Gareth Martin: Conversation with a Ridiculous Human
About Our Guest
Gareth Martin is a podcaster and executive lifestyle coach. He was born and raised in beautiful South Africa and is now living and working in London, UK.
Moving to London was a decision he made in his late teens after visiting the city from South Africa. He completely fell in love with it and decided to stay. After spending more than 10 years working as a banker, Gareth decided to build his own business.
Gareth is the type of person who is engaging, optimistic, and incredibly warm.
When he was 16, he experienced the worst physical set-back which has ever happened to him. On the July 7th, 1997, Gareth was hit head on by a car, driven by a drunk driver. This accident became the important life lesson for Gareth. In this episode, he talks about that “There are many motivational people out there who explain the importance of having a “Purpose” and a “Why” in life…. With the decisions he faces and which influences and defines his life, he always likes to ask himself …….”Why Not?”. Gareth also talks about why we should all take chances on ourselves and go after what moves us.
We both became immigrants when we were teenagers. We both made that decisions on our own to move to a foreign country. As adults, we realized that decision is a daring act which brought enormous amount and turned out worlds upside down, in a good way, because it taught us resilience, and how to truly adapt the world around us.
In 2018, I had the pleasure to meet Gareth in person in London. Traveling to visit my podcast guests is and will always remain my favorite part of starting my podcast.
To learn more Gareth Martin and his podcast, visit “The Ridiculously Human Podcast” website. I’m a fan and a proud email subscriber.
[05:00] What’s the story behind your nickname ‘China’?
[08:00] How did you decide to move from South Africa to London? Can you walk us through your timeline?
[12:00] What did your parents say when you decided not to go back to South Africa?
[13:00] What’s your image/recollection of you as a kid in South Africa? What’s so special about that place?
[16:00] How long have you been running your podcast for?
[17:00] What are your thoughts of good vs. bad practices as an interviewer?
[20:00] What is a hook question? Can you share an example?
[22:00] Your podcast focuses a lot on origin stories, is that on purpose?
[24:00] What are some of the things that guests could do to become better guests?
[26:00] How do you deal with the different conversation dynamics with different guests? (Some of them like to speak longer and it might feel like a monologue)
[28:00] How did you come up with your podcast name?
[30:00] Is it easy or difficult to market your show, given that the name is not super-specific?
[32:00] How do you get organized with email, tasks, follow-ups, networking, etc.?
[34:00] How do you keep in touch with your guests?
[36:00] There’s definitely more competition than ever now. More podcasts and blogs than ever before, and lots of content creators. How do you motivate yourself to keep doing what you do?
[40:00] What’s your coaching business about? How did you end up setting that business?
[42:00] What was challenging when transitioning from banking to your own business?
Transcript of Interview with Gareth Martin.
Why do you have a nickname ‘China’?
Gareth [6:24] So basically, in Johannesburg a lot of guys call each other ‘China’. It actually originates from Cockney slang. So ‘China plate’ stands for ‘mate’. I guess somehow it shortened to just saying ‘China’.
When I moved to London about 20 years ago, I moved into a house with all these Australian guys and started playing Australian rules football with him. It was amazing. And I was the South African guy, 18 years old, running around, going “Kick the ball to me, China, kick the ball to me”. And Australians just love nicknames, so China became my nickname because I called everyone China. So literally, I haven't been able to get rid of it and now people know me as China. That's why I use it on Facebook as well.
Fei Wu [7:43] I love your story. And I love that your recent writing on Medium. And, you know, it's different. Sometimes as a podcaster and a blogger myself, which you are as well, we don't always have the time or the tendency to write long-form articles which reflect our lives. I think we all fall into a formula of listening to other people's stories, putting our guests and everyone else at first, so I was really intrigued by your personal stories. You've been sharing some of what I know, like the fact that you moved from South Africa to England, and that was a pretty big deal.
Could you tell us a bit about the decision to move to England?
Gareth [8:41] Let me take a step back before that. So when I was 16 years old, I and my friends always used to have motorbikes, and we used to ride around on motorbikes. I had a very serious motorbike accident when I was 16. So I was on my bike, and behind me was my best friend on his motorbike. And it was the Thursday afternoon, at four o'clock or something, we had just finished gym. Basically, I got hit by a drunk driver, and I was pretty much like on my deathbed. But fortunately, behind us there was a guy that worked for the ambulance, and he was off duty and on his way home. If it wasn't for that guy, probably wouldn't be here today.
So I was taken to hospital and survived, eventually, but with some quite serious injuries. And I think that just gave me a different perspective on life. And I was like “Jesus, it is so short!” You never know when it's going to be taken away, and it's not in your control.
Then during my last year of high school, I went to the UK, it was my first overseas trip. It was a rugby trip and it was amazing, there were 35 of us. The best time ever. We ended up with our last four days in London, and I was like “I love London”. And yeah, that just stuck with me.
Then, when it came to finishing school and everyone was applying for university, I was like “Wow, I don't really know what I want to study”. I thought I wanted to study physiotherapy, so I was like “That's what I want to do”, but I wanted to go and see the world actually. And what was the better way to do it than by going back to London where all kind of started for me?
I was young and naive, to be honest with you. Basically what happened is I booked a trip to America, which was in the middle of the year, to be a camp counselor. And I was like, “This is so cool, I'm going to work in America”. So I was going to work in a summer camp. But then, I didn't really have anything to do until summer, so I decided to go to the UK. I knew a couple of people there, I had a bit of family, but I'd never actually met any of these people in person. So I lived in the UK for the first bit, went to America, worked in the summer camp, which was absolutely amazing, and then I went back to the UK. I had moved in again with these Aussie guys that I'd met, and I just decided to stay because I was having such a good time. I was only 19. And I was like “Okay, let's just see, what if I can stay for another year” because I had a two-year visa. That was it, basically. And that was 20 years ago. Can you believe it?
Have you ever gone back to South Africa after this?
Gareth [11:59] I've been back on holiday but didn’t live there.
Fei Wu [12:07] That is a long time. How did your parents react to that? Were they being supportive? Were they scared?
Gareth [12:21] I don't really remember, they seemed to be pretty supportive. Actually, my parents got divorced when I was quite young, and it was a bit of a messy divorce, so things were a little difficult. It was always hard to know how your parents felt in some sort of way, but they were definitely supportive as far as I can remember.
Fei Wu [12:49] When you interviewed me, we spend a lot of time talking about my origin stories. And I think it’s so relatable, that each one of us went from somewhere to somewhere else. There's something really profound about that.
I noticed the fact that since the day one that I arrived in the US, I made it a point to really immerse myself in other people's cultures. And that was not a forceful act, I just found it to be so intriguing - the food you get to experience, the accents, the culture.
You’ve spent now so much time living in the Western world, how do you compare your current life to your childhood?
What was it like for you to grow up in South Africa?
Gareth [13:51] South Africa is the most beautiful place ever, I feel so blessed and fortunate that I grew up there. Our outdoors lifestyle is just the most amazing thing ever. And I actually almost feel sorry for people in the UK because they don't get to experience what we did in South Africa. There you have such an amazing climate that you always, basically, outside. And we're so fortunate in South Africa as well that we have this amazing wildlife, and at some point it even stops being a big deal because every few months you go to the bush and you see elephants, lions, buffalos, zebras, and all these amazing, incredible animals, and you almost just get used to it. This was this is like an hour from my house, you can drive there and see these animals.
You know, South Africa definitely has its problems, but the more I see of the world these days, the more I realize that everyone has its issues. I mean, we have quite a well-known history when it comes to Apartheid, that was a very dark time for our country. Fortunately, while I was pretty young, apartheid was ended, and the country transformed over time. But, you know, it was a very confusing time. And it's still trying to figure itself out.
Fei Wu [15:52] How old were you at the time?
Gareth [15:56] I was nine years old. So I think 1990 was when it's officially ended, and 1994 was when Mandela came out of prison. It was an incredible moment in history. South Africans are super proud of who they are. And but they also know that it was a very dark past which no one is happy about it. There are lots of good stories now and we had some great people that came out of it, like Nelson Mandela, one of the most amazing people in the world. But there's this crossover at some points between the black culture and the white culture, and we feel African, it's in us. We're so much stronger when we are together.
Fei Wu [16:47] Yeah. Okay, let's talk about your podcast.
How long have you been running The Ridiculously Human Podcast for?
Gareth [17:00] About a year and a half now. We started in October 2017.
Fei Wu [17:08] You guys are unstoppable. you're releasing it on a regular basis, email, all that. It's really incredible what you have learned because you’ve experienced so much of different styles of interviewees and you've spoken with so many people.
What are your thoughts on what's good and what's bad practice as an interviewer?
Gareth [17:51] So first of all, you don't know how good you're going to be until you actually start. And you always going to be very average when you start and you just need to kind of accept that. That's a given for whatever you do in life. And for us, in terms of being a good interviewer, what we found the most important thing for us is to do research. Make sure that you spent a good amount of time researching your guests so that you have a good understanding about their lives because our podcast is all about people's lives, their stories, the things that they've done and achieved and been good at. So we have to know that for the podcast to actually go well, so research is absolutely key.
There's a whole process. Being super friendly, nice and polite on email sets the tone for things. So you call the interviewee down, and they know what to expect. That's a good base to start off at. And then what we found and what we've done for about the last year, is we always had a storyboard. Like, there’s the research that we did, but what we've started doing is we've actually started writing our questions as well. Last year, we spoke to this girl who used to work in radio, and she actually gave us some really great tips. And she's like “You've got to have hook questions”. So make sure that your listeners are intrigued from the start, and then you can start off with something big. We have three hooks: beginning, middle, end.
Fei Wu [19:44] What does it mean to have a hook question? What's an example of a hook versus non-hook question?
Gareth [19:50] It's a big question. Like “Fei, tell me about when you were 16, had just your bag, $500 and you've got to fly to America, not knowing when you're going to come back” - that's a hook question, as opposed to “So the hot dogs in America you didn't really like that much, did you?” This is like a normal question, and you use your normal questions between your hooks.
Yeah, those are probably the primary things, when it comes to being a good interviewer. And also just making sure that you have a bit of a setup procedure at the start of the call. You calm down your guest because sometimes he’s a little bit nervous. So you just say “Look, this is just us having a chat. It's about you. There's nothing you have to remember because it's just you, and nothing's live. We can edit stuff out if you say stuff that you don't like”. That just puts people at ease and makes them more comfortable to speak.
Fei Wu [21:00] Well, I love that. And I also noticed as a guest that both you and your co-host are very into origin stories about people's lives. There's something very comforting about that, to ask someone about who they are as people before their names, their accomplishments, their talents, what they're known for, even before their titles. Not “Are you a mother or father?”, “Who you are to other people?”, but “Who you are to yourself?”, and that was very comforting. Was that intentional as well?
Gareth [22:02] Yeah, for sure. I mean, one of the reasons we started our podcast was because of stories we had been telling each other and things that had happened in our life. Our grandfathers had told us these amazing stories, and what we find is that people learn mostly from other stories, and they can really relate to people's stories. And there's always something within a story that people go “Wow, that's amazing”, or “Yes, I know what you're talking about”, and the only way you're going to find that out is by asking them the origin story.
And I think there's so much value in that because humans have always learned from each other through storytelling. You know, back in the day, the Bushmen used to have campfires, and they'd sit around the fire and share stories about the day and about what the ancestors used to do. And effectively, what we're doing now, I guess, with our podcast, is we're just telling other people's stories or getting them to tell us their stories. And there's just something beautiful in listening to someone else's experience. And you never know when you’re telling your story, maybe there's somebody else who is going through what you went through and they can learn from it. There's some magic in that, I think.
What are some of your advice and recommendations in terms of preparation for the interviewee?
What are the things that guests could do to become better guests?
Gareth [23:54] On our podcast, as I said, we put together a long storyboard. So we do probably about two hours of research on each case - listening to podcasts, checking websites, all these sorts of things. Then we send that over to our guests and we just say “Can you please read through your storyboard here?” We often put things in bold red and with a question mark, saying “We couldn't find much about you in this phase in your life, can you please fill it in and tell us”.
So make sure that you have everything set up, like, I really liked your scheduling, it was so like transparent and so clear. Also just make sure that you rock up in a good mood, look decent. Because for us, we do it too.
So look decent, make an effort to come in a good mood, smile and share your story in a good way because this is how people can remember you from our podcast.
Fei Wu [25:24] I love that. And if I may add to that, I notice when I interview people, people come from all sorts of backgrounds. So some people are professional speakers, and that could go one way or the other. Sometimes they're professional, they know exactly when to pause, they speak in full sentences. Some speakers are what I literally mean “keynote speakers”. So I've had people at the beginning who would speak for 20 minutes straight, like, we were in the same room, and that person wasn’t even making the eye contact, and he just went on and there's no breakthrough. You know, sometimes stories are so engaging, and I don't want that person to cut it short or speed it up, but I think as a guest you have to be conscious of that this is a conversation and not a monologue.
Gareth [26:18] 100%.
I'm not going to say any names, but we had a guy on our podcast, and I had been looking forward to having him because he's very high-profile. And wow, this guy just carried on, he would always just go on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and Craig and I were just standing there like “Ah, he’s just going…” But there's also a lesson for us as interviewers, that at some point, you just need to be rude, and you need to bite in somehow. It's an art to work out how to do it politely. So if you're an interviewee, definitely don't carry on for too long. Stop at a certain point and allow the person to ask you another question.
Fei Wu [27:13] Yeah, exactly. There's a reason for you to be at the interview, and there's an opportunity for the interviewer to ask you really interesting questions because that person is interested. And actually, for the listener, it's actually really tiring and really exhausting to listen to the same person speak, especially when it sounds scripted and is happening for so long.
Gareth [27:43] Yeah, for sure. It's an art on both sides. I think the more interviews you do, the better you're going to become, but you have to have some sort of self-awareness too.
How did you come up with this name for your podcast, “The Ridiculously Human”?
Gareth [28:07] It just kind of happened. You and I have spoken about this before. There's a way of coming up with ideas called “brainwriting”, which is similar, I guess, to brainstorming. Craig and I were just sitting down before we started our podcast, and we had a Google Docs open, and we just started writing down names. Some of them were just words. It was probably like five minutes into the process, and we'd written all these different names, and one of us said “ridiculous”, and then there was “human” somewhere else in one of the other names. And then we started going through all of them again, and we just went “Hey, what about “Ridiculously human”? - Ah, that sounds pretty cool, but will people get it?” But then we're like “No, ridiculously is a cool and positive word”.
And that was it. Literally just a bit of brainwriting and we, probably, came up with it within five minutes. Actually, we're pretty chuffed because that's quite a cool name. And it's interesting, because a few of our guests, they were like “How could I not come on a podcast that's called The Ridiculously Human Podcast?”, which is really cool. But yeah, that was how we did it.
Fei Wu [29:45] When I talked to other podcasts, especially people starting out and people struggling on the name, it's almost painful and sad to watch that people will spend months, sometimes a year, just sitting on the name with all these episodes waiting to be recorded. And people think that name is not changeable. I get that it's not something you want to change every month or every year.
Did you find it difficult to market your show with this general and not specific name?
Gareth [30:26] Totally it's been something which Craig and I have spoken about literally since the day we started. We were like “Okay, what is our niche?” So we constantly kind of battle with this - do we need a niche and do we need to find our real true audience? We did write an avatar because I think that's important. We did do that at the start. So we have an idea of who avatar is. And Seth Godin, as we know, he says you've got to really find your minimum viable audience, basically, and target those people. So it is something that's constantly on our mind, but I think we actually have a niche anyway. And it's something we always think and speak about, and I think you've constantly got to be evolving with whatever you do. So if it's not the niche, it must be something else within your podcast that is changing. So you've got to strip away all the ego, anything that you ever had. If you want to progress, you've got to constantly be evolving.
How do you organize the emails you need to send to your guests?
Gareth [32:11] I don't know, it just seems to work pretty well, actually. So we have a group, it's both Craig and me on the distribution list. And we always see each other on every single email, so we know who you’re inviting and can keep a track of that. Then we have a Google Doc spreadsheet, these are people that we've asked, this is the date that they’ve booked, and that's pretty much how we track it. And then we'll have different folders in our email drive to keep the emails that they've sent and the email chains and stuff that's related to that guest. So it's pretty basic, to be honest with you. The part of the email process, all the going back and forth, is actually part of the relationship-building for us. And I think it's so important to be really polite, to be friendly, and to take an interest in people, especially on email. We find that it actually works quite well, and that's why we've also not gone with the whole automated route yet. But at some point, we're going to have to get there because when the podcast starts growing and you have other things going on in your life, it's a good way to make things a bit more efficient.
Fei Wu [33:33] For sure.
We're getting into some really interesting stuff. There’s one thing that I've been really uncertain about and wanted to consult with you. I really did not do a good job with keeping in touch with my guests at the beginning, it just was over once the interviews were set and done.
How do you keep in touch with your guests?
Gareth [34:18] It is a tough one for sure. We don't actually ask people to sign up for our newsletter, what we do is we're very good with actually keeping in touch with people. So definitely, after each interview, about a week after or a few days after, we will send a “thank you” email, like a really nice email together with a whole load of files like audio, videos, pictures, etc. And we say “These are for you, and this is the link to the website, and this is the email campaign. If you'd like to share it on your social media or on your website, that will be great. We really appreciate that”. And then we just keep in touch with people on Instagram by liking people's stuff and commenting every now and then. It's so important to keep that connection with your network and your guests.
Fei Wu [35:50] I've been creating since I was a little kid, podcast has been around for about four and a half years, and I still experience some blocks, not so much of creative blocks, but sometimes more of the self-doubts of you know, looking at the stats and seeing that podcasting is even a more crowded place than it used to be.
So when we started in 2014, we weren't promoting as much and there were more downloads, and then it went through a period of us redefining ourselves. And now it's kind of steady, but I can feel like it requires more work to get the show and our message out there. And so do you feel the same way?
What do you do to calm your mind to say “This is worth doing and I'm going to keep going”?
Gareth [36:53] So when it comes to not stopping and dealing with the self-doubts - Seth Godin has an amazing book out there called The Dip. And I encourage everyone to read that book, because it basically explains to you in very simple terms that the reason most people fail in businesses is because everything starts off amazingly, you’re getting great numbers, and then you sort of hit a plateau. Then things go down. Maybe it's numbers or just motivation and inspiration go down. So you kind of feel like there's no way out of it. And that's where most people actually end up giving up - in the bottom, in the dip. But it's the people that persevere and that are patient who are going to win eventually. And you have to have extraordinary amounts of it in terms of what is are you doing because nothing happens as quickly as you want it to, you always need to take a step back and recalibrate when times are difficult. And remember why you're doing this. If you can do that, then a journey up out of the dip becomes super enjoyable.
We're also really lucky with our podcast, because it's Craig and me, so we always have each other. We actually took a conscious decision not to worry about download numbers, because it's hard. And people don't necessarily talk about the download numbers much. Most people are not getting ridiculous download numbers anyway.
I think the reason why we do a podcast and why people should do a podcast is because you’re really passionate about what you do. And you need to understand that this is actually a platform for other things. We have to constantly remind ourselves of that every single time and enjoy those good moments, enjoy when you get feedback. It's a difficult game, but I think this is like a business, in general. It's a long game. The really interesting part is that if you take guys that have done really well in their life, like Gary Vee - he talks about his YouTube videos, and for the first two years, people didn't really watch him. He had like seven subscribers. And then Rich Roll - he says that even early in the day, when he was an original podcaster, for the first time he had no traction.
So we have to always remember that the guys that are doing well were in the boat that we are in now. It might take two years, three years, but you've just got to hang in there. And also make sure that you enjoying the journey, so that you can carry on. Find the goodness in it, find the joy and happiness in it. And that will keep you going.
Is there something that you could share with the listeners so they can learn more about you outside of podcasting?
Gareth [40:34] Yeah, for sure. Now I work as an executive and lifestyle coach, I've done that for about a year now. I was an investment banker for 18 years, and that was an amazing time, I loved it. I learned so much and I'm super thankful for that, but it was never the endgame for me. I've been out of banking for two years now, and my first year was pretty much finding my feet. To be honest with you, I felt like a bit of a one-trick pony after leaving banking because that's all I'd ever done. And it's kind of daunting when you go into this big wide world, and there're all these other things and opportunities. Figuring it out, going from corporate to working for yourself is one of the most difficult things you can ever do, I think.
Then I've just found my passion. I was always passionate about people and helping people. There're so many people that are in a confused state of their lives, and for me, it's people that are confused about what to do next in terms of work. So I was totally in that state, I knew that I wasn't destined to carry on working for the bank and that I wanted to do something else. I wanted to escape. And that is a difficult process to go through and a difficult transition.
So, anyone who is going through that sort of phase of their life, I advise you to find somebody else who's done it and to get them to lead you. And if you can get a coach and you can afford it, then definitely do that because it saves you a lot of time and a lot of figuring stuff out on your own. Although I still think the figuring stuff out on your own is a good process to go through. It's a good learning process. But yeah, that's kind of me, that's what I do as opposed to the podcast.
Fei Wu [42:34] I interview a lot of people in transitions, going through hardships, and you just mentioned that you had to figure out a lot of things going from full-time to working for yourself.
What was challenging for you mentally and financially during that difficult transition?
Gareth [43:00] It was figuring out what to actually do. To be honest, I was always very interested in health, and I thought I was going to be a high-end personal health coach or a personal trainer. Obviously, that never happened. So for me, it was figuring out what to actually do. It wasn't financial because I'd planned three years, and I advise anybody that's going to do it plan two years of spending if you're going to leave. I had enough cash and enough runway, so didn't have to worry about it and I wasn't stressed out about what I was going to do.
I spent my first year figuring out what I was going to do. I went to India and did yoga and meditation teacher training. I studied to be a chef for a year. It was just a full year of finding myself and discovering what I enjoyed and then figuring out if that was going to work in a business or not. I did Seth Golden's AltMBA, same as you. The one that brought everything together was an executive coaching diploma that I did through the University of Cape Town in South Africa. It was like a wake-up moment. I was like “Wow, this is what I'm actually meant to be doing”. And I didn't do it in the start because I wanted to be an executive coach, I did it because I understand that there are an art and science to coaching, and I wanted to take that into the health side of things. But it just reminded me, actually, how much I like business how much I like people. And I think I'm able to share a decent story and help other people that are going through it.
What I remember in my last few years in banking is that nobody was enjoying the job whatsoever. It used to be a great industry, but now it's quite a demoralizing industry because all the banks are cutting costs, letting go of people and nobody's safe. It doesn't matter who you are what you do, and it's not enjoyable anymore, either. So I just know that there're lots of people who feel the same as well.
Fei Wu [45:19] Yeah. And I love what you said about being prepared and stable coming out of the banking, that is super smart, I echo that completely. And the fact that you took a year off and just experienced things completely unrelated to banking - yoga, fitness, becoming a chef – that is really great.
I didn't do that in year one, I'm actually doing that now. It's like year three or four into having Feisworld LLC, and I thought: “Okay, I'm going to study fashion, I want to be able to make my own clothes, and then I'm going to work on a book”. So I think we have to do the work, but let's stay active. You are a shining example of someone who is really into fitness, are you're fit, you're healthy. And therefore, I think you can really think a lot more clearly as well.
Gareth [46:20] Yeah, to operate efficiently and on the right level, you need to be healthy, and you need to be healthy on so many different levels. Your mental health is super important as well. Everything contributes towards that: your fitness, what you eat, how you sleep - these all really important.
And about trying new things - we literally live once. And if you want to be an interesting person and to have cool conversations with people, you've got to try out new things, like what you’ve been talking about yourself. I mean, these are amazing things that you're doing. And it's having all these branches to ourselves which make us interesting people, so people mustn't be scared to try new things.
I was thinking about this a lot this week - in business, I think it is important to niche up and find what works, find your people and this sort of things. But as an individual, it's almost the opposite. It's important to do as many things as you can in order to be an interesting person.
But that's just one way to live life, of course. If you want to be an expert, then spend your time doing that, that's for sure. Go for it. But I think for most of us, the more we can try, the better it is for us.
Fei Wu [48:08] Yeah, I agree. This has been wonderful, thank you!
Gareth [48:14] Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure!