They have amassed a loyal following of listeners and are considered by some to own the top youth podcast in Singapore, but Shuraim Basir and Uwais Hatta, Founders of Randomly Relatable SG, started out with the bare minimum.
Armed with just a single iPhone as their recording device and driven solely by their passion to create a platform for honest conversations, they decided to take a brave step into the relatively unknown podcasting world more than a year ago. And the rest, they say, is history. danamic. sat down recently with the two energetic youths to find out about their journey thus far.
“It all started when I attended a workshop for basic digital marketing where it was brought up that podcasting was on the rise. At that time, I wanted to rekindle my passion for production and content creation so I decided to just take the step,” shared Mr Shuraim.
Adding on, Mr Uwais mentioned: “Me and Shuraim are cousins, and I thought we should work together on a business. I also heard that if you wanted to stand out, you had to create content. My English is not that good, so blogging or writing articles were out of the question. As for making YouTube videos, we did not have the expertise and since podcasting was on the rise, I thought why not.”
Fuelled by this idea, they decided that the theme of the podcast would encompass the two 23-year-olds’ shared vision of creating a safe space for youths to simply speak their mind on anything under the sun. They wanted to create a platform where their peers and themselves could speak out and air their views without any fear of judgement.
“We wanted to encourage constructive discourse without it being like: I’m right, and you’re wrong. Certain topics are not black and white, and it’s not wrong to listen to the other side and try to understand,” commented Mr Shuraim.
Mr Uwais agreed, expressing that he also saw the podcast as an outlet for him to converse freely about various issues of his interest.
He added: “I feel very strongly about ordinary people being able to speak about ‘intelligent’ topics. I studied engineering and I come from a very normal family. When I see friends, who are studying political science or mass communications talk about history or social issues, I feel like I can’t talk about those topics as I’m not ‘smart’ enough.
“I wanted to erase this mindset and show that anyone can talk regardless of whether you are deemed to be smart. That was what I wanted to push out at the start and as we progressed, we felt that we were part of a bigger movement. We are not part of a huge organisation but we told stories of the youths, the stories of normal people that often go untold.”
And those topics that Randomly Relatable SG have explored on their podcast have been wide-ranging and thought-provoking – from heavy topics, such as the recent General Elections 2020 to light-hearted ones, like choosing a Valentine’s Day gift. Going further, their compelling roster of invited guests on their podcast, have included a former gangster, an ex-convict and even, a transgender youth.
Nonetheless, the duo maintained that speaking to unconventional and eyebrow-raising personalities was never meant to attract more listeners to their podcast. What they sought for was simply a genuine conversation, to find out more about the societally taboo or unspoken, that they themselves have always been curious about.
With the authentic conversations that Randomly Relatable SG pride themselves on, coupled with their steely resolve best depicted by their consistent production of up to four podcast episodes per week, they have seen their popularity skyrocket since its inception in May last year. Listeners must agree with the direction since they regularly rank in the Top 40 of the Singapore Spotify podcast charts and were even placed a stunning sixth at their highest so far.
Perhaps their willingness to adapt and constantly improve have also contributed to their rise. In a bid to create more diversity, they added a female member to the cast at the end of last year. Sabrina Shiraz, a 21-year-old recent Mass Communications graduate, was roped in to provide a female perspective on issues and has since brought a new dimension to their listeners.
“At first, it was just the two of us. But after we attended a podcast workshop by OKLETSGO, the number one podcast in SG, they told us that if we wanted to grow bigger, we have to get a female podcast host on our show,” shared Mr Uwais.
“What we were looking for was someone who was knowledgeable, outspoken and opinionated. She also had to be someone who had the time to do this as it really takes a lot, given that we were doing it on a voluntary basis, and we don’t really get paid.”
Mr Shuraim chimed in: “The dynamics of having three people and especially a lady, brings a different prospect as we could then reach out to more youths and not only the guys. No one else on the Spotify charts at that time had a podcast with the voice of a lady.”
And being open to change has certainly helped, as Randomly Relatable SG is now seen as the go-to podcast for many youths today. However, it was not always smooth-sailing at the start and as attested by the founding duo, they had to face a baptism of fire upon the release of their first-ever podcast episode. That seven-minute-long episode featured their opinions regarding the morality of having an abortion ban, and Mr Shuraim remembered being targeted mercilessly by netizens for voicing his support for it.
“It was insane. The amount of hate we got; it is still deep inside my head,” he recalled vividly. “We were crucified for that episode but it further fuelled my desire to create a safe space for youths to speak. If not, there will be no place for learning and education, and anyone who posted content could just get destroyed on the spot.”
Other than having to deal with the online brickbats, another challenge they faced was the constant grind of generating new content ideas.
Explained Mr Uwais: “We posted new episodes about three times a week, and it was a commitment that we wanted to stick to for at least two years. It was really hard to get the content out especially at the start when we were nobody.
“Even if we wanted to interview someone more prominent, they are not going to say yes as we had few listeners and simply no platform. So, it was just episode after episode talking about our own opinions about various issues. And at some point, we were really stressed up thinking about what else we could still talk about.”
Mr Shuraim added: “But slowly after a while, other content creators began to notice and that was what motivated us to keep going on. I feel that you will not be able to start any movement or change if there was no friction at the start. If there is friction, it means that you are doing something right.”
One key milestone that pushed them on and signalled that they were on the right path, was being invited by Tourism Malaysia to promote the country as a travel destination just three months into their podcast venture. It was a big international event where prominent media outlets and influencers from all over the world were invited to enjoy a luxurious holiday experience and promote it back home.
Randomly Relatable SG were the only Singaporean media representatives then, and given their relative inexperience, it would have been quite easy to be overawed by the occasion. Still, the duo took it in their stride and matured as they strived to focus on learning throughout the process instead.
“We took it as motivation, we weren’t down or negative about it when we compared ourselves to other media outlets or influencers. Since we were already there, we wanted to seize the opportunity to learn from the best around the world,” noted Mr Shuraim.
Added Mr Uwais: “It was nice because we saw that people could make a living doing what we were trying to do. In three months, we managed to get invited to that event, imagine what we could achieve in two years’ time.”
Other than that particularly significant media event, their efforts to eventually monetize their platform have also slowly gained momentum with more paid projects emerging in recent times, including a collaboration with the National Youth Council. But despite all the tangible things that they have accomplished thus far in a relatively short period, the podcast hosts are keeping their feet firmly on the ground, never forgetting the initial reason they began – to make an impact in the local community.
One incident that they remember fondly, was leaving a positive mark on one of their listeners, so much so that he stepped forward to thank them at an event. That listener had tuned in to their podcast episode which discussed the perpetual stigma towards private university students and was left inspired by the end of it.
“We had never met in real life but he came up to us personally at the event. He told us that he did not want to go to a local university but his parents did not seem to understand,” explained Mr Shuraim, who is a private university graduate himself. “The stories that we shared on the podcast motivated him and gave him the courage to convince his parents. And this wasn’t any other person’s story that we shared on the podcast; it was my personal story of being a private university graduate which inspired him.”
While Randomly Relatable SG has seemingly already overachieved given its humble beginnings, the group is not about to rest on its laurels and has set its sights on bigger targets in the years ahead. Their ultimate goal would be to expand beyond podcasting, and eventually set up a content creation social media agency focusing on youths.
“We would like to increase our safe space and our community of youths. Currently, we do engage other talented youths to help us in our production such as our sound engineer and videographer,” said Mr Shuraim. “To be able to commission and pay youths for their work and creativity is a nice feeling. We want to build this ecosystem where the entire company is for youths by youths.”
Added Mr Uwais: “You know how in America, they have African-American entrepreneurs who are able to empower their own community of people. We want to do the same eventually, to go full circle by empowering youths and giving back to the community who have supported us from the start.”
It is a lofty dream and their goals might seem rather distant now, but given what they have already achieved in just over a year, believers and naysayers alike should certainly keep a keen eye on this ambitious group of youthful podcasters.
They have always been the ones telling the stories of others and now it’s time for us to share their stories instead. This article is part of a brand-new series, Stories of the Storytellers, where danamic. looks into the lives of media professionals and tell their often-unheard stories. Have someone you’d like us to feature? Write in: [email protected]
Photos courtesy of Randomly Relatable SG.