Building a company in public

The “building in public” movement is gaining steam. What is it? BIP = founders/makers openly sharing the process of building their businesses, where others can see, learn, and are encouraged to participate.

Makers share their vision, what they see, how they’re addressing it; they openly ask for support and advice in making decisions; they reveal the ups and downs of building a company, getting real about the economics, sharing good times and bad. As an entrepreneur, I love it!

My own interest started ~15+yrs ago with 37Signals. They often shared intimate details about their business, and the principles that guided them in decision making. It was so refreshing to see someone talk openly about what they were doing, because the norm was company secrets, proprietary information, and NDAs. I learned so much from them and others that took up the mantle.

Why I build in public

1. Paying it forward, and opening the tent to more makers in the world.

Running a business is hard, and traditionally the info has been locked in experience, inaccessible to most mentorship, or books (that take lots of time to parse.) I’m personally super grateful to the people who have taught me over the years, and the people who have made me feel like I can do it. Big names that stand out our 37Signals, Buffer, Baremetrics, and Intercom.

Yes, stories like “How I Built This” gave similar motivation, but there’s a lot of revisionist history painting unrealistic pictures. That’s different with BIP — there’s more real-time sharing of your biz that more accurately captures the roller coaster parts, the difficulties, the path to success or failure (and how it looks much more different than most expect.)

2. Accountability, momentum, iterative design, and combating loneliness.

Building a company is f’ing tough, the road is long and arduous, and it’s easy to give up hope during the “messy middle” of it all.

Capturing your thoughts and sharing them helps you think through problems. Sharing what you’re working on helps you keep yourself on track, and having others support + participate helps keep you accountable.

Sharing also invites feedback, lets you work iteratively, helps encourage an ego-less practice, a focus on solving problems.

Lastly, creation can be a lonely sport. Sharing what I’m working on helps me combat that loneliness, especially when things are most tough… inevitably I find a source of support, even if that support happens to be myself in the form of writing to myself. Better, the support is a community, that broadens perspectives and keeps the momentum rolling.

3. Building your company’s brand and community.

By sharing what you’re working on, you invite others to co-create + collaborate. Part of #2 above, you get more eyes on something, which invites critique, which can be super helpful as an input (that you decide to incorporate or not.) You really get to hone in on your customer and audience. You attract potential teammates, collaborators, partners, investors, and customers that love what you’re doing. Focus on those relationships, and you’ll find yourself with a thriving community along on the journey with you.

4. Building your personal brand.

Sharing your work means more people can recognize it. There’s good here (recognition is a great thing!) There’s also an ego bit too. “Look what I’m doing!” can be an attention grab / showing off.

The Compass

I use these goals as a compass to balance what I put out, and how. To me, it feels good to prioritize 1 > 2 > 3 > 4.

For example, if I’m working on a company update, and notice it’s more bucket 1-2, we’re good to go. If I notice it’s more a bucket 3 or 4… I go back and edit / adjust to make sure there’s less ego and more useful help for others. I noticed with a new wave of BIP founders/makers, some people are doing more of a 4 > 3 > 2 > 1 move, and I think that’s unhealthy (see Dark side of BIP section below)

Two concrete examples / in-action:

Say we’re sharing on our newsletter what we’ve been working on. We can channel 1 + 2 moves by talking about the process we’ve taken, what we’ve learned, and how we felt about it. We can share our goals openly and ask for feedback + perspectives. We can talk about our customer dev process, share general findings, talk about how we’ve been finding people, share why we thought these people could contribute, chat about our next round and goals… but we hold back personal info (names, etc.)

Same newsletter, imagine we share our customer dev process but were wide open about who we talked to. By sharing names, we might be doing a bit of “humble bragging” in a sense (“oh yeah, we talked to Tim Ferris and Michelle Obama, no biggie, they loved us”) – that’s pretty much a 3 + 4 move. Instead, we’d want to share that we talked to high profile people, and share how we got access to such an audience (existing network, past connection, long relationship building)

Say we’re talking financials. We want to be aware that not everyone feels comfortable sharing this stuff, that we have different contexts and are in different points in our lives. In talking about, eg. how much money we’ve put into the business, I might infer something about one of our investors that they may not be comfortable sharing. It’s a balance, but I want to make sure we respect people’s wishes first, and where comfortable, we share in a way that’s appropriate in a 1 + 2 world (e.g “this is how we came up with these numbers”), and less 3-4 moves (eg. “wow look at our revenue!”)

Dark side of BIP

Just like sharing your life highlights on Instagram can warp perception, building in public can do the same. And with devastating effects on others.

I’m writing this post because I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. After three failed attempts at building a successful startup and spending time institutionalized, I’m giving up on my entrepreneurship dreams.

^^ This post stung. Yes, entrepreneurship is hard, but the BIP movement has definitely elevated the perception of success.

“It’s easy. Anyone can start a newsletter. Why don’t you just start a youtube channel? Have you even tried putting yourself out there?!”

You see a lot of “successful” entrepreneurs writing threads on how they made millions. They may have super positive intentions, but by leaning into the 3 + 4 moves, they end up “Instaglamming” the startup life. Other entrepreneurs think “damn, everyone else is winning, but not me. I keep failing”… and it gets to you.

Avoid the startup porn. Focus on the 1 + 2 moves. Start a small group of entrepreneurs you can talk with. Go deep with them. Every successful entrepreneur has dozens of huge supporters.