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Five things to know about the Business of Being Awesome

Two MIT Sloan students have launched a podcast about unconventional career paths

By Amy MacMillan Bankson  |  April 21, 2016

2016-bizoba2

Lily Chen (left) and Erica Zendell started a podcast series

Second-year MBA students Erica Zendell and Lily Chen admit they “don’t have it all figured out yet,” but they are placing their trust in the process and aren’t quitting their dreams. With a shared background of singing a capella, speaking Chinese, and hailing from New Jersey, the two friends started a weekly podcast last year to let other MBA students know that it’s OK to take “the road less traveled” in their personal and work lives.

The Business of Being Awesome, or #bizoba, is a 30-40 minute podcast centered around the story of finding meaning in careers, as well as overcoming inflection points. Zendell and Chen feature interviews with professionals who have pursued intriguing career paths, as well as fellow MIT students and faculty such as Sinan Aral and Ben Shields. The first two seasons cover a range of topics, such as starting an entrepreneurial venture while in graduate school, to broader themes such as achieving a balanced work-life relationship.

The podcast launched its first season on Oct. 19, 2015. The season two premiere, which launched on March 7, 2016, was listened to more than 400 times in the first few weeks. Zendell and Chen are planning to extend season two beyond their graduation in June to reach 10 full episodes. After that, they will decide on the podcast’s future.

The pair recently talked about what it takes to put together a weekly podcast while in business school. (One tip: “We treat the podcast like a class and set aside consistent meeting times,” Chen said.)

Five things to know about #bizoba:

The idea for the #bizoba podcast came to Zendell and Chen in an Uber car ride in Los Angeles last summer.

“The driver told me that I had a voice for radio, which I had been told before,” Zendell said. Chen had been thinking about starting a music blog at the time but also wanted to work on her audio editing and production skills, and agreed that a podcast would be a great medium to practice.

“All we needed was a computer and a microphone,” Zendell said. “We did a quick fundraiser to raise some money to buy a new Yeti mic. We’ve recorded in study rooms, at Lily’s place, at my place, at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepeneurship … basically anywhere that’s reliably quiet enough.”

“The equipment setup is fairly standard for home recording,” Chen said. “[We have] a condenser mic, pop filter, audio interface, studio headphones, and if we’re lucky, a mic stand for our portable recording sessions.”

Zendell’s blogging background and Chen’s recording interests helped make the podcast a reality.

“I’ve had a personal blog for over four years and I’ve had ambitions to go into something that involves public speaking. This podcast is midway for me,” Zendell said.

“Given my passion for music, recording and audio editing is something that I wanted to develop a skill for,” Chen said. “I took an undergraduate course at MIT in the music department called Music and Technology, which focused on recording and audio production techniques.”

At first, it took Chen and Zendell nearly 15 hours to create one episode, including planning, recording the interview, storyboarding, editing, and producing. Chen estimated they have cut that production work flow time in half.

2016-bizoba Lily Chen and Erica Zendell

The show’s format has been tweaked since it first aired.

The first season featured ten 15-minute episodes. “At first, we wanted to have a subway ride’s worth of content targeted toward our peers. Aiming to understand listening behavior, we asked, ‘When do people listen to podcasts?’ Many told us that they listen to them while they are working out or commuting,” Zendell said. “One of the challenges of getting MBAs to listen is they’re bombarded with so much information in class. I think a lot of our peers might tune in when they’re back in the working world.”

Now, the podcast airs every other week and each episode is about 30 to 40 minutes long. Each show starts with Chen and Zendell discussing their own “moment of awesome” for the week.

Guests on the show are asked to reveal their “power song.”

“We ask each guest their ‘power song,’ because it’s a great, nonthreatening question. You can learn a lot about a person without making them feel uptight,” Zendell said.

Answers have ranged from Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

According to the season one finale episode, Zendell’s power song is Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and Chen’s is Alicia Keys’ “Wait Til You See My Smile.”

Chen enjoys closing out each episode with clips of guest power songs and she made a Spotify playlist called “#Bizoba Power Songs” available for listeners.

Chen and Zendell each have “dream guests” in mind for future episodes.

“I would love to talk to Michael Lewis [the journalist and author],” Zendell said. “He spoke at my college graduation ceremony in 2012 and I’ve been inspired by his career story ever since.”

“As a musician, my dream podcast guests would be [singers] John Legend or Sara Bareilles, both of whom pursued other studies and careers before committing to music and finding success in the industry,” Chen said. “I also would be star-struck meeting either of them!”

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