I begin most journeys to work listening to the dulcet (and occasionally ranty!) tones of Martyn Lee on the EV News Daily podcast bringing me all the top stories about Electric Vehicles and topics related to sustainable transport. Martyn started a podcast just over a year ago to help people stay informed about the news in this industry. He’s worked in commercial radio up until now and recently quit that to focus on podcasts. I’m always intrigued to find out people’s motivations for starting something new, particularly when it’s to help create a sustainable future and so I spent an enjoyable couple of hours chatting over coffee finding out about him, with a bit of EV chat thrown in too!
Why did you start EV News Daily?
I was a twitter account initially and did ok, had a following and I thought that whilst I was enjoying the weekly or semi-regular content that was out there, I did think there was a place for a daily discussion about the topics that we talk about, but I didn’t think I’d get an audience! My assumption was that I’d start it, it wouldn’t work and I’d stop it and it’d be a cool story to tell.
If I go a step back, the real reason I started it: I graduated from Bournemouth University in 1999 and I still go back every year to talk to the students. I was talking to some students last year about the incredible options people have for creating content – the instant-ness of making a YouTube video or a twitter account or a vine or whatever technology hasn’t been invented yet. I gave it “Mr. Billy big-media” coming down from London to Bournemouth University to “tell you kids how to do it”. I came away from there and in a quiet moment realised I was a bit of a fraud because at the time I was working in national radio that had millions of listeners, but I hadn’t done anything which I’d started from scratch. So I thought I’d start a twitter account starting from zero followers and put my money where my mouth was. I started it, presuming it would be a failure and luckily it worked out ok.
[Btw, “working out ok” means 4,700 followers on Twitter, 4,300 subscribers on YouTube and recently hitting 1m podcast downloads]
There’s such a strong EV community out there, people are really positive, keen and engaged. Why did you think it would be a failure, I would have thought it’s a perfect community to tap into?
I guess there’s that sense of ego, does anyone care what I have to say and what am I going to be able to add to the community? From the very beginning, it was a conscious decision to very much be a platform for cheerleading and celebrating and in no way pretending to be some kind of document of the truth. It was a platform for promoting EVs and the things around EVs as well. I’m here to be like a press officer for whatever you are promoting. And as long as I believe in it (and there are a few things I’ve been approached for recently that I didn’t want to cover because I don’t believe them), I’ll cover it.
From listening to you on the podcast, it also feels like there’s an underlying purpose for you too about sustainable transport and air pollution as you talk about that quite a lot…
I do. And there are a few ways of positioning your message. There’s a very overt way or there’s the Extinction Rebellion way of doing it and being in people’s faces or you could do an apologetic way of doing it. I try and strike a tone on the podcast that appeals to people’s self-interest. EVs are more fun, they are faster, they’re cheaper, they don’t take any maintenance – you never have to change the cambelt or a catalytic converter on them, the exhaust is never going to fall off on the motorway and you just really got to look after the tyres and make sure that it’s got some washer fluid in. Through accessing people’s self-interest, I then through the back door try and sow the seeds about this being a really good thing for the environment. I am convinced that people will ultimately behave in their own self-interest. We all try and be good citizens but there are many pressures and the way we appeal to people is through explaining the benefits of the positive things that all these things will bring – you’ll save money, you’ll look good. I think that’s maybe a sneaky way of me getting my message through.
I met a guy recently who doesn’t fly anymore and bought a Model 3 because he wanted to drive more places instead to make a better environmental choice. I’m not super up on the carbon impact of taking a flight but from what I gather flying is a catastrophic way of traveling but buying a car is not the lowest carbon way to travel either. So if the guy really wanted the environmental choice, he’d be on the bus or the train but he wanted the £60,000 sports car! However, there are shades of grey. We live in an increasingly binary world and I try and have all those shades of grey on the podcast.
I listen back to every show, not to hear my own voice but to listen for accuracy and to fact check myself because it’s largely a one take thing. There’s not much editing going on. And occasionally I hear a show that’s a little bit ranty and then I have to pull it back a little bit and then I hear a few shows that may be a little too newsy and I’ll think I need to inject a little more of myself in there.
What kind of response have you had?
I have two Twitter accounts: I have my personal one and the one that I use for the podcast. And I spend no time in my personal one because generally, social media is so negative. But the EV community is wonderfully positive so in order for my own mental health I spend nearly all of my time in this place that is full of wonderfully generous people that are optimistic and looking forward to the future and 5 percent angry about Toyota’s advertising, and the other 95 percent just pumped about a really good future and so…..
You’re on t-shirts….!*
They keep putting me on t-shirts, mad isn’t it!
So I think that it’s a really wonderful place to be when you can spend your time amongst positive people not negative. And I genuinely do have a zero-tolerance policy on negativity in my podcast Twitter. My job isn’t as an educator. I’m not taking on the responsibility of teaching people anything. It’s not my place to worry about other people’s education. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they learn, what they expose themselves to, the company they keep. And I’m not looking to try to change anyone and so if I see unreasonable negativity in my Twitter feed, they get immediately blocked. I just don’t want to ever read what they have to say again. I know it’s irrational but I just love being part of a positive community.
Do you get feedback from people in terms of how you’ve influenced them?
I got a really great Facebook message a couple of days ago from someone who sent me pictures of his i3 and he said: “because of you I bought an EV”. So I suppose it’s nice when you get that feedback but it’s not like I’m looking out for it, it’s great when it arrives. I never thought I would get anything like that. What’s really pleasant is to see the downloads increasing, the engagement increasing, the answers to the weekly question increasing. Some of those e-mails to the question of the week are challenging, particularly, funnily enough, this week because we’re talking about the male and female stereotypes in automotive. Everything from the typical Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, the sexist Neanderthal image that they’ve made a business out of. Right through to things like the W series of racing series, should we have that or should we just have brilliant drivers? A driver like Tatiana Calderon who is a female driver in Formula 2, will she get to Formula One? Should we segregate racing series and have a women’s race? And all of that bothers me and so we raised the question this week and some of the answers have been challenging and challenge me and my views. That’s also been a really lovely secondary effect of the podcast I never thought would come: people challenging my views. But even then, people do it in a respectful way or maybe an apologetic way. I love it.
As a regular listener it feels to me like you’ve really built a community around it, was that a conscious thing?
No, not at all. And there’s so much more than that you could do when you in terms of building communities. I have people who are you know big on Facebook asking me to do more on there and I have an Instagram account for EV News Daily but I don’t use it. I’ve got out of the habit. So I always say that I spend most my time on Twitter for better or worse, and I have conversations there. I didn’t think that there would be a community spring up around there because I feel like I’m an equal voice. I look at people like Fully Charged, they’ve just hit the half a million subscribers on YouTube this week and I’m sure that will seem like nothing when they’ve got two million. I look up to those channels and I feel like I’m just another an equal voice in the community. So then I find it weird when people do things like put me on T-shirts… which is surreal, surreal but nice. And as long as no one ever thinks that I’m too big for my boots, that’s fine
If somebody else is going to try and start something or create a community, is there anything particular you’ve learned from doing that, or any top tips?
I’m come to realise that everyone has a story to tell. And if your audience for that is 50 people, well that’s amazing. That’s 50 people who are enjoying your story and what you have to tell. No one’s doing that, in the grand scheme. Everyone should be doing it. Everyone should be documenting their life in blog form, in podcast form, in video form. I think we get caught up in a world of “I should have a thousand followers or I should have ten thousand views of this web page”, but I think that if you have 20 that’s amazing. And I would love everybody to be telling their story, just with the intention of sharing it and being challenged and examining yourselves and if you end up getting an audience or community that’s wonderful, but I don’t think you should set out to do that unless it’s a commercial enterprise.
How do you find the addictive nature of social media and the blurry line between that and reality? Particularly with the great community you’ve got on Twitter around the podcast
I go in fits and starts. When I publish a podcast the platform I use posts to twitter so even if I don’t log into the app for a day there’s at least one post per day saying there’s a new podcast. But then I can quite easily just lose two or three hours in conversations. But it’s as and when I get time. I used to travel on the train a lot and I would spend more time in it but I’m driving now so inevitably I have less and less time but that means more time for listening, listening to other the content and listening to other podcasts.
What are your favourite things to listen to?
There’s obviously there’s all the EV stuff but at the moment I really enjoy listening to things that I wouldn’t normally listen to. And that might be that I get halfway into a podcast and I’m turning it off because it’s not so interesting. But at the moment it’s just a bit of a discovery thing of trying new things. So that might be a business podcast, or a be better at social media podcast, or some interview podcasts. I think discovery is really different from YouTube and video. You’re always clicking onto the next thing with video but I think with audio and podcasting discovery is a real issue. If you’re not careful you can end up staying in an echo chamber. And I think is inherent with the platform until Apple or Spotify or someone fixes that.
And can you listen to them just for the content? Or do you find yourself being critical about the production?
No, absolutely not. In my previous life, I was looking after radio stations and so in any spare moments, I would have the radio on, because that was my job. In the building I worked in, we had 18 radio stations and I was connected with the output of four or five so I would make sure that I listened to all of them in a day. Often my kitchen would be on one station, my bedroom would be on another station, for the purposes of critiquing and not enjoyment. Since I stopped working in commercial radio three months ago, the radio hasn’t been on. I now just listen to speech in the car and I’m starting to listen to music again for fun. I’m loving listening to more podcasts and more voices now. There’s no critiquing of any of the production values and they don’t matter in the same way. It’s the story that’s important. We’re all great storytellers, the use of metaphor is how we’ve evolved as a communicating species so we’ve always used that power to tell a story whether that’s drawings of walls in caves or stories through the years.
So what car next after the Zoe?
I’ve always bought my cars and almost no-one buys cars now, they have them on finance. I buy secondhand cars and I save up for them and I buy them. I share that opinion on the podcast but selectively because a lot of people need a car to get to work or take the kids to school and payments is the only option.
So if I could wave a magic wand or if I did payments I would have a Model 3 every day of the week. If you do lots of miles, Tesla is the hands down the only car at the moment with a robust enough network of places to charge at a speed because they worked that out 10 years ago so the car and the infrastructure grew together. It’s the best car at the moment because it charges really quickly, they supercharge everything, they’re nice cars and the charging prices are okay. Tesla says that their network is meant to break even, that it’s not meant to be a profit centre. And I wouldn’t mind if it was a profit centre because I want the convenience of… but I’m not buying a Tesla because I don’t have sixty thousand pounds in my bank account.
And that’s not the norm, nearly everyone gets a car on finance. I have a terrible car in my driveway and I sleep pretty well and that gives me the freedom to do what I did this year which is to throw all the balls in the air and see where they land. So as long as I could pay the mortgage, then I can do something that actually has a purpose.
That’s the other thing we don’t talk about too much on the show, which is the purpose, being purpose driven. I mean companies talk about being purpose driven, it’s a buzzword and it fills a nice page on their annual report. Although companies like Apple and Tesla who are purpose driven have done very well out of it.
I think there are some companies who are purpose driven who really, truly are and their purpose isn’t just part of the annual report, but actually drives what they do.
That’s true and it really depends on who’s at the top and around the board table. As I occasionally say on the podcast, rich people and rich companies are not there by accident. They’re really good at what they do, whether it’s the big energy companies or the oil companies of the world, they got to where they are because they really good at what they’re doing. All of them have a massive opportunity to lead us into a fantastic new world. The option of not doing that would be to commit suicide as a company and that they’re simply not going to do that. I’m sure over time, companies will rise and fall and some, if they don’t pivot quickly enough, will struggle but largely there won’t be too much change from now. That’s my prediction: the big companies will figure it out because they’ve got the best people and all the resources.
It’s going to be interesting to see. I could see that version happening but I do think that there is a real risk for some of those companies that they fail to pivot fast enough.
It’s a speed thing. The speed at which we went from flip phones to smartphones or from not having the internet to having the internet or from everyone’s TV being two-feet-deep to being this thin thing on your wall. In the grand scheme, anything that happens in 5 or 10 years is a lightning pace and EVs are happening quicker than that. Even 20 or 30 years is insanely fast for most big companies to get their head around simply because of the size of them. For big companies to be able to look at this and go, we need to pivot quickly and boldly and have the courage of our convictions is enormously hard. Especially when you’re a listed company and there is a focus on quarterly results.
Do you think individuals can make a difference?
Yeah absolutely. That’s the really interesting thing about everyone having a voice now, but there being pressure in an Elon Musk 28 million follower world or “how many followers have you got? how many likes did that tweet get?” In that world, with the pressure on the scale, we should ignore that and we should realise, we all have a voice and a part to play, even if you’re influencing just one other person.
What plans have you got that you can talk about?
I don’t really have any plans, we’ll see where it goes. At the moment I’m enjoying the channel growing because it means it’s reaching more people. I’d like to be a little more strategic in terms of how much time I spend a day on various platforms to ensure that I’m there for the people that spend their life on Facebook and having that intent to use Instagram and Facebook not be so easily distracted and just open up my Twitter app again. I’m also really looking forward to meeting more fascinating people. That’s been the single biggest thing, making new friends and having new conversations and, just being part a new world. I’m meeting people that I would’ve had no reason to meet, had I not done this. Some people have a wish list of people they want to interview but genuinely whoever I bump into this year would be utterly awesome
* Toyota’s current advertising campaign for mild hybrids is that they are “self-charging hybrids” because you don’t have to plug them in. This has caused outrage in the EV community because not being able to plug them means they are only powered by petrol and therefore not an EV at all. Martyn ends every podcast at the moment with “there’s no such thing as a self-charging hybrid” and the Surrey, Sussex and Kent EV owners clubs now have that phrase and the EV news daily logo on their back of their t-shirts.