Building in the open (BITO) has become increasingly popular within the startup ecosystem. Buzzwords such as transparency and openness are now commonplace and BITO is championed by the likes of Buffer, Ghost, Product Hunt, Remote OK, Fast, Ecologi, Gumroad and many more.
The methods of BITO are numerous. Some companies choose to share their metrics such as revenue, traffic, users and feedback, some host open board meetings and others actively encourage users to help build and test their product.
But why has BITO become so popular?
The potential rewards for BITO are extensive. For example, it can improve the depth of connection with customers, strengthen a sense of identity and community, inculcate trust and transparency, increase approachability and authenticity, grab attention, generate curiosity, garner interest, and invite and allow for shorter, immediate feedback loops that improve product development and refine product market fit.
The intentions behind BITO are, however, less clear.
Many commentators suggest that rather than solely improving traditional approaches to growth, BITO is a deliberate strategy to gain an audience and quickly test product-market fit whilst making a company look more authentic and less self-interested but not requiring it to actually be more authentic and public-spirited.
Public companies, after all, have always had to share their numbers and in some countries, such as the UK, registered companies’ accounts are publicly accessible. Thus, by default, many companies are already ‘open’ before they begin actively proclaiming that they are.
Pulling back the curtains is an effective method of self-promotion and something those BITO readily admit. However, this does mean BITO often comes under fire for being a marketing ploy rather than a genuine, honest commitment to being open, warts and all.
However, in an era increasingly characterised by distrust and scepticism, any steps toward authenticity and openness, even if driven by ulterior motives, is arguably something to be welcomed.
Companies which prioritise and focus on transparency and openness are a breath of fresh air that many find appealing and adding a touch of personality and humanity to traditionally faceless organisations, in addition to creating an easy means for customers to monitor and measure accountability and responsibility, has undoubtedly proven successful for many companies seeking to garner support and stimulate growth.
Superhuman amassed a waiting list of nearly 300,000 people, Fast entered into discussions over a billion dollar valuation and Roam Research hit nearly 10,000 subscribers within two months and reached $1.2m ARR within 60 days of launching a paid plan.
Within these examples, a shared underlying theme is the efficacy with which BITO catalyses community building.
Excitement, trust, accessibility, loyalty, familiarity and a sense of buy-in through contribution and ownership are all factors engendered by BITO and which can foster a strong community.
Not surprisingly, individuals are likely to want to become part of a community, to support and identify with that community if they know how it has been built, have contributed to building it and continue to play a part in building it.
So what does this all mean for Landscape? Why do we want to build in the open, why is it important for us to do so and what do we hope to achieve?
Our motivation is actually quite simple.
At its core, Landscape is about increasing transparency, levelling the playing field and being the most helpful platform within the startup funding ecosystem. The above mentioned rewards of BITO have definitely played a part, but, at the same time, the basic principles of BITO naturally align with what we’re trying to achieve and promote.
As innovative, disruptive and game-changing the startup community can be, it is, however, easy for companies to jump on the bandwagon and try to capitalise on trends without really embodying the core principles in question.
This is something we want to address.
At Landscape we do not want to default to ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’ merely because it is the latest trend. We do not want to fuel the suspicion that BITO is merely a productive marketing ploy. We are not trying to create buzz with audacious claims, big reveals and seemingly painful, embarrassing admissions.
We want instead to build Landscape in a way that provides real, actionable value to those joining us on our journey and helping us write our story. We don’t want to just share our metrics - we don’t see much value in that. We want to share what we think we do right and, perhaps more importantly, what we do wrong. We want to provide detailed insights into our current practices and share resources that might be of use to others. We want to focus on our actions as much as our words, we want to walk the walk rather than merely talk the talk.
As we will keep emphasising, Landscape’s mission is to become the startup funding ecosystem’s most helpful platform. We do not plan on achieving this by simply providing ratings and reviews of investors.
We will share the tools, assets, systems and processes we use in the hope that others find this useful. If we think there is something we can do, or provide, that adds value, be it information, connections, assistance, saving someone time or being the metaphorical ‘startup guinea pig’ then we will.
What we write about and what we talk about, won’t just be theoretical recommendations communicated through blog posts, Zoom calls or Clubhouse events. They will be processes we have implemented, tried and tested ourselves. Some will have succeeded, some will have failed, but our aim is that through being transparent, others may be able to avoid having to go through the process of trial and error themselves.
Finally we hope that BITO might empower others on their own entrepreneurial journey.
Our hope is that providing a real, genuine, honest account of what it is like to build a startup will provide a welcome change from the all too familiar ‘business is booming’, ‘things couldn’t be better’, ‘fake it till you make it’ spiel.
We hope that building in public BITO, sharing our mistakes, uncertainties, obstacles and our story, as and when it unfolds, will undermine and challenge the unhelpful, oft-spouted and oft-inaccurate narrative of hustle, success and individual heroism that has often defined the startup ecosystem.
BITO takes time, intention and consistency. It’s a long game that demands detailed, collaborative, critical discussion and experimentation. Merely pursuing it for the sake of publicity and quick growth is antithetical to what it stands for and the true value it can provide.
Landscape is not about promoting and highlighting the transparency, collaboration and accountability of our product. It’s about embedding transparency, collaboration and accountability into our product from the get-go.
We would love it and really appreciate it if you could join us on the 16th March 6pm GMT for a special open office on Cosmos where we will be soft-launching our new platform and asking everyone to test and pull it apart!