Local real estate team moonlights as podcast crew
That is the word that kept coming up during an interview with Leo Cohen and Tiffany Holden about their podcast, Building Bellingham.
It’s not just that they love podcasts, and their passion is certainly not derived from desire for financial gain. It comes from wanting to pick up the Whatcom County business community. Cohen and Holden do what they do because they care about the people living and working here and want to see our community thrive. If there is any selfishness at play, it’s their desire to learn from the individuals on the show. They also understand that a healthy business environment helps all companies. As businesspeople running the Cohen Group NW real estate team, they also stand to benefit, along with the rest of our local companies.
“I love learning,” Cohen said, “and this is about as great of a platform we can create where we’re able to lift the businesses up and able to learn in the process.”
When the podcast began, Cohen didn’t know where it would go or what it would become, but he liked the idea of a local business podcast, so he ran with it.
“As an entrepreneur, most of the time, it just comes from a simple intention and not really knowing what you don’t know,” he said. “I wanted to start a podcast because people in their 30s do podcasts.”
Cohen had completed exactly one episode before Holden joined the Cohen Group NW team to help with marketing. Never having worked on a podcast, aside from in a college class at Western Washington University, Holden took it all in as she followed Cooper Hansley, the director of marketing, around.
“We had an external producer and studio and all of that, so I had the privilege of spending seven episodes sitting on the floor at Binary Studios taking notes for blog posts that came out after each episode,” Holden said.
Even though Holden still had to sit on the floor, she began to form a partnership with Cohen as the podcast started taking shape. Their combination of talents — Cohen as the visionary and interviewer and Holden as the organizer, editor and producer — has made the show what it is today. With help from Hansley, the two create a high-quality production highlighting Whatcom County’s businesspeople, doing it in a way that makes the guests shine. While the Building Bellingham team members have their imprints all over each episode to create consistency, this is done in a subtle way that goes unnoticed by the listener.
This balancing act does not just happen. It is a commitment to quality, and a lot of hours, to make each episode a reality. Beginning with season two of the podcast, the producing and editing responsibility moved to Holden. The podcast is not monetized, but the team expends time and effort because of the intrinsic value derived from learning and knowing they are adding value to the community.
“It feels incredibly gratifying to feel so connected to the small business community here in town,” Holden said, “and it’s a privilege to be alongside Leo and getting to know these folks on a very personal level when I’m sitting in the editing room. I mean, these shows take six to nine hours to edit from start to finish, so I listen more closely than anybody else ever will. The lessons that these really amazing individuals are teaching us and the stories that they’re sharing resonate deeply.”
Cohen adds: “How do we not get stressed out about it not paying the bills? It does pay the bills. It pays our mental bills.”
While team members love producing Building Bellingham and feel they get value from it, there is no doubt that it does pull resources from the operations of the real estate business. As every entrepreneur knows, there are never enough hours in the day, so adding to the list is not easy.
“Every time I hit hour five in the editing room, I’m like, why the heck are we doing this,” Holden said. “But we have never questioned the existence of the show.”
To balance this, Holden and Cohen have put systems in place to operate as efficiently as possible, and they only record the show spring through fall, taking the summer months off when real estate is busiest.
Currently, in the midst of their third season, Cohen and Holden have become partners in the Building Bellingham podcast. While it is still more of a passion project than a business, they don’t treat it as such. What started on the whim of a young entrepreneur has become a well-oiled machine. Each season and episode is scheduled and planned out to make the process as smooth as possible for the team, the guest and, ultimately, the listener.
With the goal of shining a light on these people and their businesses, Cohen and Holden begin by releasing a promo video the week before, highlighting the next guest. Shows are now recorded in their own studio, where they have set up a relaxed environment that makes the guest comfortable while Cohen delivers his line of questioning. Questions are intentionally not given to guests ahead of time. The team likes the feel of natural conversation as guests think on the fly. While Holden and Cohen do prepare questions, Cohen, with his fluid interview style, uses the questions more as a guide than a fixed plan.
As a longtime local business owner, and having personally been a guest on the podcast (season three, episode seven), I had a firsthand experience of the process. From the moment Cohen asked me to be on through the release of the episode, every step was organized and professional. I was always aware of what they needed from me, and the schedule never changed. With his interviewing skills, Cohen was able to keep me focused on the topic at hand — no easy task — and Holden seamed together an episode that sounds much better, I’m sure, than it did live.
They are intentional about having on established businesspeople, many of whom are well known in the community. The list of previous guests includes Erin Baker from Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods, Wes Herman from Woods Coffee, Anne-Marie Faiola from Bramble Berry Handcraft Provisions, and Ty McClellan from Hardware Sales, to name a few.
They have chosen people based on their experience and ability to share stories and insight to help others be successful as they become entrepreneurs. Understanding that this platform can help promote businesses, they have begun a “startup spotlight” to shine a light on local businesses just getting rolling.
While Building Bellingham has seen success in its first three seasons, Cohen and Holden hope this is just the beginning.
“We have all these ideas that we are refining on how we can use this to be able to leverage it into more value that we can create for our listeners and other business owners in the community, whether they’re new, seasoned vets, in the middle of their career or students looking for a way to be able to stay in Bellingham,” Cohen said.
The Building Bellingham podcast can be found wherever you get your podcasts. You also can find it at www.livebellinghamnow.com/building_bellingham.