How You Build in Public

If you’re new to the term "Building in Public", your first impression might be sharing a lot on social media to get people's attention and becoming successful.

The short answer to that is yes. 

But there is a lot of context missing. For example, why do you want their attention? What do you share? What does successful mean?

If "Building in Public" is as much a strategy as a mindset, then you should be highly intentional about what you put out there on social media.

Here are the 5 steps to help you navigate it:

1. Be clear on your goal

I call this your Build in Public North Star.

Too many people find out Building in Public has so many benefits and start posting all sorts of updates on their social media. Then they find out … no one cares about what they say. How can you avoid this?

For that, you can look at the few common goals for Building in Public:

  • To establish a brand, an identity, a thought leadership
  • To establish friendships and a support group
  • To drive traffic to your projects
  • To connect with your target audience and collect feedback
  • To launch a product with momentum and superfans

There are goals that are more big picture, like establishing a personal brand, that will be hard to measure. There are goals that are about finding camaraderie because entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. And there are goals that are more quantitative, like how many people you can convert to land on your product website.

Now, you want to take some time to think about the ultimate reason why you want to do this. Remember, stay true to yourself.

When you're ready, read on.

Your goal determines what you share & how you share

Set your goals first when you're going to build in public.

Set your goals first when you're going to build in public.

2. Share these stories first

If you’re new to Building in Public, the easiest way to get started is The Daily Question.

This is a question I ask all my students to ask themselves every day:

“What did you learn today that another person would find useful?”

This question is great because it first asks you to reflect on your own journey and learning and then it asks you to look from a 3rd person’s lens.

If you challenge yourself this way, you’ll be pulling out only the stories that are worth sharing with the public.

But this can be hard if you’re only starting out, so here are a list of 6 storytelling angles to give you inspiration:

  1. How you made certain decisions
  2. Learnings from failures
  3. Product analytics
  4. Learning in public
  5. Product development
  6. Getting personal

A. Decision making

This type works well because the best way for others to learn from you is to go inside your head. If you've made critical decisions for your products, you can write out your thought process, what happened, what you regretted, what you learned, and how you're going to move forward. The deeper you get, the more learnings for others.

Sahil shares his Gumroad story from aiming to be a billion-dollar company to now a lifestyle business.
Sahil reflected on his initial desire to build a unicorn company.

Sahil is the founder of Gumroad, a platform that allows creators to monetize their products by selling directly to consumers. It was a VC-backed startup and he couldn't make it grow fast enough to raise more funding, he then turned it into a lifestyle business that is profitable, and more importantly, exciting to work on.

This is an amazing story because so many founders dream of building billion-dollar companies, and Sahil is sharing with us that there are other ways to be successful. Also, the story to let go of everyone on his team and then rebuild it was intriguing to read.

Arvid has a thorough thought process documented in his Bootstrapped Founder newsletter.
Arvid's newsletter is resourceful with his detailed thought process.

Arvid sold his bootstrapped business, FeedbackPanda, and put all his learning into his book, Zero to Sold. He is now building another SaaS product, permanentlink.

This newsletter is worth checking out as Arvid walked us through his entire thought process in approaching pricing for his new SaaS product. His newsletter documents his thoughts in building his latest venture, permanentlink. It is so thorough that each newsletter feels like a lesson in an intensive bootcamp, with lots of insights that provoke your thoughts about your own product.

B. Learnings from failures

Failure stories are not shared enough because it depicts vulnerability. But if you can get over the image and feeling about it, failure stories are a good source of learning for others. You'll realize that the people who are okay with showing their vulnerability are the ones others want to interact with.

Damon is the founder of Testimonial. He started his indie journey since the Covid-19 lockdown and has created several products. The first 3 failed with $0 revenue, 4th product got $1.99, and for the 5th product, he made $3,025 in the first 10 days after launch.

If you just look at his 5th product, you'll think he is a genius making so much money in 10 days. What people call: overnight success!

And Damon was honest about the truth that the success from his 5th product was only possible because of the failure he had for the first 4.

C. Product analytics

This type is the hardest when it comes to overcoming the fear of sharing. It directly tells everyone how well your product is doing, and most of the time since you're just starting out, you're embarrassed if your product is moving slowly or not growing.

Since it is the hardest to share, when you do, it is also the most respected.

When everyone knows how much you're charging and making, you're telling them you're extremely honest about how you do things. It is your culture and DNA.

When you share analytics, you'll gain a lot of followers who are cheering for you because of your openness.

You don't have to share analytics when you first start out as the numbers would look pretty daunting. Once you have a sizable number, then you can start sharing with your audience.

Janel runs NewsletterOS, a Notion system that helps creators write and grow their newsletters. She is very open about her statistics on followers, subscribers, and revenue. She is appreciative and genuine about the support she gets in building this product. The result is that she has 4,400 followers in 2 months.

BannerBear is a great example of Open Startup that publicly displays all its important SaaS metrics.
Impressive dashboard showcasing key SaaS metrics.

Yongfook is the founder of BannerBear and he has this open dashboard that shows his number of paid subscribers, monthly recurring revenue, annual run rate, and more. He is not shy about the public knowing everything about his startup, and a lot of people are cheering for him!

Download Build in Public Guide Cheat Sheet

This is a 2-page checklist summarizing all action points in this guide.

D. Learning in public

If your goal is to make friendships on the Internet, then this type suits you. You're picking up new skills and you're sharing the learning progress with others.

Felix has developed multiple products, the latest being VenturesList. He absolutely loves to learn in public. Every year, he sets a theme to pick up a new skill. He shares his progress publicly on Twitter frequently. This is true dedication.

Through learning in public, he has curated a community around him and everyone supports each other.

If you want to deep dive into Learning in Public, you can watch this in-depth video breaking down the 4 steps for you.

E. Product development

When you're building a product, even if you've validated you're solving the right problem, it can be challenging to know which upcoming feature has the highest impact on your users.

By sharing initial thoughts and designs of what you're planning to work on, you can get validation before you spend time building it. This not only makes sure you work on the right things, you also save yourself a ton of time.

Jannis was building Tools for Creators and working on showing the pricing of different tools. He wasn't exactly sure if it was clear to end users so he asked for feedback and suggestions publicly.

If you take a look at the replies to this tweet, you can see a fair share of constructive feedback. This helped Jannis make the right decision.

I also love asking for help in public.

This way I could rely on the brilliant brains of the community around me. If you click this following tweet and scroll up, you'll see how I had an amazing conversation with Hans van Gent, founder of Evergreen Content Poster, in public! This is the power of having an engaged audience on social media.

Not only did we become friends after this public chat, other people could also see how much value Hans can add and want to follow him.

F. Personal updates

The last type on this list is also the most personal one - showcase yourself and your own life!

The web has become insanely crowded and if you want someone else to take precious time to learn about you, you have to be interesting.

Now, the definition of interesting is vague. You can be humorous, you can be mean, you can be friendly, you can be judgemental. You want to be interesting in your own ways so that you are interesting to a specific group of audience.

And to do that, showing character and sharing a little bit of your personal life help you craft an impression.

How personal you want to get is also up to you, and never feel pressured to go beyond your boundary. Some entrepreneurs like to share their family stories, and some prefer to only share photos of where they are.

Basak started Apparent to help parents raise children and be less stressed. She shared her new book display with a nice plant. Now we all know that Basak has a good taste in interior design and loves to read, one step closer to knowing her.

These are just some examples. In fact, there are hundreds of angles you can talk about your work.

I have a popular action pack with 30 prompts to help you get started.

3. Show, don't tell

Now you have loads of ideas on what you can write about. When it comes to sharing and storytelling, the golden rule is "to show, don't tell".

If you pay close attention to the certain types of storytelling that can generate above and beyond resonation with readers, they tend to be stories about 1) what happened in the past and 2) someone actually did something.

Stories in the past are more powerful because the writer lived through it, made some mistakes, reflected, and wrote the piece to share. As readers, we know that we can trust the stories because it is more likely we also experience it.

And why we're drawn to reading about actual happenings more than opinions is because we can feel that there are blood, sweat, and tears in the story. We're good at identifying effort. It isn't a story that someone just sits down in front of a laptop and creates it in an hour.

So if you cannot think of what to share, the hint is to stop thinking and start building. After all, it is "Building in Public", not "Thinking in Public".

When you're actively engaged in working on something, lots of thoughts and ideas will come out, and you'll find good materials to share.

4. Always do a project

If you love the Build in Public strategy but don’t have a way to implement, then you can consider creating a mini project.

When I first started, I didn’t know what I was supposed to talk about and I didn’t have a business or product or even project. And so I created my own mini project by writing this guide.

The reason why a mini project is better than purely “learning in public” is because people are drawn towards things that are:

  • Tangibles - I can see what you’re doing
  • Have an objective and roadmap - I can see where you’re going
  • Have a finish line - I want to see what happens

And the project doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as mini as a short guide, a Notion page, a 10-page PDF, a website, a physical journal notebook, etc. Anything that fulfills the 3 criteria above (tangible, objective & roadmap, and finish date) is a good starting point for you.

5. Play the long game

If you want an honest comment on how this will turn out, here it is:

The beginning of "Building in Public", like everything, is going to be tough.

It is likely to take months before there is any sign of progress. It is highly likely you'll want to give up because you don't see instant results and you feel like you are talking to yourself the entire time. It is also highly likely it doesn't help with your business, product, or project.

How long will it take? It is hard to say.

Some entrepreneurs who have the right frameworks and are good at experimenting, measuring, and improving can achieve results in 2 months.

Some entrepreneurs who blindly do it without reviewing their own strategy can achieve minimal results in 2 years.

For me, when I first shared about this guide, I was getting only 4 or 7 likes per tweet. It was frustrating! But as I kept sharing and interacting with anyone who came into my world, my following grew steadily.

Don’t expect explosive growth. Starting with the wrong expectation is setting yourself up for failure.

Next: Where You Build in Public

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