Building in Public: How Transparency on the Internet Can Support Your Goals
There are benefits to sharing every step of your journey to achieving a goal. This article delves into why you might want to consider transparency when working towards a goal, also known as building in public.
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash
Lorde says, "Maybe the Internet raised us" in her song, A World Alone. This line stuck with me when I first heard the song and remains with me today, especially when considering what shapes my behaviors and quirks. I grew up and came of age in a world where people loved to share every little bit of their lives (maybe a little too much).
Despite this (or maybe because of it), I became resistant to the idea of sharing things, from achievements to failures. But thinking about my career and personal growth, I can honestly say that I wouldn't be here without the oversharers. A YouTube video here, a LinkedIn post there – my life is a scrapbook of the lessons I learned from other people's journeys.
At the end of 2021, I decided to give a little peek behind the curtain of my life by sharing some of my goals for 2022 on Twitter. Primarily for accountability, but also just because sharing your journey to achieving your goals makes the journey feel less lonely.
At Buffer, one of our values is 'default to transparency,' which means that we're a glasshouse – everyone can see what's going on inside. It's one of the things that drew me to working here. Another way to put it is that we 'build in public,' which is a concept that more people, especially founders, are adopting. It's not just for them — transparency can apply to anything, including writing a book or working on an album (see the TikToker sharing her journey to creating a Disney musical).
Most people balk at the idea of transparency. What if you make a mistake? What if nothing comes of your idea/project/company? But there are benefits to sharing your journey — including the struggles. This article delves into why you might want to take the transparent approach to goal-setting and achieving.
Why consider transparency at all?
One of the key ideas behind transparency or building in public, mainly pushed by Karthik Puvvada (KP), includes "expanding your luck surface area." The idea is that transparency gives you or your business more opportunities to reach the community, investors, or audience that will connect with your journey. A few other reasons to consider transparency:
- Encouraging someone on a similar journey: An underrated part of sharing your journey is how much you can inspire others.
- Finding community: Having a community rally around you as you work towards a goal can encourage you to keep at it.
- Building trust: This is especially important if people count on your goals. By being transparent (and including proof of work) about where you are at each stage, you can build trust.
- Showing your expertise: Sometimes, building something in public or transparently sharing your journey to a specific goal is all the social proof you need.
- Staying accountable: If you're constantly sharing what's happening with your goals or project, you have people to answer when you start to flag – however medieval that sounds.
- Pushing the industry forward: One of the driving forces behind our choice to be transparent at Buffer is so we can encourage others to do the same. Checkly's Pay Calculator is a great recent example partly inspired by Buffer's own Salary Calculator.
Lessons from experts on building in public
Who are the people who are taking on the challenge of building in public? Apart from pioneers like Joel Gascoigne (Buffer's CEO) and Ryan Hoover (founder of Product Hunt), we wanted to highlight other folks you can look to for inspiration. So we asked them all questions about building in public and practicing transparency, and this is what they had to say.
Q: How do you practice transparency?
A: Sharing revenue publicly
Monica Lent, Founder of Affilimate: "I spent about a year doing public income reports on my blog, where I shared the revenue from all my income streams: a content blog, a paid community, and my SaaS company. This was a great exercise in goal setting, and many people told me it inspired them to go full-time on their projects.
At the time, I detailed how much revenue my businesses generated and what I spent on expenses like software, tools, contractors, and administration. My goal was to show people that revenue isn't everything, and running a business can be expensive."
A: Documenting the process of building
Ritika Mehta built Marked (now acquired): "My newsletter & Twitter is where I talk about building products and my experience with building & running a startup.
I tweet small updates weekly or bi-weekly & the newsletter is the leading platform through which I share my journey. It doesn't only limit to positive parts but sharing struggles & vulnerabilities too. As a founder, it helps me build a community around my product, get initial users, feedback & marketing before I launch the product."
A: Applying personal practices to company values
Samantha Anderl, Co-founder of Harlow: "My co-founder Andrea and I practice transparency in two ways. One way is the way we interface with our community, and the other is how we're building our company. We're building Harlow to help freelancers stress less and work happier. Part of that happens in the product, the other part comes through sharing our struggles, wins, and lessons learned with the community."
A: Sharing personal experiences of building a business
Lesley Sim, Founder of Newsletter Glue: "From day 1, we've built in public. Rather than share revenue numbers and metrics, I've always focused on sharing my experiences building the business, our roadmap, and screenshots of stuff we're working on.
I think everyone chooses to share different things, and there are corresponding upsides and downsides. I think the channel you choose to share on also matters a lot and determines what and how you communicate. Personally, I use Twitter. I've found it the best and easiest way to chat with like-minded folk without much mental overhead."
A: Share retrospectives and plans for the future
Allison Seboldt, Founder of Fantasy Congress: "I post monthly reflections on my blog called "retrospectives." In each post, I share income and statistics from the past month, reflect on what I did the previous month, and discuss what I want to do next."
Q: What advice would you give to anyone considering transparency?
A: Take public feedback with a grain of salt
Monica: "Many people have opinions, but very few have done what you're doing and understand your customers and your business like you do. You can get all kinds of input, but it's still on you to make the right decision for your business!"
A: Build a relationship with your audience
Ritika: "[Bulding in public] is like building a strong bond by sharing ups and downs. You're being more honest to your customers & they build trust with you."
A: Write down your experiences for future reflection
Samantha: “When you're building, you are moving quickly, and you don't always have time to share your story at each exact moment. But if you can reflect on the notes you're taking along the way, it will help you figure out the important pieces of the story your audience needs to hear. As an additional benefit, It'll also help you reflect on the journey and see how far you've come.”
A: Share a little more than what you’re comfortable with
Lesley: “A big part of the reason people are attracted to build in public posts is that it pulls back the curtains and gives lived experience and insight. So if you're sharing super generic stuff, you'll never see good results from building in public.”
A: Just do it
Allison: “It's the most beneficial thing I've done on my entrepreneurial journey. The barrier to entry is low and the returns are huge.”
Tips for being more transparent
Transparency requires a conscious effort. You may not remember or see a reason to share specific events relevant to your efforts to build in public. However, even minor moments can help you find your community or vice versa. Here are some tips for practicing transparency.
Share your goals
Along with publicly documenting your goals, make it a habit to update what you’re working on as you go along. I chose Twitter – a popular platform for building in public – and I’m working on a more detailed personal blog post about my goals. In addition, some people use Medium or write newsletters on a weekly or monthly basis to share their progress (this may also be a good way to break in Twitter’s newsletter feature).
To paraphrase Samantha, documenting your journey can help you reflect personally and determine which parts you want to share with your audience.
Connect with a community
You may need to do some research, but there’s nothing like working alongside like-minded people. There’s NaNoWriMo through which several writers have gotten their best-selling manuscripts. Or programs like Women Make where entrepreneurs and makers can support each other as they build products. Or even Flow Club, which is a great way to motivate yourself to work through tasks and stay accountable.
Determine where you’d like to draw the line. What are you unwilling to share? Limit what you share and respect those limits. Monica shares some advice regarding boundaries, saying, “...building in public doesn't HAVE to mean sharing all your revenue and metrics. You can build in public without disclosing detailed financial figures. So it's not all or nothing – you can apply a build-in-public mindset without necessarily going full "open startup" and still get the benefits.”
Lesley also summed up boundary-setting saying, “Be careful about what you choose to share. Building in public is a continuum, it's not all or nothing.”
Propose your ideas and ask for feedback
It might be enough just to say you’re working on something and update once you’ve made progress. But asking people for feedback can help you refine your ideas and find inspiration among shared advice.
Articulate your roadblocks
Let people know about the challenges you’re facing and share how you overcame/plan to overcome them. Communicating your blocks can also be a good opportunity to seek advice from a community of people who might have gone through the same. By sharing your challenges, you can find a way to overcome them
Lesley shared a technical challenge she was facing on Twitter and was able to get a ton of helpful advice (and a solution) in her replies.
Share sneak peeks
People love looking behind the scenes, so let them in on what’s to come. This gets people excited about your ideas and provides a fountain of positive commentary to look at when you’re hunting for inspiration. This could be a good strategy, especially for writers. For example, sci-fi author Brandon Sanderson constantly communicates with fans through live streams, blog posts, and “first looks” into his new books.
Hannah Nicole Mae (@hannahnicolemae) on TikTok also does this with her fictional series that she’s turning into a book – and over 200,000 people are following along her journey.
Celebrate your wins – and share your failures
We asked our contributors about the downsides of building in public, and Samantha said it best, “Building in public can be messy. To truly be transparent you need to share the wins, the struggles, the mundane – all of it. But that's what makes it so compelling. People want to understand the full gravity of what it takes to build something.”
Being vulnerable, both about your journey to success and the missteps, can help you and someone else in the same boat find empathy and inspiration to keep going.