How Do You Build in Public?

CHAPTER 4

For a creator who is new to the term "Building in Public", the first impression is usually about sharing a lot on social media to get people's attention, then become successful.

In the most simplified version, yes. But there is a lot of context missing here. 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 creators should be highly intentional before opening up their Twitter page and clicking on the big sweet "Tweet" button.

Here are the 4 steps:

  1. Set your goals, define the Why.
  2. Understand the types of storytelling
  3. Show, don't tell
  4. Have patience

1. Set your goals: why Build in Public?

Your time is limited, so you must work on the things that are most impactful to your projects. And this is why it is important to ask yourself: why do you want to Build in Public?

If your answer is "It's cool", please stop reading and revisit Chapter 3.

There are a few common goals:

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, let's 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 how you share

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

2. Understand the types of storytelling you can do

A) How you made certain decisions

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, 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. First 3 failed with $0 revenue, 4th product he 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 slow 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!

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.

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.

Jose is the founder of Startup Builder, a series of guided Notion templates for validating and building a startup. He shared some of his product updates via tweets, and that includes upgrades to his landing page, nurturing funnel etc. Hence, his existing customers and potential customers get an instant view in how the product is developing. When it is time to make the purchase decision, they wouldn't have to second guess.

F) Getting personal

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 creators like to share their family stories, and some prefer to only share photos of where they're.

Basak started Apparent to help parents raise children and be less stressful. 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.

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 is 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. Have patience

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

The beginning of "Building in Public", like everything, is super hard.

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

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

Some creators who are good at experimenting, measuring, and improving can achieve results in 2 months. Some creators who blindly do it without reviewing their own strategy can achieve minimal results in 2 years.

Next Chapter

↳ What Channels & Formats Should I Build in Public On?