“Great products require deep human empathy: you can’t solve for that without talking to the customer early and often.” - Cindy Alvarez

Much has been said about building products that customers want to buy; and understanding your customer can be a tremendous competitive advantage. At least, that’s what product manager Cindy Alvarez thinks, and she’s the Director of Customer Research at GitHub - which happens to be the largest development platform in the world.  

What's in here?

How building in public can give you insights about your customer, and how to leverage that.

Why building in public can be your best growth strategy as a SaaS founder.

Use case: How Jexo is building and growing a free roadmap timeline app organically, without spending on ads.

A customer’s needs come first, then comes everything else; right? Question remains, how will I know what they want without going broke? 🤔

What do B2B customers want?

Not to sound cliche but today’s customer isn’t yesterday’s; people change. I’d say what today’s customers want is fairly straight-forward, and I don’t think it’s that different from what the average human wants.

  • Solution: to their problem, whatever it is. 👂 👁️
  • Conversation: to connect and feel like they matter.
  • Transparency: so they can be part of something.
  • Trust: to get on board and support you all the way.

What happens when you talk to an audience?

Do you ever wonder why people enjoy playing games like D&D; or why they enjoy commenting on tweets, or voicing their opinions across the internet? They’re looking for dialogue, connection, conversation; and it’s that simple. So what makes your customers any different?

By talking to your audience, you’re offering them something of tremendous value.

1. Authentic experience

People get on the internet to feel. They want to be entertained, challenged, educated, understood. You’re not just an influencer for them, sitting back and trying to be the expert on all things; actually, you’re someone they find themselves in, someone they connect to. You’d be surprised to know that not many people do this: talk to their audience in a genuine, heart-to-heart fashion.

BIP = authentic experience
Build in public on Twitter

2. Market segregation

There is so much content, about everything. How do you help people get through online noise? When you create specific content that you’re an expert on, you’re inviting the right people in. If you love project management and talk about it all the time, then the people following you are probably not going to be doctors; 😆 they’re going to be people involved in the PPM world or looking for a solution to their PPM problem. And that’s exactly who you’re looking to impress, isn’t it?

3. Expert focus

What you’re doing when working with customers is to try and deliver something of value that you’re an expert at, but spiced up your way. The more you know what you’re good at, and the more you learn and talk about it, the more pronounced the differentiation is, which is how you grow a brand and tell your own story. It’s your own flavor you’re bringing to the table, on top of your expertise. Be an expert with their own sense of style, and a cool story that can pave the way for others.

How to have your customers build the product for you?

Product managers, founders, people with ideas sometimes (often?) make the mistake of building their products based on some brilliant idea they had. They’ll spend months, years perfecting products that will probably end up God knows where. Hard truth isn’t it? So why not go through some customer development process first, before getting into the whole “let’s build a product” process?

The SaaS founder’s dream

Isn’t it every product manager’s dream to have their product search ready for them to roll with it, so they don’t spend eons perfecting features and offering products people don’t really want? And for a SaaS founder with a startup operating under limited funds, knowing what your customers actually want without spending much money figuring it out, is nothing short of a miracle.

What is building in public?

To put it simply, building in public is when a company builds a product, service, feature, anything in public by inviting that same public to track progress and participate in the process.

What is truly revolutionary about building in public is that small brands and startup founders have now gained the power to own their media instead of depending on media channels to reach out to them. The possibilities are endless!    

If you want to know more about building in public specifically and how to go about it, i.e. where to start and what tools to use for assistance, check out this mini guide on building in public.

How do you get an audience to share your journey?

There are many ways, mentioned in this article, that you can go about sharing your journey as you build a new feature or product. I won’t be discussing all of them here; I’d rather give you a real use case: our company Jexo, and how we decided to build one of our apps Goosly in public, to help us:

  • build a network of like-minded people
  • connect to our customers
  • know firsthand what features to develop next
Build in public roadmap timeline - Goosly
Build in public plan

A little background never hurt anyone

Jexo was founded in 2018, as a lean startup company operating in the Atlassian ecosystem. We’ve been building SaaS plugins for Jira since, and like to think that we’re bringing forth the next generation of project management apps. Yep.

I’d say our general approach to everything is a minimalist one; we like straightforward, genuine experiences and that’s what we try our best to offer our customers. We care to impress, obviously, but not by copying others; we really try to be innovative in our space while pushing for good vibes, transparency and quality in all of our products. Why? Because we absolutely love our craft, i.e. we’re obsessed with everything related to project management and SaaS!

Meet the team at Jexo
Jexo team

What exactly does Goosly do?

Goosly is a free, simple roadmap tool designed for build-in-public projects. It allows anyone to copy, customize, embed and share project and product plans with a community, in the form of a pretty roadmap timeline.

It started as a sidekick project from our Head of Development Willian, based on the roadmap engine of our flagship Jira app Swanly - which is a plug&play issue/release management tool for planning and tracking work in Jira. Basically, Goosly carries the Swanly v3 roadmap structure.

Why would people want Goosly in the first place?

With all of the roadmapping tools available online, why would anyone be interested in an app like Goosly?

Why people want a build in public roadmap timeline
Why people want simple roadmaps

You know when an idea strikes, so you grab a pen and sketch a mini-plan but then end up doing nothing with it? Think of Goosly along those lines; a sketch book with an actual trackable plan to get your ideas moving.

No complex features, processes or workflows; no need for ideas to be set up perfectly to get things moving.

Roadmap timeline for every day planning
Everyday roadmap planner

How we started building in public

Funny thing is; we built an entire free tool to keep others accountable on their BIP journey, then thought, what about us? How are we staying accountable?

Our Goosly soft launch took place on February 2nd, 2022 during a Jexo22 event launch where we introduced 3 new apps we’d been developing for months; it went great and we got amazing feedback. But a couple of weeks down the line, we decided to change our approach and started building in public. Why? Because it only makes sense to build in public an app designed to help people build in public, right?

That’s when we decided to have a hard launch for Goosly on Product Hunt. Why Product Hunt? Because we’d get access to a platform of people who actually build in public, who’d have useful feedback for us, and who would for sure, find Goosly very helpful for planning in front of an audience.

Outcome of launching on Product Hunt

We didn’t get the value we wanted from this; why? We weren’t prepared the way we should’ve, technically. Here’s why:

How did we go about tailoring Goosly for building in public?

What we wanted was a standalone tool that tailors to a completely different audience than Swanly; after all, Swanly is specific to Jira and we wanted something outside of that realm.

Planning in public

We brainstormed and started transitioning towards “planning in public”, the concept of creating plans publicly and of course, taken from the “building in public” concept. The idea behind building in public is to be able to share with a community as much as possible while building a business or a product. So why not plan in public and output everything?

Product Hunt launch

We polished our messaging quite a bit in preparation for Product Hunt and created a new landing page. Our soft launch had a more generic approach; we had described Goosly as a roadmap for everyday planning (rightfully so), catered to everyone. This description is true, but does it speak to people on Product Hunt? No.

Our plan was never to enter the competitive space of product roadmaps; Goosly isn’t competing with Roadmunk or ProductPlan for example. The differentiator is very clear: Goosly allows you to simply share your plans with the world (friends, followers, customers) for free.

Free roadmap timeline
Simply daily roadmap

Other roadmapping solutions are full blown product management solutions with lots and lots of features, and they’re usually expensive. Goosly, on the other hand, is free and designed for communicating higher level plans without going too much into detail. And even if you’re already creating roadmap timelines with another tool, you can still use Goosly for low-level planning that you can then share with a community, or a team.

How we’re building Goosly in public

We started documenting our journey in every way we could, without spending any money; YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goosly - you name it. We’d share how we’re planning to build a community around Goosly, how we wish to go forward with the product, what features we’re developing further, and so on…

Building in public on Twitter

Here’s Jexo co-founder and CEO, Biro, giving Goosly updates from his Twitter account.

Twitter BIP
Building in public on Twitter
Building in public by sharing news on Twitter
Share on Twitter

Building in public on LinkedIn

Here, Biro's talking about replacing the content editor in Goosly with Editor.js on LinkedIn.

Building in public on YouTube

You can check out all that’s coming to Goosly on Biro's build in public YouTube page where he's recording videos to document the whole journey.

This helped bring a lot of transparency to our process: from planning to strategy. But that’s not all! We started getting amazing feedback as to what people actually want; the features they like (or not) and the ones they want to see us develop! Now that’s some customer insight that is priceless.

And so now, every feature we think of developing is based on user requests; of course while taking into consideration the fact that we’re a small team and that there are only 24 hours in a day. 😇

What’s the best way to raise a feature request?

Based on the type of feature request it is, whether it’s a bug, improvement, or something new, feedback can come from different sources; email, chat, social media and so on. Now, we’ve discovered that a great way (best way?) to raise a feature request is through a community.

What we did is add a “Join community” button in our Goosly menu, at the bottom of our homepage to start building a Discord community. We’ve got a general chat space, where we announce feature releases, and a feedback channel for feedback about the product and for support. And so once people start asking for support, it’s no longer the Jexo team answering them, but the whole community.

Raise feature request on discord community - Goosly
Join discord community

You can still raise a ticket of course, and no one is denying that a Service Desk is nice, but what it’s missing is the ability to see what people are doing, saying, thinking, asking all the time. The thing is that we evolve by adding to one another’s ideas, we build on top of each other’s creativity. That’s the way of the world, and having a community definitely opens the floor to innovation.

Why people worry about sharing plans in public

People can be wary of building in public, and it’s understandable; the experience is actually quite humbling. You’re left feeling vulnerable, but who still thinks vulnerability is a weakness? More often than not, what customers or your audience want is to understand what you’re building next so that they can see if it’s in tune with their own needs.

Confined to specific dates

And though people may be shy about sharing their plans for building features, the beauty with Goosly is that you’re able to sketch your plans at the macro level, over a period of months, quarters, years. Which means you’re not confined to finishing by a specific date - but rather during a certain month or quarter.

What about competition?

“They will know what we’re planning next”! True, but then again, the best way to compete is by listening to your customers and working accordingly. The focus is on customers, not competition. Users can see that the feature they requested is included in the timeline; they know when it will be done and that gets them excited. As opposed to: “ thank you for your feedback, we appreciate it”.

Niche communities

Not only does Goosly allow you to quickly share a roadmap in public; it also works for private sharing of roadmaps. You can even group a bunch of roadmaps together and share them with your people under a protected password. In this case, you’re able to share more than you normally would publicly, right?

Free roadmap timeline - public and private
Goosly privacy settings

What’s cool is that you can even invite people to edit your roadmaps, which makes Goosly also useful for teams.

Accountability and why it’s important for us

Creating public roadmaps to keep yourself accountable to your own plans, with eyes constantly following your progress, is a good push. It’s also nice to know that others can replicate your success.

True, not everyone will be comfortable enough to put themselves out there, but we appreciate the pressure. If things get rough and you feel like you want to quit, all you need to do is remind yourself that there’s a community out there rooting for you and eagerly following your every move. You’ve got everything up in the open so others can cheer you on.

Build in public creates accountability - Goosly
Accountability in BIP

Accountability gets things done

I, personally, need to feel accountable for my work; it’s the way I function and it actually helps bring out the best of me. When you commit to a plan and there’s no way out of it, your system gears itself towards making it happen. It’s funny but a lot of people function this way. Having your plans out there for the world to see will make people trust you, no matter what you’re doing.

If you can show your community how true you are to the work you’re committing to, then you’ve gained their trust for life. With Goosly, we’re sharing updates, highlights, MRRs and so on because we want people to have faith in our project, our product, our company.

Our build in public experiment is new. We don't have the data to show you what's working and what isn’t yet, but hopefully we will in a few months. If you’re interested in being part of our journey, visit Goosly and join our community to find out how we're swimming along the endless ocean that is building in public, for the public!