How to Build a Startup in Public: An Actionable Guide
Keeping a lid on your product development process can be one way to go, yet multiple companies have done just the opposite and leveraged the build in public model. Why and when do startups go public? And is it worth it?
On this page, we'll share the build in public meaning and give reasons why companies decide to follow this path, explaining when this approach is applicable and why. Plus, we'll go over the building in public best practices and give actionable tips.
What Is Building in Public (BIP)?
You've probably heard the term before, but what does it mean when a startup goes public? And what's the idea behind build in public (BIP)?
Building in public refers to those companies and startups that deliberately choose to share the entire process of product or company creation with the public. Unlike stealth startups (that avoid public attention and keep all the details in secrecy), BIP startups are open and transparent about their progress. They continuously share various insights like previews or even current metrics via social media or other channels.
What's the aim? Primarily to create some buzz around the product and get a community of engaged followers. Such an audience is incredibly valuable as it may give support, provide feedback that can help improve the product, or turn into first customers.
What Are the Benefits of Building in Public?
It may seem like founders may be giving too much away by choosing business transparency as a marketing strategy for startups, right? So, if you're wondering why build in public in the first place, we'd say that there are examples of public companies that have intelligently used this approach to their advantage. Below we list the main benefits and reasons to build in public.
1. Humanizing the Company
A human touch is becoming more important than before with the rapid spread of AI in practically every sphere of our lives. Sharing the company journey as you're starting a startup helps connect with the audience on a more personal level.
Who are the people behind the product? Why does the world need it? All of these questions are answered from the get-go, showing that the creators and their mission are real. This makes the brand more relatable, fosters a sense of trust, aids community growth, and invites feedback. Ultimately, this helps not only validate hypotheses but also make a minimum lovable product to build up on later.
2. Brand Popularization
Creating hype for the upcoming product or MVP launch is highly important. It allows for building an image for the brand, getting attention, and introducing the product to probable supporters right during the process of creation.
It makes sense to handle startup branding early on (i.e., long before the official day the product is presented to the world). Why? Just as it works with any Product Hunt launch, a huge portion of the overall success depends on whether you have an army of supporters.
3. Community Formation
Forming strong relationships with your target audience is crucial for any business. If you're engaging enough, building in public makes it possible to grow an entire community of like-minded followers who can be excited about your product and become early adopters, customers, or brand advocates in the early stages of startup development. Not to mention that this method allows for growing not only the user base but also the number of subscribers, social media account followers, referrals, and word-of-mouth product recommendations.
Similarly, company authenticity may spark interest from talent and investors. For example, you can thus find potential hires, customers, and possibly even investors providing startup funding. Plus, it opens collaboration opportunities, meaning there's always a chance to team up with other companies or experts in the field.
4. Building a Reputation and Gaining Trust
Being open means that you're realistic and honest. I.e., that you don't sweep bad news under the rug or overexaggerate what's really going on. On the contrary, you're sharing facts and the real picture of where you currently stand, which can certainly raise curiosity, interest, and trust both from the team and clients.
Gaining credibility matters. And transparency cultivation regarding your decisions and processes definitely influences a startup's reputation, trustworthiness, and brand loyalty. If you're open right from the start, this acquisition method may even lead to repeat purchases in the future. In fact, recent statistics and surveys suggest that brand reputation influences who customers choose to do business with.
5. Obtaining Feedback
There are various techniques that can help you decide what to do with your product. However, feedback is still king. As we've mentioned, building in public is a way to create transparency, which leads to obtaining priceless input from the community on your tech business ideas.
Getting a detached view is never bad when you're developing a product, as your assumptions and hypotheses might not be accurate. Hence, listening to your potential buyers and accepting feedback to mold and shape your product around their needs is a surefire way to find product-market fit. Ultimately, you'll only win by building a better product.
What Are the Build in Public Disadvantages?
Let's face it, total transparency could be very intimidating. We're not going to lie, open startups can face transparency risks associated with the build in public approach. This is why some entrepreneurs are in two minds about whether this path is worth following. Here are several common concerns in this respect.
1. Stolen Ideas
Public builders are often afraid that such information sharing can lead to an unfavorable consequence: ideas being stolen by competitors. What if someone else tries to copy your product? Well, there is a possibility that someone will snatch your idea and use your data for themselves. It could even be a competitor in stealth mode, meaning you might not be aware that someone is working on an analogous solution yet faster and more effectively as they're learning from your startup mistakes and applying your execution best practices.
Sadly, you can't safeguard yourself from this risk. And, surely, losing a competitive advantage can be a harmful downside to transparency in business. Hence, some companies avoid building in public or stop doing so after some time.
2. The Need to Share Bad News
Sticking to the build in public strategy may be easy when you have positive things to share. But what if it's not all rainbows and butterflies? Sharing bad news, setbacks, and disappointing startup analytics in idle times is much tougher. After all, reality can sometimes be hard to handle. And what if such negative circumstances or data scare away potential investors or clients?
This could be an issue, of course. But open startups are all about being real and showing both the good and the bad. Oftentimes the audience is more sympathetic when they observe that a company is serious about fostering an open startup culture, that an existing problem is acknowledged, and something is being done to make things right.
In essence, an open attitude can lead to more trust. People might be more engaged in following a company's journey to see how it managed to overcome a big challenge and how the product and team are maturing.
3. Taking Public Criticism
Exposing the ins and outs of your business can possibly draw criticism from others. You can't manage the audience's perception of your brand and must be ready that not all the feedback you'll get will be compliments and "keep up the good work" cheers.
There is a possibility that you'll face scrutiny, judgment, and critique (well, you're in the limelight). The audience will witness your rises and falls, but don't let their reactions pressure you.
4. It Takes a Lot of Time
Building in public requires a bunch of effort and a constant input. Creating quality content and interacting with the audience is a time-consuming ongoing task. After a little while, it may feel like homework that you sometimes don't want to do but have to do.
The constant need to show what you're doing to the world may also be a tiring and draining experience (especially for those who aren't too comfortable with taking on the blogger role). The audience expects you to stay on track and will be quick to notice if you underdeliver. At times, this may lead to stress or burnout.
Moreover, because the process is so labor-intensive, it could start distracting you from actually developing the product. And that's never good. Your resources may be scarce, so you must stay sharp and ensure you're not diffusing your time on less significant things.
When Not to Build Startups in Public?
Generally, startups that are tech-oriented choose the building in public path. It's not that it isn't reasonable to do the same if your product isn't a tech one, yet the tendency is somewhat visible.
Noting other cases when not to build in public, perhaps this isn't the best idea if you're too afraid that someone will copy your product (the process might be nerve-racking, so it might not be worth it). Similarly, don't follow this path if you aren't ready to or don't want to:
- be in the public eye;
- share your secrets and practices;
- invest all the required time in such "storytelling";
- deal with feedback that's sometimes negative.
How to Build in Public: What to Know
So how should a startup or company go about building in public? Here are several pointers on how to make a product public if you've chosen to implement this method.
Decide on What to Share
Building in public implies that founders, entrepreneurs, and teams share various insights with the audience. Yet, what kind of information do BIP companies share and voice? Here are a few examples:
- product creation and building process behind-the-scenes;
- posts on progress, updates, wins, and accomplishments;
- goals, targets, aims, milestones, and how successful the team is at achieving them;
- feature previews and demos;
- screenshots and production photos;
- product performance metrics (like the number of monthly users, traffic, and others);
- financial figures and data (e.g., information about salaries, income, churn rate, etc.);
- source code;
- product development plans, business strategy, and product roadmaps;
- tactics for making money or achieving goals;
- feedback, opinion, and collective brainstorming requests;
- quotes from the team or users;
- struggles, mistakes, roadblocks, and challenges faced along the way, and the lessons learned;
- lists with useful resources.
You may try to hook your audience by announcing what you'll be doing in the next few weeks or months or presenting a monthly summary of what you've achieved (e.g., a round-up of your key figures, MVP designs, or product updates). Likewise, you can share emotional stories. You're also free to think of your posts as a virtual diary or share recommendations, advice, knowledge, findings, and life hacks, which builds accountability.
Bottom line: aim at delivering the utmost value, and always think about why people should care about what you're sharing. Choose a style, stay relevant, and play around with the formats to find the perfect fit that works.
Select Proper Build in Public Channels for Sharing
You won't go public if you don't share information with the audience, but how? Transparent startups and companies often use various build in public channels and means for sharing updates. Here are some popular options:
- Twitter and LinkedIn;
- Instagram and TikTok;
- blogs or posts on resources like Medium;
- vlogs and YouTube channels;
- Twitch for live-streaming broadcasts;
- separate web pages (e.g., with real-time data reports or dashboards, dynamically showing changing data);
- niche startup communities like Indie Hackers, forums like Reddit, Slack chats, thematic groups, etc.
More Tips on Building in Public
What else should you make a note of? We've collected some do's and don'ts and share the best practices you can put to use.
Consistency Is Key
Being active in sharing a company's journey makes sense if it's an ongoing process, so pick a pace. Otherwise, you're not exactly building in public.
It takes more than creating hype a couple of weeks before the launch and some time afterward. Sure, constantly stirring up the audience's interest is hard work that takes effort and time, yet systematically keeping people in the loop may result in tangible benefits.
Choose the Level of Transparency
How deep into the details should you go? Well, the good news is that there aren't any strict rules. The level of transparency you choose and the frequency of shares is totally up to you.
Some founders share even the tiniest and seemingly insignificant details, like which playlist has helped them concentrate. Therefore, you don't have to copy someone else's strategy. Ponder over what's acceptable for your business and find a balance between radical or somewhat partial transparency you're comfortable with.
Narrow Down the Channels
Of course, you might be enthusiastic about posting content on various platforms simultaneously. Nonetheless, it might be too time-consuming to keep an equally high level of engagement on multiple channels at once.
Therefore, it may be reasonable to select one or two channels to focus on. Make the decision in favor of those channels that are of most interest to your audience and the ones you're most comfortable with yourself.
To leverage more users on your YouTube content you can buy YouTube video shares of your choice. Just make sure they are authentic.
Giving you several examples, many tech product makers (such as Plutio) actively use Twitter. B2B companies (like Testimonial) often favor LinkedIn, while others prefer to run blogs (for instance, Fibery) or share their story as chapters on YouTube (like ConvertKit does).
Be Active in Comments
Posting an update isn't enough. You have to be active on your channels and respond to the people who give you their attention. Don't forget to add likes, reply to comments, thank people for their opinions, and engage in conversations when discussions arise. The worst thing you can do is ignore those who are taking the time to follow your product's journey.
Major Takeaways on Building in Public
Building in public is an approach that's increasingly growing in popularity, however, embracing the open startup path has its ups and downs. It takes bravery to reveal your internal processes and properly sharing your story requires time. But creating such a supportive environment may be an effective way for startups or companies to promote their products and services. This tactic can go a long way, as due to it, some startups going public become perceived as authoritative experts in their field.
Instead of opting for developing in secrecy, people can participate in the creation of the product, closely watch the process of business formation, and support you along the way by sharing their thoughts and suggestions. As a result, the audience better understands what you and the product stand for, boosting the chances of turning into customers.
Of course, following this strategy implies a lot of effort. As a product studio that's brought several products to life, we know how hard it can sometimes get. However, if you're in search of a versatile and experienced team to assist you with product development, don't hesitate to contact Upsilon. We'll be glad to offer MVP development services and give you a hand!