To build in public — the catchphrase that has captivated the tech and entrepreneurship world. A method where a startup’s journey is no longer confined to the four walls of an office or a Slack channel. Instead, it’s tweeted, blogged and even podcasted to thousands or perhaps millions of followers.
Sounds a little scary, right? So why do some businesses expose practically every detail about their earnings, operations and plans? Well, the short answer is transparency-fueled audience growth, leading to a quickened position of industry authority.
But there’s more to the equation than just that. As you might imagine, there are a handful of drawbacks to it as well.
In this post, we’ll break down all there is to know about building in public and if it could be a good idea for your business.
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What Does It Even Mean to Build in Public?
For those still scratching their heads, building in public is the practice of transparently sharing the inner workings of your business journey. Imagine revealing your Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR), product releases or even how many daily active users you have. In the past, you might have seen similar tactics in the form of monthly income reports on blogs or podcasts.
Sounds quite audacious, doesn’t it? However, building in public comes with its set of pros and cons, and it’s essential to analyze both sides of the coin. To put it another way, think of building in public as lifting the veil on the backstage of your business.
You’re showing the good, the bad and sometimes the downright ugly (as in all your business mistakes), all in the name of transparency and engagement. It’s not just a modern-day version of the “under construction” website page; it’s a dynamic dialogue between you and your audience that can shape your product, improve your services, and even help you navigate challenges in real-time.
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Building a Loyal Community
If you’re a budding entrepreneur or at the helm of an early-stage startup, going public with your journey could be your secret weapon. Imagine each of your social media updates as a new episode in an ongoing docu-series about your venture. From lightbulb ideas to face-palm fiascos, you’re making your brand relatable and real. Your audience isn’t just idly watching, they’re invested and may well become future customers.
In instances like these, public building serves a dual purpose: it’s both motivational and instructional. You’re not merely drawing attention to your accomplishments. You’re also offering a roadmap for others to follow. So, you’re essentially saying, “Hey, not only is this journey fascinating, but you could embark on it too!”
The takeaway: When you build in public, you turn your startup journey into an interactive narrative, serving the twin goals of humanizing your brand and educating your audience. When this happens, you not only captivate your followers but also create a community of potential customers invested in your success.
Inviting Unwanted Competition
Let’s say you’ve grown your startup to a certain extent — life’s good, you’ve got a healthy community around your brand, and revenue is flowing in like a well-oiled machine. So, should you continue to build in public? That’s where the waters get murky.
The more details you share, the more you expose your playbook to the world. And let’s be real — no matter how niche your business is, competitors are lurking in the shadows. While it’s flattering to think only 1% might act on your shared insights, even that fraction could spell disaster when you’re talking about an audience in the six or seven figures.
Take, for example, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. He was notorious for his income reports but chose to stop because, in his words, it became hard for people to relate to his journey once he hit a particular scale.
Another noteworthy mention is John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs On Fire, who continues to publish his income reports. Though he has succeeded in building a large audience, his numbers have shown that scaling while building in public may plateau your growth:
The takeaway: The choice to continue building in public as your startup scales is fraught with complexity. While transparency can humanize your brand and engage your community, oversharing your “secret sauce” risks attracting competitors and could stall growth.
Think about how much you’re revealing before you reveal it, as it could be the key to equipping your competition to rob you of your success.
The Middle Ground: Building in Public Wisely
If building in public is the magic pill for initial growth, think of strategic silence as the multivitamin for sustainable success. You don’t have to abandon your audience once you scale. Instead, adapt your strategy.
Tim Sykes, a renowned stock trader, faced a similar dilemma when his increasing income made it hard for his audience to relate to him. So, what did he do? He began a new side journey, starting with just $1,000 to show how he could generate a high ROI from that small amount:
He managed to keep the audience engaged without giving away trade secrets that could risk his core business.
The takeaway: Achieving the right balance between building in public and strategic silence is crucial for long-term success. You can keep your audience engaged and invested without giving away the farm by adapting your strategy as you scale.
To Build or Not to Build in Public—Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, building in public is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. In the early stages, it can serve as rocket fuel for growth, creating a community that’s invested in your journey. But as you scale, you may need to recalibrate and find the balance that protects your competitive advantage without alienating your audience.
So, the next time you’re tempted to share that juicy bit of info about your company, weigh the risks and rewards. Ask yourself, “Will this propel my community, or am I inadvertently rolling out the red carpet for my competitors?”
Remember, it’s not just about building in public, it’s about building wisely.
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