Build in Public or Build in Stealth: How to Launch Your Startup?


When Mehul and I decided to have The Clueless Company, I was practically clueless on how to go with it (yes, the irony is not lost on me). 

Thankfully, Mehul wasn’t. He was less clueless than I was, to say the least. 

He was the one to introduce me to the term “Build in Public”. Thank you, Mehul. 

I know, after reading this, Mehul will be like

Little did I know that we will eventually decide to build TCC in public, and I will be thrown into the world of startups and deal with related jargons.

Today, I know it well enough to talk about building in public, how it differs from stealth mode startups, and which way to go for your startup in this blog.

Table of Contents

What is a Build in Public Startup?

The answer is simple ⬇️

Jokes apart, this is what building in public means.

If you go by literal words, it means building a startup (or any project) in public; sharing each milestone, failure and update with the community. 

This approach, in essence, requires you to establish a conversation with your audience in utmost transparency, no matter which platform they are on along with building a brand since day 0. 

Let’s explore both sides of this coin. 

Advantages of Building in Public

While we are talking about it, let me tell you about the benefits of launching your startup in public. 

1. It makes you accountable

When you are building in public, you share about everything that’s going on, planned and even executed. 

This makes you accountable for all that you share and promise. 

For example, if you say that you are going to share brand building tips every day, then you have to; since your community looks forward to it. 

As the old saying goes; be careful what you say or promise. 

That stands true for startups launching in public. 

You have to be authentic, stay true to your goals and work harder to achieve them. 

2. Builds trust with the audience

Sharing is caring. Isn’t it? 

If I didn’t believe in it so far, I do believe it now. 

Building The Clueless Company in public has helped us meet and talk with people from varied backgrounds and nature and establish a rapport with them better than we did in our previous organizations. 

This paved the way for our audience’s deeper understanding and trust in TCC as a brand. They are familiar with our values and are not afraid to share it with people when need arises. 

In a way, building a startup in public cultivates brand loyalists without having them work with the business. 

3. Helps you with regular user feedbacks

Audiences with startups building in public are eager to be a part of their journey. 

Believe me, I have witnessed it first hand. 

This makes it possible for you to get feedback on your features, ideas and any activity you do, from time to time. 

As a result, you make better decisions at the next stage. 

And, do I need to tell you that companies that listen to their customers grow 10x faster? 

4. Makes the product-market fit possible

Timely user feedback on your experiments and product development helps you find your sweet spot on the market, as easily as finding the right life partner. 

Of course, a product-market fit does not guarantee success, but it is definitely the validation you need to take the next step for your growth. 

We have written a comprehensive thread on how to find a product-market fit. I am sharing it here for your quick reference. 

5. Gets you community support

Building in public is the ALL part of “All or None”.

With success, comes failures and responsibilities. And, the best part of it all is the support you get from the community you build. 

No matter where they are, you will find people to stand by you and your startup through thick and thin. 

Building in public brings out your human side with emotions, blunders and connections alike; instead of a typical, robotic company that’s out to make a sale. This makes your audience resonate with your successes and failures. 

6. Establishes you as a thought leader

Each decision you make for your startup is to be well thought out. 

Yes, even the smallest ones. 

And when you share it with the world, the audience believes that this is coming from the experience and expertise you carry. 

Thought leadership, which takes years for brands to achieve, is established for startups and founders with this approach. 

Today, when TCC shares an SEO tactic or sales tip, our community trusts it and shares it with their network because they know we will never share something incorrect or irrelevant. 

7. Improves brand exposure

It is a no-brainer that building in public provides you with immense exposure and opportunities for your product or service.

It not only helps you validate what you are building, but also enables you to make decisions that are in the public interest. 

Building in public helps you build a brand from the ground up, from Day 1. 

8. Attracts better talent and customers

Better exposure gains you access to better talents, customers, investors and stakeholders. 

Putting that aside, you will also find people willing to work with you and be a part of your startup’s journey from up close. 

You won’t believe it, but TCC has on boarded at least 5 amazing team members through the power of community. 

Cons of Building in Public

Since I want to be fair, I will also talk about the cons of building in public. 

1. You are at the risk of sharing too much

This will always be at the back of your mind when you are building in public.

Are you sharing too much?

What is too much?

How to filter the information? 

What if this idea fails? 

There will be a lot of questions in your head, having only one answer at the end. 

“This is for community betterment, for our betterment.”

If you don’t share, you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, well, all of it is just moot, isn’t it? 

I won’t lie. I have been wary of this fact from Day 0. With time, I have learned to look at the big picture and focus on the greater good of the community, our audience and ourselves. 

Set boundaries of what to share and what not to in order to have a clear agenda of building your startup. 

2. It can make you anxious

Yes, I have been anxious way too many times than I can count. Why? 

Because, building in public does not only make you responsible for your services or products, but also for the love and trust your community bestows on you. 

You are always at the risk of disappointing any one of them, and like an ice cream truck, you want to make everyone happy. 

If only, it was possible. 

You want to keep the promises you made, you want to grow, you want to share, you want to experiment – well, there’s a lot going on. 

And this can make you anxious. 

3. Can bring out the worst in audience

If you get the positive from your audience, be prepared for the negative too. 

As the old saying goes; hope for the best, be prepared for the worst. 

While your one share can kindle a positive impact on someone, it can totally go the other way for someone else. 

And like every negative publicity, that spreads faster than the positive one (unless it is a diagnosis). 

4. It may distract you from your business goals

While you are busy sharing your daily startup updates, you might miss out on other priority aspects – for example, development, growth, strategizing and more. 

The internet can blur your understanding of reality, which can cost you more than you can imagine. 

Do a ruthless prioritization every day to ensure that you don’t go off track. 

Examples of startups building in public

Let me share examples of startups that are building (or built) in public. 

1. Buffer

The social media scheduling tool, Buffer has been transparent about everything; from product roadmap to salaries to the successes and failures over the years.

2. Gumroad 

While Gumroad, the digital marketplace platform have not shared each step of their journey, they have been known to organize open-to-public board meetings since 2019. 

3. Superhuman

The email application, Superhuman has become the epitome of launching without actually launching.

They have built a massive audience and loyal fanbase, such that users are ready to pay an unusually high price for an email client to be a part of their growth journey. 

4. Fast

Fast, an app that expedites and centralizes your online checkout process, has been built in public while listening to feedback from the community and understanding customer requirements.

Today, Fast is as good as the next big thing in the eCommerce industry. 

5. The Clueless Company

The Clueless Company, a brand aligning marketing, sales and customer service operations for the B2B SaaS and D2C industry is a startup building in public. They are not only revolutionizing business growth as we know, but they have successfully built a loyal following online. 

Wow, feels weird to talk about TCC in third-person. 

Did you know: The first startup that was built in public was the result of Pieter Levels’ oversharing post in 2017. In that, he had narrated the growth of his startup Hoodmaps; from day 0 to a business of 300K+ users. 

Now that we know the pros and cons of building your startup in public, let’s tap into launching a stealth startup. 

What is a Building in Stealth Startup?

On the contrary to building in public, a stealth startup is an approach where founders do not share anything about their startup growth and experiences to the community except some significant milestones. 

Unlike building in public, stealth startups are built away from the eyes or feedback of the audience, avoiding attention and public interest as much as possible until you are ready to share your offerings with the world. 

There are two types of stealth mode startup launches:

1. Total stealth mode

Total stealth mode indicates that the brand is taking each step and decision away from the world’s prying eyes. 

Even things such as company goals, website, brand or product name – all of it is hidden or misled with.  

2. In-company stealth mode

In-company stealth mode happens when an existing company wants to keep its next product or idea as a secret, at least until it is time to launch it. 

This secret can go beyond the public eye, and be applicable for stakeholders and team members not connected with the project directly. 

Microsoft’s codenames for various projects, Chicago for Windows 95, Longhorn for Windows Vista, Threshold for Windows 10 is an example of in-company stealth mode. 

Up until a couple of years ago, most of the startups were launched in stealth mode as no one quite understood the concept of building in public. 

Let me share more about this. 

Advantages of Building in Stealth

While you might find building in stealth boring after reading about its counterpart, I assure you, it is not. 

Here are some benefits of building in stealth. 

1. It protects your ideas from the public

Goes without saying, building in stealth helps you keep your ideas away from the public eye and the judgment they might receive. 

That’s not to say that you don’t share them with people building with you. 

This also helps maintain intellectual property rights for your company. 

2. You gain a better edge over the competitors

Because you are not invested in sharing or establishing a community, your strategies and plans are safe from your competitors. 

Building in stealth won’t let your competitors swoop in with the same idea you have and outrun you. 

3. Helps you focus more on business development

When you build in stealth, you invest more focus, time and efforts in business development and building a product that your audience needs. 

Startups have been known to operate in stealth even after launch, for lack of requirements and even to maintain the overall efficiency of the team members. 

Did you know: TCC’s mentorship and consultancy to startups is the key to well-formed business development. 

4. Promotes deeper ideas and brainstorming

When in stealth, public opinion does not matter.

This enables you to implement ideas faster, drive more innovation, touch untapped potential and brainstorm on opportunities that you could otherwise not make the most of. 

As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss. 

5. Allows you to set your own pace for the launch and overheads

Building in stealth gives you the privilege to set your own pace for the product launch, to execute the plans you made and take decisions for your business growth. 

Of course, you set your own goals. BUT, no one other than your circle is aware of it. 

YOU are solely responsible for your SOPs. 

Now that we have talked about the advantages of building in stealth, let’s cover the disadvantages too. 

Cons of Building in Stealth

Parallel to the disadvantages of building in public, there are a few cons of building in stealth which you should not miss. 

1. Limited user feedback

Since you do not have a community to go to, you do not get access to the user feedback as much as building in public does. 

You have to be mindful of the users you approach and ensure that the feedback you receive is genuine and helpful. 

2. May delay finding your product-market fit

Limited user feedback may lead to slower product development, and consequently, a delay in finding your product-market fit. 

This ultimately affects your business growth. 

Did you know: Not finding a product-market fit is one of the reasons for startups to fail.  

3. Limits brand or product exposure 

Unless you are launching a product that is meant for the common person, you are not at the risk of lower brand exposure. 

But, for businesses dealing with consumer-facing products, building in stealth does not allow proper brand and product exposure. 

As a result, you may receive a delayed response and acceptance from your audience. 

4. Makes it challenging to secure funding

Limited brand awareness hits hard for startups in stealth mode. 

Because no one is aware of how your business is doing and growing, it makes it a challenge for investors to gauge you from the public eye. 

On the other hand, funding in stealth startups surged by 140% year-over-year in 2020. 

CBI Insights

5. Limits access to talent pool

Unlike startups building in public, those building in stealth do not have it easy in hiring teams. 

If I ask you, who would you rather work for? 

A startup building in public or in stealth? 

Won’t your instinct make you checkout the startup online and what it does? 

For one, you find a lot of information; and nada for the other. 

Which way would you go? 

Similarly, stealth startups do not get access to as good a talent pool as their counterparts do. 

Examples of startups built in stealth

Here are a few startups that have been built in stealth mode. 

1. Proprio Vision

A company dealing in AI-based surgery visualization tools, replacing microscopes, screens and more, Proprio Vision operated in stealth mode for years improving its technology; even raising $7 million in that duration. 

2. Coda

An app that replaced Excel successfully for the big leagues, Coda was created by a former YouTube executive into a business which had a pre-launch value of $400 million. 

3. Perceptive Automata

A company that developed a software to anticipate human behavior in autonomous vehicles, Perceptive Automata uses behavioral science to make vehicles think like humans.

They came out of stealth mode after a prelim funding of $3 million. 

What’s right for your startup: Build in Public or Stealth Mode?

Each startup is different and unique in its own way. 

So, if one startup in your industry has taken one approach, it is not an indicator for you to go in that direction. 

While I have shared the pros and cons with you, and we are building TCC in public, I know it is not the right approach for so many startups out there. 

If building in stealth allows you anonymity, building in public gets you community support. 

Here are a few factors I suggest to keep in mind before deciding:

  1. Who is your target audience? Are they available on the channel you will build on?
  2. Do you have a brand story to share? 
  3. Will your product development take time? 
  4. How important is user feedback? 
  5. Do you have a product-market fit? 

Most of the time, second or third-time entrepreneurs would better know about going for stealth mode. 

So, which way will you go for your startup? Build in public or build in stealth?

In Conclusion 

Any decision and step while running a startup is a risk you must be willing to take.

Your startup is your story, and you decide how you want it to pan out, whether it is to build in public or build in stealth.

As the old saying goes, suno sab ki, karo khud ki. 

Translation: Take advice from everyone, but do what you think is best. 

That’s exactly how The Clueless Company empowers businesses. 

Well, that’s all I know so far about building in public and stealth mode. All credits to TCC 😁

I hope I was able to provide you with some value. I’ll share more as soon as I find out about it. 

If you are still unsure which way to go, TCC is here to help clueless individuals and clueless startups alike. Book a free consultation call with us

4 thoughts on “Build in Public or Build in Stealth: How to Launch Your Startup?”

    • Hey Mitesh,

      Because including pros and cons alongside examples provide more clarity to readers, we planned the post accordingly, and your comment validated that decision. 🙂

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