"You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards"

Steve Jobs,
Stamford Commencement Address 2005

This week I'm talking to David Ralph, host of the phenomenally successful online chat show "Join Up Dots" - 3 million downloads and counting!

In the true spirit of the Apple founder's famous speech, David interviews inspiring individuals and encourages them to 'join the dots' backwards to make sense of the journey that has taken them to fulfilment and success. He releases a new show every single day, delivering an avalanche of inspiration and motivation to his audience.

David's mission is quite simply.....

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So what were his dots?

David started his professional career in Sales and Service Management at Natwest. He was then encouraged by one of his managers to move into training. The subjects were pretty dry - banking and insurance - and he quickly realised that mixing the content with entertainment was the only way to make at least some of that knowledge stick. He'd work on the formula that if he could get people to enjoy at least 60% of the course then they'd remember 40% of the content, and that would be a win!

David worked in training for 10 years before he realised that making the connections with the people on his courses was what "lit him up". But there was at least one more 'dot' between his role as a corporate trainer and his current career...

The grind of corporate life had taken it's toll and David needed out. The next step was to work for himself as a web developer. He loved the idea of being his own boss and he was confident he could do the job well. And, for a while, he did.

But once the novelty of the change had worn off, boredom set in. It was to alleviate the boredom, and the deafening silence that engulfed him as he worked at his kitchen table, that led him to tune into his very first podcast. Tom Morkes (of In the Trenches) was interviewing John Lee Dumas (another big name in the podcasting world). David was hooked. He loved the laser focus of the podcast format and the fascinating people you could access. But what excited him the most was the realisation that this was something he could do, that would allow him to make connections with people every day - without having to weave the latest banking compliance regulations into the conversation!

David launched Join Up Dots on 30th April 2014, his 44th birthday, and since then he's recorded over 250 interviews; releasing one a day, seven days a week. At the time of recording the show had been downloaded over 2.5million times, and that figure has now topped 3 million.


Sounds great, but what about the money?

It's a question he hears regularly, especially from his family! The podcasting itself does not yet generate significant revenue, but then David never expected 'instant income' from his show. Instead he is focused on building his profile, and from there he anticipates the money will flow.

So is he funding this period from savings? Well, no actually. Whilst he'd describe his finances as being in decent shape, there's no stock pile of cash put aside for that purpose. What David does have is a number of websites through which he earns a core income from affiliate sales. These are niche sites serving diverse markets that David set up before launching Join Up Dots.

He sees the whole money issue as an example of the importance of taking 'imperfect action'. If he'd waited until there was absolutely no financial risk before starting the show then it would never happen. It's a liberating and inspiring mindset which is totally in keeping with the ethos that you can only fully make sense of things when connecting the dots backwards.

Ups and downs:

Like many entrepreneurs who love what they do, David's biggest challenge is switching off. In the early days he'd work ridiculous hours, barely stopping to eat or sleep. It's a conundrum, as there's not much else he'd rather be doing. But when some ex-colleagues barely recognised him because they thought he looked so unwell, he knew he had to get some balance in his life. He'd readily admit this is still a 'work in progress', but in the scheme of things it's one of those good problems to have.

As his profile has built through the show he's increasingly been asked to 'help out' and 'get involved' in other projects. Once he'd got over the flattery of these requests David realised that his time = someone else's value and that he needed to cut out these distractions in order to focus on his goal. David's dealt with this challenge and others by harnessing the power of "no".

And what about an up? What's been the major highlight? Cheesy as it may sound, the interviews are the highlights; each and every one of them. David relishes the opportunity to talk to his guests and is continually amazed (and delighted!) that these fascinating and inspiring people are happy to share their stories with him. Given the frequency of the interviews, that's a lot of ups!

Staying productive:

With seven episodes a week to record and promote, how does he stay on top of everything that needs to be done?

This question elicited possibly the most unlikely answer I've ever heard - no phones! No landline, no mobile. Everything goes through email, meaning that David only needs to focus on one communication channel. Whilst this certainly wouldn't work for me, it's a great example of how you can successfully challenge even the most entrenched assumptions about how we all work today. Now if he'd said "no email"...well, I might have been tempted to give that a go!

Apart from this scorched-earth policy towards all things telephonic, 'batching' and self-imposed deadlines are David's main tips for staying productive. He's a big believer in Parkinson's Law (work expands to fit the time allocated to it), and so he deliberately batches routine tasks that get performed throughout the week (such as his social media promotions) and sets himself a tight deadline for completing each one.

As with so many productivity tips, it sounds fabulously simple. But of course the real key to all this is the same thing that enables David to consistently deliver his daily interviews. Discipline. David puts the success of the show down to:

  • consistent quality of output
  • frequency of delivery
  • continual promotion through social media channels

However underpinning all of these is the discipline to keep delivering, to keep the quality high, to keep promoting. Naturally it helps that he'd doing something he loves, and I don't even think the word discipline came up once in our conversation. But it's clearly there, and a defining factor in David's success.

3 million downloads... from a standing start... in significantly less than a year. It's an astonishing achievement. The story is best told by David himself (we've barely covered the half of it here!), so do listen to the interview using the player at the top of this post, or in iTunes using the link below.

Resources from the Podcast interview with David:

Motivational Quotes:

"Be so good until they can't ignore you anymore"
Steve Martin, comedian

Steve Jobs Stamford Commencement Address (Youtube)

Favourite Business Books:

"Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill

"The 4 Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferriss

"The Rules of Life" by Richard Templar

Productivity tools:

Everything Google!

Boomerang (for email)

mxhero (for email)


Join Up Dots

Contact David:

on twitter @joinupdot


I really hope you enjoyed David's story, whether you just read it here or listened to the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them on Twitter or Facebook – I’d love to hear from you!

And finally, if you did listen to the show I would be hugely grateful if you could leave an honest review for The Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They do matter in the rankings of the show and I read every one.

Click here to open the show in iTunes where you can leave a review and you can also subscribe to get new episodes automatically.

Thanks again to David for sharing his story with us.

Next Time…

I’m talking to Michelle Evans, a business coach and marketing strategist whose mission is to help people escape the shackles of corporate life by starting their own businesses. Michelle is actually a member of my mastermind group so I can personally vouch for her exceptional insight and expertise. A genuine 'life changer' for people lucky enough to work with her. So until next time…