Armanee Doyle transformed an idea that started on a road trip into Ice Cream Social Network – a conglomerate of strategically curated podcasts. It originally started as a single podcast covering sports and entertainment, hosted by founder and leader Armanee, Jordan Haskins and Justin Peace. It’s now more than that, with four different podcasts that all fall under the guidance and branding of the network.
Before starting our interview, Armanee dropped a bomb on the rest of the ICSN team. He shows them what’s on his iPhone screen – the NBA Allstar Weekend sponsorship list, with Ice Cream Social Network smack dab in the middle. He says, “That was done in February” – as if the year’s worth of connecting and creating content had come as easy as the click of a button.
The commentary that ensued perfectly illustrates the dynamic of the group, including a healthy mix of pure excitement and confidence. While the team worked hard for their accomplishments, and understand that they earned these experiences, they’re still just as grateful to be on the playing field as they were when they first started.
The confidence didn’t come easy. Armanee reflects, “The first ten episodes of the podcast were just me recording by myself and there were only like 10 listeners per episode. I took it personally because I’m friends with more than 10 people!” Despite his discouragement, and eventually a full six month break from creating, Armanee regrouped and rebranded, this time with a full team of functional experts ready to strategically take over the media industry. The partnership with iHeart Media is an added bonus.
Keep reading to learn more about the start of the Ice Cream Social podcast, its transition to a full network of creative media outlets and how to monetize your creative venture.
This interview has been lightly revised for clarity and brevity.
The Podcast’s Start
Tell me more about the start of the brand.
Armanee: My passion has always been entertainment, media, sports and things of that nature. Drake Wise [fellow North Central High School alumnus] had an entertainment website and he asked me to be a part of it as a blogger. I wasn’t into writing, but I knew I could talk about it.
One night I was driving on my way to Indy on the phone with my sister, telling her how I needed a name for it. We went back and forth about 40 times with different ideas until finally she said, “I have to go, I’m headed to this ice cream social.” Stop right there. That was it.
We went back and forth about 40 times with different ideas until finally she said, “I have to go, I’m headed to this ice cream social.” Stop right there. That was it.Armanee
I was living in Detroit at the time and I immediately started recording in my bedroom, just using my laptop and a clip-on microphone. Once I moved to Chicago, I asked Jordan to come on the show as an intern. After I asked Jordan to come full time and run shit with me, he told me his roommate Justin wanted to be a part of it. We just started going crazy.
What exactly were an “intern’s” responsibilities on the show?
Jordan: I wanted to get into the entertainment industry regardless. I saw his work and I was open to do anything I could to help. From there, it became a natural relationship on both sides.
Armanee: At first, Justin was helping with taking pictures during the episodes to bring a visual aspect. Having these two helped keep the presence alive. It’s difficult to have a podcast by yourself just recording, but additional people helped come up with content and help with audio.
It didn’t get boring recording by yourself? I’m not sure I could talk to myself for hours straight! [Laughs.]
Armanee: Season 1, Episodes 1 through 10 were so weird… and there were only like 10 listeners so I was literally talking to myself. [Laughs.]
To just start out, that’s still impressive! At least you had listeners at all.
Armanee: Well, I took it personally because I know more than 10 people! I’m thinking if my homies are listening that should be at least 20-25 people… I got a bit discouraged and took a six month break from it just to generate new ideas and more creative content.
Totally understand that sentiment. It can sometimes feel like strangers show the most love, until you get to a point where there’s something strong to stand behind.
Armanee: Totally. People will say, “I see you working on your little project… or little blog… or little podcast…” [Laughs.] Which is cool! Just keep that same energy.
Do you remember a specific moment where you immediately developed confidence in what you’re doing? A time where you knew you had something special?
Armanee: Honestly, the Lavar Ball moment.
I was talking to the Marketing Director for Big Baller Brand as they were preparing for the JBA All-Star Weekend. I kid you not, I was leaving to go out of town and she called me like, “we’re here and we want Ice Cream Social to do the media coverage.” I called Jordan and Justin and they were there! This was when Justin was still an intern.
Justin: It was my first time interviewing anyone.
Armanee: Yeah, so the first person he interviewed was Lamelo Ball.
Armanee: The fact that we could interview Lamelo and Lavar Ball and be behind the scenes with all these people, that’s when I knew we were onto something special.
How difficult is it to emerge in the media space as a podcast?
Justin: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, but it’s definitely competitive. Everyone has a podcast now, but most times they only focus on one specific subject. Armanee did a great job of making our subject matter as general as possible so it could reach more people.
Jordan: And we’re adding video now, too. That was one of our first times videotaping someone we interviewed. That aspect brought in a visual appeal so there’s a connection between who’s behind the voice. Now, we have a voice and a presence.
Now, we have a voice and a presence.Jordan
Are all episodes recorded now?
Armanee: Our video segment is called Real or Spam. Shout out to our videographer Jordan Johnson. He’s been with us since our very first recording session.
Do you notice a growth in listeners or viewers now that you have the visual aspect?
Jordan: As a unit, we’re working on our visual appeal. But, our listeners are steady and social media engagement is booming.
Justin: Definitely! The video and photos are contributing to our social media as a whole. I remember when we first started with Ice Cream Social on Instagram, we were at around 1600 followers. We’ve earned over 1000 new followers in only 3-4 months!
[As of March, the Ice Cream Social Network Instagram page is at 3,400+ followers.]
We’ve only added the video in the last month and a half. People can now see the fun behind the podcast – our facial expressions, our relationships – and it adds to the experience.
It makes a major difference. Even coming in here and seeing the way you interact before we started the interview gets me excited. When business partners are genuinely into each other and have a real friendship, it can make a difference in the creative product!
Armanee: I give credit to these two, but also Ajay and Lawrence. It’s the five of us all on the team who share ideas and handle the day-to-day. Just two days ago, Justin called me at midnight with an idea. 10 minutes ago, Lawrence hit the group chat to see if we had tried a new idea. Ajay is in India right at this moment finding a distribution warehouse for merchandise. Everybody is contributing in a different area of the business.
Is the current Ice Cream Social Network consistent with the vision that [Armanee] had in the very beginning?
Armanee: There was no vision at the beginning. I was miserable working at my job, and I just needed an outlet where I could speak freely. Eventually, it naturally grew into what it is now.
How does the dynamic work outside of what you do for your 9-5?
Armanee: It’s great now that we’ve established a schedule and a system for how things are going to work. We used to record on random days and episodes would just randomly pop up. One time, we recorded like 5 episodes a week!
Jordan: Exhausting! After your 9-5, you have like 4 more hours. That’s a 12 hour day.
A second job!
Justin: But, everyone enjoys it! We keep the energy flowing and get excited because at the end of the day, this is something we’ve all contributed to. We want it to be the best it can be and that takes time and energy. We have a say in this and nobody can take that away from us.
We have a say in this and nobody can take that away from us.Justin
That makes total sense… but boy, the pressure! [Laughs.]
Armanee: There is that aspect of it! [Laughs.] But I would say, it helps to have people that care. We don’t want to see each other fail.
Jordan: We’re all in this together, so there is no failing. It’s cool seeing my friends collaborate towards one vision because at the end of the day, I’d never want to see any of them fall down further than I would. They’re going through the same motions that I am so I constantly have a support system.
Jordan cares, you guys.
Armanee fake sniffles.
Transition to a Full Network
Tell me about the transition from being just a podcast to a full network including other podcasters.
Armanee: One night, I was talking to our Chief Operating Officer Lawrence and he suggested that the podcast could be so much bigger than its current state. I had pondered the idea of a podcast network before, but it really came to fruition when we put out two polls for podcast and blog submissions. I kid you not, within the first 3 hours we received over 15 podcasts and we had to shut it down. It takes a ton of time to interview people, put them through the system and make sure we’re being compliant with contracts. With the bloggers, we had over 25 in 3 hours.
Okay but why didn’t I get the memo to be a part of the ICSN blogging team?
Armanee: We put it out there… Go to icecreamsocialnetwork.com! [Laughs.]
Seriously, it says a lot about the brand that you’ve built that this many people are willing to risk their own creations to become a part of your team.
Armanee: The most surreal moment I had was talking to a guy who was pitching his podcast idea. I told him to shoot us a link once he got it recorded and collectively we’d take a look at it. He said, “Praise break! I thank the lord and I thank you!” Before he sent the message, he’d prayed on it and was so grateful that we’d even responded. That is crazy. It’s validation!
People care about what you think so much, that they’re happy for even a simple response. That’s amazing.
Armanee: If only they knew what I was doing for my 9-5! [Laughs.]
Justin: One of the biggest things about becoming a network is that you’re not looking at just yourself anymore. We want all the other podcasters to get to a point where they’re happy and working towards their goals.
I love it. How many podcasters do you currently have on the network?
Monetizing Your Creative Venture
What’s the perk of being a part of the network?
Armanee: There’s two main aspects. First is publicity, as far as being exposed to a global audience. The last time I looked, we’re in 41 countries. Advertising and monetization. Once you do your passion for so long, you want to be compensated. Providing that for people is huge.
So how did you guys monetize your own podcast to begin with? Without giving away too much free game. [Laughs.]
Armanee: Merchandise and advertisements were the main two streams of income. We took a break from both to restructure the show and re-do our merch. My man right here [Jordan] just dropped a crazy design in our group message!
Let me see! [I can merch (see what I did there) that it’s hard.]
Jordan: One of my buddies is really great with graphic illustrations, so we collaborated to create this. It’s all in-house, which is awesome.
Love it! Are you guys doing a pop-up in-person or mostly online?
Justin: We’re considering all of the above! It’s just about coordinating and making the best decisions for where we are right now.
Jordan: Yes, exactly. I’m exploring the marketplace now, but that will all come once we’ve established the network and have it where we want it to be.
You guys seem really strategic in everything that you do. How do you balance that with executing in such a fast-paced environment?
Justin: That kind of falls into the role that I took as the Chief Information Officer. We try to be as strategic as we can as far as having the right information. We also try to be nimble and quick-moving when it comes to anything social media related. Whether it’s on Instagram – being more informal and going Live to show behind-the-scenes of our recording sessions – or on LinkedIn as thought leaders.
That’s awesome. Where do you see the network growing from where it is today?
Jordan: I see us providing content across many different media sources. You see Barstool Sports and other huge entertainment networks who have a plethora of services they provide, from music to merch, audio and visual. That’s what we want to entail. We’ll be a one stop shop for everything that’s culture and entertainment for our audience and audiences abroad. That’s why we bring in other podcasts, so we can diversify what we offer. You can come to Ice Cream Social Network for sports, politics, fashion, anything.
Justin: You don’t have to look outside the network to have your demands met! We just want to put out the best content possible.
Jordan: That’s the diligence that Armanee puts into the interview process. He validates everybody that comes in to be sure that we’re still upholding the quality standard that we set for ourselves.
Sounds like a lot of pressure, Armanee.
Armanee: It is! At the end of the day, I can see the vision going in two different directions. One is being on that bad boy right there [the TV] where you can flip to your ICSN channel. The other is more in the way that the world is trending, with an app that you can use to listen, view or read our content.
I love it. Totally on-demand. Just wondering, do you guys listen to yourselves?
Armanee: I try not to.
Justin: Same here! I’ll just overthink and point out things that I should’ve done differently. I want it to all be natural.
The Guys Provide Podcast Recommendations
Okay, you guys have mentioned so many media sources and podcasts – what are your favorites that live outside of the Ice Cream Social Network?
Armanee: My man Bomani Jones. He’s a sports analyst on ESPN. I also listen to Barstool Sports. The Minority Trailblazer Podcast is great – this guy talks to entrepreneurs and business owners. He’s the only podcaster I listen to on the daily. Literally just for people making money moves.
If you listen to it enough, you’re more likely do it yourself! What about you guys?
Justin: I like watching interviews or reading articles on LinkedIn, anything that has to do with business. I love watching J. Cole’s interviews because he’s really strategic in everything that he does. He plans out everything – from titling songs to producing the music. It’s super intriguing for me to learn more about the person behind the mic.
Jordan: I like to listen to podcasts that strengthen the skills that I’m not that great in. Most of mine are money related as far as saving and building wealth. Freakonomics and Dissect are two good ones. Dissect goes into albums and dissects each line to tell you what it means.
The Three Words
Here’s the final question – describe Ice Cream Social Network in three words. And no copying.
Jordan: I would say personalized, experience, trend-setting.
Justin: Cultivating, astronomical…
Astronomical? You’re just making up stuff now.
Jordan: Yep, sure is.
Justin: Astronomical because I think we can take this brand to an entirely new level. Lastly, I’d say reliable.
Armanee: I would say creative, energetic and captivating.