How I Built This In Public: Erwin
Lessons from building Tailscan in public to $500 MRR
Hello everyone, it’s KP. Welcome to the 3rd edition of “How I Built This In Public“, a special series that features top founders and creators who’re boldly building their projects, startups and creative ventures in public. My intention is to ask them a consistent set of simple questions and distill insights and lessons so we can all learn from their experiments.
For this edition we have Erwin, co-founder of Tailscan - a browser extension for Tailwind CSS. I accidentally came across Erwin’s tweets recently and went down the rabbit hole of his ‘build in public’ content. He shared that he recently surpassed $500 MRR in ~6 months and I felt like his relatively early story would a great case study to showcase right after we published a very mature startup last week (Plausible Analytics that’s making > $100k MRR).
Why? Because sometimes the best inspiration comes from someone who’s 2 steps ahead of you.
Without further ado, here’s the full interview. Enjoy :)
“Hey there! My name is Erwin and I’m building Tailscan, a browser extension for Tailwind CSS. I also have a nomadic lifestyle, and little known fact about me: I can only type with 6 fingers, I never learnt how to type with 10!”
1. At what point in your startup journey did you begin your “build in public” journey and why?
I started building in public with Tailscan even before it had a name! As a matter of fact, not only did I not have a name for it, I also did not have a website or email list either.
The very first thing I did after building a minimal MVP in two weeks was to post it on Twitter (in Oct 2022) and see if there was any interest. That turned out to be a great decision!
2. What personal / business benefits do you believe you attracted from building in public?
The biggest benefit of building in public for me is that people not only buy a product, but also partake in the journey with me and help shape the future of Tailscan.
It also helps build trust between me and (potential) customers. So I think it’s a win-win. They get a product that gets better over time with features they voted for themselves and it helps me to get the word out about Tailscan and acquire new customers.
3. In the early days, did you have any specific challenges or hesitations on whether you should build in public or not? If so — what were they and how did you overcome them?
First and foremost, I truly believe it’s important to be radically transparent to your users. It comes with many benefits and is always net-positive. That being said, there are also challenges.
The biggest challenge to overcome is the mental hurdle. Sharing a lot in public makes you feel very vulnerable. What if you get judged? Criticized? Or worse: copied?
What helped me overcome these fears is to ask myself the question: “So what?”. Turn it around and see the positive in each of these things. Received a critical comment? Either ignore it or learn from it. Someone copied your product? Massive compliment! And besides: Your journey of building in public and that marketing channel can’t be copied, it’s uniquely yours.
Don’t let fears get in the way, focus on the upsides!
What helped me overcome these fears is to ask myself the question: “So what?”.
4. Are there any myths or misconceptions about building in public from before that were debunked by your personal experience?
Yes! Many fellow founders I talk to think that what they do is not interesting enough to share (confession: I was one of them before Tailscan). Massive misconception. Don’t wait until you finish building your product before sharing anything publicly. The truth is that people don’t subscribe to you reaching your milestones, but to how you got to those milestones in the first place. Almost anything you do can be packaged into an interesting story.
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5. What are your 3 tips for someone who’s just starting their “build in public” journey?
As I mentioned before, don’t wait for that perfect moment to start building in public. Start now. Almost anything can be turned into a nice blog post, a tweet with a hot take or nice update. Just make sure of one thing:
Provide value. Never share just the milestone, but always provide extra context and how you got there.
Take your time. Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Try to be consistent over many weeks or months. Don’t quit after a few days when you don’t see any results.
6. In your experience, how did the 80-20 rule play out? What few vital activities of BIP do you believe have resulted in high leverage outcomes for you?
Two activities jump out for me. The first is publishing the same content in different formats on different platforms. For example, besides posting on Twitter, I also write a newsletter and blog posts around the same content.
The second activity is that I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with users and others building in public, and forming a relationship with them. They have helped me tremendously with giving that initial boost to a tweet that helps it go viral, for example.
7. How much time do you allocate for building in public on a daily/weekly basis?
Because I’m currently in the phase of early traction, building in public is a reasonably high priority in my list of marketing activities. I spend about 4 to 6 hours on it every week. This includes writing blog posts and tweets. The newsletter isn’t really public, but that one takes me about a day every month.
8. How did you stay motivated in the early days when generally you don’t see quick results or super high engagement as you begin building in public?
The motivation doesn’t come from high engagement or quick results, but from interactions I have with users. A single nice conversation, complement or friendly feedback can give me a mood boost for weeks!
Building in public gives me an opportunity to have more of those conversations, and that’s why I do it! And if nobody seems to care about something I share, that’s okay. Better luck next time!
9. How did you handle copycats while you built in public?
I’m trying to ignore it. I’m not always successful, but most often I quickly shake it off. In the end, most copycats don’t get their marketing off the ground. The reason is that they build it either to practice building (no marketing), or they build it for the money (won’t come across as authentic). A good friend of mine always reminds me: part of a product’s success is product-founder fit.
You need some expertise and passion for the niche you’re in, and copycats most often don’t have either
10. Who are 3 people you would recommend for others to follow in the BIP niche?
Can I name more than 3? I can’t choose!
Jon from Bannerbear
Dominik from HelpKit
Rik from Pintura / edit.photo
Phuc from ChatFriday
Alex from Composables and Fibi
Wilbert from Snipwhale
Nico from Galeby
Marie from Llama Life
Other blog posts and Twitter threads where we can learn more about you/your story?
Absolutely! I recently started the Tailscan blog and have two articles about the journey thus far: Starting the journey with Tailscan and Tailscan updates and figuring out marketing
And the latest milestone tweet
That’s a wrap for now! Hope you enjoyed this piece.
Here are the rest of the interviews in this “How I Built This In Public“ series.
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