Bootstrapped Founder #139: Building in Public and Legacy

The Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter by Arvid Kahl

Dear founder,

Things I Found Interesting This Week

The fine folks over at TweetHunter have launched a $5000 Maker Grant, and I am overjoyed to see so many projects from Indie Hackers I know over there. I voted for a few, and I recommend to check out the voting page.

Talking about voting pages, the makers behind crushed it on ProductHunt with their Free Podcast Website Builder. If you want to see a #1 ProductHunt launch done right, I guess you can’t find anyone more inspirational than Justin Jackson and Jon Buda. It’s a masterclass of building an audience and tapping into it for a launch.

And for your weekly dose of weird, here is an article about how a gene-editing experiment turned hamsters into hyper-aggressive rage monsters. The best part? The last sentence: “We don’t understand this system as well as we thought we did.” — now that is something every founder should take to heart.


Before we get to today's issue, I'd love to point out that I have set up a way for you to earn exclusive perks (including the lost chapters of Zero to Sold) for referring new readers to this newsletter. I'd love it if you could help me out with that.

You'll find more information at the end of this newsletter — and not right now, because I bet you want to read the actual email. Enjoy!

Philip Larkin, the renowned British poet, famously decreed on his death bed that all his diaries should be destroyed. During his life, he even wrote five full-length novels and burned every single one of them right after completion. Larkin allowed for nothing but perfection.

Meanwhile, I regularly share the crudest drafts of my work on Twitter, talk about my mistakes, and share the hardships of building businesses. There are a lot of half-reflected thoughts on my Twitter timeline — definitely not the finely honed craft of a poet.

You can listen to this on my podcast, watch the YouTube version, or read it on The Bootstrapped Founder blog as an article.

If someone were to trace my social media history long after I’m gone — provided that we still have records or the means to access them — they’ll find a few finished works in a vast sea of experiments at all kinds of in-between stages.

Now, which one is the kind of legacy I want to leave behind? The curated showcase of refined masterpieces or the brutally honest —maybe even mundane— view into my laboratory, my den of creativity, reflection, and failure?

Legacy is a complicated construct. It’s an externalized view of yourself, a projection of who we expect to be remembered as by others who we will never meet. It’s a selfish desire, perhaps vanity, maybe just a fear of not having mattered. But no matter who you ask —the parents who see themselves in their children, the artist who thrives on changing culture with their creations, or the school librarian who makes the world accessible to eager and curious minds one book at a time— we all want to make a lasting impression on the world we inhabit.

When I was an employee, I didn’t consider this question much. Work was work, a means to an end, and my passion, my purpose, was something I was searching for in my private life.

Starting a business changed all that. In a short few months after co-founding FeedbackPanda, a SaaS business that helped Online English teachers be way more efficient at their job, I understood that the path to my legacy would be one of empowerment, teaching, and lifting up others to reach their most ambitious goals.

It was a very visceral experience: I had several customers thanking me for building a service that allowed them to make enough money to escape needing a second job. This was the best kind of cancellation notice. When you help someone pull themselves out of a dire situation into more stability for themselves and their family, you won’t be sad to see them go.

But being able to do this required FeedbackPanda to succeed. We needed a profitable business to empower these customers. If FeedbackPanda hadn’t been able to sustain itself, we couldn’t have empowered thousands of teachers.

We needed to have a somewhat finished product to make a difference.

While you try to figure things out, there is little chance for legacy.

Or so I thought — because I had not heard of building in public at that point. That quickly changed after our acquisition, and in retrospect, I’d have loved to share the journey of our business while we were building it.

Because building in public is a shortcut to legacy. Building in public turns you into a teacher for your peers, not just for the admirers of your success.

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If you share your entrepreneurial journey from the start, you leave traces — intentionally! Unlike Larkin, who destroyed all of his writing that he deemed unsuited for publication, a builder-in-public does not need a perfectionist filter. Everything along their journey might have value for someone with similar ambitions. If you talk about your business decisions, you’ll help people struggling with their own choices. When you talk about how you interact with your prospective customers, you motivate other founders who wonder how to approach theirs. Even if you just found a new shortcut in a software tool, sharing that might speed up the days of hundreds, if not thousands of others.

Building in public is the antidote to the fear of not leaving a legacy, and I feel this every single day. I receive dozens of messages every day, and many of them contain a thank you note for something that inspired, motivated, or instructed someone on their founder journey. Today, long before I have to consider any deathbed scenario, I already know that my work has impacted others because they tell me.

And it’s not just my finished and polished work: founders tell me that one particular Tweet made them change their minds or that a reply to their question in a DM gave them the courage to commit to a project.

And I see this happening for many other founders who build in public. They make a measurable and immediate impact on the lives of other ambitious entrepreneurs.

This ambition lies at the core of building in public. If you build something and talk about it, you can’t avoid showing ambition. The act of sharing is a brave act of ambition.

And just this public display of ambition alone leaves traces that people are looking for. Students hungry to learn will resonate with any teacher, not just the one educational institutions placed in front of them. If your teacher is also your peer, just a bit ahead on their own version of your journey, then learning becomes part of your story. If you follow the journey of a fellow founder, their story gets interwoven into yours, particularly when you connect with them and build a professional relationship.

These relationships are the foundation for legacy.

They definitely are for me.

And I’m not alone — many people see their legacy as something they actively create and nurture, not a vainglorious end-of-life list of accomplishments. It’s more about building a legacy than having built one.

I don’t care how many books I sold or page views I had in any given year.

But what matters to me is the number of kind messages I receive from the people whose lives I had the fortunate opportunity to affect.

That’s why I open up my writing laboratory to my social media followers every day. That’s why I share what I’m doing, the thoughts, the choices, the mistakes, and the little wins.

When it comes to my work, I don’t mind running the risk of people ridiculing my drafts while I write them. I’d rather share sub-standard work that others can learn from in the hopes that, in the end, the work and the process combined create sufficient value for my readers and founder peers. I certainly wouldn’t do what Larkin did and burn my drafts before they see the light of day.

I want to teach through my work and the process that made it happen. I build in public because I know that somewhere out there, someone is one crudely tweeted insight away from writing their own book or starting their own business.

That’s what I want my legacy to be.

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You can find me on Twitter at @arvidkahl.

See you next week!


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