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43 Comments

The unsolved mysterious disappearances of builders in public 🕵️

As a fairly new member here at IH, I love reading the Building in Public posts.
In my opinion, they're just the frikkin' best. I gobble them up like they're the best food in town I've stumble upon after a long, arduous no-food diet while wandering the deserts of... whoknowswhere. I also love checking out the authors' blogs and Twitter profiles.

As I kept digging for inspiration (* cough * procrastination * cough *), I noticed a worrying pattern: Large numbers of initially enthusiastic public builders eventually just vanish. Total radio silence. No more signal. Just... gone.

So, if you have been building in public then decided to stop it... Would you mind sharing in public one last time, please? I would love to know what made you stop.

I understand it might be uncomfortable. I strongly suspect a lack of interest, success, progress, or whatever might have been a reason. But that's just my suspicion. I'd rather hear it from those who have walked the walk.

By sharing one last time, I hope you can help others who set out on the same journey - bright-eyed, possibly naïve, and maybe not too dissimilar to you - avoid or at least recognize and prepare for the troubles ahead.

  1. 18

    LOL, that title. 👍

    I've a theory as well. Build in public is just another trend. Where people used it wisely to move from A to B. They either get a job, get thousands of followers, sold hundreds of books, created a paid mastermind group or so. They took what they needed and moved on. Now it's time for the newcomers who follow the chain, even if it's a bit late.

    Only the ones who "teaches" how to build in public remained.

    Other than that, what's build in public really. I saw people kinda built in public and started to cry about copycats. Well, what did you expect, geniuses? So it turned into sharing the stripe/gumroad dashboards, only. Celebrating the monumental numbers and that's all. So it became repetitive and boring, yet still works for some.

    1. 6

      LOL, that title.

      Haha, I didn't even know I had clickbait skills :)

  2. 14

    There are four main outcomes:

    1. They gave up on their project.
    2. Their project was so successful, they didn't have time to create all the "meta" work to share back.
    3. They realized building in public gave them a competitive disadvantage within their industry.
    4. They realized their target customer isn't in the place they're building in public, so they've moved or discontinued.

    Building in public has its use cases, but it doesn't make sense for every product or company. Plenty of people realize this and change how they work.

    But frankly I think #1 is the most likely situation, followed by #2 in terms of BIP-ers you've actually heard of.

  3. 7

    I made the Build in Public Cheatsheet so I had a chance to study more in-depth some builders in public, as I myself was just starting to do it (I haven't vanished yet lol)

    One of the reasons — and it's a best case scenario — I can put forward as an explanation is this:

    People Build in Public → It goes well for a bit → They get traction → Startup requires more and more attention now that they've got off the ground

    Sort of 'what got you here won't take you there' moment in the timeline of a startup

    P.S: When I read your title, I thought ppl got kidnapped and shit. Insta-clicked to see if I need to get a security detail

    1. 2

      Daniel, good seeing you here buddy. Didn't know you were on IH as well.

      1. 2

        ayyy nice to see you man

        1. 1

          Yeah! It's silly cuz it's still online but it feels similar to when you meet a homie you haven't seen in a while in a club xD

    2. 1

      I thought the same thing too. LMAO. Good to know, nothing bad.

    3. 1

      I like the positive scenario...

      I recall the odd post/tweet explaining that they're winding down the public bit due to success. And other constraints that might arise from raising funds if they choose to. So that matches it well.

      Insta-clicked to see if I need to get a security detail

      Subscribe to my email course: "15 no-nonsense, guaranteed strategies to clickbait effectively". You won't believe #8! 😜

  4. 6

    I can shed a bit of light on this topic, from my perspective.

    My last Indiehackers milestone was this one:
    https://www.indiehackers.com/product/mojosaas/8000-mrr-here-are-my-top-3-lessons-of-the-year--MPCwKuaCLIGYkE4VsxT

    That was at $8000 MRR, now I'm at $16000 MRR.

    There are things I could say about the last 6 months doubling my MRR, but honestly... I'm just way too busy to articulate it. I try to share what I can on twitter, and via my newsletter - but the days of me having the time to spontaneously craft a nice post on IH are long gone.

    So I think that explains the trajectory for some cases. People start building in public, then get too busy to update various channels. I'm still posting on twitter FWIW.

  5. 5

    I recently made a thread and analyzed 200 accounts of people for it that buildinpublic

    And I think there are two main reasons why people quit buildinpublic in Twitter:

    1. they don't know what to write, and of course no one wants to spam with similar tweets
    2. tweets do not attract attention, and it turns out that the time spent writing tweets goes to emptiness

    If you take the very popular BuildInPublic accounts, they write very diverse and extremely engaging tweets.

    By the way, if it is interesting, the thread itself is here:

    1. 1

      Great thread!
      Particularly like the WAS vs NOW and "Do not tell what you did, tell what it will give to the user".

    2. 1

      Yeah I think he might be correct. I'm trying to build in public but I'm not sure what people are interested in seeing and when I do share I feel like I'm shouting into the void.

      1. 1

        Hah man, I feel exactly the same way about it.

    3. 1

      Hey, I stumbled across that earlier today. Thanks for sharing that!

  6. 3

    @bvotteler I think I can totally relate to this post. Though I think the points made by other people are equally possible and valid, I've got another possible explanation for this as well.

    I was quite active for the past few months myself. But with intense product development cycles going on with my team and simultaneously handling my design agency projects got pretty tough in the last month.

    As a result, I was not being able to dedicate time properly to my regular indie hacker postings. However, now things seems to easing which is helping me get reactive on the community.

    So it's possible that several other founders may also be going through a similar problem right now.

  7. 3

    I started using indie hackers 2 years ago and instantly became infatuated with the level of transparency of content around building in public.

    I also strived on following the trend and chose to always be as transparent as possible with everything I shared.

    As someone who now, after 2 years, finally has some momentum with a product, I've recently started to question if I should continue building in public. A few logical reasons come to mind:

    1. Competition

    As an indie hacker, my business isn't entirely unique in a revolutionary way. It wouldn't take much for someone else to come along and start to copy my exact strategy that I'm openly sharing.

    Although this might not hurt large companies, if someone was to take away just 10 of my customers, it'd have a significant impact on my revenue.

    2. My customers

    In my unique scenario, some of my customers follow me on platforms like Twitter. The last thing I'd want them to see is me sharing how much I made in a month from their purchases.

    3. Distribution

    When you're in the early stages of creating a product, building in public is a great way to acquire your initial customers.

    As you grow and find more sustainable distribution channels, the incentive to continue building in public only decreases.

    ---

    I know my circumstances aren't the same as everyone else's, but I hope this helps!

    1. 1

      I feel like the only real incentive (other than altruism :D) to build in public mostly comes from early stage initial customer acquisition. I think that the whole "help others" with your example thing is just a nice side effect, but never the real reason to do it. So to your point, once it stops being an effective acquisition channel (in comparison to other channels that you have), it just becomes a time sink... and all the nice ideas about helping others to learn from you (if there were any to being with) go through window.

  8. 3

    My theory is simple. Mind-numbing competition.

    Anyone who builds in public is openly inviting competition. If this is working out so well for you, of course others are going to come to take a piece of the pie.

    Copy.ai are the best example, people just ripped off the entire business and now there's 100s of these apps

    Build-in public by sharing the journey, roadmap, customer success and outcome. I think once you start sharing revenue numbers, you go down a slippery slope unless ofcourse your business is about "how to make money online"

  9. 3

    Great question. I think I will be finished posting on IH soon too. Mostly because:

    1. Lack of public acceptance. More and more people begin to hate rather than praise you.
    2. Entices more copycats. Even though some people try to offer AMA sessions, their answers are dull and don't reveal anything tactical/specific. So, it's a waste of time. Clickbaits only.
    3. Poor growth. Even though my posts get voted up a lot, they still bring very little actionable traffic that converts into anything. There are better levers of growth available than Reddit/IH/HackerNews or Twitter.
    1. 1

      Interesting insights there. Thank you.

      If you don't mind me probing further:

      Lack of public acceptance. More and more people begin to hate rather than praise you.

      I haven't been around this space long enough to have seen others hating on public builders.
      Any idea or theory why this starts happening? Are people more inclined to believe that the builder is using it for marketing or attention-seeking only? Or are we too naïve/gullible about the frequently touted benefits of building in public?

      Even though some people try to offer AMA sessions, their answers are dull and don't reveal anything tactical/specific. So, it's a waste of time.

      I feel the same way about many AMAs. However, to be fair, this also applies to almost any other topic outside the solopreneur/startup space.

  10. 2

    i wrote something about it here: https://www.swyx.io/meta-creator-ceiling/

    The natural end game of the current Audience-First and Build in Public memes is that you naturally attract an audience of wannabe builders. There are only so many topics they want to buy, and so many things to incestuously sell to each other. The successful cohorts will be supported by the far bigger unsuccessful ones in a self-organizing pyramid scheme.

  11. 2

    I haven't done this because I've never started building in public but I can imagine that it's just with anything that's novel.

    I have a hypothesis how it might go:

    1. It starts and you're all hype and it's amazing
    2. You do it for a while but you fail to make it a habit (it's hard we've all been there)
    3. You may or may not do well in case you're doing well it becomes your second focus as your primary focus is building your business, if you don't do well it's harsh to face reality and fear criticism
    4. It slowly fades out as it's neither a habit nor something that is something you like to do as it's uncomfortable and or not your main focus
    5. You stop

    I've been playing with the thought of building in public myself but I think I can't contribute enough time/effort to it at the current stage and that's why I've never started (I might be missing out who knows :))

    1. 1

      You do it for a while but you fail to make it a habit (it's hard we've all been there)
      ...
      It slowly fades out as it's neither a habit nor something that is something you like to do as it's uncomfortable and or not your main focus

      Oh wow. That rings true in so many aspects of my life, too.

  12. 1

    I can narrow to 2:

    1. Most people don't understand building in public. To me, it is a mindset around authenticity and transparency. It is about you sharing valuable lessons while you're building your company or product. It doesn't have to be about MRR or weekly updates, just lessons.

    But because most people think it is growth hacking, when the results are not obvious, then they stop. Because it is all "extra work".

    But really authenticity and transparency are more mindset & long-term. Don't ever think building in public can bring you a lot of traction.

    1. I think @yongfook covers it here. If the builder is successful, there are just more important things to do than sharing lessons. Some might continue to do it, but definitely less frequently.
  13. 1

    For me its been one of two things.

    1. The project fails, and I just cut my loses without a final update
    2. The project gets some success, and I put all my focus into growing it.

    I would like to commit more to the journey overall, the ups and downs.
    Might be a good nudge to just start doing that.

  14. 1

    There is a lot excitement around building in public. Just do it some say. But it’s more nuanced than that.

    There are a few reasons people stop, but I’ll point out:

    1. They got so successful that it became awkward or no longer beneficial to share numbers and processes.

    2. Try figured out that their target demo isn’t interested in building in public.

    This is Paul Graham’s two cents on building in public.

  15. 1

    It's a shame but basically it's because of this:

    ~90% of companies cease to exist within 3 years

  16. 1

    As someone who just started, can I give some props to whoever built the Build in Public interface. It is fantastic.

    I can see that while I'd like to keep this up, it's going to get more and more difficult. I'm already wildly overstretched trying to launch https://expertship.com. Writing a diary of milestones would be one of the most useful things I could do in terms of learning. But the demands on time as you get closer to launch are worse than expected, and I had already expected them to be insane.

  17. 1

    I'm still around although I generally suck at marketing haha

    Built something just yesterday :) https://twitter.com/deepwhitman/status/1392680065167544320

  18. 1

    Building in public consistently, warts n all, isn't easy. My closest thing to building in public right now is on micro blog, where I share life updates. I'm not too focused to metrics/tangibles, nor for the purpose of marketing... it's more (for) the journey in & of itself. These are the sorts blogs/journeys I most enjoy diving into, also.

  19. 1

    Challenge accepted, I'll start writing more 😛

    What has been blocking me, in order to talk more about my projects, is I'm publishing things ONLY when I feel like I'm moving forward. But there are always a lot of stones in the way, and I guess talking about it is useful not only for the person writing the post, but also for others facing the same issues.

    Anyway, to whoever needs to read this: Kudos to everyone building things, publicly or not, we all know the huge effort you're putting on your project(s)! 💪🏻

  20. 1

    I've been doing it for a few weeks (months maybe?) now and there are some days that I am simply don't have anything to post.

    Every day that I don't post, I feel less motivated to post the next day, etc...

    So it's a cycle until I just stop all together.

    I'm currently at that point right now 😅

  21. 1

    It's been one and a half month that I didn't post anything. The reason is because I am very busy and it freaking takes time.

    That's why I took a step back and iterated on my content and process. I am doing an experiment where I switched from text based articles (check here http://jimzarkadas.com/behind-the-scenes) to YouTube videos.

    You may wonder, how can a video take less time than an article? :-P

    The answer is that I'll just document, film myself, express and describe how I feel and what I am building and I will create this way a collection of small daily shots. In the end of the week I ll send all these to an editor and he will create a weekly episode for me.

    At this moment I am trying to find an editor that is within my budget (500$ per month) and once I get this done, I ll start posting updates again!

  22. 1

    I am still going strong.

    I have been sharing my BS since I started BIP....añl my 7 projects have been build up in public., on twitter.

    Right now I am sharing my progress with my biggest project.

    Https://Wickedtemlates.com

    Feel free to follow me on www.twitter.com/mike_andreuzza

  23. 1

    Title got me the LOLz too. :D I'm also thinking about "pivoting-in-public" (I'm building https://datagrab.io). My dilemma is quite frankly, what to share? I could tweet all day long (well, almost) about the technical decisions I'm taking, but I'm not sure if people would care. Other than that, high-level status updates remain, but realistically speaking, you'll be working at least a few days on a non-trivial feature, so that would result in occasional tweets only. How are you guys handling it? What do you share?

  24. 1

    Hi, I'm blogging everyday about reaching my dream of $5000 MMR as a solo founder working on a software product.

    I'm at https://albertkim.ca I started on April 29 and I'm still going.

    No I'm not on twitter!

  25. 1

    Hey Bvotteler, I’m new around these parts but I can speak about why the drop off as I’ve attempted to build in public via podcasting. So when you’re first beginning, you’re really ready to go and put it out there but as you progress, it’s hard to keep up with the pivots and changes of your business. Also if the business is not growing, it can feel like you’re re-enforcing what isn’t performing well. It’s additional pressure to post in public and feel like you’ve done something that people recognize as progress which is why some stop. Anyways, just my thoughts

    1. 1

      Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it!

      Also if the business is not growing, it can feel like you’re re-enforcing what isn’t performing well.

      Could you clarify this bit, please? (Not sure I understand that correctly.)
      Do you mean not growing feels even worse because you have to write about it (the lack of growth)?

      1. 1

        So if you’re churning clients but not recovering new clients or customers, you feel like you’re disappointing your readers/listeners with no new antidotal advice. While I think readers like yourself appreciate the good and the bad, as a build in public type of person, we almost want to just forget about the bad and pivot to the next thing, not dwell. At least that’s me

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