Building in public: Meet the new transparent startups

These entrepreneurs are sharing the details of their businesses with internet randos.

July 31, 2020

If Coca-Cola launched today, you might find its secret formula on GitHub.

A new cohort of entrepreneurs is putting it all out there — sharing traffic stats, source code, and employee salaries with total randos on the internet.

Dozens of these “open startups” are building their companies in public:

  • Social analytics company Buffer publishes salaries, diversity stats, and product road maps.
  • The head honchos at online checkout startup Fast tweet out strategy updates, down to how the company uses quizzes to grab loyal customers.
  • The publishing platform Ghost shares virtually everything — churn, monthly run rate, user numbers.

Ecommerce company Gumroad has held open board meetings since 2019 — anyone can show up.

The titan of TMI

Pieter Levels popularized this brand of oversharing in 2017. His blockbuster post chronicled the growth of his company Hoodmaps from a line of code into a biz with 300k+ users.

No detail was too small: Levels even included his personal playlist.

He shares data for 2 of his other startups: RemoteOK and Nomad List.

Is this just a marketing stunt? 

Partly, yes: Public builders are characteristically open about how traffic spikes whenever they tweet their numbers.

But it might also build community.

Publishing all your numbers is terrifying. What if your usership slides and you scare off investors?

Sahil Lavingia, creator of Gumroad, found that the opposite happened when he threw open his books. “Our creators have grown more loyal,” he wrote.

The artists who sell on his platform? They felt like they were in it with him.

Wanna put it all out there? 

Here are some links to get you started:

  • Buffer breaks down the pros and cons of total transparency.
  • Watch out for the “Build in Public” newsletter.
  • Our Steph Smith has written about a concept beyond open business metrics: open goals.

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