By Simba Mswaka
START-UPS are generally afraid of having their ideas stolen and some of them keep things as close to their chest as possible even as the world and information have become more democratised.
Ideas come a dime a dozen therefore, building in secrecy does not necessarily mean you are protecting anything. Technology is moving fast and ideas cannot keep up with this.
Unlike a lot of start-up jargon that is confusing to the uninitiated, building in public is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. When a start-up builds a product or service in public, they allow people to see their building process from the start. This method serves several important purposes.
In Zimbabwe I have recently observed a handful of start-ups that have raised large amounts of funding, in excess of $50 000 USD but yet these companies have not proceeded to inform the public, their customers and the media at large.
The media is your friend as a start-up and they are always looking for good stories. Publications are always looking for great Zimbabwean companies to speak about, but start-ups are keeping their cards to their chest.
The announcement that you have raised funds signals to the market that you are real player and are poised to do something great. This should never be missed because it signals to other investors that there is an opportunity that they may have missed. It also inspires other start-ups to work harder because they can see the reward for the hard work you are doing.
Investors who missed the chance to initially invest will now be interested because someone else has given you capital and a start-up can use this as leverage as they look to raise more money.
Reasons to Build in Public
Building in public also inherently produces greater transparency, which helps build trust in the brand. This, in turn, helps a business look more authentic and less self-interested. Most businesses hide their practices from competitors, but in doing so, they also hide important elements of their brand from consumers. Finding a balance between transparency and intellectual security is key for any new product.
Building in public also allows consumers to test a product or service and offer advice on how to improve it. Needless to say, getting advice directly from consumers before a product has even launched is invaluable.
Rather than conducting extensive market research projects or focus groups to gather information, a start-up can simply expose the public to its product while it’s still in production. Once the start-up has collected the data it needs, it can improve the product so that it matches the needs and desires of the target audience. This is all done in real time.
A start-up can build an audience before the official launch by building in public. This might be the single most valuable aspect of the build in public model. Rather than spending a lot of time, energy, and money on marketing, a start-up can simply expose the public to its product during the Alpha and/or Beta stage. This helps build interest, as many consumers like to follow products during their development and, ideally, have some input on the final outcome.
A great example of a Zimbabwean start-up that has built in public is Fresh in A Box and their founder and Chief Executive Officer, Kuda Musasiwa. Kuda has been very transparent with his business and has used social media, especially Twitter to even hire staff and give the public updates on his business. He even apologizes for mistakes that may have been made in the public domain. His Twitter account provides a wealth of learning opportunities for entrepreneurs and the community at large. Kuda is frequently invited to speak on panels and various platforms because he seems very approachable and he puts the business out there. This helps him create a larger digital presence for his business and he can market ‘Fresh in A Box’ every time he talks.
Kuda is not the same as every founder because he is a larger than life character and he already had a social media following before he started his start-up, but we all start from somewhere right?
Kuda is now utilizing this following to bring in an audience for his business and he is also accessible for future and current customers. People are now invested in the Fresh in A Box journey and you cannot buy that kind of loyalty. It is built up over time. Kuda shares the good and the bad and that gives the organisation a human feel and makes you root for them to win.
There are founders that will try to implement the same model as Kuda but it’s better to start when the organisation is in its infancy rather than to start playing catch up when the business has good traction.
Building in public can seem daunting to a start-up but it really does allow one to build an audience as they develop their idea in real time. Most individuals make use of social media and different platforms to get out information, now you can use these platforms to sell the story of your business on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There are video formats like YouTube and the more viral platforms like Twitter.
There are different ways to build in public so each founder must find what works for them and build upon that. Every founder has a smartphone in their team so they should all take advantage of it and share content as they build a great business that will be the envy of many people.
The concept of building in public has gained traction because of social media and I really hope Zimbabwean start-ups can start to put their organisations out there for people to embrace.
Simba is the Programs and Partnerships Manager of Tech Hub Harare, Future VC, Angel Investor and a Start-up Mentor. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org , +263777628936 and @DrMswagga