There is no recipe for success while building in public, but there are a lot of tried and trusted ingredients. Let’s fill up the spice rack today and put a few cans into the pantry for later.
Every business moves through several stages: we all start in the Preparation Stage, where we conceptualize and plan our business. Once we have a Minimum Viable Product, we take it to the market and enter the Survival Stage. We try to find a repeatable business model by experimenting a lot. Once we secure a way of running our business reliably, we enter the Stability Stage, a time of similar change: we start hiring, build systems and processes, and continue to optimize our offering and how we talk about it. Finally, we end up in the Growth Stage, where the business continues to serve more and more customers over time.
Each of these stages has specific challenges and opportunities. What and how you communicate with your Build in Public audience depends on which stage you’re currently in. It makes no sense to share your detailed plans for selling your business before you even made your first dollar with it. Similarly, sharing the 54th A/B test results of your 6-year old business won’t be as exciting or instructive as it would have been at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey.
Understand that building in public has two significant audiences: your prospective customers and your fellow entrepreneurs. Sometimes, those overlap. Other times, they don’t. When building in public, you’ll want to create content for both groups, as they have an equal impact on the success of your journey. Serve them both, and you’ll create ample opportunity for yourself.
Let’s take a look at what can be shared, when, and how.
What Works At Any Stage
Your audience will welcome certain kinds of messages at any point during your journey. Most of these messages are a bit more “meta” — they’ll cover strategic and tactical approaches to business in a more general way. Since they’re not specific to any particular stage, they might need some context as you are sharing them.
- Explain decisions and the factors that went into them. Your audience will love to be part of your train of thought. There is something incredibly instructive about following the internal logic of a decision-making process. The more you share about your mental models and how they apply to your thinking, the more your audience stands to learn.
- Communicate plans for the future and how you’re going to go about it. Like just-in-time decisions, explaining your long-term vision and how you arrived at it is incredibly attractive to your followers. They get a glimpse into the future you’re planning to build. This is a trust-building exercise. The more you share about your goals and the steps you take along the way, the more your followers have a chance to see them become a reality. When you do the things you promised to do, you become trustworthy and credible.
- Expose new and interesting insights you gained into the entrepreneurial journey. Many of your followers will be a few steps behind you on their own entrepreneurial journey. Most won’t even have started building businesses. Anything that comes out of your personal experience will be interesting to your followers. Even if it’s something small — or even something you already knew about before your experienced it in your business — there will always be someone out there for whom it is new, insightful, and potentially life-changing. When in doubt, even mundane learning is worth being shared.
- Share the lessons you learned from other founders that impacted your strategy. We all run into obstacles along our journeys. Founders know fully well that there are unexpected challenges that can crop up any day. By sharing your learnings from those events, how they came about, how they unfolded, and how you overcame them, you hand other eager entrepreneurs the blueprint for expecting, experiencing, and solving those issues on their own journeys. Always imagine that somewhere out there, someone is right where you were a few weeks ago, staring a new scary problem in the face. You can be the guiding light in their darkest hour.
- Introduce new paradigms you encountered outside of entrepreneurship that shifted your business mindset. Our in-the-trenches work can blind us to alternative perspectives that we can hold. If you zoom out and share the birds-eye view on how you look at your entrepreneurial path, you might inspire your followers who can’t figure out the challenge in front of them to shift their thinking in ways that can get them unstuck.
- Be truthful. Don’t inflate numbers, up or down. You’re building in public, and people do not like being lied to. We’re all skeptical of what we’re told in a world that is full of empty promises and self-serving marketing. You will stand out by being honest. Building in public is a long-term activity, and it will create trust and meaningful relationships. Honesty is incredibly attractive, particularly when flashy self-promoters surround you.
- If you have a visual, use it. People like graphs, charts, illustrations, or notes. Allowing for another sense to perceive your information will also make it more accessible. A visual makes content more shareable and piques your viewers’ curiosity. It doesn’t have to be a refined graphic either. Many founders and entrepreneurs have great success sharing photos of notes and sketches they have taken on scraps of paper. Remember that you’re more relatable if you share work-in-progress content. People are sick of seeing the polished and over-optimized final version. They want to participate in the journey of the raw and imperfect.
- Share your stack: tools, infrastructure, processes. Peeking into the internal structure of a successful business is always interesting, no matter what part of your journey you’re at. If people are just starting out, it gives them a blueprint of how to get things going. If they’re further ahead, it allows them to compare their current solutions with the alternatives out there. Do this regularly, and share when you add and remove new services to your stack. It’s incredibly alluring in a world of too many choices to see what —and how— you choose what’s the best stack for you.
- Announce events, internal or external. If they’re public, people have a chance to watch you perform. If they’re private, you have the opportunity to follow up and communicate summaries and unexpected learnings. Events will allow you to get people involved in your journey directly, either as a participant or a confidant. Events are the nexus of forming relationships: no matter if you’re hosting a Twitter Space, organizing a webinar, or holding a private interview with a potential customer, someone out there will be interested in the process and the outcome of it.
Let’s take a look at what you can share when you’re just starting out on your entrepreneurial journey. This kind of content will be quite popular, as there are way more wantrepreneurs than experienced founders out there. It can motivate people to take those crucial first steps.
Here are the things that you can share in those early days:
- Explain how you’re making sure your assumptions are validated. Validation is one of the most important things to get right as a freshly baked entrepreneur. If you show your followers how you approach validation and invalidation efforts in your own business, you’ll inspire and motivate them to question their own assumptions. This is one of the most important empowerment exercises you can do: for bootstrapped founders, any additional amount of validation will be helpful to keep expenses low and spirits high.
- Share how you are adapting your business idea to prospective customer feedback. It’s hard enough to talk to people in the first place. Making meaningful changes to your course of action as a result of those conversations is even harder. Empathetic listening in a customer conversation is an acquired skill, and the more you can share about this, the more you’ll teach your followers to build customer-centric businesses. This works best if you share what the customer feedback was and how you boiled it down to an actionable item. Oftentimes, customers say one thing but actually need something very different. Share how you distinguish these things — and you may be wrong sometimes — and follow up on how your course changes impact the grand vision of your business.
- Share the (generalized) results of your market analysis. You don’t need to spill the beans and do all of the work for a potential competitor. But you can definitely translate your hard-earned insights into something interesting and exciting to share with your audience. Did you run into issues figuring out how many potential customers you could reach? Was there a particularly interesting data source that you discovered? Any issues reaching out to experts in the industry? Share that, and maybe you’ll even find a comment or two guiding you towards more comprehensive insights.
- Document the process of building your MVP. Your followers will love screenshots of the snapshots that you iterate on. There is something captivating about seeing history unrolling right in front of you. That’s what your followers follow you for: they want to see you grow. They want to see you experiment, and they are excited to cheer for you every time you improve your product.
To have paying customers, you’ll need to get them to check out your product and get invested into wanting to pay for it. That is one of the hardest things to accomplish on your journey, and any learning you share will be most well-received by your eager followers.
Here is what you can share during this particular phase:
- Share the experiments you’re running to attract customers and what you learned from them. Social media channels are full of people trying to get their prospects’ attention. We’re inundated by marketing messages at all times. We might even be blind to the successful ones because we have become so adept at ignoring advertising. When you share your intentional attempts at getting people excited for your business outside of your Build in Public audience, there is a lot to learn — for founders of all experience levels.
- Document your paid advertising journey. How do you decide what copy to use? How much money do you invest into paid ad experiments? People are often afraid of the commitment that is needed to succeed at paid ads. By showing the results of what worked — and what didn’t — you’ll be motivating those entrepreneurs who are pinching every penny or maybe even proving them right.
Once you have found your first customers, you’ll have different challenges, and so will the founders who follow you along your journey. Finding the right mix of features, pricing, customer service, and overall business strategy is hard. The more you share your learnings from this phase, the better you will equip your followers to navigate this crucial part of their own journey.
Here is what can be done in the Survival Stage:
- Share pricing experiments, both in terms of dollar values and the underlying pricing paradigms. Many founders operate under the assumption that if they clone the pricing structure of a similar service, they’re set for life. But pricing is a moving target, and it should be an ever-changing experiment. Yearly plans, discounts, referral systems, many of those concepts might be new or misunderstood by your audience. Help them see the real-world consequences of pricing decisions and how you test them.
- Sharing new features and how your customers respond to them. You can also share the messaging used to announce them to your customer base. Features are the lifeblood of a product, and you’ll need to add new ones over time as expectations and requirements grow. Many newly minted founders expect their product to be complete eventually. By discussing your feature development strategy and how you involve your customer base in the process, you can teach your followers that no product is ever finished and how best to approach the feedback-gathering process.
- Shout out your early customers (with their approval). Your early supporters are likely in your Build in Public audience. By giving them a shoutout, you honor their trust in you and your journey, and you give them a little bit of additional founder community credibility. They helped you start your business; you help them with some exposure as a helpful, supportive community member—a true win-win. Just make sure you ask them about this before you do. Some people would rather keep things private.
At some point, you will find your stride and have built a reliable way of selling your product over and over again. The challenges of this phase are different and often more complicated than in the prior stages. You can now start to be very detailed in the content you’re sharing.
- Share your roadmap. This is a wonderful opportunity to be meta: share your roadmap, and talk about what didn’t make it onto it — and why. Your future and current customers will love the level of detail that goes into planning future features, and your fellow founders will see an example of how fine-grained a roadmap can and should be. Talking about the decisions behind the roadmap is great long-term business content that will delight your audience and force you to sharpen your overall strategy.
- Explain your Build in Public strategy and its place in your overall journey. In the stability stage, most successful founders start throttling the intensity of their Build in Public strategy. They share fewer things, they become more opaque in the numbers they make public, and generally have more things on their mind than consistently sharing business updates. If this happens to you too, tell your followers why. They are invested in your journey, and they deserve to learn why you’re becoming less available and more secretive. What do you have to protect? What have you experienced that makes you more careful? Set clear and honest expectations of what your followers can expect from you at this stage.
Every entrepreneurial journey has a late-stage phase. Will you sell your business? Will you keep working in the business? Will you take on investment? Or will you hire a replacement for you and just benefit from dividends as an owner? There are many potential avenues, and each is as exciting as the other.
Here are a few things worth sharing when you’re scaling up:
- Reflecting on your greater-picture strategies. How will you scale your business? How will you continue to grow the impact you have on your customers’ lives? Few people ever get to experience these later-stage challenges, even though every entrepreneur aspires to make it this far. By sharing your plans – fears and doubts included — you will give your followers a glimpse into the mind of an advanced entrepreneur.
- Share your explorations of the shifts and movements of your market. You’re one of the best-informed experts, having your finger on the pulse of the industry. What you can share with your audience will be incredibly insightful for them. They’ll learn how to look at an industry as a whole, how to spot opportunities, and how to forecast the movement of people, goods, and services.
- Explain life-changing choices. Selling your business is a big deal — for yourself, your customers, and those who rooted for you every step along the way. Your followers will want to know what motivated you to make the choice, what work went into the preparations, and how you feel about it. The same goes for taking on big investments or making hard choices when hiring your own replacement.
Let’s talk about the negative side of all entrepreneurship: risk, failure, and disaster. The bad stuff that happens to you along your journey needs to be shared just as much as your successes. That goes for small experiments and their win-or-lose outcomes just as much as the big events.
Understand one thing: you don’t have to share anything. If it’s too painful, keep it to yourself. If something has the potential to cause you great damage, don’t shout it from the rooftops. Always ask yourself: “will sharing this help me and someone else on their learning journey?” If it’s both, consider talking about it. If it’s just one or neither, don’t go for it.
People follow other entrepreneurs to see how the real world of business works. If I follow a founder, I expect them to be honest, realistic, and genuine. Messing up and making wrong decisions are part of this. I want people to talk about the hard stuff, the complicated stuff, just as much as I want to see them shine in their brightest hour. I want to see people in all facets of their lives, and I thrive to do the same in the content I share as someone who builds in public.
It’s not just “celebrating in public” — sometimes, we have to mention the rainy days, too. You’ll be surprised about how much that resonates with the people who are invested in your journey.
Your followers will be particularly interested in these events:
- Pivots. Sometimes, we have to react to something that is outside of our control. Regulations impact whole markets. New technologies shift audience focus away from time-honored solutions. Pivoting in public is a surprisingly effective way of combining the feedback cycle benefits of Building in Public with the stark shift in entrepreneurial focus. A founder who successfully pivots their business in front of their audience earns an incredible amount of respect, from customers and founder peers alike.
- Failures. Things don’t always work out. Big feature releases fizzle out, customers cancel, servers go up in metaphorical flames. These moments will be stressful for any founder, and you’ll likely have other things on your mind than sharing them with the world. But this can be a helpful way of getting an outside perspective. You might even find emotional and entrepreneurial support when you report your struggles to your audience. Consider that whenever we see someone that we care about sharing their vulnerabilities, we have the urge to help. You’ll find that support comes in many shapes and forms, but it will be there for you. Just make sure you don’t turn your honest sharing into a crash-and-burn spectacle. You don’t want to attract those who only watch out of spite. Even in those darkest moments of your journey, try to convey a message of hope. Share your learnings as well as the facts.
- Closing Shop. Some journeys come to an end before their time. No matter how much you tried to validate your audience, their problem, and your solution, there might come a day when your business just dries up. Usually caused by seismic shifts in the industry you’re serving, you might find yourself in an inhospitable desert where before was a lush oasis of opportunity. No matter how hard you try to pivot into something new, you run into walls. Usually, entrepreneurs are quick in their feet to adapt to changing landscapes, but there are times when it just won’t work out. Those businesses end. And that is something — as painful as it may seem — is also important to share with your audience. Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel: no matter what happens to your business, Building in Public will make sure that your personal founder brand comes out of it stronger. The secret is to be honest at all times: people will invest in you as a founder, not just your business idea. They will want to see YOU succeed long-term. Entrepreneurs know that there is always risk in building businesses. They will understand that some experiments just won’t work out — but the next one might. Your followers will be there for you the next time around, so treat them well and share your thoughts, decisions, and actions that happen when you’re shutting down a business. A post-mortem report is expected in any technical field whenever there is a catastrophic event. The entrepreneurial world deserves those too, as we can all learn from the wins and losses of our fellow founders.
Share the good and the bad. Share the small and the huge. Oscillate from short-term tactic to long-term strategy and back. Your entrepreneurial journey is a broad and varied experience. Make sure your Build in Public content communicates that to your audience.
When you reach the later stages of your business journey, it’s often a good idea to look at your earlier content and reflect on how your perspective has changed over time. Revisiting old posts and recontextualizing them from a more experienced vantage point will show your expertise and allow your followers to understand that changing your mind is fine.
You want to be a source of motivation, inspiration, and imagination with everything you share on your Build in Public journey.