Why You’re Thinking About Building in Public the Wrong Way with Kevon Cheung
I love Hibachi. I love the food. I love the experience. That seems a lot like building in public, right? After all, the chef is literally cooking in front of us, building our meal. But according to Kevon Cheung – a guy who’s built his entire community by building in public – Hibachi is entertainment.
In order to build in public, you need to take your audience on a journey with you. That’s why he believes building in public is more like Omakase. This is where the chef will choose the foods for you, involve you in the process, and tell you a story about the food you’re eating.
That’s what Building in Public truly is, and today, we’re going to learn how to leverage it to build great communities and better products.
- You need to talk about something people care about, not just vanity metrics. No one cares what time you wake up to write. They want to know what you’re writing about, and why you chose to write about that topic.
- Only your competitors care about how you do something – your secret sauce. Your audience is invested in you, and they want to know about the journey…both the ups and the downs.
- You shouldn’t just announce something when you’re not sure it will do well. Instead, tell your audience you’re exploring an idea. Ask them about it, and involve them in the process. THEN, make a decision and share that with them, along with why you made the decision.
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Kevon Cheung: I definitely see a lot of people who are shifting directions all the time. Like they don’t really know what they’re building. They say they’re building one product, but only… they haven’t even slightly validated and they already announced that they’re doing it. So that’s not going to work. It is really bad to your personal reputation. That’s the first part.
That leads us to the second part, which is, you shouldn’t really just announce something right away when you’re not even sure. There’s a different way to set the tone. You announcing something is different from you exploring a raw idea, and you’re just throwing it out, trying to get some insights or signals from people.
When you do this latter approach, and you decide not to go forward, and you announce it, Oh, I get this data, and I don’t want to go ahead,” the people who have been following you, genuinely they love that—they love that you don’t actually just do everything blindly. And there’s a thought behind that decision.
Joe Casabona: I love hibachi. I love the food. I love the experience. I love trying to catch the shrimp in my mouth when the chef flicks it to me. And that seems like building in public, right? After all, the chef is literally cooking in front of us, building our meal.
But according to Kevon Cheung, a guy who’s built his entire community by building in public, hibachi is entertainment. In order to build in public, you need to take your audience on a journey with you. That’s why he believes building in public is more like Omakase. This is where the chef will choose the foods for you, involve you in the process, and tell you a story about the food you’re eating. That’s what building in public truly is. Today, we’re going to learn how to leverage it to build great communities and better products.
I’m so excited for you to hear this episode. And you should listen up for these top takeaways. That you need to talk about something people care about and not just worry about vanity metrics. No one cares what time you wake up to write. They want to know what you’re writing about and why you chose to write about that topic.
Only your competitors care about how you do something. They’re the ones who want to know your secret sauce. Your audience is invested in you, and they want to know about the journey, both the ups and downs.
And finally, you shouldn’t just announce something when you’re not sure it will do well. Instead, you should tell your audience you’re exploring an idea, ask them about it, and involve them in the process, then make the decision and share the decision with them.
This is such a great interview. And like I said, I’m excited for you to hear it. Now, if you want to get this interview and every interview ad-free and extended, you can sign up for the membership over at howibuilt.it/join.
In the pro show today, we talk about Kevon’s build-in-public origin story. Because he wasn’t always building in public. He’s only been doing it for the last couple of years. So sit back, relax, enjoy the episode about building in public. Let’s get to the intro and then the interview.
Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps busy solopreneurs and creators grow their business without spending too much time on it. I’m your host Joe Casabona and each week I bring you interviews and case studies on how to build a better business through smarter processes, time management, and effective content creation. It’s like getting free coaching calls from successful solopreneurs.
By the end of each episode, you’ll have one to three takeaways you can implement today to stop spending time in your business and more time on your business or with your friends, your family reading, or however you choose to spend your free time.
Joe Casabona: All right, I’m here with Kevon Cheung. He is the creator of Public Lab and the head teacher of Build in Public Mastery. And I’m so psyched because I feel I do an okay job at building in public. But I’m about to get schooled by Kevon. How are you today?
Kevon Cheung: Hey, Joe. I’m really good. I’m so excited to talk to you about this.
Joe Casabona: Likewise. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I attended your webinar. As we record this, it was a few weeks ago. So I’m just gonna level set here. I feel like this is how open you are about stuff. The day you were supposed to run the webinar, you were stuck on a boat and you emailed people letting us know. You weren’t just like, “Hey, I got to move it.” You like told the story, which I really thought was cool and interesting.
Kevon Cheung: Yeah. I think there’s really nothing to hide. The realer you become, the more people will love you. So nothing I’m trying to hide. So if I’m stuck on a boat and I really cannot run it or if I’m sick, I just tell people. And people are forgiving. They don’t mind that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, this is the thing that I think I like a lot, is if you’re open… like, you know, we both have kids. If I have a sick kid and… no one has ever gotten mad at me for tending to my sick kid. And if someone has, they’re probably not the kind of person I would want to associate with at all.
Kevon Cheung: Same here.
Joe Casabona: So yeah, there’s nothing to hide. I like what you said already. So let’s dive into this a little bit. I want to ask you about what is building in public. Because I think there’s this perception, so, oh, building in public is just like a tweet. Is that what building and public is?
Kevon Cheung: Let’s talk about this. A lot of people seem to really think that’s the case. Like, I am doing this today. Let me just put it out there. I feel like that’s what people call the hope strategy. Like you don’t have a strategy, so you think that’s what building and public is and what people buy, and you just do it. It’s not like that.
So the analogy I like to use, which is about food, so people should like that, is normally you go to a restaurant, you don’t see the back kitchen, right? You only see the final product. So that’s the case for most of the places we go to. So it’s most of the cases where companies are building in private and you only see the final product.
But building in public gets into a different setup of a restaurant. I like to say they are a bit like open kitchen. So yeah, there’s a piece of glass or there’s no glass, but you can see the kitchen. So this restaurant is so confident in their own craft, they don’t have anything to hide. Like, just come and watch us. That’s what people think building in public is. Like just showing people what they do and people are watching.
But you probably remember from the bootcamp I said that actually 95% of the people don’t get what building and public really is. So I like to say… Actually, do you know what Omakase is, Joe?
Joe Casabona: I feel like I’m being tested because didn’t you mention this in the bootcamp?
Kevon Cheung: Just say no. That’s fine.
Joe Casabona: No, I don’t.
Kevon Cheung: Perfect. Omakase, if you just Google it, is basically a Japanese dining experience where the chef is standing in front of you and you’re sitting at the sushi bar. So you don’t get to pick what you eat. You pay a fixed price and they just delight you for the whole night. I like to say building in public is really the Omakase experience because you’re not just watching the chef cooking.
The chef actually invites you to put the final touch on, chat to you, explain the fish, like why are they serving you this fish today, why is it so fresh. Maybe they even drink with you. I definitely heard those stories like they get drunk with you. So, Omakase is about involving the audience and customers as you deliver that product service or experience.
Now honestly, I’m making up this number, but I would say only 5% of the people really, really get this. It’s about involving. So restaurant versus open kitchen versus Omakase.
Joe Casabona: It’s about involving. I liked that a lot. As you were describing that, it made me think of… I don’t know if it’s called the same in Japan or you are… but in America there’s like hibachi, right? You go to a Japanese restaurant and most of the table is the stovetop-
Kevon Cheung: Oh, the teppanyaki. Right?
Joe Casabona: Okay, so yeah. And they’ll cook in front of you, they’ll do this thing where they like flip food into your mouth, and you’ve got to catch it.
Kevon Cheung: And they play with fire. That kind of stuff.
Joe Casabona: Exactly. This is top of mind because I was at… So we’re both in Jay’s community. A few people from that community local to this area and I got together in Scranton, where I went to college, and some of them had never been to Hibachi before. So I took them to my favorite Japanese restaurant in Scranton. And watching them watch the entertainment was very fulfilling to me. Like seeing somebody experience that for the first time was very fun for me.
Kevon Cheung: First, I want to say I’m super jealous because I cannot attend that dinner. I’m so far away. But second of all, I think that’s not really the building public experience because I think you need to have conversations, you need to be talking to each other. The hibachi experience I feel like it’s more like a performance, not so much conversations happening.
Joe Casabona: So this is great, right? This is probably what most people think building in public is, right? I’m just going to say things, I’m going to create entertainment for you. Where Omakase is, like you said, involving the person. Not just saying, “I’m gonna write 4,000 words, let’s say, today.” You’re gonna say, “I’m gonna write about this topic. What do you think about this topic?” Get some feedback, maybe that can affect the content you’re putting together.
Kevon Cheung: Yeah. If you think about it, this is actually fascinating. That is the first time I compare Omakase with the Teppanyaki experience. Like the playing with fire, what does that mean to the end customer? Well, it’s just fun for a few seconds, and then it’s meaningless. But Omakase is, “Well, this is why I served this piece of fish to you and this is the history of the fish. This is how you eat it with the soy sauce or with some yuzu sauce.” You know, you’re learning about the craft. You’re not just enjoying the entertainment for three seconds. I think that’s the biggest difference.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, it’s an ephemeral. Like Teppanyaki or hibachi is very ephemeral. It’s there for a moment, and then it’s gone. Right? The flame comes out of the onion volcano, and then it’s gone. Right?
Kevon Cheung: That’s right.
Joe Casabona: I love that. That’s so great. I think it really helps contextualize or it gives us a concrete example of what building in public should be. There are people who are like, “Here’s what I’m working on today.” And they think that’s building in public. Or, you know, they tweet a picture of them working from a coffee shop and they think that’s building in public.
Where, if I’m building in public, I’m going to tell you, I’m trying something new with the production of my podcast. I’m doing this 3x story thing. Here’s the document I created. What do you think? What’s missing from this? I’m doing this because storytelling is really important even in nonfiction, like that sort of thing. Right?
Kevon Cheung: Yeah. So you need to talk about something that people care about. As you said, like 4,000 lines of code, yeah, you did that today. But so what? So I feel like a lot of people think that because a lot of people say building public works, they just say, “Oh, this is the magic pill, so it’s very magical. Let me just do it and then things will happen.”
But kind of like everything in business, the strategy only works when you put it into good use. So you only get people’s eyeballs if you talk about something they care about. So, for example, why I talked about building in public is because we care about growing our raving fans, growing our community. So this is a really good way. If you have the people skills and the right mindset, this is a really good way to build the right products and grow a community at the same time.
Like, how can you do so much at the same time? You can, but you have to use it the right way. So I feel like too many people just update people with their to-dos or random stories. That’s not going to work. I teach my students to be very intentional about what they tweet about. And the ground rule is that they document so many ideas.
I think, Joe, you will get this because we have babies, we have kids, right? So we tend to find it really hard to take a group photo, because the kids are always moving. I don’t know if you do that. But my family, when I take photo, I just keep clicking. And then we’ll have like maybe 30 and then we’ll delete 29, and we keep one.
So the way I teach my students is document a lot of things around your journey, like thoughts, some myths believe that you think you have the right belief, then you want to share that with people, some struggles some mistake, or if you’re working on the course lesson, or if you’re working on the book cover, anything. Just document it.
And even if you just use like 10% of it, it will be more intentional because you hand-pick it from the 30 ideas. That this one should go out because this one can get eyeballs, and this one is what people care about. So that process is very important as well.
Joe Casabona: Love that. Hot tip, right? Turn your… I don’t know if you have an iPhone, but I assume most phone cameras have this. Put it on sports mode, then you press the shutter button once and it takes like 30 photos.
Kevon Cheung: Is it the bursts function?
Joe Casabona: The burst? Yeah, that’s it. It’s like a little running person. That’s why I think it’s sports. But yeah, the burst mode makes your life easier. Because your kids, they all look in different directions all different times. And maybe for one perfect microsecond, they’re all looking at the camera. So document a lot of things around your journey, your belief struggles, mistakes, what you’re working on, even if you only end up using 10% of this right.
So I think that this is a really important point because I want to talk about some of the things that people worry about when building in public. So we’re gonna dive into that but first we are going to hear a quick word from our sponsors.
Joe Casabona: Okay, so let’s just get into this. Coca-Cola, they have a secret formula for how to make Coca-Cola. McDonald’s has their secret sauce. Facebook has their algorithm. They’re not building in public because they don’t want Pepsi, or Burger King, or X, formerly Twitter to see how they do things. Wouldn’t telling everybody what I’m doing give my competitors an advantage, because they could just take what I’m doing, and then build on it?
Kevon Cheung: I would say yes or no. So let’s talk about no first because I don’t know why people think building public means sharing the secret sauce. Think about it. Even if you know the secret formula of Coca-Cola? Does it make you love Coca-Cola more or hate Coca-Cola more? It doesn’t matter. We just enjoy the taste and that experience. We don’t care about the secret sauce.
So if you are building software, you sharing the algorithm, people don’t care. Only competitors would care. So I wouldn’t share that. Or if you’re more like an info knowledge type of creators, sharing how you acquire your students, is that really necessary? Would a potential student care about that? No.
So that’s why I say building and public is not about sharing the deepest secret. It’s really about telling stories about how you go about the journey, ups or downs, and involving the people along the way. Because think about it, if you are unsure about something, and then you just asked them and they help you out, and then you take their feedback to implement it, and you tell them, “Hey, I updated this, because of you guys, thank you so much,” these people will love you, because you really listen, which not many people do.
And they’re actually invested in your journey. They actually see that wow, I’m part of this product. So eventually, if they have that need, they will be buying this product first. So it’s never about secret sauce. But at the same time, Monica Lent, I don’t know if you guys know her, but when I got online, she was my inspiration. Because back then it was like end of 2020, she has been publishing income reports for the whole year. And I was reading it, I was like, “Oh my god, I love her. I love her so much.” And I was like, “I want to do the same so people will love me.”
After 12 months, she announced that she’s no longer doing income reports because she’s in the affiliate space and she knows that a lot of competitors are just looking at the learnings and a mistake, and just take it and go faster.
So there are definitely cases where it doesn’t make sense to spill even the how you do things. But if you are more like a knowledge creator, I keep telling people that there’s nothing you need to be afraid of. Because everything we do is not really a secret. There’s no secret sauce.
Why people want to learn from you is because you have that character. The way you speak, the principles, the values, that’s what makes you unique. So there’s no secret sauce, and you don’t need to be afraid. And people cannot steal that away from you. But the upside of sharing a lot is you build a lot of trust with people, a lot of credibility. So yeah, that’s why I say yes and no.
Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. This is really important because this is something I try to convince my students and clients and colleagues who are thinking about teaching, too. They’re like, When am I giving too much of my content away for free?” And I’m like, “You’re not.” You can share what you know, and people will still buy your course because your course is structured pedagogically. It’s structured in a way to aid learning.
If I’m just sharing, hey, here are five ways to get sponsors for your podcast, people aren’t gonna be like, “Oh, well, now I don’t need to buy Joe’s course.” They’ll be like, “Wait, but how do I do those things? How do I get sponsors?” Or maybe someone hires me because they’re like, “I want sponsors but I never know what to say. Can you help me?”
One of my coaching clients emailed me this morning and told me that she got her first podcast sponsor because of the help I gave her. So you shouldn’t be afraid to give things away for free, like you said. Especially because like… Let’s look at things in the physical space. A building, for example. An architectural firm can say, look at our work, we have built this building. It’s kind of hard if you’re not building in public, if you’re not sharing. It’s really hard to do that in the knowledge worker space. You can’t be like, “Buy my course and you’ll see how smart I am. You have to show people how smart you are before they buy the course so they buy the course.
Kevon Cheung: I guess because the product experience is so different. And actual building has… the real value is the space. But for learning, you don’t know. Actually, we should be skeptical of the teacher we choose because they’re just so many not-so-honest people online.
Joe Casabona: I like the word charlatans. That’s my favorite word.
Kevon Cheung: So yeah. Actually, the way I approach this is, if you listen to this show by Joe, listen to this episode, you really don’t have to join my course. But it’s really not about the content, right? My course is about, as you said, the structure of content. But more so is we are doing this together. It’s the execution. And it takes time to learn, to bounce ideas with peers. That’s what makes people want to buy your product, not always about the content.
Joe Casabona: I love this. Something we’re going to talk about in the pro show for members only is possibly driven by this decision, is how you switch your cohort model to a hybrid of what it usually is. So if you’re interested in that, plus Kevon’s builds in public origin story, you should head over to howibuilt.it/pro to sign up and you can get this and every episode extended and ad-free. So if you want to hear that, again that’s howibuilt.it/pro.
Kevon Cheung: Yeah, hot and spicy.
Joe Casabona: Hot and spicy. Yes. So the other thing that I think if we’re doing this inoculation effect against people who don’t want to build in public, is they might say, Well, I’m committing to something that may not actually happen. I have a friend from a previous life, who would write this big blog post about how they’re changing something, or doing something, or committing to say. I’m going to blog every day. And then they would blog for three days, and then just stop.
And then three months later, they would make this other big sweeping statement and then just not commit to it. And I think some people fear that building in public is like making that announcement and then not delivering. What do you think about that? I think we’ve established that building in public is not really that. But what if I am building in public and I show a prototype, and then that prototype completely changes, or I say, I’m going to add this feature and I don’t?
Kevon Cheung: So I think there are two parts to this question. The first thing I am thinking about is, building in public definitely skew towards the people who are a bit more mindful and strategic in their approach. I definitely see a lot of people who are shifting directions all the time. Like they don’t really know what they’re building. They say they’re building one product, but only they haven’t even slightly validated and they already announced that they’re doing it. So that’s not going to work. It is really bad to your personal reputation. That’s the first part.
That leads us to the second part, which is you shouldn’t really just announce something right away when you’re not even sure. Like there’s a different way to set the tone. You announcing something is different from you exploring a raw idea and you’re just throwing it out, trying to get some insights or signals from people. When you do this latter approach and you decide not to go forward, and you announce it, “Oh, I get this data and I don’t want to go ahead,” the people who have been following you genuinely, they love that. They love that you don’t actually just do everything blindly and there’s a thought behind that decision.
So it comes down to the key of don’t rush into things and be open in your communication. People really love seeing products evolve. I don’t know why people seem to get the thought that I need to show people the finished product. I never did. Like my book, Joe, you know, Find Joy in Chaos. It was originally called Showing Up Right. And the whole table of contents of the book was different.
But because I work with the community through different rounds, the content… everything change. And that journey is what people want to see because they can see your commitment, your seriousness in building that product. They will definitely buy the book because of that.
Joe Casabona: I think this is really great. Announcing is not the same as exploring a raw idea. And exploring a raw idea and then talking about your decision-making, this is like the stuff that most people don’t share, and therefore, your audience doesn’t see with other people. I really love that distinction.
And then the other thing you said here, people love seeing products evolve. One of my earliest interviews was with my friend Scott Bolinger. He talked about… This was back when I was in the WordPress space and he was developing a system to create native apps from a WordPress site. And he talked about how a mistake product owners make, programmers is spending a year developing a product with no input versus just creating a minimum viable product and releasing it.
Because if you spend six months, nine months 12 months creating something, now you are emotionally attached to its success but you’ve gotten no feedback. Where if you release an MVP three months in, now you see how people are actually using it, and you can evolve and you didn’t just waste a year building something you perceive to be what the market wants.
So I really love that. Because I think the same thing can be said of courses, right? People, like course, creators spent six months developing a course just for nobody to buy it. Whereas if you’re sharing the course content and hyping it up and building a mailing list, then you can release the course more quickly and understand if people actually want it, which I think is really cool.
Kevon Cheung: Can I quickly share my course journey with you?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely.
Kevon Cheung: I told you I ran nine cohorts in the last two years and now I’m remodeling the experience. My first cohort, I decided to do it with no curriculum, no workshop design, nothing. But I got 22 people on board because I was running a community, and I got really burnt out and frustrated, so I switched to the course. And I got 22 people sitting here, even though it’s for free, but they forces me to develop something. And then quickly next month, I got a second batch. This time I was charging people.
And the course has been changing in the last two and a half years until today. It’s still changing. So really, I agree with you. Like move fast, make it really small, and just get feedback, get feedback.
Joe Casabona: I think that’s really important. And like I teased in the pro show, we’re going to talk about those exact changes. But you did it for free. I think this is a mind shift that I’ve had to go through, right, because I’ve been freelancing since high school. I’ve been freelancing for most of my life at this point. I’m 37, I started at 14, quick math tells me that it’s 23 years.
It was really easy for me early on to settle into the mindset of don’t work for free because, you know, people will say like, “Oh, well, I can’t pay you but it’s good exposure.” I’m like, “Great, exposure doesn’t pay the bills.” But in this case, especially when you’re a knowledge worker, or you’re creating a product, I did a bunch of coaching calls for free when I started doing podcasts.
When I felt confident enough to call myself a podcast coach, I started doing free calls, because I didn’t actually know if making money, like making your first $10,000 was the thing that people wanted. And I quickly learned like, yes, people want sponsors but also like they’re just feeling burnt out making their podcast because it’s a lot of work and their processes aren’t in place.
So doing that first cohort with no curriculum for 22 people for free, and now you’re on your ninth cohort, which you’ve charged for, you started charging immediately but… You’ve run this while getting paid enough times to think that it’s worth running again, which I think is really interesting and very cool.
The last thing I want to mention here is… I mean, I keep saying the same thing. Like building and public is not just tweeting what you’re doing. There is this sort of hamster wheel, I guess, where you feel like you need to drive social content to build a following because the bigger the following, the more easy it might be to sell. But in the pre-show, we talked about a different process. And I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that.
Kevon Cheung: I think when people say building public is like a mindset, it’s something really big. Like you don’t really know how to approach it. So the way I teach is that you cannot just aim to run a marathon. Forty-two km is way too beyond your ability. So if you can run like seven kilometers, why don’t we just aim for 12 of 15? That’s your first milestone.
So building and public sounds fluffy, but then it’s not if you can do a few things right. I always ask my students to set the goal. Like, why do you want to be in public? That sounds pretty basic. But trust me, not many people do it. So for example, I would say, I want to build my booking public because I want to get 300 people on my waitlist by the time I launch it, and I want to have testimonials ready to go. That’s my goal.
Then now you can reverse it and say, Okay, when do I launch it? Okay, maybe writing a book is a long process. It took me 10 months, but let’s just say six months, right? So now you have six months to use building in public to get those people on the waitlist. And now your building public social content becomes that method to drive people into the list. So everything becomes quite clear, right, when we define it this way.
So what I tell people is set the goal, have the wait lists ready and have the build in public content really, really intentional to drive email signups. That it. You’re not trying to sell, you’re trying to get them there. And then, you know, you share more in emails, which we know has a much better conversion rate. So that’s pretty much my process. It’s not rocket science, but surprisingly, not many people do it.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think it’s easily overlooked. I mean, the reason I do it, honestly, is because in early episode, but not so early that I didn’t feel like I wasted a bunch of time, I interviewed my friend Justin Ferriman, founder of LearnDash, now the founder of GapScout. Full disclosure, both of those companies have sponsored this podcast before. But Justin was actually one of my first sponsors. But I had him on the show and he said to many people launch the product then decide to build their mailing list. He’s like, You need to build your mailing list first.
And he talked about the importance of blogging about what he would love to see in a learning management system. And then are you interested in this learning management system I’m describing? If so, like, sign up for the waitlist.
So when LearnDash was ready to go, which, by the way, people join the list, and then they will be like, “Hey, what is… I need this. When is this coming out? Like quick validation, right? But when it came out, he had a bunch of people ready to buy. And he built that and he sold it last year to a bigger company in the WordPress space.
So building the mailing list, I am sad to say that of the 23 years I’ve been in business for myself, I’ve maybe spent 10 of those building various mailing lists for clients, and then pivoting and stuff like that. So definitely not enough time doing the right kind of mailing list-building work. But that’s changed, thanks to the show.
Kevon Cheung: Yeah, that’s how I approach to all my products building really, I put up the landing page with that opt-in box the day I start talking about it. I talked about posting to gauge signals, right? So that’s before then. But when you’re firm you want to build this product, then put that out on day one.
The key is that, you know, when people see the build in public content, you need to give a way for them to explore a bit more or say that they’re interested. A lot of people just hope that they will keep following them and see that couple of weeks later. No. People don’t see it. So we need to capture the interest, not have that leaky bucket.
Joe Casabona: And then you can keep the momentum going, right? This is something that I may be struggling with a little bit because I have a bunch of ideas. I’m working on a podcasting book. This will be my first non-development book that I’m writing. I’ve got five books, they all include code in them. So that’s the type of books you’re dealing with from me.
But this will be my first podcasting book. I want to put up a landing page when I’m ready to really… I guess I’m ready. I have an outline. I have a bunch of stuff. I should be doing this already. So I guess this is kind of a tactical question before we get into the How can we start building in public.
You have a bunch of products, they’re all kind of related. How granularly do you segment your list? And how often do you email them? Because I think there’s this question of, I don’t want to email them too much, because I don’t want to annoy them. Maybe someone signed up for your Find Joy In Chaos book. Are you emailing them about building public mastery? How do you kind of run your mailing list?
Kevon Cheung: Good question. I think email marketing is something I really need to level up on, because I’m someone who keep tweaking my course. So I spend way too much time on product development. But email, I have wait lists for each of my products. So I know exactly who is a lead, like potential customer, who is a customer, and who say please don’t email me again about that product. So I use a custom field. So it’s very easy to have the definite answer for each product.
And I have a newsletter. So everyone who get my product, I would kind of encourage them to go to my newsletter, because it’s my kind of ultimate keep-in-touch channel. So newsletter, I don’t send that often. I’ve been doing every two weeks. I really don’t have that much to say weekly. If I don’t have something good to say, I read or not email them. So that means I don’t email enough for the waitlist people. I basically just build it up until launch, and then now I’m just leaving it there. But I should be doing more about them. So you raise a really good point. Maybe the rest of the year I should work on that.
Joe Casabona: But that’s really good to hear. Because I think that people like me, at least, will see someone doing one thing really well and they’ll assume they’re doing everything well. And then they get into their own heads. “Oh, well. I mean, Kevon, is building and public so well and he’s on his ninth cohort. His email marketing must be amazing.” But like there’s always room for improvement, right? Joe’s like a really good podcaster but you know, he’s… I don’t know. Not to air my dirty but you know [inaudible 00:34:49] every week and he hasn’t live-streamed in two months. Like what’s up with that?
Kevon Cheung: But also the key is you don’t need to be really good at everything. Like my course launch strategy is very simple. I have the waitlist. People can sign up to it anytime. And then I just do like a bunch of launch emails during the enrollment window. That’s it. It’s very simple, very kind of laid back. Not stressful. But because of the long-term reputation that I’ve built, if people need that, they would sign up. So I don’t need to keep doing more things. So I actually like that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Which is great, right? Because I think what you just said there: because of the long-term reputation I’ve built up. I think that puts a cherry on top of our conversation up to this point about why building in public is more beneficial than not.
So if we want to start building in public today, we’ve already talked about it, but let’s make this segment of the show… You know, like how in textbooks they have that box at the end of the chapter that’s like, What you learned, right? Let’s make this part of the show that part for our listeners, if I want to start building in public today, what should I do?
Kevon Cheung: Okay, I think we mentioned the long version, but let’s [inaudible 00:36:01] at that. But the short version is, let’s give a hat tip to our mutual friend Jay Clouse. Because I think a couple of days ago, he wrote a long tweet… Is it called tweet? Long posts.
Joe Casabona: Long post. Long xeet. I’m going to call it xeet.
Kevon Cheung: Xeet, okay.
Joe Casabona: We’re all poppin’ xeets on X now.
Kevon Cheung: Yeah, he actually gave me a head tip back this, we talked about something related. But he said there’s one type of content that can never go out of style. And that is show and tell. So in building in public, people really want to know, like, why you decided to do this, how did you approach it, what are the results, what are the experiments that you’re running, and what can be better next time.
So it’s kind of like those retrospective style. I think it’s really good. I do that all the time. And that is first unique content. No one can do the same thing as you. No one can say the same thing as you. And now we get on Twitter/X is all motivational, most wins. And we’re so sick of that. So if you can do show-and-tell content, that’s the easiest way to win right now.
But the long version of my answer is, I think we mentioned that a little bit, find a product that you already have signals that okay, people might seem interested in that. I don’t think you need a definite answer. And then set a goal of how many potential buyers you want to get. And show your stories. Like, document, show your stories around learnings, thoughts, product design, product decision, something that you fail to achieve.
As long as you say something around that product-building experience, I consider it building in public because you put the eyeballs on that product with the intention to drive the email lists. I think that’s it. I actually said a lot. But I make it so simple.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, it’s three steps, which is like… I’ve seen instructions that are like, follow these simple 12 steps. And you’re like, 12 is best too many. Three is good. Find a product you already have signals for that people might be interested in.
For me, it’s going to be my book. This is something I want to write by the end of the year. Shout out to current sponsor Lulu who’s like helping me with this process. Set a goal for potential buyers. How many books do I want to sell? Let’s say on initial launch, obviously I want to sell thousands of books. But that’s a hope goal. Let’s say I want to sell 100 books starting off, right? I think that’s pretty reasonable, given my mailing list size. Share your learnings. As long as you share something around that. you’re building and public.
So I might start building the landing page. It’ll be podcastworkflows.com/book. People can sign up there. And then I’m gonna start talking about my outline. Here’s the mind map I made in my node for all the stuff I want to talk about in this book. Here’s the outline I’m building based on… what am I missing from this? That sort of stuff, right? Now, from that outline, I have the Table of Contents. Here’s the covers I’m thinking about, here’s the tagline, that sort of stuff. Am I on the right track here? We have video on. Kevon has a very neutral face. In the classroom, I always struggled with that. Like my students would just stare at me and I’m like, “Are you getting what I’m saying?”
Kevon Cheung: I’m getting what you’re saying. I just want to add something to it. Because I think so far, you’ve mentioned all this showing part. I’m thinking Joe can involve the people a bit more. And I want to ask you that question but I don’t want to put you on the spot. I think what you can involve people in is get them on live call and talk about the Table of Contents. Let them share their honest feedback, watch their facial expression.
And on top of that, I don’t know if you ever heard of this tool called helpthisbook.com. You can upload your draft there. It works like Google Docs but a better way where your beta readers can come in and say, “I like this line. I have some thoughts about this line. This line is confusing.” So they can actually highlight the text. And then you’re involving a lot of beta readers. And guess what? They will be your early testimonials and early buyers. That’s how you involve your audience.
Joe Casabona: I love that. So I want to ask… This is almost turning into a coaching call, I guess.
Kevon Cheung: That’s great.
Joe Casabona: But when you say like get on a live call, is this like ask individuals on my list? Or would… I’m very inclined to like live stream work in public? Would that be I’m working on my table of contents I’m going to live streaming on Monday.
Kevon Cheung: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Joe Casabona: No. You want me to get on like a Zoom call with people and share this?
Kevon Cheung: Because, again, why would people care about how you’re working on your table of contents. They don’t care. This is really actually a private call. So I like to say, act in private, earn in public. Actually, the way I set up my book is I had the Table of Contents, I read it so descriptively so that you will know what the chapter is about just reading those few words. And I invited 10 people… I mean, if you have a waitlist, you can invite from there. But not you can just like browse people around your community and pick them. You have to pick the right reader not just anyone.
So I would ask them 45 minutes each person one-on-one, and all they do on Zoom call is read the Table of Content live by line. And I’m just watching them… like you watching you just now. Are they excited about that chapter? Are they bored? Then I know exactly how to structure the book because they’re telling me all these insights.
Joe Casabona: So you said, ask in private, earn in public. Is that what you said?
Kevon Cheung: Act in private, earn in public? So let me talk about that. So act in private is like when you think about building in public, you think everything should be in public? No. A lot of business building is in private. So the one-on-one Zoom call is private. But earn in public as in, well, now you can take a screenshot of you talking to Kavon to work on your book. That becomes boom, public content off your book, because you’re working on your book. So you post that picture on maybe Twitter, Instagram, and now you’re earning attention in public. So now it becomes a flywheel off public, private, public, private, public, private.
Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So I go to my waitlist, I picked some people and I say, “Hey, I’d love if you could review my table of contents.” we get on a private Zoom call just me and one of those people, they give me feedback, I asked him, I could take a screenshot of this. And that’s what I post online say like, “Hey, I got great feedback from blah, blah, about the Table of Contents,” that sort of thing.
Kevon Cheung: That’s the idea.
Joe Casabona: Love that. Well, Kevon, this has been amazing. I’ve learned a ton I know the listeners have too. So thank you so much for taking time today. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?
Kevon Cheung: Three places. I mean, I’m most active on Twitter/X. So my handle is Meetkevon. You’ll hear a lot from me there because I share different things, business, personal life. And then publiclab.co is where I just host everything I do. So it’s like a rabbit hole you don’t want to dig into. And lastly, my flagship program buildinpublicmastery.com. So that’s where I spend most of my time working with my cohort of students and get them to move forward.
Joe Casabona: Love that. Well, I appreciate it. I will link to that and all of the show notes we talked about over at howibuilt.it/331. You can also go there to become a member and get this episode ad-free, as well as the pro part of this show where we’re going to talk about Kevon’s origin story and why he switched his cohort model, and how he switched his cohort model. So, Kevon, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. I really appreciate it.
Kevon Cheung: Thank you, Joe. This has been really fun. You can tell from our very conversational chat I’m having fun. So thank you.
Joe Casabona: Awesome, love it. Thank you for listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.