How to build in public
A framework for building products in public and engaging with your audience.
You are building a product, but you don't have any users. What do you do?
There are two approaches.
The first is the synchronous one. You build your product from A to Z in "isolation" and once you're ready you tell the world about it. It's the strategy that most bigger companies use even in today's hyper-connected world.
The other approach is the asynchronous one. Meaning, you are speaking to your audience while you're building the product, leveraging the power, knowledge and ideas of the community. It recently became a popular strategy among small startups, solo founders and indie makers.
There are obvious (and not so obvious) pros and cons to both strategies. We're going to dive deeper into those in another article.
But if you've chosen the asynchronous approach, you need to have at least some framework in place in order to pull off the benefits out of this whole exercise.
We're going to distill some of the best practices in the build in public community to a build in public framework you can start using today.
NOTE: This article assumes that you are already familiar with what building in public is. We're not going to cover this here.
Building in public is a long-term audience building, and in broader terms - marketing strategy. You can't just turn it on when you want more customers. It's something that you have to do consistently for some time to see any results.
For this exact reason, you'll need to have crystal clear definition of your purpose, that will keep you on track.
The most important question you have to ask yourself now is:
Why should I be building in public?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
All of these are valid reasons:
- To keep myself accountable
- To validate my idea
- To find my first early adopters
- To expose my idea to the real world as soon as possible and see where it falls short
- To share knowledge and to help other people
- To make friends and connections in my field
- To build an audience and leverage that
- To find beta testers
- To have fun
You don't have to pick just one. It might be a mix. It might be something completely different, not included in the list above.
Whatever it is, make sure you're clear about it.
Tip: Write that down somewhere visible. The idea is to never forget why you're doing this.
The next step is to think a while about your audience.
- Who you're talking to?
- Who is listening to you?
You can start with your product. What are you building? Who's going to use it?
If you have answers to those two questions, you already have a good starting point.
Let's say you're building a niche product. A SaaS app for writers.
It's clear that your direct audience is writers. But don't stop there. Expand on that and think about who else would be interested in your journey of building your product. In the example above, those might be readers, who are excited to follow their favorite writers. Or maybe other makers, just like you, seeking for inspiration, motivation or answers to concrete business/technological questions? Or why not VC's, who are scanning for their next big investment? Maybe media? Or your next employees?
The audience pool is quite big. You can expand as much as you want, but make sure you're not communicating to too many groups of people at once.
Not having a priority group can lead to producing a lot more noise than signal.
Audience diversification in relation to your purpose
Here's a good way to reason about your audience.
From one side, you have your direct target customer. Your user. The obvious listener. If the purpose of your build in public presence is to engage with your possible customers, then this is where your focus should be.
From the other side, you have the group of people that's interested more in the process, not so much int the practicality of your product. This is where we place fellow makers, VC's, researchers, media, etc. You would focus on this group if you're willing to share knowledge, to build an audience, to have a support group or to simply make friends.
Third option is to speak to your future self. Just like journaling. You'd pick this strategy if you're into this just to keep yourself accountable or you want to create a log which you'd reference later.
Of course, your audience choices are not binary. People are so diverse, that it's impossible to put them in a single concrete category.
But your choice of where your focus should go, to what kind of people you're talking to, will greatly determine your voice, the things you share and the way you engage in the process.
Spend some time and make a list of 1-3 groups you want to engage with. Pick just one of these as your main group. It's where 80% of your focus should be placed. The rest 20% goes to the other two (if any) groups.
What to share as I build in public
Having defined your purpose, your target audiences and how you're going to engage in the process, it's time to draft ideas.
There are some generic guidelines that are applicable no matter what your purpose or your audience is.
For example, when you come up with building in public content for your project, make sure you are not copying what others are doing. You're not supposed to do anything specific when you're publicly sharing your experiences. It's something personal and you're free to express however you wish.
Also, be authentic. Lots of people in the build in public space are either flexing, or cherry-picking just their highs, hiding at all costs their lows.
The point of being authentic is purely for your own peace of mind. As in real life, pretending to be someone you're not, leads to uncertainty and discomfort in the long run. Flexing, cherry-picking the wins and twisting reality are serving no good.
With these more general principles in mind, here are some concrete ideas which you can use as a seed out of which to grow your own content.
Teach what you've learned
In the process of making things, we're inevitably learning from our experience.
These learnings might be useful to your audience. Share them!
Here's an example: https://twitter.com/Brslv/status/1397111676751712257
And another one: https://twitter.com/Brslv/status/1395033213123313666
Expose your stats
Sharing any type of statistical information about your project turns out to be quite interesting for most people.
Like your MRR, ARR, number of registered users this week, impressions, clicks, subscriptions, etc.
Anything that's a snapshot of your journey will do here.
Be transparent, but don't feel obliged to expose everything.
Celebrate the milestones
Most people love seeing others hit their milestones. It's motivational. It speaks for your excitement with the thing you're building. It means you care.
Share the failures and hardships
Share your failures to a point where you feel comfortable. There are no perfect beings, we all make mistakes. And people are generally very supportive, especially in the #buildinpublic community. You'll not only get lots of encouragement, but also ideas on how to further proceed, what to improve, where to find useful information, etc.
In the example above, I have outlined the epic fails from my launch day of Haptic. Have fun 😅.
Outline your next steps
What's your action plan?
Don't just share retrospective updates. Share your mid/long term vision. Share how you're going to get there, from the perspective of this very moment.
Ask questions and seek feedback
Ask questions. It's not only a great way for you to gather feedback, to find useful resources or to see alternative views various topics. It's also a way to engage with your audience. To connect.
This is my favorite type of #buildinpublic posts. Every time I ask for something I get 10x the value in return. It's like untapped resource, which you can activate with the magic of simply asking for it. And it's even better than your regular search engine, because there are no ads, the information is relevant and battle tested most of the times.
When I was trying to expand my SEO knowledge and apply it to Haptic, the first thing I did was to ask my audience on Twitter what are some of their favorite resources on the topic.
The amount of quality resources I got back exceeded my expectations.
Check out for yourself: https://twitter.com/Brslv/status/1396477912950493186
Sometimes you may just log what happened that day in a neutral, factual fashion.
- Improved the styles of the buttons
- Wrote 1 page for my book
- Talked to John about our marketing strategy
These are the kind of updates that you'd share with the public when you want to update them quickly for something or just to keep track of some changes for yourself.
Remember, building in public is not only for others.
It's also about you. And if you want to make your updates more granular and concise, go ahead.
Intensity - how often do I share my progress
A lot of people will tell you that you have to show up every day. Others will tell you that you don't have to stress it too much.
There's no right way to do this.
Some people are hustlers by nature. They can't sleep if they didn't hustle enough that day.
Others are more mindful in the process. They like to think through stuff. They don't feel comfortable rushing through things.
And there's the mixed type.
You have to know yourself and follow your gut here. If you're more of the hustler type, it's totally OK to come up with build in public updates every day. Just make sure that you're not harming your building process by getting too much distracted updating your audience.
If you're more mindful in the process, it's fine, too. Take your time, craft your posts, have fun in the process.
Generally speaking, no matter which type you are, don't overcomplicate things.
Here are some guidelines:
- If you're posting more than 2 or 3 times a day, maybe you're wasting too much time and energy on this instead of actually building things.
- Ideally, something in the range of 2-5 posts a week is perfect.
- This doesn't mean that 1 or 5+ posts a week is a mistake. It's totally FINE!
- If you don't have anything to share, don't push yourself. Skipping a day, a week, or even a month is totally fine.
- Make sure you're not spammy. This is not your typical marketing channel, where more means more.
- Have fun. If you're not having fun, better don't do it. People will notice it sooner or later.
Platforms - where do I publish
Provisioned with a strategy, you're ready to go into the wild. 😅
There are a couple of options when it comes to the medium you choose to share your story publicly.
Building in public on social media
Social media like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, etc. are the obvious medium of choice when it comes to building a product in public.
That's where the "public" is.
But there's one big disadvantage to social media platforms for practicing building in public. And that's the ephemeral nature of the content there, combined with the massive amount of unrelated noise.
These platforms are specifically tailored to prioritize the latest and greatest content. Your public updates will be pushed to the top of the feed for one or two hours at most. And that's if you're lucky.
This means that you have a very tiny window in which your update can be exposed to your audience. After that it gets pushed down the pipe and lost in the void.
Having a blog
Having your personal blog is a great way to organize and build narrative around your product's development.
It'll allow you to have full control over the presentation, organization and moderation of your content.
Regardless of your choice of a platform to build in public, it's always a good idea to have a personal blog/website where you curate your own content the way you like it.
Using video/audio platforms
Another great way to create an engaging and interesting build in public content is to pick a video/audio platform and share your updates in these formats.
Many people do live streams, for example. Twitch, YouTube, it doesn't matter. Streaming your building process is super engaging and lots of people prefer it.
You can also create a YouTube series, a podcast or host Twitter spaces / Clubhouse sessions.
Creativity is the limit.
The major problem with this type of content is that it requires way more time commitment. Which you might prefer to spend on more important things, such as building stuff. 🤓
Build in public platforms
Did you know that there are platforms, specifically crafted to make your build in public experience much more pleasant?
Haptic is such a platform.
The main advantage of using it is that it combines the good traits of blogs and those of social media, providing the best experience possible for creators like you and me.
This is possible, because…
Haptic mixes the freedom of the blogging platforms with the community elements of the social media to provide the best place for makers to publicly narrate their product story.
Now this might sound a bit marketing-y, so let's break it down to a couple of bullet points:
- Your product gets a beautiful, customizable product page, where everything is neatly organized;
- You have the freedom to create whatever types of content you want;
- On top of that, you have specific content-creation tools at your disposal, created with the build in public framework in mind (like milestones, roadmaps builder, long-form content, quick updates, deals, third-party power-ups etc);
- You have the community of creators, which are building just like you, without the noise of social media;
- You can engage and interact with each other to leverage building in public;
- Your content is not ephemeral. Meaning, you have a tractable story on your product page, always there ready to be shared with the world.
- You get integrations, that make sense with the build in public mindset (still to come on Haptic).
Other platforms in the space are:
You don't have to pick only one medium to build in public.
You can leverage two or three channels, focus on only one or even participate in all of these. I'd advice against the last option, as it's going to take tremendous amount of time to keep it all in sync.
Whatever you pick, have fun and enjoy the process.