Hello everyone, it’s KP.
Welcome to the 2nd edition in this new interview series that highlights top founders and creators who’re boldly building their projects, startups and creative ventures in public. My intention is to ask them a consistent set of simple questions and distill insights and lessons so we can all learn from their experiments.
For this edition we have Marko Saric, co-founder of Plausible - a lightweight, open-source, and privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternative. I’ve really enjoyed following Plausible’s story from early days (both as a fan of their content but also as a paid customer) to the $1m ARR mark. Their overall openness, approach to content marketing and willingness to share freely is truly refreshing and remarkable.
Without further ado, here’s the full interview:
“My name is Marko Saric and I’m the co-founder of Plausible Analytics. My focus is on the communication and marketing side of things.”
1. At what point in your startup journey did you begin your “build in public” journey and why?
Plausible Analytics was pretty much built in public from the first line of code. My co-founder Uku started writing blog posts, tweets and sharing on Indie Hackers as soon as he started thinking about building a web analytics tool.
First blog post was published on December 20th 2018 which is pretty much around the same time when the first line of code was written. Uku is a developer so he doesn’t have as much experience with marketing and building in public is a great first step to getting the word out.
2. What personal / business benefits do you believe you attracted from building in public?
Building in public is a great way to be transparent, get feedback and support from a friendly community but also to find beta users and customers. All the early Plausible users came from these “build in public” updates that were shared on the different platforms.
We’ve continued to be as transparent as possible to this day. We regularly share our milestones, interesting happenings and lessons learned. Our site traffic is open to the public and our code is open source and available to the public too.
3. In the early days, did you have any specific challenges or hesitations on whether you should build in public or not? If so — what were they and how did you overcome them?
I think early on, things are way more simple, so there are very few hesitations about this from my side. You just start sharing and if you’re lucky you’ll start gaining some momentum and you just continue sharing as you’re growing a following. The worst thing that can happen is that those first few posts of you building in public are not seen by anyone else other than, for instance, your mum 😊.
4. Are there any myths or misconceptions about building in public from before that were debunked by your personal experience?
I would say that it’s not enough to just build in public. That’s a mistake I see many make. You cannot just start writing a few tweets about your to-do list and expect that all of your challenges will be solved.
You’ll need to add way more value. You’ll need to create a product that people want and find useful. You’ll still need to position your brand to attract people. You’ll still need to learn how to get your message across and communicate clearly.
People won’t just come by because you join the “build in public” movement and write a few tweets.
Shoutout to this edition’s sponsor: Lemon.io 🍋
5. What are your 3 tips for someone who’s just starting their “build in public” journey?
Set your expectations clear so you don’t get disappointed. Building in public is fine and a great activity but you’ll need something more to grow a successful startup. So find ways to be different. Find new ways to add value to people.
And don’t confuse getting likes and followers with getting subscribers and increasing your MRR. These things may not be correlated at all and focusing too much on what gets likes on social media is not the same as learning what people need and are willing to pay for.
6. In your experience, how did the 80-20 rule play out? What few vital activities of BIP do you believe have resulted in high leverage outcomes for you?
Publishing long form content has been very successful for us. You can always create shorter social media content out of your blog posts, but by just publishing tweets without blog posts you’ll lose out on a lot of potential benefits of building in public.
Writing blog posts and sharing your journey and lessons learned can get your name in front of more people be it through niche communities, links or search engines rankings. It was only when we started publishing useful, interesting and opinionated blog posts that things started moving for us.
7. How much time do you allocate for building in public on a daily/weekly basis?
Sharing in public is not a big part of my day. These days, we share less often as it’s a bit awkward to share as frequently as our MRR numbers are getting on the high side.
It was more interesting and inspiring to share the numbers in the early days. It was also more exciting for me to share in the days when we were reaching $10k MRR and similar levels and we were realizing that actions we took were working. Now my days are more filled with speaking to people that contact us, working with our team and so on.
I think about $1M ARR is a good place to slow down sharing your revenue which we’ve done too. We still share other things such as our website stats, our code and other interesting facts.
8. How did you stay motivated in the early days when generally you don’t see quick results or super high engagement as you begin building in public?
I think working on something you believe in is a great way to stay motivated no matter what’s going on. I just love what we’re doing. Being bootstrapped, open source, privacy-first, saying no to all the best practices and being able to take a few people away from the ad tech giant while doing that is an amazing motivation in itself.
This is the first time that I’m involved in a relatively successful startup and it’s so great that we can do things our way and say no to things that we don’t want to do. So basically have realistic expectations and understand that everything takes time so be prepared to put the effort day after day over a longer term. And in order to do that, you better love what you’re working on.
9. How did you handle copycats while you built in public?
There’s a lot of copycats out there. I guess it comes with the fact that we’ve publicly shared how successful we have been and our code is open source. In general, it’s best to ignore the copycats. It’s easy to copy code or words but it’s really difficult to build a brand that people trust. Focus on doing that instead. Copycats come and go. Most of them are gone by the time they have to renew their domain name.
10. Who are 3 people you would recommend for others to follow in the BIP niche?
Rand Fishkin is a great founder that I’ve been following for years now since his days at Moz. Now he’s building his new startup SparkToro so learning about their journey is inspiring. Someone who’s been there and done it at the high level, and is not doing it from scratch again.
I also really enjoy learning from the Basecamp team, their books and blog posts. They also think about running a startup in a very different and refreshing way and this is very inspiring to me.
These names may not be your typical build in public names but they do share a lot of interesting and useful content that you don’t normally hear from your typical successful company. There’s a lot to learn there.
Other blog posts and Twitter threads where we can learn more about you/your story?
- We’ve published our step-by-step journey on how we built a $1M ARR open source SaaS.
- And something from the early days: How we grew our startup from $400 to $2,750 MRR in 135 days without ads.
That’s a wrap for now! Hope you enjoyed this piece.