Building in Public Versus Dropping Like a Thunderbolt: Which Marketing Strategy is Best?
98% of creators rave about building in public. But it turns out there are serious downsides to leaving your curtains open.
It was a dark winter morning when the email appeared like an omen.
It was 6:13 a.m. on Monday, November 21st and I thought I had a solid plan for my workday in place. But then Dr. Julie Gurner’s newsletter hit my inbox.
Dr. Gurner is a New York City-based Executive Performance Coach with 77K Twitter followers. She’s been compared to Wendy Rhoades of “Billions” by The Wall Street Journal. Needless to say, she knows what drives performance—and what stunts it.
I cradled my phone in one hand to read her thoughts while my coffee went cold in the other. Dr. Gurner’s post eviscerated building in public as a marketing strategy.
She described it as a “distraction masked as many other things,” and explained how getting “cheers from strangers” on projects you haven’t achieved yet decreases motivation—on top of a laundry list of other negatives (you can read her full post here).
I was stunned. My plan that day was to craft my build in public marketing strategy for a course I was pre-selling in December.
But here’s what I did instead (and why I encourage you to do the same).
My Marketing Dilemma
I re-read Dr. Gurner’s paragraphs on the pitfalls of building in public as I contemplated what to make of them. At face value, her claims popped the balloon of enthusiasm I felt about building my course in public.
I asked myself, was I sipping the Kool-Aid on a trend among struggling creators that established entrepreneurs—like Dr. Gurner—would scoff at?
That was a scary thought as someone committed to building a scalable business.
I immediately created a spectrum in my mind. On one side, I had “build in public” and on the opposite, I had “drop like a thunderbolt” (i.e., “build in private”).
Here’s a visual of the spectrum for you:
I thought about my experience as a solopreneur over the past 15 months.
Right away, I realized Dr. Gurner made a compelling case for why dropping like a thunderbolt has advantages over building in public. Two points in particular really resonated:
1. Input For Products & Services
I thought back to being Head Teaching Assistant for the Maven Course Accelerator in January. One of my responsibilities was policing the community platform to ensure peer feedback was sound (not misleading).
For example, one time a course creator posted about how she was going to skip the free workshops we recommended running in the lead-up to her course. Her rationale was she had taught before and would rather use that time to work on other aspects of her course. Immediately, someone chimed in with support validating her decision.
But then I jumped. I explained the intention of free workshops is to market your course by giving students a taste of it in addition to testing your content and getting comfortable teaching on Zoom.
Both the original poster and the commenter expressed gratitude for the clarification and proceeded to plan their free workshops.
But the takeaway here is without me jumping in to course correct (no pun intended), this one exchange could have led the whole cohort down the wrong path.
This is why it’s crucial to evaluate sources of feedback.
Questions to Filter Feedback
Here are some questions to filter feedback:
Is this person qualified to give me advice?
Has this person accomplished what I’m trying to accomplish? Is there social proof of that or am I gambling by taking them at their word (which could be total B.S.)?
Is this person a prospective customer or a random peer trying to be helpful?
Am I foolishly getting validation from well-intentioned people who aren’t qualified to provide it?
Once you build a habit of using these filters, you’ll get better at seeking feedback from the right people in the first place.
2. Creating a Sense of Urgency
Another argument for dropping like a thunderbolt is the buzz and sense of urgency it creates for customers to buy your product or service. A great example of this was author Polina Marinova Pompliano dropping the pre-sale for her new book in this Tweet:
Polina has over 124K Twitter followers and a paid newsletter membership. So she’s far more likely to rake in sales from dropping her book like a thunderbolt than would a creator with a following of under 10K (with an even smaller newsletter list).
But that aside, the buzz generated by Polina’s surprise announcement created an urgency to buy her book. I felt an urgency to pre-order it myself.
And it occurred to me that while I follow other people working on books, I don’t have the same sense of urgency to buy theirs. Because it feels like a distant product that will be released in an anticlimactic way after so much talk about it.
In Polina’s case, she’s not talking about writing a book. She wrote it. That elicits more credibility and makes me more likely to invest in her product.
Dropping Like a Thunderbolt After Building in Public
Polina mentions in the article linked to her Tweet that author Morgan Housel—who created his book, The Psychology of Money, based on a slew of articles he had written over the years—was the one who encouraged her to convert her articles into a book.
So in essence, both Polina and Morgan built their books in public through their writing. But they didn’t promote their books before they were written. They dropped them like thunderbolts after building their credibility based on their achievements to date.
How This Inspired my Marketing Strategy
I wound up using a similar approach for my new course. Instead of announcing it outright, I kept it under wraps and teased that something was coming in my newsletter for two weeks leading up to my pre-sale on December 7th.
Granted my following is much smaller (at 2K followers), I was still able to generate buzz around my course. Plus, teasing the announcement primed people to buy. Whereas, if I had only mentioned the big news in one newsletter, I would have risked people missing it.
The second thing I realized is teasing is better than making a one-off announcement and continuously reminding people to buy your product. There’s nothing worse than someone constantly trying to sell you something, right? This way I was able to provide a short teaser to generate interest before sharing details in full.
Here are two examples of how this approach generated interest in what I had to share. The first is a comment on my newsletter and the second is a message from a group chat on Twitter:
My marketing strategy led to a successful pre-sale within 24 hours.
My next phase will be rolled out in January once I release the course in full, raise my prices, and go hard promoting it through distribution.
Stay tuned for more takeaways.
Your Marketing Strategy
Now, take a moment to think about your marketing strategy.
Have you considered both ends of the spectrum or are you blindly accepting the build in public approach (as I was)?
It doesn’t matter which strategy you use, or whether you fall somewhere mid-spectrum (like me). The important thing is you’re aware of your options and making intentional decisions for your business.
You can experiment with different options too.
Thank You & Join The Conversation
That’s what I have for you today. Thank you for reading.
I would love to hear your thoughts on building in public versus dropping like a thunderbolt. So please comment below with anything you would like to share.
You can also like and share this post to help me expand my reach.
Wishing you a wonder-full week,
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This was a fascinating read! It's so refreshing to hear about the alternative to just building in public and how dropping like a thunderbolt, or combining the two, can even sometimes be more successful.
After reading this, I can't help but want to pay more attention to how creators are navigating that and take note of what's working. There are many ways to do things ✨
Great issue! :)
I echo Rick Lewis's thoughts here. The serendipity is amazing, as I'm running a course in January, and what you wrote was key in deciding how my programme will unfold.
Maybe because I trained as a lawyer, my default has always been to DLAT.
That said, I there there is a benefit in getting feedback along the way. But my comfort level is in in getting feedback behind the curtains. There's certainly value in an audience contributing to the development of a course.
But there is a time and place for that: feedback whilst a programme is running, or after feels valuable, but participants often know what they want, but don't often know what they need (this was an excellent point you made in your article). So feedback whilst building the plane feels rather more like a stab in the dark.