Building in Public: Oversharing

Reading Time: 7 minutes

There is an inflection point in many SaaS founders’ Build in Public journey: around $25.000 monthly recurring revenue, founders who have previously been very vocal about their revenue numbers stop sharing them.

Why is this? What makes successful founders retreat into secrecy?

It’s oversharing, and it’s one of the most hard-to-balance activities when it comes to building a business in public. And it doesn’t just happen with MRR figures.

Oversharing takes many shapes, and it’s worth exploring the act itself and its consequences.

What is Oversharing?

In essence, oversharing is the act of sharing either too much or the wrong content — or both. You’re oversharing whenever you share something that isn’t creating mutual benefit for you and your audience.

There are three distinct kinds of oversharing.

The Saturated Feed. You will establish a very narrow brand if all you talk about is one thing and nothing else. People will know you for just this one particular thing, and this will satisfy them in the short term. But over time, people change, and so will their expectations. If your content doesn’t allow them to find what they’re interested in, they will reach a level of over-saturation and abandon your brand.

The Audience-Message Disconnect. From an intent-centric point of view, it’s a mismatch between what you think is interesting and what your audience expects you to share. This kind of oversharing is perceived by your audience, resulting in a disconnect between your messaging and its intended receiver.

The Self-Sabotage Share. If you look at oversharing through a consequentialist lens, sharing something that doesn’t further your goals but rather comes back to bite you is also oversharing. This hurts you as the founder of the business because the recipients of your messages use it against you.

But not all oversharing is necessarily bad. In fact, some oversharing might be needed to build a recognizable brand.

Opportunities of Oversharing

Just because there is risk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share surprising things. Building in Public is interesting because it exposes your audience to things they were not aware of. Your followers want to know more about you than they already do. They follow you for new and exciting things, not the same old classics.

The problems start when the “new and exciting” things are neither new nor exciting for your audience. Hobbies are the usual suspect here. No matter how much you love to bake on the weekends, it’s not a great idea to share cake pictures with your entrepreneurial audience more often than you share insights on building a business.

Let’s stick with the baking example for a bit. A recipe every now and then is fine. A picture of your latest cake experiment is probably quite appreciated by your followers: it shows that you’re a person, not just a persona. Your quirky hobbies make you more relatable, and people want to relate to the entrepreneurs they’re following. But treat your hobby posts just like the icing on the cake: don’t drown people in it. Leave plenty of room for substance.

That’s the central opportunity of sharing a bit more than “the usual stuff:” build human-to-human relationships that are based on your unique set of interests and skills, both as a professional and an amateur. Get people excited for you as a full human being with flaws and imperfections, and then show them how you still overcome the challenges and tribulations of building your business.

Risks of Oversharing

It’s the dose that makes the poison. If you tip the balance of your content away from your professional expertise, you risk losing the focused attention of your audience. When you notice that people get confused by your content, try reverting to a more streamlined menu. Don’t give up the little surprises, but make sure they are outnumbered by the topics that your followers follow you for.

The same goes for sharing the same kind of content without mixing it up.

People’s expectations are not set in stone. They change over time, and everyone’s preferences are unique. If you want to serve a lot of followers, they all will need to find something in your content that satisfies their particular expectations. You will need to find the Goldilocks Zone of your audience: not too much variation (which confuses your followers), not too little variation (which saturates your followers), but just the right amount.

I personally try to keep ~80% of my messaging on topic — which in my case is entrepreneurship, building in public, and being a kind, supportive person. The other 20% of my content can be extremely random but will always be something meaningful to me. It can be anything, from hobbies to hot takes about a TV show I like. As long as it allows my audience to see me as a full and genuine human being, it will work. But I will make sure it doesn’t overpower my educational content — because that is why people follow me in the first place.

So far, we talked about saturation and perception-based oversharing — the Audience-Messaging Disconnect. But there is a real risk in sharing information that might cause damage to your business. This is not about your relationship with your audience but about how your audience uses the data you provide as you’re building in public. This is where you can overshare as Self-Sabotage.

Success invites imitation, and after a while, founders will have left a lot of traces of their success if they have been building in public. What attracted the right followers and customers initially now attracts the wrong kind of people: copycats, competitors, and opportunists of all kinds.

The more you share the things you want to share, the more you also share the things you want to keep secret. Information oozes through, whether you want it or not. People come to their own conclusions, and they might be able to see the root causes of shifts in your data better than you can. You might not even be aware of what people can learn from what you share.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make at this point is to share the raw data. I have seen businesses share the most granular data, including per-account purchasing data points. They were anonymized, but they also allowed keen observers to deduce cohort behaviors. From that, they were able to identify niche opportunities that the startups didn’t address yet and moved into the market. Always assume that someone out there can read your data better than you can.

Not sharing revenue numbers at all will eradicate this risk.

Oversharing in the Wild

Justin Jackson talked about this when he explained why stopped sharing their revenue figures. It was very useful to share their early journey with other founders in the community — it was motivational for others to see the Transistor founders struggle and overcome challenges. They stopped because having their numbers open encouraged new competitors to enter their market. Sharing everything caused Justin to feel stressed about having to perform instead of thinking critically when interacting with his audience. So they became more selective about what they shared.

There are diminishing returns for later-stage businesses when they are sharing every single data point, particularly the Monthly Recurring Revenue.

The attention-grabbing potential of sharing revenue decreases, as most entrepreneurial people are focused on the early, highly volatile days of new businesses. People enjoy the adventurous vision of new beginnings. The journey gets much more repetitive the longer founders are on it, and there is less appeal to see a business go from $36.000 MRR to $37.000 MRR compared to the incredible accomplishment of getting from $0 MRR to $5000 MRR.

The marketing potential wanes as well, as more mainstream customers are now supplanting the early adopters. After all, a six-figure business is quite likely making waves in the market. New customer segments find the service, and fewer of them will be interested in the founder of the business over the services rendered.

At the same time, founders will be juggling many more things at the later stages of running a business. Initially, there was building the product and doing initial marketing. Now, there are hundreds or thousands of customers to help, partners to coordinate with, and employees to train. Sharing with an audience that is less and less interested in numbers and more excited to hear strategies and insights becomes a lower-priority item.

Jon Yongfook recently experienced the same mindset shift. He stopped sharing his MRR because of the increasing complexity of his business Bannerbear. Because there are now more factors at play, an increase in the MRR figure can’t be attributed to a single action anymore. For a solo founder with a simple, high-margin business, the MRR is pretty close to how much the founder makes from his efforts. This number loses its meaning when it diverges too much from the actual earnings.

The higher your MRR, the more does sharing that number turn into self-indulgent success signaling. The higher the number, the less instructional content can be contextualized to it. So as Jon is already quite busy building a business that’s ready to serve enterprise customers, he just doesn’t find the time to share his figures with his founder audience anymore.

And that’s okay. We change our approach to business over time, and different business stages require different Build in Public priorities.

It is around the $30.000 MRR mark that previously one-person businesses are starting to hire. The moment you involve more people in your business, the more you will need to coordinate. People also cost money, and the increased expenses will impact the bottom line of the business. It is often assumed that a solopreneur keeps most of the profits, particularly when they are running high-margin businesses. The MRR will reflect most of their earnings at that point. Once you factor in payroll, earnings are heavily affected by the compensation levels of the kinds of employees you hire. Sharing your MRR doesn’t show profitability as clearly as it did before.

This allows you to branch out into sharing different, more later-stage tidbits about your business. Instead of just sharing numbers, you can share experiments and new learnings. Hiring people is often scary and likely something founders haven’t done before. People are always interested in learning about your experiences with that. The same goes for onboarding those new hires into your business. How did that affect your processes? Were you prepared enough, or did you find new road blocks?

Tell those stories to your audience, and they’ll be much more interested than if you’d just post yet another graph of your revenue going up.

Instead of sharing the success stories, share the war stories. Otherwise, building in public is nothing but a glorified marketing gimmick.

Share the conflict, the challenges, not just the celebrations. That’s the true community contribution you’ll give by building in public.

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