Building in the open has incredible benefits, I have started my last three businesses that way, here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
Start telling your story in public
Even if you don’t have many followers, just start sharing about your ideas.
No one will steal your shitty startup idea anyway. All you need is a first follower to start a movement. Sure, you can succeed by building stealth, not telling anyone about what you’re doing, it works, look at Apple. You would miss many opportunities, but it works. I really believe building in the open is the way to go and one day we will look at secrets and stealth as “so last century”.
Use social networks, post preferably in their native form to optimize distribution (Facebook Notes on Facebook, Medium post on Twitter and LinkedIn native post is what I do). Publish videos from now and then and start a newsletter. I’m really bummed I only started my personal newsletter 13 years after starting my blog. I just did not like email “marketing”, tired of getting crappy newsletters and spam myself. I will write a dedicated post but if you share honest content I just discovered how well personal newsletters work (go ahead and make fun of me if you like :-).
Posting regularly is the most important. I’m trying to write at least a long form post a week and short updates daily.
English is very important, too, if that’s not your native language. I see comments from all around the World and my conference LeWeb got participants from more than 80 countries. It would have been easier to post only in French when I started but I would have missed connecting with people all around the World. I used to write in French and after 8 years based in San Francisco I gave up, kind of sad, but a question of focus.
Do not hide anything and be honest
I’m exaggerating, sure. I’m tired of entrepreneurs talking about “a very secret idea” and you “should not tell anyone”. Worse, please sign an NDA and I will send you my deck. Forget it, no one will steal your shitty idea. The best people in the World to help you on your idea do not work for you, you just don’t know about them. Sharing is an opportunity to find some of them. Your idea will evolve fast, too. If you share it you will get great suggestions. You might end up building something totally different. No bullshit. Tell the story as you would tell your best friend and ask him for advice.
No crappy marketing. No lies. Be honest. Tell the story. Tell it how it is, share your difficulties, too.
Success is a collection of failures we recovered from.
Gather feedback constantly and listen
Once you have a community, you will get comments. You will also get criticism. Credit the author of ideas and constructive criticism that made you aware of something interesting. I always try to do that but sometimes I just get too many emails or comments and lose track, I’m trying not to but sometimes I fail. Thank and write back to as many people as you can.
Recognize your mistakes in public. It’s okay, we all make mistakes. My worst mistake in my career was to invite French Presidential candidates to speak at LeWeb. I invited the main candidates (not the extreme right and left) and two of them came, Sarkozy and Bayrou, Segolene Royal did not. It started a huge controversy and I should have never done that without telling everyone ahead of time, I organized it last minute. I apologized in public in a very long note and people forgave me. I think it actually might have contributed to LeWeb growing 3x after that. Should I have not apologized and acknowledged my mistake it could have died the year after.
Deliver and iterate on Feedback
You can get traction just by getting feedback and iterating on it. Many mobile apps just keep adding what the community wants and are very successful. I don’t think it’s enough, you also have to innovate. If Steve Jobs had not invented the iPhone we might still be stuck with Nokia type UI on our phones, the “crowds” did not ask for the iPhone, it was pure innovation.
Under promise and over deliver.
Many kickstarter projects promise early delivery dates underestimating production time and end up upsetting their community by delivering the product more than one year late. Manufacturing isn’t easy. Coding isn’t easy either. Try to manage expectations.
Benefits of the Open Startup
- Find your community.
Find your first followers. Word of mouth is much more important than advertising in any business. If you build with your future users or customers there is a good chance they will also be your first advocates.
2. Keeps you accountable
I started sharing what I’m doing with Leade.rs and now I’m emailing 5,000 people about it. It makes me feel as I need to deliver as soon as possible. I don’t need a board of directors, I have 5,000 friends who are waiting for it.
3. Constant feedback
Everything you do will get feedback. We forgot the coffee at the first LeWeb (LesBlogs). The “stick food” wasn’t enough at the second. The wifi did not work as we scaled to 1,000 participants. We listened and fixed it.
4. Constant flow of new ideas
5. Motivates your team.
Your team knows your community expects you to deliver and ship a product or an update. They will work harder as the pressure comes from the users or customers themselves, no need to put any pressure on your team, it’s already there.
6. Candidates who want to join your company
You would have never heard about them before. I have endless examples of startups whose best employees or managers were members of the first community of advocates and fans. They were so dedicated, had so much passion in the product that it became obvious the company should hire them. No head hunter can give you that.
The founder of Ebay, Pierre Omidyar, saw a few of my videos Seesmic du Jour and posted a tweet asking if he could invest. I raised an additional $3m in one tweet. That would have never happened if I had not shared that way what we were doing. My newsletter building Leade.rs already got me in touch with potential investors even though I am not seeking for any yet.
8. Press and word of mouth
There might be journalists and influential people on social networks following you or reading your newsletter. If they like what you are doing or saying they will write about it. It just happened to me even though I really don’t need or want press for now. I am just trying to figure the initial product and core community.
9. Customers without any marketing
We turned LeWeb from a gathering of bloggers into a multi-million dollar in revenue business in a few years without even trying to. The customers were already part of the initial community. Without any marketing or advertising revenue started flowing naturally and growth was impressive year over year without the need of a single ad.
10. International reach since day 1
LeWeb’s first gathering was called “LesBlogs” and gathered only 200 people but 17 Countries were in the room. That’s because everything was in english and the initial community was international. That’s how 80+ Countries came to Paris a few years after, it was international in its roots.
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