The Bootstrapped Founder

Arvid talks about introverts turning into temporary extroverts.

Show Notes

- You Don’t Need to be an Extrovert to Build in Public — an Introvert’s Perspective
- Find your Following, my Twitter course


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What is The Bootstrapped Founder?

Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.

One of the major reasons people don’t start building in public is that they don’t want to stand in the proverbial spotlight. They don’t want to be exposed.

Building in public is by definition a public act, and if you’re anything like me, you prefer keeping a low profile. At least, I usually do.

But when I started taking sharing my journey seriously, something changed. And it wasn’t my personality: all it took was to shift my perspective on who I was talking to.

Every single personality test I took in the past solidly put me in the “introvert” corner of the spectrum. I’m not one to enjoy social gatherings or parties. I quickly get drained when I hang out with people too much.

But I learned one thing from diving headlong into the entrepreneurship and indie hacker community: it depends on who I hang out with.

If I am with my fellow nerds, I can go for miles and miles. Whether it’s talking about Star Trek, building internet businesses, or —as of late— what the right podcasting equipment looks like, if I am surrounded by people who share my interests and dreams, I can bathe in their company for hours.

When I started building in public, I noticed that I was surrounded by my fellow nerds. Business nerds, coder nerds, builder nerds. People who had chosen to spend their free time making things instead of following the more traditional recreational avenues. Unlike all these conversations at parties where I couldn’t contribute much, the communities that I joined and established myself in for my build-in-public efforts didn’t confront me with something I didn’t want to think about. Instead, they were laser-focused on the things I couldn’t stop talking about.

And that’s when I learned that the introvert-extrovert spectrum itself operates on a spectrum: where you are depends on who you’re surrounded by.

Throw me into a regular social setting, and I quickly retreat to the sidelines. But if you meet me at an Elixir developer meetup or a founder conference, you’ll find me right in the middle of the action. I’m introverted in one setting and highly extroverted in another.

That’s something I had to allow myself to be. The “introvert” label is hard to shake because it so comfortably explains away all our social anxiety. But at least for me, most of that anxiety came from a divergence between what I care about and what others around me consider important. The moment that distance became smaller, I became more confident.

With that confidence came appreciation: the more I went to meetups and conferences, the more other people considered my opinions and gave me positive feedback. All it took was knowing that like-minded people surrounded me, and I started to feel much better being closer to the center of attention.

It’s all about control: when you know that your audience —however large it may be— understands your “why” and where you come from, it feels much safer to open up.

And opening up is what building in public is all about. When we share our journeys truthfully, we have to share not just the good stuff but also our failures and challenges. Understanding that the people who follow us along our entrepreneurial journeys have experienced similar things and deeply relate to our experiences makes it much easier to be honest in public.

Now, I still feel like I am in over my head sometimes. Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy to anyone, particularly when you have a history of being private and socially awkward. But I have learned to enjoy pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Because outside of the comfort zone lies the potential for growth. And if discomfort is the precursor to a growth opportunity, then so be it. I’ll be uncomfortable for a bit if it allows me to become better at what I want to do.

It’s the mark of being a professional contributor to an industry that we have the agency to make hard choices and push ourselves to build things that haven’t been done before. Introvert or not, if what I work on today has the potential to liberate thousands of other professionals from a particularly gruesome task in the future, I will gladly deal with the discomfort — because I know who I am doing this for.

Whenever I share a failed experience, I feel some level of shame. I thought something would work, but it didn’t. I had wrongful assumptions; I made sub-optimal choices. So far, so selfish. But I know my audience. I know that somewhere out there is another entrepreneur, just like me, but a few weeks behind me, just about to make the same mistake. As a member of a highly supportive community, it is my obligation to share my failure with them so they can do better themselves.

And that’s the thing about building in public: it’s a community effort. You don’t build your business in isolation: many founders do the same, and we all learn from each other. It’s a collective learning experience, and if you benefit from it, you might just as well contribute to the pool of knowledge.

I know it’s easier said than done, but I highly recommend it.

If you consider yourself an introvert, here are a few thoughts that you can ponder to convince yourself to give building in public a go:

- You’re helping people just like you. For every public builder, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of makers who didn’t muster the courage but would love to learn from someone who did.
- You’re showing yourself and the world that you’re serious about this. A public commitment means a lot to an introvert, and it will also mean a lot for your followers and followers-to-be. You’re putting your mouth where your mind is.
- You’re leaving evidence of your ambition. If you ever feel like you do not have the impact you think you should have, you can go back and see how much just sharing your journey has already helped people.
- You can still be an introvert. It just turns out that once you get talking about something you genuinely care about, you get to be a temporary extrovert. It’s all about knowing your audience.
- You can always stop if it’s too much. The great thing about sharing your journey is that you have control over it. You choose what and how much of it to share. Keep your secrets. Share what you’re comfortable with.

Building in public is all about striking a balance. You balance your work with sharing your story. Beyond that, you balance when and what to share.

What matters most is knowing how much of an impact you could have by talking about what you care so much about to people with a similar mindset.

Knowing that my audience feels just as strongly about entrepreneurship and making things that help people makes me go out there and share my story every day. It’s the only party that I truly enjoy being at.

And it’s an ongoing party that doesn’t drain my energy. In fact, I get more energy from it.

Like a temporary extrovert.