282: Kevon Cheung — Embracing Vulnerability in Startup Culture

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Arvid Kahl 0:00
Kevon Cheung is one of my favorite builders in public. Today, we dive into his journey into entrepreneurship by building in public is this massive opportunity catalyst and how to strike a balance between working in front of an audience and being a private person. Kevon is a hands on guy. You will find a lot of tactical guidance in this conversation. This episode is sponsored by acquire.com. More about that later. Now, here's Kevon.

Kevon, welcome to the show. You're one of the most active catalysts of the build in public movement and we can discuss this specific term of building in public in a minute here. You're educating many, many founders and creators on how to share their journey in front of their particular audiences. And I think you do it yourself really well, which is just another wonderful way of teaching by doing. I really appreciate that about you. I want to dive into all things building in public with you today. And I'm a big fan of that movement myself. So this is going to be a lot of fun. Let's start at the beginning for you. How did you find your way into building in public?

Kevon Cheung 1:00
Whew, wow, that's going to be a long story. But I'm going to try to keep it like quite short. I started exactly three years ago. So that would be November 2020. And I had a couple chapters in my career before then. And I was running a SaaS company. So obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. I was the person who was having a solution in hand and then going to a different persona and be like, can marketer use this? Can educator use this? But at the same time, you know, that was the biggest struggle. The second biggest struggle was that, you know, I had investor, angel investor, not VC, thankfully. And I had teams, but I realized I was like, working really hard in my career building for founders and investor. And if you just Google my name Kevon Cheung three years ago, you probably wouldn't find much other than a few outdated blog posts and my LinkedIn profile, which is also outdated. So I have two daughters now. So that was the moment when my first daughter was coming along. And I really want to re invent my life at that point, like, I still want to work hard. I'm still very passionate about what I do. But I think I need to invest more time in the word compounding. So that was the first moment when I went online and start reading what other people are doing, started writing online, started sharing whatever I'm learning at that moment. So that was the first point. And then your question is like, getting into building in public, right? I think is half, I discover myself like when I bumped into this word, by research. I thought it resonate with my personal values like honesty, transparency, integrity, helpfulness is who I am in real life. So I thought, I cannot talk about no code for two decades. I cannot talk about Microsoft, which was really popular back then for two decades. Building in public, I can't talk about for five decades, six decades, that's okay. So that was like, just me finding myself. But at the same time, I just spotted the opportunity. I don't know how you came about building in public. But for me, I saw a lot of people doing it on indiehackers.com on Twitter. When I googled the word I found for articles and pretty short, doesn't really explain much other than the why. So I thought, hey, maybe I could be the person to show people how to do it. So that was my first door into the building in public world.

Arvid Kahl 3:45
Thanks for sharing this. And thank you also for being so clear about, you know, the moment that had happened. I find the most interesting part to me is that your children are involved. That is really cool. Like the fact that and one thing that really stands out to me with building in public in particular, is like leaving a legacy that is something that a lot of people want to do this for, right? They want to leave more than just a couple of outdated blog posts. That's what I hear from you. And that's what I hear from a lot of other people who are interested in this. So that moment being so pivotal to you making the choice to present yourself more and to do it in public in front of your audience. I think it might have to do with the actual act of becoming a parent. Do you think that is related at all?

Kevon Cheung 4:31
I think so. I mean, of course at that point, I wouldn't know how it felt to be a parent. But it's just like, you know, my career has been around for not around but I've been working hard in my career for like, nine years at that point 9, 10 years. It just felt like it sucks if I just kept going into that rat race, right? The word rat race. I remember having this thought and I explained it to my wife, I could start something now. Or I could go find a job. But then two years later, I would be getting back to the same position. So why keep making those like circles? Why not just try to see if I can do something now? Of course, I'm in a lucky position. So in my previous opportunities, they're quite like, well paid. So I definitely like what's really comfortable. And I gave myself like one year to see if I can figure something out. And if nothing happened, I wouldn't be here talking to you about this. And that's okay, as well.

Arvid Kahl 5:39
Do you think that to be successful at building in public, you need to have kind of a safety financial safety cushion?

Kevon Cheung 5:51
I think so. If you put it that way, I would think so. Because the thing is, we know that building in public is not like a straightforward strategy. It's not like sales outreach. Like people say that's a numbers game, right? You reach out to 3000 people, maybe 60 of them would say yes or something. But building in public is, it's a long term thing. Like you cannot just hope the result will come in six months, even six months is quite short. I myself made $0 in the first six months, even though that was intentional, but it's still kind of prove that in order to build a business around this, with the building in public strategy, like building a personal brand, it takes time. And I realized, I observe a lot of people, the people who rushed to the dollar, they will never make it. Because people are quite smart, like they know who is just there to squeeze the wallet and who's there to really help people.

Arvid Kahl 6:55
That makes a lot of sense. I am very, very careful to trust people who have not been around for a long time, but kind of want to teach me something for money. You know, it's like the same thing with people who haven't done the thing. I don't really trust them to be able to teach me the thing. But people who've just appeared and all of a sudden, are proclaimed expert without having any community involvement and kind of reputation in the community, very untrustworthy. And I think that the central core tenant of building a public is trust, right? Like trust between the people who follow you for the things that you have to share, for your audience to be there and give you feedback. And all that trust is elemental to all of this, really. I find this very, very relevant. And I want to get to this, but you just mentioned your wife and telling her about you wanting to start this journey. I think that's something that we often don't really talk about is buy in from our peers and our family. Because this is a journey off not making much money for quite a while. And you know that it's a long, long process. Building trust takes a long time, like trust is very slowly built and quickly eroded. So you have to be very careful along the way. And having a support network, partner, partners, peers, whatever it might be, it's pretty important. How did you convince your wife and the people around you that this was a good idea? Did you have to fight for it? Or did you have buy in from the beginning?

Kevon Cheung 8:15
Wow. I never really talked about this but

Arvid Kahl 8:17

Kevon Cheung 8:19
I'm glad you asked. I think she was quite okay. I think because her dad was also an entrepreneur, retired, because the industry was, you know, going down a couple, like a decade ago. So she understood that in order to build a better life, you really have to build something. You cannot just be working for a job. I think she understood that. And also, we're not living on the edge of our lives. So that helped a lot. And we were actually both planner like we're very organized people. So even before getting married and having kids, we already say that okay, how much caretaking or parenting do we want to do ourselves or versus outsourcing to, you know, nannies or daycare center? And we said, oh, my wife, Lydia, she would be you know, a part time tutor. She would actually move her career into part time tutor in order to free up the time for the kids but also make some money to help with the family. So she was pretty okay. But I think oh, you know what? She was my business partner kind of not in a way that she's like involved in the business. But remember, I said six months I didn't make any money. I fell into the trap. I fell into that trap of just enjoying creating free stuff. And let people praise me for that. You know, it's really fun and you can keep going on if you know there's no financial pressure. And people would be looking at you like oh, you're so nice. You're the God right? But, you know, at six month mark, she came to me. She's like, Kevon, when are you going to start charging people? And I was like, oh, I woke up at that moment. I'm like, oh, I need to monetize. I need to figure that out. And it was hard. You know, it's not my first business, but it is still hard to ask for money.

Arvid Kahl 10:21

Kevon Cheung 10:21
And recently, she actually came to me again and asked how my business is doing. And we have a pretty deep conversation about, like, where the future of this is. And honestly, I'll be honest, like, I feel that the economy's not doing quite well right now. I heard from my friends that, you know, everyone is kind of just holding tight. So it's another reality check from her. But why I'm bringing this up is that she is my partner so that she keeps me on track. And I'm very thankful for that.

Arvid Kahl 10:54
Yup, I think you're lucky. And I think I'm lucky too. I have the same situation Danielle, my partner. She's was a business partner of mine. We had a business together, which we built and sold, which was the foundation of me even being able to do all the things I'm doing now. But

Kevon Cheung 11:09
Yeah, I saw that. Yeah

Arvid Kahl 11:10
Even now she's doing the exact same thing that Lydia is doing for you, like she is coming to me and telling me, hey, you should charge more. She literally said this, just a couple like a month ago or so or two months, I guess at the time that this comes out. And she looked at the prices of the products that I have and said, this is too cheap, like your stuff is worth more, so I doubled it. And it still sell as much like in terms of numbers as I did before. Like she has a much better grasp on what my stuff is worth than I do. It feels like a typical creator thing. And it's so nice and so important to have somebody to look at this from this bird's eye perspective and say, hey, I know you love what you're doing. I know you could do this for free forever. But this is a human existence that needs money to be perpetuated. So please make some more money. I mean this in the best of ways, right? She's not asking for me to make more. She's just trying to maximize the opportunity in that business. And I think having that outside perspective is really important.

Kevon Cheung 12:12
And I find this really funny. I find that we all need that person to tell us that like your wife, like my wife would tell me that. But I will also tell her, you should increase your hourly rate.

Arvid Kahl 12:12

Kevon Cheung 12:13
And I think this because once we have the rate, we don't want to just suddenly change it, right? Why would we change something that is going quite okay? And we need someone like an outsider to tell us that. So is this kind of funny.

Arvid Kahl 12:39
It is funny. And I think it's often a self limiting belief in a creator or in any person that has to set their own prices, like freelancing, right? If you have somebody, if your partner is a freelancer and works with other clients, like there is a certain level of comfort and having predictability. And you think that that is also great for the person that you work for, okay, my prices are gonna be this. I'm not going to ask for more. That way I can keep my job for longer. Often, that's really not the case, right? Your experience grows, your budget or their budget grows. And you can match that by increasing your rates. You just have to have somebody help you with it. And I think it's great if you have a partner like this, I mean, that's the optimal position to be in. A lot of people may not have that partner, at least not in the same kind of business sense. But you can find other people around you to surround you with to help you on your journey. And I think that is what you've been doing with your cohort course. I have this very, very strong sense that this is exactly what you've been building consciously or not with the building in public mastery cohort. Can you tell me a bit more about how that happened? Because that sounds like that may have happened around the time that your wife told you to make some money, is that right?

Kevon Cheung 13:49
Sort of, but not right after. But the funny thing is, I was going to talk about this. And then you just kind of let me into it. I wanted to bring this up because other than my wife, right? I actually had a student or member, whatever you call them in my program and then a couple of days ago, she sent a message to me. She's like, Kevon, like, of all the value that you create, you're charging like pennies. You're not charging enough. And I think you have maybe a self worth kind of issue. Those are amazing feedback. I mean, is the truth. But I can never imagine that a student of mine would tell me that. And I think for people who just don't have that community mindset, this is the benefit of community. Like I'm sharing my knowledge with these people, right? But it's not like I cannot take from them. Oftentimes, I learned so much from them and they're kind of my accountability partner. So yeah, this program, it was an iterative process. I think all the entrepreneurs will say this. I actually started with a building in public community. So a lot of people would be like, oh, what's the difference? Isn't that the same thing? No, no, not at all. When I first thought about, okay, I need to start charging people. I thought I have the build in public audience because I have that free guide that did pretty well. It's easy, just put them in the same room and let them talk to each other then just charge them a monthly fee. That's what I did. And then I felt like, oh, my God, what am I doing? Every day I wake up, I'm like, oh, these people are paying me just $5 per month, not a lot, which is really a bad idea because they don't even care. They just want to support me. And I had this burden of like, I need to do something for that. So all my attention went to them. And after four months, I shut it down. And I said to myself, as a creator, I need to find out what product types fit me the most community alone, not my cup of tea. I'm sorry. I'm a community person. But I cannot run a pure community that is just about connection. No, that's not for me. And I kept digging. I thought, okay, maybe I can do a challenge because I think I really enjoy teaching. I mean, my background was running a kids coding school with the founder. I was her left hand person for four years. So I thought, okay, maybe I can try teaching. So if a community for building in public didn't work, maybe I should really just break things down and walk people through how to actually do it. But I didn't jump into course creation. I did a challenge first because maybe it's a better way. I actually just tweeted about this is a better way to just get people to take action, courses, you know, people watch it and don't do much. So, yeah, as I learned from the people around me that had become build in public mastery today, which is course community challenge. A bunch of different stuff together. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 17:01
So the challenge part is very interesting because that's something that you rarely see in the whole course world, right? It's about education and maybe community. But to have like tangible, kind of like deadline based goals, that is really cool. That is something that you saw successful somewhere else and you kind of took that into your own world?

Kevon Cheung 17:23
Oh, that was more, I definitely noticed people running challenges, but I didn't study too much into it. It was mainly from my own understanding. So the thought process was, I was running challenges. And I realize people need to be taught before they can actually do a good job in the challenges. So then I stopped the challenge. And I went into live teaching. So a cohort based course where we come together as a group 15-20 people and I will deliver my lecture and do breakout exercise all together for four weeks. So I did that for like, almost two years. And only recently, I was thinking, maybe it's time to switch because me showing up and do the teaching four times a year in the same format. I don't think that's a good use of my time. So I switched to using a very interactive way to do video lessons that allow students to, you know, leave Loom comments or create posts in a community to share their homework that work really well. But then I noticed a new thing, which is now they're only learning but not taking action in the real life other than the homework. So I was thinking, oh, maybe I can bring back the challenge. So now they do the video lessons curriculum. And once they're done or maybe semi done, they don't have to be like fully done, then they can do the challenge to actually practice it. So a lot of my work is actually just yeah, my own learning journey.

Arvid Kahl 18:59
That is very interesting. I have yet to participate in such a situation such a course where there is a video component and an active challenge at the same time. I only know like either of them. So that's really a nice way to integrate this. Interesting that you say that your time is worth more than doing the same stuff over and over again. I think that's a big problem with cohort courses. And I talked to Erica Schneider recently and she also is running a cohort right now. But she only wants to run one cohort. She doesn't want to consistently run cohorts after cohorts because that also is just a bit draining exercise. Like I've seen people use the cohort like you did, I guess over a longer term, maybe then just one but I see people use the cohort to really figure out what the problems are to then make the perfect kind of self paced content for those specific problems. Is that what you've been doing? Is that what the result of this is?

Kevon Cheung 19:53
Oh, totally. Did you just read my latest tweet? Because I was talking about what you said at the tweet. Basically, I was talking to some people that you shouldn't be creating a course up front as your first project, like, creating a course, the people who want to take a course usually are quite quiet. And I don't know if you experienced this because you're fine. You're following course, right? People just take it no matter you email them how many times they don't respond. So imagine that's your first product. You're not optimizing for feedback or for insights or signals. That's pretty bad. But I keep telling people, hey, do a live workshop, do a challenge. That's the kind of product that bring people next to you. And you're buddying up. And no matter what you ask them, they will tell you. So that's when you really understand what you're teaching. And then you build a courses to, you know, scale the revenue up. So exactly.

Arvid Kahl 20:57
Yeah, awesome. And in a way, this is also the thing that is so hard about building in public, it's like, putting yourself out there and actually connecting with people. And I think that's what a lot of people have trouble with. Right? That's one of the things that stops them from even trying is to, I have to show up. I have to be right in front of people. And I have to ask them about their problems. I don't even know like, well how to ask right. I feel that there's a lot of, again, self limiting belief in putting yourself out there putting yourself in front of people. And maybe this is a good time to ask you. Because you've seen so many people go through the journey of building in public starting to build in public. What are the kinds of the common problems that you see that keep people from getting started right? Because you've seen a lot of people probably struggling in the beginning. What are those struggles? What have you found?

Kevon Cheung 21:45
The first thing I can think of is, if you are an expert in something like a researcher or someone just with a deep knowledge in a topic, these people have a hard time. Because the thing of lowering your ego, thinking that you don't know everything and then asking people for their insights and questions is just out of their world. It's like I know everything about this topic, why do I need to ask them question? So whenever I encounter people like this, I'm like, I'm honestly quite lost how to help them. Because it's not something you do a course or read a book. And you can resolve that. Another type is, I notice from our current spreads, like a lot of people are supposingly showing their work. But when I read their posts on Instagram, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, I still don't know what they're working on. I think there's a fear in that I shouldn't talk about my unfinished product. Like I am supposed to be the expert. If I talk about something that I'm working on, it sounds like I don't have credibility or I don't have the thought leadership so people wouldn't buy from me. But then when I look at their posts, it's all like, just thoughts or yeah, just an idea. And anyone can talk about the same idea. I'm just, yeah, honestly, a little frustrated. But again, I remind myself, that's why I'm here to help people because it's not easy. So of course, I give them a lot of time. Like, I don't like to rush people to have that kind of mindset shift. Because you don't know their background, like a lot of people might have like some personal stories that maybe they used to work in a cooperate and the manager keep yelling at them for sharing work in progress, right. So it's more about knowing where they are and help them move a little bit. So I'm sure you have encountered a lot of different people, as well. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 23:52
And it boils down really to fear. There's always the fear of the unknown. That's something that whenever I talk to people who want my help as well, in just getting started building an audience or building in public, whatever specific kind of outreach or marketing it might be, they always say they struggle with, I have nothing to say, which is never about having nothing to say. It's always about the things that I want to say. I'm not sure if I should say them, right. They have a lot to talk about but they fear that they are misunderstood. They fear that they are perceived as something less than they see themselves as that's kind of the ego thing that you talked about. And then they also they're just afraid of showing work in progress because work inprogress is perfect. And anything that isn't perfect is a failure. That's the mental block that I see a lot in people. Did you have this too? Because I remember when I started building in public, I went through the same problems, fear of putting myself out there, fear of sharing work in progress because I thought, but as a software engineer, either I have a work in progress that I don't show with anybody or I have the perfect ultimate finished product. Right? That's where I came from. Did you have the same experience along your journey?

Kevon Cheung 25:00
Actually not really. Because I, you know, I talked to so many people and I am a pretty open person. Like when I first started writing online, I write about lesson learned failures of my past journey. I have no problem talking about my mistakes. So I do think that is kind of something that comes from my growing up my childhood. But also I work in startup all my career. So you know, we have the Facebook slogan on our wall, move fast and break things. So we don't really care about being perfect. So we don't have that corporate mindset or like academic mindset, like, oh, you need to like have this in a very nice, perfect condition before you put it out. People don't understand that this is not done. So I don't really have that. But also, that's actually a challenge when it comes to teaching people because I haven't experienced what they experience. So yeah, it takes a lot of work to put myself in their shoes and be like, why do they have that fear? Like, it's a constant research process for me as well.

Arvid Kahl 26:09
See, that's why I like you so much because the first thing you do is try to be empathetic and put yourself into the mind of the other person. That's what makes you a great teacher. And I think that's why you're so perfect for the whole building in public community because they need somebody to look at things from their perspective. I'm really happy you just said this because I feel this is important. It's important to respect other people's experiences along the way. And it's hard, like you said, for academics who've been their whole life, they've been taught you are either an expert or you're nothing. There's nothing in between, right? You're an expert or you fail. So giving yourself room to fail, that is so hard to establish as a new kind of habit. And that's why you need to look at it from their perspective. It's really cool. I really like this.

Kevon Cheung 26:54
Thank you.

Arvid Kahl 26:56
Just want to share my admiration for you for a second.

Kevon Cheung 26:59
Thank you. Well, I think, creator in a sense, it can mean a lot of different kinds of people, right? I pretty sure to call myself like a creator educator, because I really just love to dive into different ways to teach people. I don't really want to, you know, go viral or become a big YouTuber or something. I just like to, you know, teach and help people. So, yeah, thank you for saying that. That means a lot to me. Yeah.

Arvid Kahl 27:33
I appreciate it. And I think building in public is, I don't know if it's new or not, it certainly is something that is getting attention, a lot of attention, a lot of steam. And I think a lot of different people from a lot of different fields come into it and having somebody who's trying to figure out how can I place you with your experiences in this bigger realm? That's just a really cool thing to see.

Kevon Cheung 27:56
Yeah, but Arvid? Do you feel like people get a very different version of building in public than how you think about it? Because like, I really see that like, people see people using the hashtag building in public and all they do is like sharing revenue, MRR charts and they think that's the version. So sometimes, I'm thinking to myself, like, is it good to keep using this word building in public? Because people come with some definitions in their mind. And it's not easy to change that at that point. I don't know if you feel the same.

Arvid Kahl 28:34
I feel the same way. And I think like it building in public is kind of showing just the surface, it's showing like what you do. It doesn't necessarily show exactly how you do it. And in the term itself, the definition and it certainly doesn't share the very like the fundamental dynamics of why it is successful. By building in public could just be you sharing MRR, like by definition that is building in public but you sharing MRR pictures of graphs that go up to the right that is super reductive and it doesn't really help anybody, right? It's just it's kind of self glorification. And if that's all you think share a building in public is, then you just see like the top layer of it. There's so much more to it. And I think it's kind of our job to fill this definition with more meaning, right? To make building in public as synonymous with sharing your journey in front of and among your peers and among your customers, among your friends, among your prospects, whoever it might be, right? Among the people that you care about that you want to serve and empower. It is a reductive statement. But you know what, like over the last couple of weeks and months, we've had this discussion around what does it mean with the term indie hacking as well, like indie hacking is dead. Indie hacking is the new drop shipping. This whole conversation is still ongoing. It feels like indie hacking itself as a term as a thing that people do. It just has matured a little bit. It used to be somewhat indie, a lot of hacking and now it's a lot of indie and somewhat hacking. It's just like indiepreneurship, indie entrepreneurship, indie business building. The hacking part has gone and all the hacky little things like the insider jokes to community stuff that has kind of mellowed out a little bit and moved more into a more professionalized more templatized thing as well. And I think building in public is going through the same change, like building in public has been around for let's just say that the phrase itself is maybe 2014-15. But the act of it entrepreneur right along used to be a subreddit in like 2011. And I think Pat Flynn has been doing this whole Smart Passive Income thing, which is kind of, you know, like building in public building in front of your audience since 2008-2009. It's been around, it's just kind of calcifying into a term that people want to take and apply, right. It's not something that you're part of another community, in the same sense anymore. It's now a marketing tactic, just like indie hacking is a business building tactic. So in that regard, yeah, it's definitely not as clear as what we want it to be. But we just have to defend it. That's kind of what it is. We have to defend it from becoming too templatized. What do you think about this, like, do you see the same development?

Kevon Cheung 31:13
I just want people to think that building in public is kind of like the word digital marketing. What does it mean? It kind of captures a lot of things. And depending who is teaching you. I just want people to see that instead of thinking that there's only one answer one way to build in public. No. Yeah, building in public means like, putting more of your work out there. Right. And it's very community driven. And a lot of people question like, why would I build a community? I just want customers. Yeah, so sometimes it's hard to tell people that when they're not having people in the, you know, the top party. But yeah, I think I agree with what you said. I think over time, I have a feeling that building in public is like digital marketing. But under that we have to, you know, frame it differently with our own philosophy. So probably Arvid, the way you teach building in public is very different from my building in public. And yeah, people just need to understand that.

Arvid Kahl 32:14
So how do you teach building in public? What are the core like the tenants, the foundations of what do you think building in public is good for? How do you do it? And what the ultimate goal is? What is that for you?

Kevon Cheung 32:27
Yeah, so for the longest time, when I first started teaching, I thought, you know, it's about opening up the ups and downs of the journey, right. But very soon, I realized, there are two parts to building in public. One is the long term, which is what I just talked about. But when you teach something so long term, it sucks, like people don't see result and they give up. So I started to think, oh, building in public actually can be a strategy you use immediately. So I'm very, I'm diving really deep into this part, which is building in public is good for you to build products and launch something, whatever scope like MVP scope in a short time. So the framework that I am teaching right now is like, you set a timeframe, 30 days, 60 days and you set the scope, like maybe not the full course, but maybe just module one, module two. I don't know if people have that much capacity, but it's different for different people. So then you build in public intensively in order to build up the momentum. And not just like, keep sharing your updates. That's kind of boring. I think people really get fixated in, you have to talk about what is done but I teach them to talk about what is coming. So like, oh, I think about why do people care so much about follower count? I don't know. So you want to write about that, but you don't know. Okay, now you ask the community, that's building in public to me. And the best part is, if you take their feedback, you improve your product. And then you tell people, I use your feedback. This is the newer version. That is building in public because it creates a loop of conversations. And people see that wow, you really take this seriously. Guess what? They're more and more invested in you and the product. So that's how momentum is being built. And this I teach because it is very achievable. Like you can create a very small guide in 30 days and you can use all the steps to this. So you know what? I think I got a lot of inspiration from your building in public, from your building in public. I still have this case study of you building the built your following Twitter course in 42 days and it has become a very big resources in my program like every time a new student see that and that's like, wow, this is so clear. Like I see Arvid building in public and is important to see how people do it right, then they know how to do it.

Arvid Kahl 35:03
Well, thank you. First off for mentioning this and for having this be a case study. I appreciate that. I also believe that there there has to be a tangible something in building in public, not just as one like on a philosophical level, it's great to think I'm building a legacy. I'm building this reputation and building this perception as an expert in the community. I'm always there for years to come, right? Like you cannot escape success if you do this, obviously, because you're just so present and others are not. So like attention gets shifted on to you. But if you then have nothing to do tomorrow or today, right? If it feels like you're working towards a goal, like 10 years from now, you give up and that kind of you talked about accountability earlier, which is something that you need other people for and you need, like dynamic engagement for. I really like the idea of turning this into like short term sprints and have like the long term marathon that this consists of. I'm trying to kind of conceptualize it into a model that unites both because we need both, right? We need what we can do right now. And we need the long term as well. So maybe, again, thank you for mentioning my product, but there must be other products out there as well. So and people that are working on them right now, I wonder, do you have any kind of really actionable, really pragmatic advice for people who want to do this right now? They are building something. They want to build it or they're not building. They're looking for something to build. Because I feel that is the better place to start this on. What should they like tangibly do? Is there something you can like a little prompt or an exercise you can give them right now to get their feet wet in the build in public world?

Kevon Cheung 36:44
Oh, okay. If there was two different scenarios, if they have no idea what they should be building is a totally different approach. Right? I think the build in public, it becomes a bit vague because you're just doing kind of idea validation. You'll be asking a lot of open ended questions. Maybe polling people, that part is actually hard, I would say. And it's not the fault of building in public. It's just an entrepreneurship thing. Like, yeah, everyone needs to build up the muscle to identify opportunities. But let's say if you have an idea and you kind of have a bit of people around you, I don't think you need a lot. You just need a small circle. Even if you have like 50 people that are actively caring and engaging with you, even if they're not your target audience. I think that's good. That's why my second project was called making Twitter friends. Because I cannot stress enough like, if you don't have an audience, just make friends, like friends would help you boost your confidence. When you're not talking to a wall or crickets, you will feel better and you will just keep going. And guess what? Your friends will attract the target audience. I think a lot of people don't understand that. But anyway, I think a few quick tips I mentioned already, but maybe it's good to summarize it is you have an idea of what you want to build, scope it down to 30 days or 60 days. So then the finish line is pretty clear. People love seeing someone start to finish. Like they just want to see is he going to pass the finish line? Or is he going to pass out after the finish line? Or how many people are cheering? Right? People are nosy. So having a small scope helps like don't try to create a cohort based course in 60 days, that never works. So scope it down, start date, end date. And then just yeah, talk about things that hasn't happened yet. Ask questions. I think that is the best way to start. I'm overly simplifying this. But yeah.

Arvid Kahl 38:54
I think it's a great way to start, like first off scoping something is usually better than not having it scoped obviously. Right? Knowing that I have two months time to do this allows you to plan for it. And you can share that plan. That plan itself is a build in public piece of content, right? I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna do that and that and that's a tweet you can put out there. And then the first day you try the first thing, it fails horribly. That's a tweet you can put out there and you try something else that kind of works. That's the next thing you can talk about is kind of looking at things from the outline perspective and then trying to make it happen and talking about the things as they happen. That's a pretty solid start. I would recommend that to people who are starting out definitely.

Kevon Cheung 38:54
Yeah, and lower the pressure as well. Like, if I actually have quite a number of students. When they scope it down to 30 days, they actually come out to the community and say, I am not launching this product. Like through that process, I realize this is not what I want to build. That's good. I think it helps you reflect right? But there also is like people who say, I'm not ready to launch after 30 days. I'm going to extend it to 60 days, that's also okay. And there are people who like, completely pivot to a different niche. I think, like people put too much pressure on having a viral product. But actually building in public is not just getting momentum, but it helps you really understand what you're building. Are you on track or you're not on track? And that process is invaluable. Like, don't pay a $2,000 coach because they cannot give you that, but take action and you will get that $2,000 value of reflection.

Arvid Kahl 40:42
I like that. The feedback cycles that you get from building in public, they are incredible, like if you do it right. And the thing is, even if you do it wrong, there's something super valuable in not getting feedback or getting weird feedback that is also instructive, right? If you talk to people about you cool thing that you want to build and all you get is like shrugs and all you get is nah, I don't need that or I already have this. Why would I buy yours, right? You also see that things that you thought may be super exciting. They may not work and you can pivot early, which is another benefit of scope. So the one thing that I hear a lot in this situation when people are starting is, well, how do I talk to people? And I don't mean like, how do I talk to people, but as who do I appear in front of people? Because if you're building in public, you're acting kind of on a stage, right? You're putting yourself out there, you're projecting something from your own personality out in the world. In other words, you're kind of creating a persona, some people do. And I wonder what your perspective on this is? Do you need to be a person or a persona or a person that came back from being a persona to effectively build in public? Like, how do you think about like authentic self representation in the communities that you work in and for?

Kevon Cheung 41:58
I think you have to be a person. So there are people who just like, I have a niche, maybe my niche is parenting and all they talk about is parenting. Honestly, no one wants to hear from this person. That's just boring. I have this framework, right? 40, 20, 20, 20 like 40% building in public because we want eyeballs on our projects. So yeah, just talking about what you're doing. 20% wisdom balm, you know, those like short, repostable double wisdom, like an expert, that's okay. We need that kind of to drive growth. 20% supporting others, I think a lot of people are doing very well in that. But it's not just about you. And then the last 20% is personality, like not talking about everything you'd like but pick three things you care in your personal life and just like put that out for me as family. That's why you see me like talking about parenting a bit because I really care about this stuff. So that combined with become like a pretty interesting personality to follow, not just someone who's like always niche, niche, niche.

Arvid Kahl 43:05

Kevon Cheung 43:06
But also oh, what I want to say about this. Your question is persona or person.

Arvid Kahl 43:20
I can interrupt with a question if you'd like and edit in as if.

Kevon Cheung 43:24
Yeah, that was okay

Arvid Kahl 43:27
Let me get some I have a question here. Okay, so you just talked about like your family and your kids. How much of the do you share though? Because I feels like that's also something that you know, can be risky online, like putting your family out there, your private, your personal life. Like how much of that do you share? And how much of that do you keep to yourself? Where do you strike the balance there?

Kevon Cheung 43:48
Oh, that that's everyone has a different line, right? I am someone who my Instagram page is public. So I have no problem like showing my family photos. And but that's just me. I see other people on Twitter. They also have young kids. They also love talking about that because they are living through that. But they would like blur out there kids face. I think that's okay because the main point is not the kid's face, right? The main point is, whatever you're living through you want to share that moment like oh, parenting is tough or you realize work life balance doesn't happen anymore. This type of like realisation or lesson learn, that's the key, not the kids photo. So I wouldn't share too much because while I'm very, very sure that by sharing family, I attract people who cares about family as well. And to me, that's a really important connection. Business is not just about business. I feel like if you're a family person, you will attract your target audience which are the family oriented people in that audience. If you are like, aggressive, if you are like bro, if you are very authoritative, you will attract these kind of people in the target audience. And that's okay. So what I'm saying is don't overshare. No one really cares about your family that much, is really just to establish that touch point of what you care about to show your personality.

Arvid Kahl 43:49
I think that's a very important distinction, right? You're not supposed to and I'm trying to keep my dog pictures that I share on Twitter to a minimum or a maximum of one a day because I have so many pictures of my dog. It's crazy.

Kevon Cheung 43:53
One a day, that's a lot. But your volume is high so one a day is okay.

Arvid Kahl 45:47
Out of your 40-20-20-20, I think it's still like solid 90% everything else. But I have so many pictures of Biene like on my phone, it's crazy. Every time I see the dog, it's just like, oh, she's so cute. Take a pic. And then I want to share it because you know, it just loved the people and pets you surround yourself with. But you're right. They are your family that you care about the most, that you are the only person that cares about them as much as you do. That's the whole point. But it gives you this kind of relatability that attracts people that are like you.Like it allows you to surround yourself with people that value the same things as you do. So it becomes an important ingredient in your self presentation, right? You're not just all business, which would attract just all business kind of folks. And you don't want those. You want people that can relate with you on a certain level. I think that's very important. My rule is an 80/20 rule, which is funny because it's kind of the same as yours. It just condenses the first three to 80. 80 is like everything for me. And then 20% is personalities exactly the same. It's funny, but I really appreciate the way that you do it. Honestly, I think you contextualize your journey with your family life. I think that's very important. Because if I would only see your building in public stuff, I couldn't trust you. As much as you're great at what you're doing, I need to know there's a real person standing behind all of these things, right? I need to know the Kevon that you are not just the Kevon that is super professional and does all these wonderful things. I need to know the dad, I need to know the friend and the peer that I want to build a true and meaningful relationship with. And I couldn't do this if you didn't share all these things, these personal things.

Kevon Cheung 47:32
Yeah, that's why I really don't enjoy when people just throw out content, like realisation or thoughts because after reading like 10 times, I still don't know who they are. How can they get followers or even friends when people don't really see through those texts? Yeah

Arvid Kahl 47:53
Yeah, that's what I always tell people that asked me to look at their Twitter profile and tell them what they could do. Like when I look at it and I don't see what they promised me for a future relationship for an actual meaningful 2, 5, 10 years Twitter friendship, when I don't see that, probably not gonna follow them. Because that's what I want to know at that point, right. And I think you do this well. I love your Twitter presence, honestly, your whole brand presence with the broccoli and everything. We didn't even get to talk about this. This is so distinct. And it's so you that I feel this is a guy that I want to build a long term Twitter relationship with, as a friend, as a peer, as a teacher, as a student on all these levels because he's so approachable, you make it very easy. And I think that

Kevon Cheung 48:35
Thank you. I try my best. I actually have one tip for people who are like, kind of struggling, like, I love my family. But now you're telling me you cannot talk so much on Twitter about your family. I want to give a tip to these people. I put more of my family life on Instagram, like on Instagram, I don't build in public. I post a picture once in a while about me working on some stuff, but that's my personal life. So on Twitter, I keep it very light. So once in a while. So this way, you know, I'm very professional on my Twitter presence. And I would mention my Instagram account in my newsletter, like, usually I open it with a personal story and then I would link it to Instagram. And what I found out is that this is a good way to balance professional life and personal life as a creator. The people who don't mind your baby photos, they would opt in on Instagram. And you know, they would really like feel a strong connection with me. But most people, they don't care about that. They will stay on newsletter and Twitter and that's kind of brilliant. Like I love this spread. So you don't really have to talk about everything on every platform. You can actually have different purposes on different social media accounts.

Arvid Kahl 48:35
That is a great little masterclass right here. I really appreciate this like use those platforms for the expectations that your audience has on that platform. Right? Instagram people, they want to see pictures of your life. Twitter people want you to be a professional, albeit still human person, right? They want it like different people want different things. Wow. Newsletter, Instagram, Twitter, you got it all. So if people want to follow you, on how many platforms do they need to sign up? Or which platforms do you want people to go to follow you on your journey?

Kevon Cheung 50:27
Mostly Twitter. Yeah. Because that's where the professional life happens. But also, you know, people say, oh, I forgot what I want to say. There's something I want to say.

Arvid Kahl 50:42
Don't worry. I'm just

Kevon Cheung 50:44
Oh, I know. And also, like, a lot of people talk about like, bringing people from platform to platform, like, you know, on Twitter, we want to drive people to YouTube. And then on YouTube, we want to drive people to Instagram. I don't believe in that, you know, we have our own interests and you don't have to force people to follow you everywhere. Yeah, going back to my point, like, just be very intentional about the usage. Yes

Arvid Kahl 51:14
Well, I'll put all those links to all your profiles and your newsletter and your website in the show notes anyway, so people can pick, right? People can pick the right platform to follow you on.

Kevon Cheung 51:25
Do you have enough space?

Arvid Kahl 51:26
I have enough space, send me a list, I'll make it happen. But you know, like Twitter is definitely the place where I consume most of your work. And I still see you as a full human being there. So it's a pretty good platform to choose to interact with you. And I will keep interacting with you over how many ever years may come. It's been an absolute pleasure following your journey for the last couple of years. And I see you you're just enjoying doing this work so much. So I can't wait for the next years and see what's going to come there. Thank you so much for being on the show today and sharing your build in public insight and all of that with me. That was really, really wonderful. Thank you so much, Kevon.

Kevon Cheung 52:04
Thank you, Arvid for having me, you know, coming in here. This is unscripted. Right? Just a chat between two friends. It's kind of scary, to be honest.

Arvid Kahl 52:13
It sure is.

Kevon Cheung 52:14
But you make it easy. We have a good chat, we talked about philosophy and you know, believes that I love it. Thank you for having me.

Arvid Kahl 52:22
I appreciate that. Thank you so much.

And that's it for today. I will now briefly thank my sponsor, acquire.com. Imagine this, you're a founder who's built a really solid SaaS product, you acquired all those customers, and everything is generating really consistent monthly recurring revenue. That's the dream of every SaaS founder, right? The problem is, you're not growing for whatever reason, maybe it's lack of skill or lack of focus or play in lack of interest, you don't know. You just feel stuck in your business with your business. What should you do? Well, the story that I would like to hear is that you buckled down, you reignited the fire and you started working on the business, not just in the business and all those things you did, like audience building and marketing and sales and outreach. They really helped you to go down this road, six months down the road, making all that money. You tripled your revenue and you have this hyper successful business. That is the dream. The reality, unfortunately, is not as simple as this. And the situation that you might find yourself in is looking different for every single founder who's facing this crossroad. This problem is common, but it looks different every time. But what doesn't look different every time is the story that here just ends up being one of inaction and stagnation. Because the business becomes less and less valuable over time and then eventually completely worthless if you don't do anything. So if you find yourself here, already at this point or you think your story is likely headed down a similar road, I would consider a third option and that is selling your business on acquire.com. Because you capitalizing on the value of your time today is a pretty smart move. It's certainly better than not doing anything. And acquire.com is free to list. They've helped hundreds of founders already, just go check it out at try.acquire.com/arvid, it's me and see for yourself if this is the right option for you, your business at this time. You might just want to wait a bit and see if it works out half a year from now or a year from now. Just check it out. It's always good to be in the know.

Thank you for listening to the Bootstrapped Founder today. I really appreciate that. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. And you'll find my books and my Twitter course there too. If you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice, whatever that might be. Do let me know, it'd be interesting to see and leave a rating and a review by going to (http://ratethispodcast.com/founder). It really makes a big difference if you show up there because then this podcast shows up in other people's feeds. And that's, I think where we all would like it to be just helping other people learn and see and understand new things. Any of this will help the show. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day and bye bye.

Creators and Guests

Arvid Kahl
Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
Kevon Cheung 🥦
Kevon Cheung 🥦
I help you grow raving fans by building in public. Jan 3 Free Bootcamp→ https://t.co/brNcdxfg3wJan 5 Open House → https://t.co/t45oaph7wpJan 8 Cohort → https://t.co/O8f4RkGg7n
282: Kevon Cheung — Embracing Vulnerability in Startup Culture
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