A Guide to Building SaaS Businesses in Public

John Braat

Jonathan Braat / September 1, 2022 11 min read

I have been wanting to build in public for a while but didn't really know where to start. Here is a compilation of things to get going and keep at it.

DISCLAIMER

This guide is a summary why one should build a SaaS business in public and an aggregation of ideas to kickstart according actions. The motivation behind starting it is simple. I want to provide actionable tasks to get myself started and grant motivation to keep going. I hope it does the same for you.

What follows is a collection of ideas and knowledge from other people that inspire me. I will keep modifying it until I'm truly happy with the ideas and processes. You can see this as a stable release, but expect patches now and then. If you like the guide or have suggestions for improvements, please let me know 🙂. You can best reach me via Twitter. Either tweet @ me (@jebraat), or send me a DM if you think I have missed something.

What is building in public

Building in Public (BIP) consists of building a company or product and transparently sharing the behind the scenes of how you do it. Founders generally share their wins, struggles, learnings, anecdotes, and business metrics.

Why should anybody care?

Your audience will generally be comprised of two groups:

  • Friends and other founders: People that either care about you, your journey and progress, or people that WANT to learn from you and/or get inspired. As Nicolás states it in his article, friends and other founders can also serve as a support group you can draw encouragement and motivation from (goes both ways).
  • Customers: Users of your product or service, who WANT to know about the current state of the business and maybe even get a say in what you do next

This is important to know, as it influences which communication channels you will be using (see channels later on in the article).

In a nutshell: Building in public is sharing your journey as a founder and product progress to reach customers as well as connect with other founders for support and a sense of community.

Why you should build your SaaS in public

Great products require deep human empathy: you can’t solve for that without talking to the customer early and often.

To keep it concise, here is a list of benefits you can expect from building in public. Most of the items are compiled from these sources: 1, 2, 3. I have omitted some items, combined others and added a short explanation and/or source for clarity to a few:

  • Validate ideas: Asking your customers or peers whether a feature or product is worth building. IMO, this works best if you already have a following. Debatable. Check out this 5 minute segment by @levelsio if you don't have followers but want to learn how to validate ideas through existing platforms.
  • Stay top-of-mind: Ranking highly in the minds of consumers helps to attract leads and retain loyal customers. For example:
    1. Person continuously sees twitter posts by founder about service to send articles to kindle, but doesn't have a Kindle. (product not interesting)
    2. Person buys Kindle.
    3. Person wants to read blog article on Kindle.
    4. Person remembers tool they saw on twitter (top-of-mind) -> lead and potential customer
  • Inspire others: There is usually at least one person just a few steps behind you who wants to be where you are.
  • Get fast feedback: People like to help and be heard. It's amazing. They will literally point to where you need to go if you listen. Caveat: listen to the right people.
  • Build connections with stakeholders: People appreciate being heard. Responding to user inquiries via socials helps a lot and builds trust.
  • Attract team members or investors: Down the line, people will know what you and your product is about. The network effect might attract talent or investors.
  • Meet new friends: Be a part of a community of founders, developers and generally like-minded people.
  • Find evangelists: Technology evangelists are part of the critical user base for your product. They will usually tell others about how awesome it is.
  • Meet mentors: The more you expand your network, the more people you will find to learn from.
  • Endowment effect: Early followers become invested. As @NotechAna puts it "We value much more things that we have invested something into. When you #buildinpublic you create this effect by asking for advice, by inviting people to contribute. They feel a deep personal connection with you as a founder, and with your product."
  • Accountability and reflection for yourself
  • Establishes you as a field expert

As you can see... the list is long.

In a nutshell: Building in public can help you to market yourself, your product, and build connections with your customers. You will also connect with like-minded people/other founders and maybe even make friends. Sharing your progress will inspire founders who are a few steps behind you.

If you are struggling with marketing and don't know where to start, I have written an article with 26 actionable marketing tasks for developers you should check out.

Risks to building in public

It's not all unicorns 🦄 and rainbows 🌈. There are some risks to consider before sharing whatever you are doing to (potentially) the whole world.

There are moments when I know exactly what I want to tweet, but I stop myself, thinking that this might dilute my “message.” And then there are the moments when I am not on Twitter, doing regular person things like carrying groceries or making an omelet, where I ponder if this activity would be worth sharing online. One day, I saw a couple of cans of imported beer and wondered aloud if “this might be content.”

A list of risks compiled from here:

  • Losing yourself: Building in public is a performance art. It is. I highly recommend reading the article by @arvidkahl linked above if you want to deep dive.
  • Copycats: When people see success, they want a piece. Expect your product to be copied in some way or another if it is successful.
  • Competitors: Oversharing can lead to your competitors front running your roadmap.
  • Haters: There are 8 billion people on this earth, not everyone will like your idea, you, or what you say. You will need to develop a thick skin.
  • Shouting into the void: Even though there are 8 billion people, nobody actually WANTS to hear your message just for the sake of it. You must provide value. Don't try to boil the ocean. Join small communities and connect with people one-on-one.
  • Insecurities: "People will judge me". Luckily people don't actually care that much (see above). So, we have at least that going for us 😃
  • Bragging: Sharing only wins will make you come across as a show-off and inauthentic. Share the ups and the downs.

In a nutshell: Nothing comes without risk.

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How to build in public

If you are not scared off after reading the risks, read on.

What to do and how to do it

Here are some tasks you can do and things you can share (source):

  • Offer help to other creators
  • Share your goals
  • Ask for help
  • Poll for features/UI (e.g. "which UI looks better, left or right")
  • Share your revenue numbers
  • Share lessons learned
  • Share struggles
  • Share milestones reached
  • Reflect on progress you have made
  • Share your roadmap
  • Show new features

If you are anything like me, you will have an easier time learning by watching what other people do. I do want to stress that copying their message and exactly what they do most likely won't work. It's also ethically questionable. I suggest checking out what other people do and how they do it. You then develop your own style, your own message and your own strategy influenced by them.

Here are some of my favorite people to follow building in public. I limited the projects listed to 2, so please check out the links to their Twitter profiles if you want to know more about them:

They are generally sharing life updates, product updates, successes, business metrics, their learnings, tips and tricks around SaaS building, memes, jokes, and more. Some of them tend to ask for help more and some of them ask for tech advice. Most of them build on Twitter, some of them post their learnings on multiple platforms. Rox for example builds live on Twitch.

I also like the idea of setting yourself a challenge and documenting the process and progress. @levelsio is probably the most well known person in the indie hacker space to do this. He set himself a challenge to build 12 startups in 12 months. You can find his article about it here. 12 in 12 is quite a lot and might be too much depending on your other obligations (day job, work, etc.). Adjust the challenge to something that keeps it challenging but also attainable.

You could also participate in community challenges. @AnthonyCastrio from Indie Worldwide for example has launched a 100 users in 100 days challenge not so long ago. Joining in with other founders helps for accountability and creates a feeling of "belonging to a tribe".

Pick your channels

First off. Picking your channels isn't final. However, I think consistency will go a long way and switching your build in public channels might work against you.

The most obvious channel first: Twitter. This is where most of the tech stuff is happening and also where you will find a lot of other founders (see support group from above). You don't necessarily have to use hashtags, but if you have no following it will provide better visibility. A common one to use is #buildinpublic depending on what your business is you can add others. E.g. you build a tool for designers -> use #uidesign. Again, this is optional.

NOTE: Don't confuse #buildinpublic with #buildinginpublic. The latter is used somewhat frequently, but has a lot less activity. Might be good to know.

Here are some more communities/sites with other founders:

I'm sure there are more. If you think I missed an important one, let me know via Twitter.

You could also document your journey on YouTube, TikTok or Twitch. You should look into Twitch especially if you are developing a game or something in the game's industry.

Unless the audience for your service has a decent overlap with Twitter and/or founders, you should probably look for the channel your perfect user base is using. This could be a specific subreddit, a Discord community, a Slack community or even a specific online forum.

If you know an awesome way to find these communities please let me know, because I find the search arduous.

Conclusion

Building in public can be a bit overwhelming. IMO, it is a good way to market your business, yourself, build connections and inspire others. I know this, because I'm inspired by others doing it.

I hope this article helped you. With that, happy hacking!

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