In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about why you should share your work.

While a lot of startups conduct their business in secret, some are now beginning to share what they are working on with the public, and like everything in life, sharing your work has it’s pros and cons.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about what cross-promoting is, why you shouldn’t feel forced to share your work, what type of things you could share with the public, the benefits of sharing and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

01:37 Why this topic was chosen.

02:58 Why you shouldn’t feel forced into sharing.

04:53 Things to consider before sharing your work.

05:17 What most startups share about their work.

05:58 How not to share your work.

06:34 Why sharing your work in real-time is riskier.

06:54 How sharing your work shows vulnerability.

07:26 How sharing your work sparks curiosity.

07:38 When to share your work.

3 Key Points:

  • Don’t feel forced into sharing
  • There’s beauty and power in sharing your work
  • Most people don’t share their work

Steli Efti: Hey, everybody. This is Steli Efti.

Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today, on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about one of my pro tips that I tweeted about recently. It just said, “Pro tip, share your work.” Here, we like talking about more than just sales and marketing.

Steli Efti: We just want to bullshit and chat about business and life, and hopefully, while we’re doing that, provide a lot of value to people.

Hiten Shah: The world’s best business podcast.

Steli Efti: Oh.

Hiten Shah: Shit.

Steli Efti: Shit, we got it.

Hiten Shah: For people trying to get shit done.

Steli Efti: Done. Yeah. We don’t want to give you feedback that’s bullshit.

Hiten Shah: We want you to do your best. I think it caught Steli’s eye, which I’m not surprised about. What did it spur for you?

Steli Efti: Well, first of all, the tweet popped up in my timeline. I have to look it up again. It was not just you, but it was you with a tweet and a reply. You’ll know from whom. It was your tweet that said, “Pro tip, share your work.” And then below it, it showed the reply of somebody saying, “I love you.” Which was-

Hiten Shah: Yeah, Julian Shapiro.

Steli Efti: Julian Shapiro, who’s a badass. [crosstalk 00:00:58].

Hiten Shah: It was great.

Steli Efti: And a great follow. I had to laugh, both because I love what you tweeted, but also loved his response, just, “I love you.” It’s just classic. As always, when your tweets are inspiring or at least slow me down on my tweets, scroll, track. Wait a second.

Hiten Shah: Yeah, that’s fun, all that.

Steli Efti: This seems right. Hold on. I’m always curious, what prompted this? What happened in Hiten’s life? What thought, what conversation did he have? What happened just before he picked up his phone and was like, “All right, let me share this with the world. Pro tip, share your work.” Tell us.

Hiten Shah: Yeah, one of the most secretive people I know is David Cancel from Drift. I was looking up something he shared on LinkedIn. Over at Drift, they created yet another new category. They created a category called Conversational Marketing over the last few years. They recently, a few weeks ago, maybe a couple months ago, threw it out and said basically, “We’re creating a new category now again, and it’s called Revenue Acceleration.” Then, when they announced it, a bunch of folks, Dave Gerhardt, who used to work at Drift, had some commentary, a few other folks had some commentary about it, and then David decided to share some slides, I’m going to call them ugly because they are, and that’s a compliment in this case, share some slides that he worked on internally. And he had a nice little note about it basically saying that there’s no point keeping these secrets because we have to build with the customer kind of thing. He didn’t quite say it like that, but that’s what he said. What I realized is, well, if he is now advocating sharing your work, someone who’s been very secretive historically, even he’s catching on.

Steli Efti: That’s interesting. Remember, we did an episode a long time back now around transparency. Right?

Hiten Shah: Yep.

Steli Efti: Especially being a [inaudible] startup, sharing. I think, at the time, for a little while, it was this hot, new trend of sharing revenue numbers or sharing your [inaudible] metrics dashboard with everybody.

Hiten Shah: Open startups, they called it. Yeah.

Steli Efti: Open startups. Exactly. And then sharing salary numbers and sharing other things. I remember we had a really, I think, enlightening conversation for the listeners, a lot of people had commented on it, where it was like, well, there is no organizational human that is 100% transparent with the world. There’s always some things you just don’t know about. Even these open startups have things that they’re not sharing, or that they choose to share at a specific given time. This can be amazing marketing and it can be part of your culture and the kind of people you attract, but don’t feel forced into it. Right?

Hiten Shah: Right.

Steli Efti: Just make sure that it fits your personality and your culture. Even with the two of us, we both have co-founded… I think we both are fairly open. There’s lots of things that we keep private from the world, but I think we’re pretty open people, but we both have co-founders that are, in some areas, maybe a bit more secretive or uncomfortable sharing certain numbers with the world or something like that. We are close, have always been about sharing everything we know with the world, but when it came to our metrics, our revenue numbers, customer numbers and all that, those kind of things that we always kept close to our chest. It’s interesting that David Cancel sparked this idea of share your work. Now, here’s my big question for you or something that I’d love to hear your thoughts about. There’s beauty and there’s power in sharing your work, but there’s also risk if you do it while you’re still unsure about that work or the outcome of it, even if you fail at something or something fails that you’ve done. After it failed with some time passing, it’s pretty safe for founders or for startups to talk about it openly. Here’s the big failure. Here’s the big mistake we made. Usually they’ll get a lot of admiration, a lot of attention for it, so it’s kind of a safe thing to do. This is something in our past that we learned and we want to openly share with you everybody. I’ve seen a lot of that. What I’ve not seen a lot of is people sharing what they’re currently doing, where the outcome is completely unclear. It can’t be framed. It can’t be framed as, “This was the turning point of our success,” or, “This was the big mistake I made that I want to share.” It’s like, “This is what we’re currently doing. Who the fuck knows what’s going to happen?” And then, “Oh, we’re changing our mind. Oh, we’re changing our mind again.” Sort of like the more messy version of this is sharing in real-time, while you don’t have a narrative ready. You can’t frame it nicely. There’s maybe a fear that you’ll appear, I don’t know, less confident, less like you and your company have their shit together, yada, yada, yada. I’m curious about that, number one, if you agree with that observation. This is an observation I’ve made, but we’ve never talked about this, that I see lots and lots of really honest sharing, but always with some kind of time that has passed in order to be able to frame, and it appears to me that sharing your work in real-time seems more risky because you don’t control the narrative as nicely anymore. It’s harder to control the narrative.

Hiten Shah: Yeah, it shows a level of vulnerability when you do it, even if you don’t mean to show vulnerability when you do it, and I think that’s actually a big factor to how or what makes other people attracted by the idea that you did that and wanting to pay attention. It also sparks some level of curiosity that is natural for humans. We’re super curious, especially about other people. In a way, it’s a distraction from our own work, too. I think all these things are true and that makes sharing your work extremely beneficial to you, if you’re sharing it. Then, this idea of sharing it early or sharing it late, here’s the funny thing, when you share your work in a way, people feel like you shared it early even if you didn’t, because you shared your work, you did something that’s uncommon. Most people don’t share their work. They don’t go out there and go, “Hey, this is what I’m working on. Here’s how I came up with it. Here’s how I did it.” The benefits are literally incredible when you do it and you figure out how to do it for your market or your customer base or other founders, if that’s your market or whatever. I think that’s the part that’s hard to deny when it comes to this idea. It’s almost like there’s these weird false benefits to it that are hard to understand until you do it. What I mean by false benefits is, even if you didn’t intend to seem vulnerable, you will seem vulnerable when you share your work. Other people will be like, “Oh, that was so vulnerable,” or, “That was so transparent.” All you’re trying to do probably is just find a way to do marketing and get [inaudible] or get attention. The way you did that is by sharing your work, which is a lot of the intention behind it. While, if you think about a company like Buffer and their idea of transparency with salaries and all that stuff, I would say them being the poster children of the concept of sharing your work, they did it because they believe that’s the way it should be, which is very different than what I’m seeing a lot of people do today. It’s like David Cancel finally came around and kind of said this is the way it should be, we should be sharing this stuff in public so we can develop these things with customers. I think that’s obviously aspirational for someone like him who’s very private and secretive about what they’re doing at that company until they just do it. Now he’s saying that, look, even this revenue acceleration thing is a work in progress, and here’s how he thought about it. The promise was that he’s going to share more. Now I’m waiting for him to share more because I’m curious, but also he’s never been that transparent where he’ll share stuff that’s internal without it being marketing or it being super polished. This thing wasn’t really polished. It was really good. It was high quality, but it wasn’t polished. That’s just new to me from him, and it really got me thinking, this is the pro tip, especially if he’s catching on and into it and explaining it from a customer-centric mindset, because the second that clicked for someone like him, I think there’s no undoing it, if that makes sense.

Steli Efti: Yeah. Awesome. I think this last part is really important on the line and it explains so well why it spoke to you, why it stood out to you, is that it came from a customer-centric insight. That was the driver. It was not, did you know when you share your work it gets a lot of use. It was not, did you know sharing your work-

Hiten Shah: No, he didn’t say that. Yeah. None of that. Yeah.

Steli Efti: Yeah. I wonder, if he had said that, if he had looked at that and went, “Ah, okay.” But the customer-

Hiten Shah: Yeah, he himself put a narrative behind it of why he felt like he should share those slides. His whole idea was this is work in progress. In a way, you’re sharing your work. Sharing your work is really about sharing your work in progress.

Steli Efti: Love it. All right. Pro tip, you’ve heard it here, share your work, and let us know how it goes. All right, this is it from us. We’ll see you very soon.

Hiten Shah: Yeah.