Building in Public
02 Nov 2020
I am convinced that building my business in public is the right thing to do. I won’t unpack the many reasons why it is a good idea, others have already done that. Instead, I want to share my personal take on it after 2 months of working as an indie developer. I’ve learned that, though the directive is simple, building in public is not easy. It can be an alluring time sink that distracts you from the real work.
The cost of writing
Writing is my favourite communication medium, and developing writing skills is a key goal for me this year. I started out thinking this would be easy because I could simply write more. By sticking to a writing habit, I could level up that core skill and share my progress with anyone who is interested. It turns out there is a problem with this approach: Good writing takes time.
Let’s do a quick audit. I have already committed to writing one newsletter per week for Novus Bestiary. That newsletter drives audience growth for the main market I want to get into right now. Combined with the research, each newsletter takes me about a half day. In addition, I have added 1 hour of dedicated daily writing time for this blog and any other words I want to publish. That adds 4 hours per week.
4 hrs + 4 * 1 hr = 8 hours
Altogether, that is already 1 full work day, half of which is supposed to be some sort of ‘building in public’. When you add in editing time, Twitter time, and the fact that not everything I write gets published, the real time investment is even more.
As a solo founder, time is my most important resource. Whenever I put thoughts to paper (so to speak), that is time I am not spending on all the other things I need to be doing.
I want to give writing its due. Writing is a skill I highly value. I know that writing on the internet is an investment that will compound. I’m happy to spend some time now for compounded benefits later. I also feel a moral obligation to share. Other people’s writing has taught me most of what I know about tech and business.
But when you consider building in public, I feel it’s important to call out the real time cost of writing, and recognize that writing about how you work is not the actual work.
To improve the writing situation, I have a few ideas:
- Write faster
- Write shorter pieces
- Consider NOT editing (thanks Philip for this idea)
I also think I should explore other mediums.
Sharing via video
I like the idea of sharing through video. I think it could be much more expressive. It’s important to me that people get to know the real me, weird facial ticks and all. My main concerns are that video seems even more time consuming, and its a medium I don’t understand well.
I’m going to experiment with streaming on Twitch to see if I can do something interesting and improvisational.
I recently spoke with Philip Kiely, the current head of marketing at Gumroad, and he raised another great point. Video might serve me more than my audience. Asking someone to watch an entire video is asking a lot. Written communication is much more scannable. People can skim to find things that might interest them and focus only on what matters to them. Video doesn’t offer the same benefit.
Too many newsletters
I am extremely grateful to have some people subscribed to my newsletters. It demonstrates that my work matters to someone. The energy I get from that is amazing. I want those people to have the best possible insights I can deliver. I want those to be the relationships I nurture most. But I need to keep things simple, or else I will fail to deliver on that promise.
I currently have two main newsletters. People can subscribe to this blog and people can subscribe to Novus Bestiary. I intend to launch many great products for tabletop RPGs as Sword & Source. I am now gathering subscribers around that larger umbrella. This lead to a problem: how should I structure the newsletters?
I almost decided to make a newsletter for each individual Sword & Source project. At first glance I thought I might be able to deliver the most valuable, targetted content that way. The reality is that would lead to a cambrian explosion of newsletters, all of which would fail as I struggled to keep up with the unbounded growth. Sword & Source will be shipping a lot of projects.
My solution is to keep myself restricted to 3:
- Subscribe to this website if you want to follow Adam wherever he goes.
- Subscribe to Sword & Source if you are interested in tabletop RPG products and content.
- Subscribe to Novus Bestiary if you just want to learn about cool mythical creatures.
I’ll be thinking very carefully about how to communicate this to my current lists and sort out my segments to make this as clear as possible. Send me an email if you are interested in learning how I end up doing all that.
I believe that building in public is a way of working you have to personalize. It is just like any other skill – something to practice and refine. You should do what is best for your business.
As I navigate this topic for myself, I am starting to get clear on my own guiding principles. These are the principles that will help me make decisions:
- It should be fun.
- It should demonstrate how I think. I want to send more signal. I want to attract likeminded people.
- It should be vulnerable. People should see the things that might fail. People should see the half-formed ideas.
- It should never get in the way of doing the actual work. It should remain a low time commitment. I need to be building.
- It should teach people the lessons I’ve learned.
- It should not become self-referential: No building in public about building in public. (Thanks again to Philip for this one.)
The irony is not lost on me regarding that last point. I realize this entire article violates that principle. But I am honestly struggling with this topic right now, and I believe that sharing might help someone else.
I promise, I won’t do it again. Unless of course, you ask me to.
If you want to follow along as I learn to build a business, you can follow me on Twitter or enter your email below.
Email subscribers will know first when I write new articles and release products. I value your trust and will repay it in kind.