Interview with Entrepreneur - Hala Taha - Founder of YAP Media
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Hala Taha is the host of Young and Profiting Podcast, frequently ranked as the #1 Education podcast across all apps. She is also the CEO of YAP Media, a full-service social media and podcast marketing agency for top podcasters, celebrities and CEOs. She started Young and Profiting Podcast and YAP Media as a side hustle, and now has several high profile clients and over 60 employees. We had the pleasure of interviewing her, and we talked about her entrepreneurial journey, her influences and her company's value proposition.
Hi Hala! It's great having you on the cover of our fourth Issue. We would like to start this interview by looking at your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career milestones, when and how you got into entrepreneurship?
Hala: I’m a 100% Palestinian American born and raised in New Jersey. I grew up in an upper-middle class town, and everything was going great until 9/11 happened. At that point, I stopped getting many opportunities and experienced backlash from teachers and peers.
For example, I had the best voice in school, but was denied participation in the talent show every year, and I never made any sports teams. I’m sure I had some mindset issues holding me back, too. Regardless of the reason, getting rejected over and over gave me a lot of grit and thick skin. But, when I got to college everything was different.
I went to a diverse school in Newark, NJ and finally had a fair chance to compete. I was so used to being rejected that nothing scared me. So I took many risks. This led me to being on the cheerleading team, the lead in plays, running my sorority and ultimately landing a dream internship at Hot97, which at the time was the world’s most popular hip hop radio station.
I worked at that station as an intern, and then was promoted to be Angie Martinez’s assistant on “The Angie Martinez Show.” Initially I took the internship in hopes that the DJs would play my music (I was writing and recording music at the time), but soon my dream shifted to becoming an on-air radio personality.
I dropped out of school and took a chance to follow my dreams. Even though I had a key card and was treated like an employee, I didn’t get paid for 3 years. Everyone that was in the studio area and up-and-coming didn’t get paid. I didn’t mind too much - I loved being at the station - running the Dalet boards, helping to pick music, picking up the phones, doing the research, and reading commercials that would be played on air.
I met every celebrity you could think of - Jay-Z, Drake, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, JLO. You name it. My dream was to be the next Angie Martinez, and I felt I was being primed for that role.
I gave it my all and I would make money working with the DJs at night, selling showcase tickets for underground hip hop shows, and going with them to parties. I also hosted online radio shows at the side with the rookie DJs, many of whom now have their own radio shows on Hot97. Unfortunately, my dream came crashing down when a paying role opened up to be Angie Martinez’s producer, and I was passed up for the job by a co-worker and friend of mine who worked in the video department. I was devastated, and I ended up getting fired when I spoke up about it.
I lost my identity, everyone knew me as the “it girl” from Hot97, as my whole life revolved working at the station. It was a couple of low days and then I had the idea to create “The Sorority of Hip Hop.” Out of pain came my purpose, to help other women in the entertainment industry succeed by uniting out voices together and creating a platform.
I learned how to blog and created a WordPress site over the weekend. I then recruited 14 girls within a couple weeks using Twitter and Craigslist, before enrolling
back into college to finish up my
Within 3 months my new endeavour “The Sorority of Hip Hop” was one of the most popular entertainment news websites in our niche. We started an online radio show. and the same DJs who wouldn’t pay me minimum wage were now asking me to host the hottest parties in NYC with them, and I was on the flyers with them, side by side!
Three months later, MTV caught notice and shot a little pilot for a potential reality TV show. It didn’t end up going anywhere, but we didn’t care. If anything it motivated us even more and we realized the opportunity we had created could be much bigger than we ever imagined.
Fast-foward a few years, at the height of the "Sorority of Hip Hop" we had 50 female bloggers, and Mona Scott the producer of Love and Hip Hop was trying to convince me to star in the VH1 show.
At the same time, MTV approached us again for a reality TV show. They said this time it was the real deal, so I chose MTV. I was the lead and they filmed us all summer in 2013. They got us a hooked-up studio on Broadway, they filmed us hosting a concert, on the street, with our families and n restaurants. We felt like we were superstars. We turned up the drama for the camera, and we were already catty girls to begin with. Unfortunately, MTV pulled the plug last minute. Again, another devastating and super low moment for me. I couldn’t handle the pressure of the entertainment industry. I decided to call it quits and shut down the blog.
I thought I would never get back on the mic. I thought I was done once and for all, and it’s time for me to be normal and get a regular job. I quickly realized my only path to getting a good corporate job was to go back to school and get my masters due to my non-traditional background and terrible undergraduate GPA. So to get into graduate school I begged the Director of Admissions at my alma matter to let me in their MBA program. She did, and I graduated #1 in my class with a 4.0, the only student to do so.
This gave me the credentials I needed to get a corporate job. I ended up getting an internship at HP and got promoted 4 times in four years. I quickly founded an Employee resource group called "The Young Employee Network at my office".
I coordinated the office’s first ever company picnic, Christmas party, and a handful of charity events every year. Then I was promoted to Recruitment Chair of the Global Employee network and founded a company wide weeklong event called HP Spirit Week - with over 500 people helping to plan and 150 events around the world that they still do till this day.
I was dying to be the President of the Global Young Employee Network and lead the 7,000 young employees at HP, but even though I was by far the most qualified and deserving, they gave it to someone else with no experience. Again I was rejected after all this hard work!
I was tired of the gatekeepers telling me no. I was fed up once and for all, and decided to create my own lane. I decided to start a podcast called “Young and Profiting” as a side-hustle project while working at HP and then later Disney Streaming Services.
The podcast was a way to help other young people succeed and thrive in their corporate and entrepreneurial careers. Three years later and countless early mornings and late nights— I’m one of the biggest LinkedIn influencers, graced the cover of Podcast Magazine, interviewed folks like Matthew McConaughey and mastered the ins and outs of the podcast industry.
But, I didn’t do it alone. I had volunteers for "Young and Profiting" podcast since the second episode. They were fans who reached out and believed in the movement, so I started a Slack channel and put everyone to work. Heather Monahan, who you had on the cover a few months back, inspired me to start a marketing agency when she was impressed with my processes to create content and the team of ten I had built. She became my first client and before I knew it my podcast was becoming a lead generation engine for best-selling authors, CEOs and celebrities who could all take advantage of my social media and podcast production services.
Today YAP Media has nearly 60 employees around the world and we manage digital presence for a dozen Uber successful CEOs like Kara Goldin, Heather Monahan, Jayson Waller, and Brit Morin.
How much support have you received through your entrepreneurial journey?
Hala: A lot. I seek out mentors. Many of my clients have become my mentors, such as Heather Monahan and Jayson Waller. I teach them a lot, and they teach me a lot.
Jordan Harbinger is also my mentor in the podcast space. It’s always good to learn from other people’s mistakes and take advice from people who have been where you want to go. I try to stay away from taking advice from people who aren’t in my industry. We are also just starting to recruit some awesome advisors for YAP media to help take our agency to the next level.
What key drivers do you attributed your success as an entrepreneur and podcaster to?
Hala: Being rejected so many times in life. It gave me grit and thick skin. It pushed me to take risks. Also having a positive mindset - I got into the Law of Attraction early in life, right before the Hot97 days. I am a really optimistic person.
Another big factor to my success was my father who was an extremely hard-working and generous person. He was born a poor farmer’s son in Palestine under military occupation, and left his family at 16 to lead a life of freedom and dignity.
He got a scholarship to medical school in Egypt, through a program that helped underprivileged Palestinians. He ended up going to the US for residency and becoming a surgeon. At the height of his career he was Chief of Surgery in multiple hospitals and owned a medical centre in New Jersey.
He put me and my siblings through college, and also several of my cousins in Palestine. He never was into flashy things and donated most of his money to help educate kids in Palestine. I have no excuse not to succeed - my dad risked everything to give me everything.
My dad caught COVID-19 in March of 2020. When he was in the hospital, that’s when I met Heather Monahan and first got the idea to start YAP Media. My father passed away a month later and it was one of the most traumatic experiences I have ever been through. I wasn’t allowed to visit him in the hospital due to COVID regulations, I was only allowed to talk and sing to him on zoom once a day. It was so heart breaking not to be with such a good man during the toughest part of his life, to not be able to hold his hand and tell him it would be okay.
The business gave me something I could control. I poured everything into it and decided it was now or never. I decided that I would make my father proud and become the star and CEO he always told me I would be. It’s ironic how death can become life’s biggest motivator.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start a business, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic?
Don’t spend too much time writing a business plan. I recently interviewed Marc Randolf, the Co-Founder of Netflix and he says: “You'll learn more in an hour of trying something than in six months of thinking about it or building a business plan about it.” It’s all about trying things and seeing what sticks. Don’t spend money on a website or a logo until you know you can sell whatever product or service you have. Get a few people to buy it, and then invest further after you have proven demand.
We would like to explore your business enterprise. Please tell us what is unique about the value proposition offered by Young and Profiting Podcast?
Hala: I provide actionable insight with no fluff. I do a ton of research and ask all the right questions. You will always leave learning something new and not feeling like any time was wasted.
Who is the target market of YAP Media and what is unique about its service offering to them?
Hala: We typically help CEOs, top podcasters and best-selling authors amplify their digital brand with our white glove social media and podcast production services.
We do everything for our client’s social media including branding, strategy, ghost-writing, publishing, comment engagement, and asset creation. And in terms of the podcast, our clients just show up to record and we handle the rest.
We are most known for our outstanding graphic design and videos, high performing social media content, podcast media buying and podcast research.
Podcast entrepreneurship is trending nowadays, what is your podcast’s operating business model?
Hala: We make money through a few ways: Commercials on the podcast, sponsorships, and using the podcast as a lead generation tool for my marketing and podcast production agency. My guests are typically CEOs, podcasters and best-selling Authors, which are also my ideal clients
What key challenges has YAP Media faced to date, and how have you navigated these?
Hala: Right now our key challenge is staffing. We are in such demand that we need to hire quickly. I just hired 7 interns and it’s still not enough. We have a great internship program and we traditionally only recruited internally, but now we have to recruit externally to keep up with demand. I’m a little nervous to do that because the interns go through intense training. To attract the best talent we also need to figure out benefits and packages. So that’s the big thing we need to tackle next.
Our last question before we conclude the interview is a politically sensitive one, but you don’t have to answer it. In the media you’ve been called “The Podcasting Palestinian Princess”. What is your opinion on the ongoing Palestinian - Israeli conflict?
Hala: It is not a political issue at all, It is a human right’s issue. I have seen the apartheid with my own eyes. These past few months have been extremely tough on me and brings up a lot of bad memories. The apartheid activities in Israel have been reported by all the major human rights organizations as well as confirmed by multiple Israeli ambassadors. I am anti-racist, I am pro-humanity; all Palestinians want is to live a life of dignity and freedom.
My father built a house in the West Bank of Palestine, which is currently occupied by Israel. We would visit almost every summer. Personally, I remember going to Palestine and having to drive on separate roads, and how a 45-min trip would end up taking half-a-day due to being stopped and interrogated at checkpoints.
I remember having to ration water since we were only allowed 1/10th the amount of an Israeli family per day. I remember my late father and my mother always being interrogated in the Tel Aviv airport because of their Palestinian descent. In hopes we would think twice to come back. I remember our house windows being broken by Israeli soldiers for no reason.
I remember getting a call when I was 15 years old that my grandfather had died because he was stuck at a checkpoint and couldn’t get to the hospital in time. I remember nearly dying at a checkpoint when our van almost fell off a cliff. The soldiers kept telling us to move but there was nowhere to go. The wheels went off the cliff, we had to move everyone and all our luggage to one side of the van so we wouldn’t tip over.
I remember my cousin got shot in the arm just walking to school. I remember never being allowed to go to Jerusalem with my cousins or my grandmother because they didn’t have passports and Palestinians are not allowed to step foot in Jerusalem without permission, even though we were 15 mins away from the holy city. This is what Palestine is like for me, and as a US citizen from the West Bank, I actually have it “easy”.
Gaza, another Palestinian territory, is way worse and is essentially considered an open-air prison. They are the descendants of the 700,000 people driven out of their homes in 1948 during the Nabka (Arabic for “the catastrophe”) where thousands of people were massacred and forced to flee their homes. There is a saying that “they took it fully furnished.” Meaning, they stole our homes and kept all the furniture, too. This Nabka continues to happen every single day as homes are demolished, land is stolen, trees are burned down, and international laws are broken time and time again. These terrible things are unfortunately happening all the time, not just when Palestine is a “trending topic” on social media.
The people in Gaza are trapped behind an illegal apartheid wall, twice as high as the Berlin wall, that separates them from Israel. They are not allowed to travel or leave. They are not allowed to fish or use their sea. They are essentially left there to rot and die, and are frequently attacked and murdered by one of the strongest militaries in the world which is allegedly funded by the United States. Palestinians are not allowed to have army or police to protect themselves.
What is happening in the region is inhumane, and it is wrong. I really encourage everyone to get educated on the topic, because there are so many lies and false narratives spreading. People use fear and power to silence the truth, trying to confuse the narrative by making it seem like this is a complex, historical and religious issue, it is not.
This is a simple issue that is just 73 years old. There are grandmas with keys to their houses waiting to go back home. This is apartheid, this is a human rights issue, and anyone who says otherwise is likely benefiting from the apartheid in some way or has not educated themselves on the topic.
We have come to the end of this interview and would like to thank you for taking the time out to complete this Q&A session.
Hala: Thank you