seems to be truly enlightened! It was a very eye-opening and educational interview for me. You can check out my interview with Wim Hof, here.
Q: For young entrepreneurs, endless social media marketing channels can be overwhelming. Where do you advise they start?
A: You need to be where your target audience hangs out and where there is still organic reach. Where are all the other influencers in your niche promoting themselves and having success? That’s where you should be. And in terms of organic reach, LinkedIn and TikTok have a lot of it right now. With that said, there are still ways to grow on every platform, for example; on Instagram, utilizing Instagram Reels is an effective way to gain visibility on the platform.
The real key is to focus on one platform instead of trying to master several at a time. Really learn the ins and outs of the platform; use all of its features, post every day, study its algorithm, and reverse engineer what other influencers are doing well.
When it came to promoting Young and Profiting Podcast and my personal brand, I only focused on LinkedIn for several years. I purposely did not spread myself thin by also trying to win on Instagram. I posted every single day and experimented. I tried to stand out and be different. I saw what worked by putting content out there and then leaned into what worked. Today, I am known as one of the most prolific influencers on LinkedIn. I am part of their official influencer program and speak at their events. And I have leveraged that social influence to help grow my podcast and business. Choosing to focus on LinkedIn was one of the best decisions of my life.
Q: What’s next for YAP Media?
A: Podcasting has grown exponentially over the last few years and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon. Securing podcast sponsorships is our most scalable opportunity here at YAP Media and that’s why I’m super bullish on the YAP Media Podcast Network!
I am fully focused on growing my network and ensuring we have an amazing portfolio of business shows, as well as ensuring we have tight advertising operation processes and the right partnerships ready to rock by the 2023 Upfronts. My company YAP Media is the only podcast network with expertise in podcast media buying and social media, and because of that, we are already taking the industry by storm!