3 min read

Building in Public: The Good, Bad, and Downright Ugly

Dear friends and family,

I’m writing to you from a picnic bench just outside my apartment here in La Jolla. It’s cloudy. Birds converse in musical dialectic, and A/C units, jutting out of nearby walls like broken bones, focus my writing with thrumming white noise. I’m hoping the sun comes out soon.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been writing blog posts to you around twice a week, and posting on Twitter nearly every day (daily habit: tweet once, reply five times). This is the most “online” I’ve ever been, and for those thinking of doing the same, I wanted to share the good, bad, and ugly.

The good:

  • My tweets have been viewed around 350,000 times (!!!). Far more than I was expecting. None of my original tweets went viral. Rather, it was my replies that blew up alongside a viral tweet. Piggybacking virality. A good first step, but not enough. More on this later.
  • My blog posts have incited many of you to respond via email or text message. This was wonderful. Every time I get a response, I'm filled with this strange joy. It's just a response. But I put a lot of work into these, and when someone takes time from their day to respond, it's validating. I respond to every message. It’s like half the reason why I write these.
  • One of my mentors, Heidi Roizen, posted I know you’re thinking about quitting your job on LinkedIn, and it led several investors and alumni to reach out to me! Wow. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential there.
  • I just really enjoy writing. I love writing these posts and sending them to you.

The bad:

  • Those 350,000 views on Twitter led to 1,500 profile clicks, and about 35 new followers. In other words, thousands of people visited my profile, but few liked what they saw. This tells me that I’m focusing on the wrong thing: Instead of replying to bigger accounts to boost my visibility, I need to focus on posting better content. Sounds obvious in retrospect.
  • Building in public is about sharing my work online. But if I’m being brutally honest, I’ve been more “public” than “building.” Yes, I needed to dedicate more energy to build my writing habits, but it’s time to tip the scale in the other direction.
  • I think I’m posting on this blog too much. Twice a week is frequent enough that I’m always worried about my next post.

The ugly:

  • There’s this constant buzz in my head, like I can’t slow my thoughts down. I always get this feeling when I’m on social media too much. I tried limiting my time on Twitter to thirty minutes a day, and took Saturdays off completely, but in practice this rarely worked out. Why? Part of the problem was the focus on replies over original tweets - this often led me to frantically scroll through my feed, looking for something to respond to. It’s unnatural. The other part is consuming directly from the feed, which constantly exposed me to viral, attention grabbing content - too much noise when I’m trying to be productive. Luckily, I can use Twitter Lists and post-only interfaces to be more selective with my attention, and we'll see how that affects me.

The biggest takeaways from this are:

  • Focus on walking over talking. The sights I encounter will make for better content anyways.
  • Better original content > piggybacking virality. I might get less views, but clicks will convert better and the buzz in my head will decrease.
  • Relax my writing here to once a week (unless I really want to write more).
  • Experiment with posting on LinkedIn.
  • Use post-only interfaces (such as typefully.com) and Twitter lists, which will decrease distractions from the feed and hopefully, the buzz in my head.
  • I know I'm still in the flat part of the exponential curve of building an audience. The real benefits begin to accrue when I've been at this for a longer time. So I'll keep at it.

Here's something I could use your help with: What do you want to hear more about on this newsletter? Or if that’s too vague - what's your favorite post that comes to mind? It’ll make it easier for me to decide what to write about each week.

The sun has come out. It beckons me onward. It's going to be a beautiful Sunday.