RWDevCon Inspiration Talk – NSBrief by Saul Mora

Hear first hand from Saul Mora how the popular podcast NSBrief got started and some lessons he’s learned along the way.


  • Other, Other, Other

Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.

We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our next talk – NSBrief by Saul Mora – I hope you enjoy!


Hey everyone thanks again for joining me for another NSBrief. How many of you here have heard me say that on the podcast? Maybe a couple of you here? Alright, I’ve got a few listeners in the audience.

For those of you that might not be familiar with NSBrief the podcast, it’s a pretty popular podcast on the internet these days. We’ve got a nice little website here that’s fairly easy to read by now.

We’ve got global reach. We touched a lot of different countries.

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This kind of change definitely from month to month and this particular month, I think, China was scraping a little bit of extra sites than normal this time.

Over the years, NSBrief has definitely grown from a little hobby of mine to something that is actually fairly popular and fairly well respected in the community, in the IOS community. It’s been really nice. This is a number of our total downloads just for the last couple of years:


It’s a lot of people listening to stuff that I say and my guests say, so that’s kind of nice. It’s nice that people actually hear me talk. NSBrief does get popular on iTunes. You can see me up there in the “What’s Hot” category.

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It’s amazing to be among all these other shows that I know have far higher production value than what I’m able to put in to NSBrief, again just as a hobby.

Now I took this one a few days ago.

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I looked at the software category in the How To section and I looked at just the top podcast, if you notice there at the bottom, I’m ahead of some other podcasts you might not have heard of (hehe). So yeah that just happens to be that way.

It’s a lot of fun, but one of the things that I was really proud of (and I don’t really cruise iTunes for podcasts all that often) was that last year in December there was this whole Hour Of Code thing going on. iTunes had a whole section about the Hour of Code and in the podcasts towards the bottom there’s a lot of really awesome podcasts, and NSBrief is included. This is definitely an honor to be in really good company with all these other really great podcasters.

The thing that I’m really proud of, as a producer of show and content that people really like to listen to, is the star rating. You can see here, this is an aggregation of all the iTunes stores all over the world.

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They’ve got 103 users rating stuff. I got a 4.9 star rating on the iTunes app Store, I got a lot of really great reviews. It’s really nice to know that people really like this show, so if you haven’t listened to it, I guess this is your sales pitch to go give it a try. It’s really helpful and insightful.

My Start In College Radio

How did I get started with all this craziness with talking to people and starting a podcast? It turns out that when I was in college, I actually was on this student radio station. I did a little bit of crappy DJ-ing as you do in college, and did a little bit of sportscasting going to some of the sports games. That was a lot of fun.

I’ll let you know though, this was towards the end of the dot com 1.0 bubble. There was just a lot of new crazy web technology and our student radio station, we only had 1 kilowatt radio, so we had to extend our reach. We were so advanced that we had our own RealAudio server, so we could expand beyond our campus just a little bit.

Deciding On A Name

So podcasting. What do you need to get started with a podcast? The one thing that you really need is a good name.

How do you name a podcast? Especially, now that you know NSBrief, how do I come up with these crazy names?

At the time I was listening to a lot of podcasts who were really popular back in the day.

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Late Night Cocoa was a really influential podcast for me. It really got me interested in iOS (it was iPhone OS development at the time and Cocoa development) and hearing Scotty just doing what he does, talking to people and asking questions was cool. That was a really cool name, but that was taken, scratch that one.

Core Intuition was another popular podcast at the time. I remember listening to the first episodes of that one and hearing Manton and Daniel just talking about the things that they do. I thought, “Well Core Intution is kind of techy and nerdy and stuff, so why don’t we follow that vein and call it CFPodcast?”

It was a little too niche. As you can see the reaction right here. There’s nobody laughing at that one. A little bit better, a little higher level abstractions might be in NSPodcast.

I was also listening to a lot of rails stuff at the time and I had come off of a lot of rails development. Rails Envy was a fairly popular podcast. I thought, “Well maybe I could do that.” That didn’t really fly.

It turned out CocoaRadio was actually already taken by the time I had decided to do a podcast. Justin Williams actually kind of stole it from somebody else. It was kind of weird.

I thought, “Well it’s going to be a technical podcast, so I should really make a technical name right?” So I came up with “CocoaBytes” but it had the connotation that Cocoa sucks, if you said it wrong and didn’t see the spelling, so that was kind of not good.

I took a step back and kind of wondered. I had this description. It was me and a friend of mine that actually thought we should do a podcast. It was at a conference in San Diego in 2010 and we were like, “Well we just want to do a short podcast, very brief podcast talking about really technical bits.” Then as we were reiterating what we wanted the goal of this podcast to be, this word “brief” stuck out to us.

It stuck out to me anyway. I was like, “We should do this and call it NSBrief.” It’s great because Brief has two connotations, because if we actually don’t succeed on the whole short thing we can just say, “We’re just being informative.” Hence NSBrief was the chosen name of the podcast.

Can We Actually Use This Name?

However, there was a dilemma. I don’t know if you ever followed a lot of the app store mishaps in the early days where apps were rejected for almost no reason or random reasons or it’s really unclear. Although that really hasn’t gone away has it?

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Apps were having a hard time with being experimental and such back in the day. One such app was named Briefs.

Does everybody remember this app? It’s by Rob Rhyne. Me being a conscientious, somebody that’s trying to get on to the scene, just trying to cover my bases I guess and such, I was like, “Brief and Briefs are too close to really be synonymous in the same field, so I should really just ask the author of this app for permission.”

I sent them an email, I tracked them down. I didn’t know who it was and I found his blog and I’m like, “Hey Rob, I’m going to start this podcast called NSBrief and I noticed your app is Briefs. Are you okay if I called my podcast this?”

He’s like, “Sure. Thumbs up, go right ahead.”

I’m like, “Sweet.” Then I got my thinking hat on and realized, “Hey wait do you want to be a guest on this podcast I’m just starting? I haven’t started it yet.”

Rob Rhyne, CEO of Martian Craft back then and now, was the very first guest of NSBrief. It was a very crude interview. It was done over a telephone line. We had something that would actually record the telephone conversation. The audio quality is horrible if you go back to it. You can go and look at the very first episode.

We talk about his adventures through getting Briefs in to the app store, which basically never really succeeded. The one that’s out there now is a completely different version than it was originally intended.

Evolution of Sound

I use Garage Band which is a very simple, free way to edit audio and put stuff together and I still use the Garage Band to edit NSBrief. I also started with a fairly cheap microphone.

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This was maybe $40 – $50, the quality wasn’t so great, but it was alright. It made it through maybe a few episodes, maybe 10 episodes. I would talk to some friends of mine at conferences and I would actually even record with my iPhone. I get the microphone app and just record, interview and do this and it was a little hokey but I wasn’t sure I was invested in this thing. I just wanted to try it out, do it on the cheap and see what I could do. Just Garage Band and whatever I had with me.

Hey it worked; I got a few episodes out of it, but then I was like, “I need to make a breakthrough.” I need to do more because it wasn’t really taking off like I’d hoped.

The thing is on one New Year’s Eve. I made a stupid resolution. I bet myself that I could post a new episode once a week for a year. Does anybody make New Years Resolutions? Who does crap like that?

I did and it worked. Challenge accepted!


It took a little while, but things kept going. These are my original stats from when I hosted the feed on feed burner.

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That very first number down there is not quite zero, it’s just 20. Only 20 people have heard that first episode back in the beginning, but it slowly crept up and it crept up and it turned out that the more episodes I produced more frequently, the more listeners I gained and got a lot more feedback over time too.

I eventually invested in a little bit more high quality gear. I’ve got the microphone and I’ve got the actually arm stands so it looked like an actual radio person.

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I got a little soundboard down there. That’s all my test devices if you’re really interested.

One of the things that was really useful was this portable voice recorder.

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I’ve actually still got it here. This was really useful, because it much higher quality. It’s also in stereo, where as if you just use the iPhone microphone it’s only just a mono audio feed. Instead you can take this and just have people voice in stereo, have it sound a little bit more comfortable to your ears.

I would go to meetups and things and asks friends, “Hey you want to do this podcast?” For this one with Tom Harrington what I did was I just said, “Hey let’s talk about Core Data.”

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What were talking about here actually is we’re just going through some Stack Overflow posts and answering random questions. You can go in the show notes and see that episode and see the questions that we asked and see how we answered them

You can also see down there at the bottom how crude my set up was. All I did was just talk normally and the voice recorder was really down there, way down there in the bottom. Now that can come back to haunt me later.

Needless to say I have improved my technique a little bit. I’ve got some better equipment, some better microphones. Well that’s what happens, you get better and better at your craft and you have better tools to do a better job.

Lesson Learned #1: Audio Quality Is Important

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes producing NSBrief. One of them is actually producing the audio. Having not done audio or been an audio engineer or anything like that in college or anywhere else before, I was basically learning on the fly. That didn’t really turn out well in the early days.

It turned out later that I actually asked for some help and got a lot of help from the community to help me learn how to do audio and make it so that people could actually hear the podcast and hear the content that they wanted to get to so much.

That was nice to at least to get some feedback on that, but I only got a 2 star rating for that. It’s still up there. It’s kind of sad, but moving on.

Lesson Learned #2: Website Readability Is Important

Another mistake that I made was putting the original site on Tumblr. Anybody here ever used Tumblr? Yeah see that’s why it was a big mistake. Tumblr was okay for a while. At the time it actually went down a lot, like everyday it went down. It was really horrible.

It was easy to use and it looked decent. Here’s our very first episode page on Tumblr. You can actually go see this if you go to It’s still up there. I have not taken it down.

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You can see:

  • My cubed logo is there.
  • I have this “Ask Me Anything” section (I have no idea what that does).
  • You can subscribe in iTunes.
  • There’s a lot of words.
  • It’s very busy.

It’s a Tumblr site. We don’t really have a whole lot of control.

Moving on I thought, “Well I got to find a better way to host these things. This site has to stay up a little bit more.” Posterous, that was kind of like Tumblr, but well we know what happened to Posterous. That got bought out and closed, but luckily the internet saved me for this talk because I have a screen shot of my site.

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It turns out that back in the early days, I found this guy who was living in his mother-in-law’s basement. He actually knew stuff about Cocos2D. We had an interview, I actually remembered this interview because we were talking about Cocos2D. I was still really curious about it at the time.

I remember half way through the interview I was like, “Hey Ray I don’t have any other questions. Tell me what to ask you because I don’t know.” Basically I didn’t do my homework. The interview turned out well. It was very useful, but it was one of those things that was kind of odd.

Moving on, we moved over to Amazon and have a decent website for a developer. I don’t have the design chops that Ray does and all that. I had this put together from a template.

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It’s a little better, but there’s room for improvement. You can also see this, if you like, it’s on Amazon S3.

Now everything is hosted on the Mac mini in Las Vegas. I just figured I would bite the bullet, host it myself, do all of that, just take care of that. That has its pros and cons, but what it let’s me do is I can do my own thing with the website and have it posted here. What’s nice about this website is that it’s obviously a lot cleaner. It’s much more easy to read, and it’s mobile friendly!

I thought it was very ironic that I was doing an iOS focused podcast and the website had not been very mobile friendly. Tumblr and Posterous and that template that I had were very had to read on iOS devices. This site was easy to read on iOS

The site was actually contributed by somebody from the community. Community has always been a big part of NSBrief. I put a call out to say, “Hey is there anybody out there that wants to redesign the website.” It turns out that Tom Diggle wanted to do that. He did a really good job of putting together a really good website that I still use all the time.

Meeting Awesome Peeps

It turns out over the time of meeting people and talking to people about their talks at conferences like this one with Jay Trash.

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I made a lot of friends. I met a lot of people this way. It’s really nice to talk and converse and just make a lot of new friends this way. It’s an interesting way to have people remember you because if there’s anything that they’re going to remember is that you interviewed them for a podcast.

I also made a few enemies. Some of you out there know that Ash Furrow is my Twitter nemesis. He’s been on the podcast for a couple of times and we did have a battle in Amsterdam.

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I think I won. Go America!

You can check out those episodes:

The last one is actually the Swift grudge match, so you want to check that one out.

I’ve had my share of early exclusives as a podcaster. Eloy Duran I met up with out at second conference in Chicago when he announced CocoaPods. I interviewed him, he was a core team of member on the MacRuby Project that was running at the time and I wanted to talk about that, but he was also announcing CocoaPods. It’s the last thing. I thought at the time MacRuby was much more important than this CocoaPods thing; who cares about CocoaPods! That podcast is on there. It’s interesting:

I also got to meet Laurent Sansonetti the developer of MacRuby at the time, but now he does RubyMotion. I met up with him in Belgium and got a little exclusive and sneak peek before that was announced.

I also talked to the Appsterdam guys before hand and got the down low on what was going on in Amsterdam and what they were trying to build out there.

It just had a really big affect on my life and that I took inspiration from this and went out to Amsterdam for a couple of months and met a lot of people there and made a lot of great friends. It changed the trajectory of my career a bit.

While I was out there, I was able to meet Scotty, the guy from Late Night Cocoa. I went to visit him at his place in Tetbury, England. If there’s any place that’s out in the middle of nowhere in England, it’s Tetbury, but the curry is really good. That’s a plus.

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Scotty has been a regular in the podcast and he’s a really good friend of the show.

I do a lot of interviews of just people from the community. Here’s one with Ariel Michaeli.

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He’s based in New York and he runs appFigures. He’s another one of these guys that started up as a one man shop. I think his was actually two men, him and his brother. They started building not an app agency, but just an app analytics agency where they would analyze all of your iTunes connect data.

I’ve talked to a lot of fun people; they have all been really great. But I have to say that out of all the interviews I have done, one that I remember the most is the one I did on an airplane.

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I met Jaime Newbury out at WWC on the way back and we just did an interview there. We talked about her work, her design work. We also talked about women in tech, since that’s a really big issue. That’s the interview you’re not going to forget any time soon.

Brief Plans

After all of this, what’s next?

It’s been a while, as mentioned in my introduction, that I’ve been working at Coursera now.

I’m a full time employee, so it’s been a little bit more difficult to keep up the weekly cadence of producing a podcast episode every week. I’ve been trying to reflect on what’s good for the community and when I get reviews like this,

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…it makes me think twice about canceling the show. It’s not really good for the community and it’s not good for me.

Again I was turning to the community and trying to think, “What can I do to keep this going without putting too much of a burden on myself?”

The one thing that I thought was, “I don’t have to do this all alone. This is not something I have to do by myself.” With that I’m announcing that I’m stepping down as primary host of NSBrief. We’re actually going to have a new host.

Janie Clayton is going to be the new host of NSBrief!

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Now that doesn’t mean that things are going to change all that much. She’s still going to do interviews, she’s still going to meet people, she’s still going to do a bang up job.

For one she’s a lot more technically qualified than I am. She is a journalism major. She went to school to do the things that I already messed up on. She knows how to run the boards, she knows how to interview people. She has that experience.

She’s also a developer, she a really hard core developer. She’s also a little fresh around the ears, so she’s got a lot of questions that she wants to ask. She reminds me of myself way back when I first started NSBrief.

The elephant’s in the room is that she’s a woman and that’s great. I love that. Janie is certainly a talented developer and a talented individual such that she could do this all by herself. I felt that giving her this opportunity to take over for me and take over as host of NSBrief will help her reach her goals a lot faster.

I’m really looking forward to working with Janie and having her be a key contributor to the community.

With that I think my time today is about up so I will say I hope to maybe interview some of you for the podcast, and thanks for listening.

Note from Ray: Did you enjoy this inspiration talk? If so, sign up to our RWDevCon newsletter to be notified when RWDevCon 2016 tickets go on sale!