Rob the builder was the greatest up and coming gizmo maker in the world. He was the smartest inventor and the most brilliant designer his professors at Gizmo Academy had ever seen.
After finishing his certificate in gizmo design, Rob knew it was time to make his mark on the world and got straight to work building the next great thing.
Ten short years later, it was done. The most perfect gizmo ever built. Everyone in the world needed it and it solved every problem such a device could solve.
Rob flung open the door to his workshop shouting Eureka!
The response? Crickets.
After ten years of building, Rob had an amazing product and no-one to show it to. To be frank, no one gave a poo, and no one knew they needed what Rob was selling.
He might have been the best gizmo maker there ever was, but without a marketing plan he was still at step one. Even worse, most people who could use a gizmo already had one that worked pretty well.
This thinly-veiled allegory is a far too common story in the real world.
Getting their attention
How can you avoid building something, something great!, that no one pays attention too? How can you make the world take notice?
First of all, don’t wait until after you “launch” to start building an audience.
Launching is a myth. It’s not a one and done, it’s an ongoing process.
One of the best ways to build an audience from your earliest days is by building in public.
Building in public means that a founder or a team is open about the process of building their business with the public — from ideation and building a product — to validating and customer acquisition.
Making the most of your time
Building in public is a way of gaining extra leverage for your time.
You have to do the work to ideate, design, and experiment either way, so you might as well get the most you can out of it.
Founders who build in public are building an audience even before they’ve launched their business, and when they do launch, they already have thousands of fans excited to spread the word.
In this guide we’ll cover some of the most successful examples of businesses built in public and give you the templates behind their most viral efforts so that you can follow in their footsteps.
What about copycats?
“But wait!, If I build in public, won’t that give competitors a chance to steal my idea?”.
If your idea requires specialized knowledge, then it will be difficult to copy. If not, then competitors already exist regardless.
Worry less about copycats and more about building your long-term moat.
Building a moat
You need to build a barrier over time that prevents competitors from taking your territory.
If you’re worried about competitors beating you to the punch then you might not have a defensible business model in the first place, or you may be playing in the wrong market.
One of the best moats you can build for your business is a dedicated audience, and building in public is a great way to do just that.
What can you achieve by building in public?
1. Early feedback
Early market feedback is exceptionally valuable — you can get insights into how your future customers think about their pain points, their problems and your product. As a result of this feedback, you can make better align your product with what your customers want. At this stage, you can also get free advice from experts that will save you hours of work.
Build in public Example: How early feedback helped Neil Pierce build a product his customers wanted to buy.
Neil is an experienced developer who’s worked as a CIO for medium-sized companies for years. Some time ago he became a huge fan of No-Code tools, specifically Bubble.io. He’s built several projects on Bubble and has been dreaming for months of creating a product for the No-Code community and Bubble developers.
Neil started to build his first product, SpaceDeck, in the beginning of 2021: a virtual space for No-Coders. Neil envisioned the architecture of the space: here would be news, job boards over there, and here — discussions, user profiles, etc. Every user would be able to create their own feed by subscribing to specific news, specific profiles and specific topics. Something like LinkedIn but for No-Code. Neil was so excited that he went ahead with the idea without talking to anyone or announcing his plan on social media.
Fast-forward six months of work — Neil launched SpaceDeck to the sound of crickets. Some No-Coders who personally knew Neil came to support the launch and even registered on the platform. But it did not take off.
Neil’s first launch attempt, 15 likes & 1 retweet
Neil’s next project, Atomic Fusion, was a totally different story!
Neil started building it in public on Twitter, offering the smallest details on how and what he was going to build. When he asked followers to provide feedback he was contacted by @NotechAna, an expert in go-to-market strategies for startups and a service designer.
AnaB explained that the priorities Nick set were probably not the best ones to focus on. The features he was planning to build were time consuming and aimed at a different audience. Together they identified the target audience for the product (niched down to one group) and identified the essential features for those users.
It saved Neil at least four months of work.
In sharing every new tweak to the product, Neil got positive responses from the audience. He also created a landing page to capture leads. The result: after three months of using the build in public framework, Neil got 300 subscribers on his mailing list — 300 future customers willing to pay a monthly fee for his product as soon as it launched.
>> Further reading on Neil’s case
Neil’s second attempt at launching, 42 likes and 8 retweets:
2. Peers’ advice
Many founders who have chosen solopreneurship use the build in public framework to bounce ideas off their peers. Sometimes you think you have a wonderful idea that no one else cares about. Including peers’ advice early on could save you from investing your time into a dead-end. If you don’t have a business partner, you might instead find advice through founders you connect with on social media.
Build in Public Example: Chime Social used Twitter to crowd-source logo design ideas.
David Hill was hired as a designer to redesign Chime Social. He started sharing the redesign process via Twitter, asking other designers and founders for their feedback and ideas. This resulted in several brilliant logos that made Chime Social stand out.
Read the thread:
3. Find a co-founder
It’s not for everyone, but some founders get the feeling that they might be better off with another person on board. Maybe you need a marketing expert as a co-founder (if you’re a technical founder yourself). Or maybe you need an extra pair of hands to help with the coding. Building in public is the best way to showcase your product, your skills and potential and to get the attention of other talented founders.
Example: Sharath used Twitter to find a co-founder for his company Shoutout.
Sharath Kuruganty came to the U.S. from India to complete his master’s degree in analytics. Soon after graduation, Sharath landed a job at Walgreens. It was not bad at all — a challenging project, a great team to work with. But as many young man coming to the U.S. Sharath had a dream. He envisioned himself as a startup founder. Perhaps not a unicorn, but something that would at least make a difference.
There was one big problem: Sharath knew nothing about coding (and still doesn’t). He also was not part of a hip San Francisco environment where aspiring entrepreneurs mingle, collaborate and find tech co-founders around every corner. But Sharath did have a group of 3K Twitter followers. Talking to people and supporting them on Twitter was something Sharath loved doing.
One day a tweet popped up on Sharath’s timeline. It was a shoutout from one of his Twitter friends — an endorsement and mention of someone on social media. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was valuable to be tagged in the tweet.
Then Sharath had a thought. What if there was a place where I could store all the shoutouts I’m tagged in?What if everyone had this place?
He had his idea for a startup! He wanted to build a “place of love” where everyone could go to feel invigorated, energized, loved and noticed.
The monetization would come from enterprise customers who would want to embed all the shoutouts on their landing pages.
First, Sharath created a landing page using No-Code tools and a Twitter account for Shoutout.so
Next, he shared the idea with his followers.
Then he posted a tweet asking people to share what they are working on and promised to give a positive testimonial (aka, a shoutout about their work).
The thread went viral and got more than 100 comments. Sharath followed through, personally giving a shoutout to each product.
This simple campaign brought Shoutout 40+ on the waitlist, but despite the initial boost, the project almost died before launch when Sharath and his original co-founder parted ways.
The solution? Back to twitter of course:
In just a few days he had five great candidates and chose a new technical co-founder to join him:
Four months later, a fully coded version of Shoutout came to life as a successful project that continues to gain traction every passing day.
You’ve heard about social media algorithms, right?
Content that gets the most engagement is encouraged.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok — you name it.
If your posts get more replies and likes than someone else’s posts, then yours are displayed to more people with the same interests as those who interact with your content.
The result: more people see your posts.
But let’s think:
What kind of content has more chances for engaging others?
The content where you share your journey and ask for advice?
👉 Or the content where you sound pompous, proclaim to be an expert and only want to issue instructions?
When you share your experiments and process in public, you make it easier for your audience to become invested in your progress and root for you.
Engagement from your true fans boosts your performance in social-media algorithms, drawing even more followers to your brand and creating a virtuous cycle of growth.
Psychological side - The Betty Crocker Effect
Have you heard about the Betty Crocker effect?
In the 1950s, General Mills launched a new product:
Betty Crocker branded instant cake mix 👩🍳
Just add water!
Sales were terrible.
Until they figured out the one thing that was missing...
Have you heard about the Betty Crocker effect?
Sales were so bad that General Mills management hired a psychologist: Ernest Dichter
AKA the “father of motivational research"
What did Dichter find?
Instant cake mix made baking too easy!
"It undervalues the labor and skill of the cake maker."
The answer to General Mills' sales problem was not making the mix easier, but making it more difficult.
Make customers work a little and it will give them more ownership in the final result.
Today you can find Betty Crocker Cake Mix in every grocery store in America.
💡 Your product may not be solving the problem you think it is.
Customers didn't just want a fast-baked cake, they wanted to have fun baking it!
Ironically, the answer to the sales problem was not making the mix easier but making it more difficult.
Make customers work a little and it will give them more ownership in the final result.
Later, the same psychological trick was used by IKEA.
IKEA made customization and customer contribution in the assembly process the core concept of its business. This approach is called the “IKEA Effect” in marketing literature.
The idea is simple and proven: consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they have invested their energy into.
When you use the build in public framework, you create this effect by asking for advice and inviting people to contribute.
As a result, they feel a deep personal connection with you as a founder and with your product.
Even if they don’t become loyal customers, they would support you by spreading the word around, leaving reference links and advocating your product.
Example: Feed Hive
The "locomotive" for FeedHive’s marketing strategy is company founder and CMO Simon Høiberg. Simon has a strong personal brand and a wide presence on social media (66K followers on Twitter, 6.5 subscribers for his personal YouTube channel and 15K followers on LinkedIn).
Simon consistently creates high-quality content for all three platforms and grows his audience fast and he does it by building in public.
FeedHive got started with Simon posting on Indie Hackers.
In February 2021, he revealed his plans to build a SaaS that lets creators do seamless content distribution across social media platforms and by March the first version of FeedHive MVP was ready.
Building in public and collecting user’s feedback supported the product’s incredible growth within that first 12 months.
By building in public, Simon also got the attention of social media influencers with over 50K followers.
They were actively contributing to the product’s features, offering their advice and suggestions. As a result, they turned into loyal customers and continue to spread the word about FeedHive, attracting more and more new customers.
Peter was bone-tired.
His project of two years was dying. He had to make the hardest decision for every startup founder — he decided to quit.
What he couldn’t envision then was that three months later he’d be launching a new product with 1K users on the waiting list! All because of building in public!
This is how it happened.
Several years ago Peter Suhm founded Branch, a CI/CD tool built specifically for WordPress. With some help from the WP community where Peter was already plugged in from his previous project, WP Pusher, the response to Branch was great.
As time went on, Peter realized that onboarding several Branch users was one thing, but building a system that would comfortably hold several hundred users and not exhaust his resources was another.
Branch was struggling on both ends: supporting existing customers and acquiring new customer.
You build something, make it available, and if you've made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don't, in which case the market must not exist.
One day Peter had to admit: Branch was not destined to be scaled. The growth had too many flip sides. At the beginning of March, Peter put a plug on Branch’s organic growth.
But only to start a new project several weeks later!
His new project — Reform, a No-Code tool to create forms that can be embedded everywhere — he built in public on Twitter. In only four month of building Reform in public, these were the results:
✅ over 1K users on the waiting list
✅ 40 paying customers (even before the launch)!
Those four months were tough for Reform’s team — trying to save as much runaway as possible, pivot, deal with existing Branch customers, do customer research for Reform, write the code.
What made the launch successful?
Every single day during these four months Peter was discussing his progress on his co-hosted podcast with Summit founder Matt Wensing, publishing updates on Twitter and hosting a Reform vlog (video series with Q&A sessions, walkthrough Figma mockups for Reform, and many more useful insights).
What platforms should you use to build in public?
Building in public works best on any social media platform. Ideally you want to build in public in front of the same audience of people who will buy your product.
Building in public on Twitter is a waste of time if your target customer doesn’t hang out there too.
First 👉 figure out where your audience is already hanging out.
Then 👉 figure out how to create content to fit that platform.
Caveat: general personal-brand building
Maybe your customer don’t use the app, but their friends might, and their friends might follow you if you post interesting content.
Of the founders we interviewed when writing this guide, here’s where they chose to build in public (ranked by popularity):
Example: using TikTok to sell homemade Play-Doh.
Corey Turner, founder of direct-to-consumer brand Soothe Home, wasn’t planning to start a business.
At first he was building a humble emailing list, Swaylytics. Every week he’d analyze a different DTC brand and unbundle how that brand found success.
After several months of analysis, Corey was ready to build his own brand. He decided to start with something with a relatively low initial investment: homemade Play-Doh.
Step 1: he went to his kitchen and started experimenting with home-made Play-Doh recipes off of Google.
The important part — Corey taped the whole process and made short TikTok videos to show how he was doing.
After twenty experimental batched, he settled on a recipe that he liked the best and launched the brand.
His TikTok videos gave him both initial traction and pre-orders.
Next: Corey started posting on Instagram. He made a post offering a free sample to everyone who signed up for the waiting list and followed his Instagram page and spent $200 to boost it.
Within 24 hours 5,000 people were on his waiting list.
He stopped the campaign because he would already have to spend $5K on sampling to fulfill those orders.
At the same time, he launched the Shopify-based site for the brand and put Soothe Home Dough up for sale for $2.99 for a pack.
By then the flywheel was already in motion — the next day a Facebook group with over 250K members reposted his instagram post, and people started crowding in. Over $3,000 in orders were placed.
Then: Corey reached out to influencers on IG and TikTok to increase the awareness of his brand.
They watched his videos of experimenting with recipes and loved them so much they agreed to repost them for free.
That brought Soothe Home Dough another $6K orders within the first three weeks.
There’s no such thing as too early. Corey started posting from his very first experiments. By starting earlier, his audience could relate to his journey and root for his success.
Every success is a stepping stone. Corey didn’t stop at any stage. He always found a way to leverage his existing audience into even more attention for his brand by hopping between platforms and by creating new offers.
Building in public on Twitter: step by step guides
Noah is a founder of Potion.so — a service that helps with turning a Notion file into a website. Co-host in a startup-related podcast Product Journey Podcast. Also passionate about NFT and building an NFT collection City Clash (a limited NFT collection + P2E game based on the world's largest cities).
You can follow Noah on Twitter @noahwbragg
Kevon is an experienced indie hacker, with a huge experience in edTech. He is a founder of First Code Academy — A leading education institute that teaches kids coding and develops a curriculum for coding skills, computational thinking and entrepreneurship mindset — and a Public Lab — an educational environment for founders and makers interested in learning how to Build in Public. He is also a course Instructor on Maven.
You can follow Kevon on Twitter @MeetKevon and LinkedIn