Adam Clark and I met back in 2013. We started a podcasting company together (which we both left), he shut down his consulting business to move to California and work for Apple, and now he’s back in Tennessee. Last year he launched a new business, Podcast Royale, a company he says will afford him more freedom to do whatever he wants to do.
He talks to me about growing up in a cult, losing his father, marriage, and how being a parent gives him a purpose in life.
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Adam Clark and I have been friends since 2013. We met because of a podcast I hosted at the time, and he wanted some advice as he was about to start his own. Since then we’ve started a podcast company that we both eventually left. He shut down his consulting business to move to California and work at Apple, and now he’s back in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Last year he launched the Podcast Royale, a new podcast production business that he’s really excited about.
Well, first of all, I love podcasting, and despite my low output lately, I really do love podcasting. I love everything about it. So there’s that aspect of it, there’s just the personal enjoyment of it. As far as Podcast Royale goes specifically, I love the fact that I finally launched something that’s built around recurring revenue and systems and processes. I’ve been self-employed/freelancer/whatever you wanna call it for more than a decade, and it’s like, why has it taken me so long to finally discover recurring revenue?
It’s amazing, the money just shows up every month. After Apple, I decided, okay, whatever I do next – I don’t wanna just go get a job, or just start freelancing again, or build websites… You know, I’m getting old. Whatever I do has to have a direction to it. I wanted to start something that was gonna be bigger than me, something that could grow and scale beyond me, so that at some point I could either step away from it, I could replace myself, I could sell it - whatever, I could do any number of those things and it’d still provide for me financially.
It started out as a WordPress thing, believe it or not. It started as a WordPress support business, and that was gonna be me and another guy, we were gonna partner and build this thing… But about this time last year a friend of mine who also has a podcast production company was talking to me about selling his business to me. Then he decided not to sell, and then I decided, “Okay, but this is actually what I wanna do, more than anything else.”
We’ve reached a point where most businesses accept – not the validity, but they understand the value and power of podcasting, and understand that it should be a part of their marketing… So I’m not really having to convince people and sell people on the idea that they should be podcasting; I’m just having to sell them on the fact that they should use me and my company to produce those podcasts.
I kind of went through this career transition in the past year too, and I don’t know if you feel this way, but there are many times where I get really nervous… Because I feel like I had done the web for so long that there are times where I worry unnecessarily, but I worry like “If this doesn’t work out or if I can’t work here anymore, what do I do?” Does that similarly freak you out with this change? Because it’s not only starting a business, but it’s also starting a business in an area in which you haven’t really dedicated your whole career to.
Yeah, I get the fear, but that’s not – I don’t feel that way, because this isn’t a job, this is my own business. I would feel that way if I had just taken a job, which is one reason I didn’t do that, because where is that gonna get me in ten years? It’s not like it used to be, where I’m gonna be able to retire or something in ten years, or twenty years, or whatever, and especially after the experience with Apple and all of that… Being employed is just not for me.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what is it that I really want. That takes a long time. I don’t know if we’ve ever even really completely figured it out, but we’ve certainly not figured it out in your twenties, or something like that…
Oh, thank God…
…and I’ve spent a long time really thinking about what it is that I wanted. It’s gonna sound silly, but for me what I really want more than anything is the freedom to do whatever it is that I want to do. And it’s like, “Well, who doesn’t want that?”, but for me truly, my interests are so varied and so broad - what I wanna do is have the freedom to follow whatever rabbit trail I’m interested in that month and be able to do that.
So what I wanted was freedom, freedom to do whatever it was I was interested in doing. What that meant was “I have to figure out a way to fund my life that doesn’t require working 40 hours a week.”
It sounds like what you want is to be independently wealthy.
Exactly. That’s what I’ve said since I was nine years old, is that I wanna be–
Because I’m there with you, brother.
When people were like “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” and I’m like “Independently wealthy.” So I said that when I was a kid, and it was a joke, but it’s true… But the reason isn’t because I just want to have a lot of money and buy a lot of stuff, it’s because I wanna spend my time exploring and learning the many different things that fascinate me, and I can’t make a business out of all those things. I’ve tried to do that and it never works, so I need some way to fund my life… And again, for me, that’s creating a business that can grow beyond me and I can either sell or replace myself in, and then I have the time.
I think you’re on to something…
Well, I hope so.
I heard somewhere - I think it might have been on Today Explained, a podcast from Vox, that in ten years manufacturing jobs are gonna be gone. If your job can be automated, it’s probably gonna be gone. So the idea is to find something where you’re skillset is of value and cannot be automated. And there’s this emphasis on being an entrepreneur as well, which… I understand. I mean, I have a difficult time with this, because I feel like everytime that I’ve tried to start my own business, it’s gone horribly wrong, and in part to what you mentioned earlier, which is that recurring revenue thing, but also it’s like - let’s just say that the tax code doesn’t really encourage you to be a business owner, especially a small business. Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going with that necessarily, but I –
No, I get what you’re saying. I get what you’re saying.
I feel like what you’re saying is promising though, but at the same time there’s a part of me that’s like “Okay, how does that apply to someone that doesn’t wanna run their own business?” There’s so much work involved in running a business, which is work that you’ve come to terms with, obviously, but it’s definitely not the path for everyone necessarily.
No, I don’t think it is the path for everyone. So how does it apply to someone who doesn’t want to run a business? Well, maybe you’re not a founder, maybe you’re a co-founder or a partner.
Right. I think that’s the path for me.
Yeah, and I think that is very possibly the path for me, too. I mean, I don’t know. The era of “Go and get a job and give them your life, and they will take care of you” - which was a pretty poor trade anyway, in my opinion - doesn’t really exist anymore. So no matter what you’re doing, I feel like people have to take control of that, or they have to in some way take ownership of their future, and this is the way I’m choosing to do it right now.
The other thing too is I’m making all this Podcast Royale thing sound super-surgical and strategical… Strategical - I don’t know if that’s a word, but…
That’s not a word, no.
…strategic, and like it’s all calculated, and… It is those things, but it’s not just those things. I am doing something that I enjoy doing, and I’m not doing something that I hate doing, that I’m just gonna slog through for the next five years, so that I could potentially have something worth selling, or whatever… I don’t know that I would do that. I am doing something that I really enjoy doing, and I don’t intend to necessarily stop doing it. But the point is I’m building something that is getting me somewhere.
There’s not much setup needed for this next bit of information. Adam grew up in a cult.
I don’t what people’s – what that brings to mind, but it’s not like we were sacrificing the cats over a fire, or whatever… But it was a pretty – this was supposed to be funny, Tim, but you’re not laughing, so…
[laughs] Well, when you say that “I was raised in a cult”, to me that feels like a serious thing, not a joke, but…
It is a serious thing, but you know me for how many years now…? Everything’s a joke.
My dad was a pastor, and I grew up in a super-conservative, fundamental version of Christianity. We were part of a homeschooling group that is no doubt a cult; I didn’t recognize it at the time… I mean, I don’t think anyone who’s in a cult knows they’re in one, until they get out of it, but…
And that makes it all sound terrible. It wasn’t terrible, I had a great childhood. My parents loved me, and I have a sister, and it was a great family life. Definitely no regrets there. But some of the things my parents believed at the time had some fairly – I don’t know, I don’t wanna say “devastating”, because that makes it sound weird and dramatic, but… Had some pretty influential effects on my life and the trajectory that my life took.
So when you say “I grew up in a cult”, what does that mean to you?
Well, I guess I would define – I mean, I don’t know what the official dictionary definition of a cult is, but to me a cult is where usually there’s one figure, usually a man, a figure who represents absolute authority, and all the rules, everything about your life is filtered through that person’s absolute authority and what they say… And a lot of times cults tend to be religious, or on the fringes of religion, or distortions of religion in some way… And yeah, that was the situation that I was in. But it wasn’t like there was – I mean, I’m sure there was; well, in fact, I know there was abuse, and all kinds of different things like spiritual abuse, and sexual abuse, and all that, but there wasn’t any of that in my family.
My family was pretty normal, man. I mean, I grew up in the ‘80s, the greatest decade of all, and it was pretty normal, except of all the things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t go to the movies, I couldn’t listen to rock music, or most music at all, if it wasn’t classical. There were a lot of rules over who I could be friends with, and what I could do, and I wasn’t allowed to date… Just lots of weird rules, but it was fairly – to me it seemed normal, but I guess what I’m trying to get across is that it wasn’t unhappy. I didn’t have an unhappy or a traumatized childhood.
Do you resent your parents for this?
No, not at all, because I think… Especially being a parent myself - I have three girls - I definitely understand the extreme desire to protect them at all costs, and I can see the appeal of “Let’s just huddle up and build a really high wall, and not let any of the bad things in, even at the expense of keeping out a lot of good things, too… But let’s just do this because we don’t want our kids to suffer and experience the same heartache that we’ve experienced.” I know that’s where it came from, and I experienced those same feelings with my own girls; it’s actually really hard to make decisions that might cause them pain, but maybe it’s better for them. So I totally get that impulse.
My dad passed away about seven years ago, but my mom has – I mean, she’s apologized; she doesn’t agree with any of that stuff anymore, and… I mean, it was kind of scary if you think about it. I was born at the very beginning of 1980, and things were a lot different then. The baby boomers were still coming out of the ’60s, and the sexual revolution, the ’70s, and rock ‘n roll, and all this stuff just seemed – they were told “This is gonna destroy your children, and you have to protect them from all of this, at all costs”, and I think they bought into it. But it wasn’t malicious. It was a mistake, but it wasn’t a malicious mistake.
Adam’s dad passed away seven years ago. He had Alzheimer’s, so it wasn’t an abrupt death, which Adam says made the loss easier to deal with.
When I was a kid, I used to – well, I mean, it wasn’t like I sat around imagining my dad’s death, but I would think that that would be something I would not be able to handle. It was a thought that I couldn’t – I couldn’t even let myself think about it… Like, “What about someday when this happens…?” And by the time it actually happened, obviously, it was terrible, but it wasn’t – I don’t know how to describe it; it wasn’t completely overwhelming, because he had been gone for years before that. He had had Alzheimer’s for seven or eight years before he died, and I think the last real conversation I had with him was multiple years before he passed away. It was obviously extremely sad, but it wasn’t unexpected.
But the thing is my dad was older. I wasn’t born till he was 47, so when I was a teenager he was in his sixties. So he was older anyway, and so he wasn’t the kind of dad who was out, playing sports and doing that sort of stuff. He was an intellectual. He was often in his study, his office, surrounded by books, and writing, and stuff like that.
I think the thing I miss, or the thing I didn’t get, is - like you said, you become friends with your parents. I was having a buddy of mine, which I think you know – I don’t know if you know Chase Reeves or not… But anyway, he was in town a couple weeks ago and we stayed up like all night, and I said “You know, the thing I miss is that – like, I’d love to be able to talk to my dad now, as an almost 40-year-old.” I’d love to be able to have a conversation with him and say “How did you feel at this moment? What did you do when your wife or your kids were driving you insane, or life was just not working out, or everything was going wrong, or this or that, or whatever it is…? What did you do? How did you feel?” Just to have those kinds of conversations. You know, there are things that you don’t think of as a kid to talk to your parents about.
After going through a rough breakup where Adam says he felt every cliché in the book, Adam quit his job and stayed for a couple of weeks with a friend in Georgia. His plan was to eventually head to New York City, but all that changed when he met Jessica. They’ve been married now 11 years.
I mean, I’ll be honest, marriage is hard, and my wife would say the same thing. I don’t believe people who have these fairytale love stories, and maybe it’s just because I’m cynical… And I am cynical, and I know that, and in some ways I’m proudly cynical, but… Marriage is a very different thing than being in love. I mean, they can overlap, but they’re not always the same thing. And it’s like any other relationship or endeavor - it takes sustained effort and work to make it good.
I have friends who are single and who are just like “I’m just waiting for the one. I’m just waiting for the person that comes along where it just feels right… You know, you’ll know it’s the one when you just get each other and it’s not so hard to understand each other, or figure each other out… It just all clicks, and that’s how you know it’s the one”, and I’m like, “Well, dude, unfortunately you’re gonna die alone if that’s what you’re waiting for, because that doesn’t exist.” I mean, it might exist for a couple of months, but everyone who’s married knows that that doesn’t last.
The hardest thing for me is giving up control and autonomy, and I know it’s really hard to believe, Tim, but I’m a pretty opinionated person and I like things kind of the way I like them. You would think from knowing me that I’m an extremely self-sacrificing and giving kind of person, but…
Yes, of course.
But I’m not really, and so that’s the hardest part for me - sacrificing being able to do whatever I wanna do with my life. That whole religious thing about the two becoming one is real. I mean, it’s real. There isn’t a you or a her anymore, it’s a one; it’s both of you together, in everything, and I know that some people don’t agree with that… They think that you have your life and she has her life, but that just sounds like roommates to me. Marriage is about the two becoming one in every way - physically, emotionally, spiritually, all those things. So when you do that, you have to change.
I heard one guy say one time that marriage is the wreckage of a head-on collision between two people. [laughter] And that also sounds cynical, but he didn’t mean it cynically. It’s just the reality, that when you marry someone, what happens is all the stuff that’s in you and all the stuff that’s in her comes out, and you have to figure out a way to deal with that. I think that’s one reason why you see people who get divorced and get remarried, and they do it again, and they do it again, and they do it again. It’s like, “Dude, when are you gonna realize the common denominator in all these situations is you?”
I think everyone’s different, and I think for me personally giving up that sense of control and that kind of “I want my life to be a certain way, and look a certain way, and do certain things” and all of that - kind of surrendering that and realizing that it’s not my life anymore. That’s probably the hardest thing.
How do you feel that children have impacted you and your relationship?
Okay, this is a little weird… I think having kids has massively positively affected my life, but maybe negatively affected my marriage.
What do you mean by that?
I get a lot of my sense of self for my kids for good or worse. I’m sure that’s not super-healthy. I get a lot of joy and satisfaction and pride and all sorts of things, but as far as the relationship goes, I don’t think my wife and I were ready to have kids. We had kids immediately. It was accidental, but that’s what happens when you have sex, kids…
…babies tend to be created. So our first daughter was a total accident, and we were absolutely not ready for that. That’s what I mean, in some ways, it complicated our relationship, because we went straight from being a couple to being parents, and those are two very different things… And I feel like there was a lot we missed out on, a lot that we didn’t get to experience or do because we immediately went into parent mode.
It’s a really weird thing. I feel like in some ways having kids right away caused a number of problems that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, a number of arguments and just personality clashes that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. But I also feel like if we hadn’t had the girls, maybe one of those clashes or whatever would have blown up so big that we walked away… But we didn’t, and we decided to figure it out, because there was more at stake.
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