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Adii Pienaar

Family man, seeker and learner. 3X Founder: Cogsy + Conversio (acq by Campaign Monitor) + WooCommerce (acq by Automattic). Ex-Rockstar.

Why I'm building in public

I've made the decision to build Cogsy, which means sharing behind-the-scenes information, thoughts, ideas and decisions as I embark on this journey.

Building or working in public isn't a new idea. Neither is being an open startup. All of this has become quite popular in recent years.

If I'm not completely wrong, my hunch is that this way of working and building your product or startup, is partly about sharing and partly just marketing.

I'd be disingenuous if I pretended that the marketing part of doing this wasn't part of my goals, but my goals are broader than just that. Let's dig into those...

1. More Context

Buffer (who is one of the biggest open startups that I'm aware of) has built a significant part of their marketing around "being open" for example, but transparency is also one of their core values (and practicing being open in public exercises that muscle for internal activities).

For others, I'm not sure what the goal or impact is of being open... ConvertKit is probably the biggest open startup today, but I have no idea how much traffic, leads or signups that revenue dashboard drives.

Ghost (on which this site is built) is another example and I wonder whether their openness amplifies their open source activities in some way that it attracts the right kind of customer for them.

And on the other end of the gamut, there's loads of individuals or startups that identify as IndieHackers, where being more open is part of the self-selected DNA of the participants and the community.

For the rest of us - where we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of being a voyeur - we enjoy watching these makers, builders and entrepreneurs. Getting a glimpse of what's happening behind-the-scenes for others (who we deem to be "people like us") and getting visibility in their metrics has an aspirational and normalising effect on our own perspectives. (Like a classier, business-focused version of Keeping up with the Kardashians.)

But much of what is out there today lacks enough context. Clicking on any of those links above, mostly gives you metrics and manicured content. Whilst I think (or believe) that the content is authentic and even sincere, I'm also sure that certain uncomfortable parts are left out.

One recent example that had a lot of context is Justin Jackson and Jon Buda's Build Your SaaS podcast which has recorded their journey in building their business, Transistor. Most of their episodes sounds like an actual weekly catch-up that two co-founders would do and in many episodes some of their emotions (as they process opportunities and challenges) are a great layer of colour and context.

What they miss though is any of the quantitative metrics that they used to share in the early days, which could now paint a fuller picture. Imagine combining their podcast with the mix of metrics that Jon over at Bannerbear publishes.

This is why I've decided to add an unique layer of data on top of the written content that I plan to share: my health data.

Some of the things that we know often gets neglected in favour of work are health, time for exercise and hobbies, and relationships. Effectively "the rest of our lives". I know that I've fallen in that trap a few times in the past and burnt out as a result.

So as a start, I'll be publishing weekly health metrics, as well as a snapshot with every post to show how I'm doing in the last 7 days across some key areas: sleep, stress, resting heart rate and exercise (intensity minutes).

In addition to that, I do plan to share some business or commercial metrics here too. Pre-product and -revenue I'm considering starting with runway and a metric to indicate progress on building an audience (perhaps, marketing qualified leads). I'm unsure to what extent I'll publish these metrics though, because I do understand the risks (or at least, challenges) of being that open.

Either way, the goal is to give everyone a more holistic overview of what it takes to start something new. What effect does it have on me? And the rest of my life? Where am I sacrificing things? Or for what am I optimising?

2. Accountability

One of the best additions to my life in recent years has been becoming a coaching client of Dan Martell (in SaaS Academy). The first thing that Dan & I worked on was how I could improve how I kept others accountable. In the same vein though, he has kept me accountable and that accountability was one of the biggest driving forces to a life-changing exit with Conversio last year.

I know that when I commit to building in public here, it will create a very specific type of accountability and forcing function for me.

Right or wrong, I've learnt to acknowledge where my ego plays a more significant role in my actions and daily life. One of those places is with regards to my perceived public success and how relevant that makes me feel amongst my peers. When I don't feel relevant in this moment - regardless of any kind of past success - I'm in an uncomfortable spot. My natural inclination is to then try get out of that position by doing the work and making progress.

So by committing to show up here on a weekly basis, I have a forcing function to focus on high-value priority items and tasks. I know that if I have to show up here on a weekly basis where I can't show progress or bring value, it'll be massively uncomfortable for me.

What I also know is that learning happens most times with some measure of discomfort and that is the kind of tension that I hope to create here... Just enough tension to ensure that I consistently make progress towards my stated goals and ambition.

3. Marketing and Life Profitability

Getting to the obvious elephant in the room: the marketing.

I mentioned it earlier too, but I believe that building in public leverages the innate voyeurism that many of us feel to some extent. We like watching over others' shoulder and the more real or authentic the things is that we see, the more engaged we are.

So as I document and share the journey on which I'm about to embark here, I will build an audience here and I will reward that attention and engagement with real - and hopefully, valuable - content.

I highly doubt that the audience that will find what I'm sharing here, will have a huge overlap with customers (or prospects) of Cogsy itself. So that is not the marketing benefit I'm hoping to gain. I also don't have anything of monetary value that I hope to sell to this audience.

I do however have a book ("Life Profitability: The New Measure of Entrepreneurial Success") being published in January and part of my goal here is to live and share the kind of journey that supports the ideas and concepts that I propose in the book.

I wrote the book based on my experiences in building WooThemes/WooCommerce as well as Conversio and it has very much been an evolution of thought with loads of trial-and-error. The book itself is also meant to be aspirational and it is my aim that I can continue my own evolution and make this next part of the journey better than the one before. (I know one way in which I need to make that journey better for example is to stop compromising on my sleep, which is why I'm publishing that data here for accountability.)

It is my hope that if I manage to lead and / or live by example in sharing this journey here that some of you might at least be interested to give the book a go. In that I'm increasing the surface area for what success means here.


The first step here was to provide some context as to what all of this about. The next step is to define some initial goals that I can review in future and be accountable to in terms of making progress (or not) towards those goals.

  1. Share the journey and provide as much context as possible. Share in a way that is different to what is available already.
  2. Show up here weekly to vulnerably share the journey. Ensure that I make enough progress (or do / try enough things) that the content remains interesting and fresh.
  3. Nurture an intimate audience and community here that engages and gets value from getting a behind-the-scenes look at how I'm building Cogsy.
  4. Promote my own life profitability as I build Cogsy (by example) and cross-promote this to the book.

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