Building in Public: How Tech Companies Master Product-Market Fit
How tech companies can grow an audience while building their product.
Most startup gurus would agree that consumers crave authenticity. Unfortunately, every business has to make money, which can make it difficult for startups to market their services or products without looking like shameless profiteers. Consumers know that every company wants to turn a profit, but consumers are more inclined to engage with businesses that appear to put the consumer before profits. This is why the build in public model is one of the best ways for tech companies to avoid issues of inauthenticity and ultimately master product-market fit.
Before I get into some examples of successful build in public startups, I will define some of the most important terms I'm using:
What does it mean to "Build in Public"?
Unlike a lot of startup jargon that is confusing to the uninitiated, building in public is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. When a startup builds a product or service in public, they allow people to see their building process from the start. This method serves several important purposes.
First, building in public 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.
Second, the build in public model 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 startup can simply expose the public to its product while it's still in production. Once the startup has collected the data it needs, it can improve the product so that it matches the needs and desires of the target audience.
Third, building a product in public helps a startup build an audience before the official launch. 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 startup 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.
What is product-market fit?
Finally, building in public allows a startup to optimize product-market fit (sometimes written as product/market fit). Product-market fit refers to the degree to which a new product meets public demand. By building a product in public view, a startup can allow users to engage with the product, collect feedback, and tweak the product to meet market demands. This will ultimately make for a more successful product launch and better engagement from consumers for the long-term.
Some companies even cash in on the concept of building in public and product-market fit. For example, Product Hunt is a popular application that gives users the ability to share new or upcoming products in the world of tech. The Product Hunt app gives consumers even greater awareness of build in public products to try out.
How superhuman and fast became the so-called "Kings of Product-Market Fit"
It's easy to talk about concepts like "building in public" and "product-market fit" from a birds-eye view. However, if you're looking to improve your startup or optimize your product before it's launch, you'll want to know that the build in public model actually works in practice. So, let's take a look at a few real-world examples of tech startups that utilized the build in public model to master product-market fit.
Though some, including myself, have called it "overhyped," the Superhuman email application remains one of the most sought-after products in the tech scene. Whether or not you believe in the hype and the product, there's no denying that Superhuman has built a large audience that believes Superhuman is among the hottest tech startups on the market. So, how did Superhuman gain so much notoriety? More importantly, why does a, seemingly, straightforward email application command such a high price tag at $30/month? It's because Superhuman founder and CEO, Rahul Vohra, utilized the build in public model to find out how he could rework existing email processes to meet consumer demands.
According to TechCrunch, Superhuman's central strengths are "speed" and the feeling that users are part of "an exclusive club." In essence, Superhuman is designed for people who spend hours every day going through emails. Superhuman makes certain processes more efficient, giving people more time to focus on other tasks. The desktop version is particularly useful, as it is centered around keyboard shortcuts, though they're not customizable. Additionally, the application provides useful hints and tricks to move more swiftly through emails, though there's no unified inbox.
All of these features were developed through a careful build in public strategy. Vohra and his team released the application to a small number of users during its alpha stage. Later, they expanded, improving upon their initial vision based on user feedback. Now, Superhuman has well over 100,000 users waiting in line to pay for the application, with a company valuation of more than $260 million.
Fast is an aptly-named application that allows you to centralize your online checkout processes. Rather than having multiple passwords and two-factor authentications, Fast users can breeze through online checkouts with just one click. Just like Superhuman, Fast built their product in public, ensuring that the application was meeting consumer needs and demands while building their loyal audience.
Since its launch in 2019, Fast has gained widespread attention as the next big thing in online shopping, even though companies like Amazon, Shopify, Apple, and PayPal already have one-click checkout APIs. However, many smaller businesses have not picked those tools up and require users to provide their name, billing address, payment information, and sometimes even going through a Captcha page.
Based on the Alpha and Beta stages, founder and CEO Domm Holland found that many users hate having to fill out multiple forms or confirm their identity every time they make a purchase. This is especially true when buying from small or boutique businesses.
With Fast, every online purchase becomes a one-click process. Whenever a user goes to buy something, Fast automatically takes care of the details to ensure that they can check out quickly and easily. Thanks to Fast's popularity with consumers, which can be attributed to the audience they built while building in public, Holland is currently in talks to acquire enough funding to raise the San Francisco-based company's valuation to a whopping $1 billion.
Try out your ideas now
While I won't advocate for the quality of the products above, I will say that they've done an excellent job building audiences. Building in public gives startups the ability to try out their ideas on consumers before officially launching new products. These users become an ever-growing audience of people "invested" and who want to ensure the product sees the light of day. This, in turn, results in better products that meet the demands of the market, while also helping startups get off to a great start.
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