I like to call Build in Public the modern entrepreneurship.
But maybe I should start by telling you what ancient entrepreneurship looks like?
Let’s look at how most businesses were built in the past. They use a conveyor belt system.
If you were an entrepreneur back in the day, you knew what product you wanted to make to serve your customers. You designed it. You manufactured it. Then you put it in the stores to sell. Sounds pretty logical right?
It might work in the 1980s. But in the world we live in today, this can create many problems:
If you follow the old conveyor belt process, you’re pretty doomed.
Well, luckily you can now do a bunch of user research, user interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc. But … that’s only when you have the resources and a team to help you.
You’re now in the 2020s. And let me guess, if you’re reading this guide, you’re likely a solopreneur, a side hustler, or a founder with a small team.
Okay, we’re in the same boat! Without the kind of resources like in big companies, you and I have to figure out how to increase our chance of success.
And that is to Build in Public.
There’s a phrase about “killing two birds with one stone”. I call Build in Public the modern entrepreneurship because it can magically kill six birds with one stone:
Let's get into the details!
In the old days, we created a product, and then we marketed it and see if anyone would buy it. If people bought, you had a business. If people didn’t buy, you were in trouble. This was a highly risky and costly way to test an idea.
You can trust me on this because I made this mistake too many times.
The good news is we no longer have to do it this way.
When you're Building in Public, you're sharing early in the process, hopefully in the ideation phase. This way you can get a lot of initial feedback even before you spend a ton of time and money to build a product.
The feedback can enhance your understanding of your audience, validate whether your problem hypothesis is true, or even land you your first few users.
Zoe Chew is a great example of this. She is the creator of Notion TrackerSuite, which consists of 12 Notion templates and 10 Notion training videos, for professionals who want to get things done by establishing a workflow using Notion.
Did she just think of the idea of making Notion templates and go on to build it? What was her product creation process?
Zoe is always sharing her journey's ups, downs, and most importantly, how she did it with everyone. That's how I got to know about her amazing approach to building this product.
Through Building in Public, she was able to pick up solid data points about what people wanted and increased her chance of success.
When you open up yourself to getting feedback from the people around you, you’re not just involving them in the product development process, you’re also making sure your products are of the highest quality.
Why do restaurants have a soft opening first and only officially open their doors after a few months? Because they want to make sure the menu, the operations, and the services are all ready to go.
When it comes to digital products, most entrepreneurs love to jump the gun and create them based on their own understanding and knowledge. But more than 80% of the time, they’re wrong about what customers want.
So if you think about it, by taking in feedback publicly or even giving your early versions of your product to a small group of people, you are guaranteeing your success.
Instead of doing a lot of 1:1 user interviews which is time-consuming and isolates each person’s feedback, you can use a public, collective feedback approach to achieve more.
Beta readers could see feedback and comments from other beta readers and together, they give me a realistic view of what was mind-blowing and what was confusing. Here you can see the reader “Cultured Rhino” saying that this example didn’t work for her.
With all this help, I was writing a book people wanted.
The entire book writing process took me 10 months, but it was well worth it because I guaranteed my success by involving my target readers.
So far, you’ve seen the power of building in public to improve the quality of your products. But having great products is not enough, you need distribution to get them out there. How do you do it in public?
When you involve people in the product development process, they become invested in you and your products because they’ve played a part. They want to see it shaping up. They want the updates. They want to be the first group of people to tell the world.
And when you’re ready to launch, they will undoubtedly be willing to help you talk about it.
This is exactly what happened to me every time I launched a new product. Look at the retweets, replies, and likes:
I no longer have to go around begging if people can help to promote. I no longer have to buy ads to launch. I no longer have to worry about a big failed launch.
Because I’ve developed a relationship with them through the process, I just genuinely share that the product is ready and most of them are excited to jump in to help.
You don’t need to pitch them. You don’t even need to pay them.
This is what I call raving friends and fans.
If you look around your entrepreneurial friends, how many of them are sharing their journey including their struggles and failures? The answer is usually not many.
Business marketing has taught us to emphasize the amazing things we're doing and minimize anything that can destroy that perfect image.
Yes, it used to work. But as the world gets more competitive and everyone is just focusing on marketing and branding the positives, we start to lose touch with authenticity. We're unsure what's real and what is packaging anymore.
It is like when we search for things on Google and we automatically gloss over the first 3-4 results because we know they’re advertisements.
But having a personal voice is so important these days. You might scroll past an ad from a company, but you tend to pause and listen to a person sharing an update or a story. You feel so much more connected with another human being.
If you are Building in Public, then you're differentiating yourself as a unique brand that highly values trust, honesty, and transparency. Since you're not afraid to share the challenges, the hardships, and the embarrassing mistakes, you stand out from everyone else.
When I first started writing online, I came across Nat Eliason and I was hooked on his brand, his life, his mind, and of course, the writing and videos that he has created.
What's so special about this person that makes me perceive him as a role model?
All these deep stories define his brand and convince readers that he is a guy who places honesty at the forefront. He recommends things honestly. He runs his company honestly. He teaches through his content honestly.
And one day, I was reading Expert Secret written by the famous internet entrepreneur, Russell Brunson. He is basically saying that Building in Public helped him kick off his empire in the early days too.
And the best part - you also get to be the only YOU!
In business, people love to build companies with strong moats. It means they have something unique to their business models so they can protect themselves. In the past, trade secrets like Coca Cola's recipe would be a strong moat.
These days, you often hear people saying that ideas are worthless. It is true because any product ideas can be copied very quickly when someone else has more money, time, and talent.
Should you be paranoid? Maybe. But there are always ways to build strong moats in other areas, and one of the best ways is to bet on yourself.
Some moats are impossible for someone else to copy, such as culture, brand, personality, and community. And the best thing about Building in Public is that it leads you to build all these moats at once.
When you're sharing openly, you're establishing a culture for the people who work around you. You're crafting a brand and a personality either for yourself or for your company. And you're building relationships with people that become your community and audience.
These things are unique. Now your moats are strong.
A lot of people first think that Building in Public is for one project. For example, I’m Building ABC Corp in public! This is one of the biggest misconceptions.
Building in Public is actually about you - the founder of ABC Corp. You’re building up your voice to talk about ABC Corp. But if this company fails and you have to start XYZ Corp, your reputation and your people will still stay with you. They will follow or listen to YOU because they’re attached to you, not ABC Corp.
And with this, this becomes the best moat you can have that can also compound over time. It gets better and better as you invest time and effort in it.
In the old days, when you did something good, a few people physically around you would know. Hence the return on sharing was very low.
These days with the Internet, when you do something good, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people hear about it. And they could hear it within minutes or hours.
The Internet has changed the whole playing field. As an entrepreneur, when you're Building in Public, you're sharing your stories online, increasing your footprint on the web, and creating even more ideas and business opportunities for yourself.
Let's take Ali Abdaal as an example. He is a great example who creates a ton of transparent content. On top of sharing on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, he writes on his website, hosts a podcast, and sends out a newsletter. All are content, casual or serious, that live on the Internet forever.
And just like what Ali said in his video, How Much I Earned in 2020 - My Best Year Ever (I'll send you directly to 18:25-20:01), "There is a sort of luck you get when you put a lot of work into something".
With a growing audience, when you consistently put out quality work out there, you're increasing your chance for something to happen.
This is what serendipity is.
[On a side note, Ali also told us honestly why he creates these sorts of videos - not to make others feel bad, but because people want this type of content so they can replicate success! How can you handpick small impressive learnings in your own journey for a few others to learn?]
I’ve also benefited a lot from serendipity throughout my journey. About a year after this guide was first published, I received an email from the Courier magazine by Mailchimp saying that they wanted to interview me about Building in Public. Of course, I was excited to share!
And I never imagined someone would be reading it on a train ride in Germany!
After the interview, they even invited me to start writing for their columns. And I went on to share my spiky point of view on audience building, building in public, and growing an online business with more people.
Can any of this happen if I hadn’t shown my work all this time? I doubt it.
So far you’ve been told a lot of the external benefits of Building in Public, branding, moat, reaching success, etc., now you might wonder -
"What about me? How can this help me?"
Building in Public holds you accountable and helps you put out your best work. It also becomes a personal yearbook where you can look back and recognize how much value you’ve put out in the world.
As you're sharing your journey with many eyes on it, you tend to put more thought into your work because you're putting your own name on the line.
When you put out invalidated ideas and personal opinions, you're going to receive a lot of feedback from all angles. Some feedback is valuable to help you shape your work. Some feedback is distracting because people don’t have enough context.
This process trains you to have your stand while being open to feedback - and this is the most important skill as an entrepreneur. So if you want to level up faster, building in public can accelerate your development.
Before I started sharing my work in public, I was working in and co-creating multiple companies privately. When I moved on, I felt like a nobody because I couldn’t see what I’d done in all those years.
Now, I don’t have that feeling anymore.
I feel amazing because every small bit of my work is everywhere on the Internet under my name. I finally see my self-worth and that people do value my contributions to the world.
Everything you show in public becomes a piece of asset that is working in your favor.
I’ll give you a real-life example. I wanted to hire someone to help me with the search engine optimization (SEO) of this website. Instead of googling or asking around, the person I thought of was a person I’ve been following on X. She has been showing her work with other entrepreneurs - results thought process, how she is building up her SEO business, etc. She has planted a lot of seeds and trust in me.
So what’s the best part? It took me just a few hours to say yes to hire her.
This is the power of Building in Public.
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