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The building blocks of building in public

From my experience, many founders know that they should be building in public.

But they are blocked by the following 10 burning questions that prevent them from taking action:

  1. What does building in public actually mean?
  2. Why does it seem to work? Why is it better than traditional marketing?
  3. What are the benefits to me and why should I care?
  4. How can I get started?
  5. What social media channel should I pick?
  6. How do I decide what my niche is?
  7. What do I do if I don’t see immediate results?
  8. What if someone steals my ideas? To what extent can I openly share about my business without risking copycats or leakage of sensitive information?
  9. What does success look like? How do I know my attempt at building in public is working?
  10. How do I balance building vs building in public?

The daily practice of building in public is the single most important habit I’ve developed. It supercharged my career in tech, grew my audience by 80x, attracted high profile jobs at startups, boosted revenue and traffic for my side-projects, carried my podcast to ~40 episodes, and helped me build relationships with business icons like Gary Vee, Alexis Ohanian and more.

In today’s edition, I intend to offer clarity and answers to 4 of these questions drawing from my expertise of building in public over 4 years on Twitter.

Let’s get started with the easy part:

1. What does building in public actually mean?

Building in public is the practice of creating content, and sharing stories with openness and transparency in order to attract like-minded people and nurture those relationships on the Internet.

Here’s what Alexis Ohanian once told me on an interview:

“In the simplest form, building in public is just sharing as you go.”

To me, build in public is writing your own autobiography as a founder, creator or builder one tweet/social media post at a time.

2. Why does it seem to work? Why is it better than traditional marketing?

Because people do not want to be marketed to anymore. They do not want to be sold to. So, instead of broadcasting your offering to them like a marketer, just consistently build in public and engage in an authentic dialogue with them. Speak to them, not at them.

Building in public forces you to practice transparency and storytelling. People love stories, especially when they are unfolding literally in front of their own eyes.

3. What are the benefits to me and why should I care?

The benefits of building in public are multi-dimensional. The direct ones are:

  • increased traffic to your websites/landing pages
  • accountability (both internal and external)
  • braintrust/useful network for anytime you get stuck
  • loyal community ready when you launch any product
  • lightning-fast feedback loops
  • access to crowdsourced resources

4. How can I get started?

  • be consistent
    • share at least one update about your work daily
    • how to post consistently? Don’t think of your posts as ‘ideas’. See below:
    • be other-oriented
      • make sure your content is less “me-me-me” and more about others (feature and highlight your early customers, treat them like royalty, celebrate other startups in your niche, teach outsiders about your industry)
    • be prolific
      • share 10x more than you think you should early on (don’t let perfectionism ruin your momentum)
    • be relatable
      • share your wins and reflections on why those happened, and of course share your losses/ failed experiments and your reflections on why those happened, speak with sincerity and curiosity, less like a ‘know-it-all’
    • be vulnerable
      • don’t just hack attention, anyone can do that temporarily. Trust is permanent and long-lasting. Aim to be trustworthy by being vulnerable and openBecause trust is built on the bedrock of vulnerability

5. What social media channel should I pick?

This decision is usually overblown. My advice is to NOT shop around too much and pick a platform (whether it’s Twitter or LinkedIn or TikTok) where posting/creating new content feels like play to you.

For ex: You are perhaps a natural when it comes to photography and aesthetic, in that case, you might want to try Instagram. If you are attuned to video clips and editing quickly, you might be better off on TikTok. I loved Twitter because it felt like an exciting creative challenge to share my ideas and thoughts in a succinct way in 140 characters. That’s why I picked Twitter and never looked back.

Additionally, you can always pick one platform and stick with it, and eventually diversify. For ex: Start with Twitter and later expand to LinkedIn or TikTok etc.

6. How do I decide what my niche is?

Explore widely, then narrow down deeply into 1 or 2 niches. Here are all the niches I made content on from 2018 to 2020:

  • philosophy
  • meditation
  • Buddhism
  • productivity
  • new tools found on Product Hunt
  • startup ideas
  • online communities
  • no-code
  • building in public

However, by 2020, the data was clear that people were enjoying my no-code and building in public tweets way more than others. Plus I fell in love talking about them and sharing all my insights and experiments. So I chose those 2 niches and stuck with them for over 2 years now.

Here’s another bonus tip on niches:

7. What do I do if I don’t see immediate results?

Like with most things in life, there are no shortcuts while building in public. The external rewards can take a long time to appear. But be extremely patient and focus on what you can control. (your inputs and improvement)

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. —- — Robert Louis Stevenson

Here are a few other tips:

Virality is overrated, utility is underrated. Be helpful and specific with your content. Add value to a core (tiny) niche group of people.. that builds more credibility and unlocks sales than sheer “likes” alone.

You will learn many skills in this journey but patient consistency is the meta skill

Focus on building a content creation habit which can take time to develop

Rather than obsessing over vanity metrics, try to identify what seems to be resonating relatively well and double down on that style/topic of content

Read the room — study the top performing content on your platform to understand what nuances are helping these pieces of content to resonate widely

8. What if someone steals my ideas? To what extent can I openly share about my business without risking copycats or leakage of sensitive information?

This is inevitable because that risk always exists. But you can't control copycats. All your favorite startups attracted dupes. Google was the not the first search engine and won’t be the last. Get used to competition and focus on users.

In an abundant market, you’ll never NOT have competition, either now or in the future. The way to escape them? Be authentic and tell your unique story: (h/t Naval)

9. What does success look like? How do I know my attempt at building in public is working

Here are how most people measure their success while building in public:

number of RTs/ replies each of their tweet gets on average

number of impressions or profile visits

growth of followers

While these sound tempting, they can be a trap and can result in quick demotivation if you’re not seeing such instant results.

Here are my metrics of success while building in public: (success to me is when I see ANY of these metrics go up each week)

  • expansion of my luck surface area (which means my content attracts new leads, connections, intros, DMs who want to help me in my journey)
  • real-time answers to my pressing problems (the ability to find answers to tricky questions is golden)
  • my launches attracting decent reception/ engagement (which means more people visiting my products at launch, sharing feedback or upvoting on Product Hunt etc)
  • people talking/tweeting about my products/work in public (which is an indicator that I am remaining top of mind for others .. which is the marketing holy grail!)
  • past tweets that can be referenced for my future presentations, newsletters or workshops (which means the body of content I create has a longer shelf value)
  • number of other people I have helped/elevated. You can’t expect others to help you without giving value and offering your help first.. so I track how many other-oriented tweets/posts I make
  • quality of Twitter accounts interacting with me either publicly or in DMs (it’s not always about going viral, but success is about building bonds with those who you admire)
  • weekly visits to my landing page/ websites (apart from all the above benefits, it is also key to track how much traffic you are attracting organically just by sharing your stories)

10. How do I balance building vs building in public?

Well, this one is difficult. Without building stuff (product wise), you can’t advance your startup’s roadmap and create new features to help users. But if you’re just heads down building without sharing about your journey/building in public, you won’t build the momentum you will need to launch that next feature. So I say ideally the ratio should be 50%- 50%. Some argue this is too much or too little so find your ideal balance but make sure you aren’t overlooking anything.

That’s it! Those were my personal tips for building in public more effectively. I’ve tried to draw from my own experience and journey so far but I will the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers yet. Use these as general guidelines, not gospel. At the end of the day, the best learning occurs when you enter the area and try things yourself.