To me, the golden era of being an open startup is gone. Some founders and early adopters are shutting down their open pages and changing their transparency practices. I don’t think they are doing it just because things change and we need to cope.
I recognize Buffer as one of the first companies to preach and practice the Open Startups philosophy.
Buffer is a company known for its commitment to transparency and open communication. The company, which provides social media management tools, has been an advocate for the "open startup" philosophy since its founding in 2010.
The open startup philosophy is based on the idea that companies should be transparent and open in their operations, both with their customers and the public. This includes sharing financial information, product roadmap, and other internal details, even their salaries.
They share everything on their transparency page. They are a pioneer! They have set a high standard for other companies to follow and inspire others to be more open and transparent in how they operate.
Ghost.org was started in 2013 through a Kickstarter campaign.
As they commented in this 2015 blog post, “We’ve learned a lot from our friends over at Buffer, and we’re going to be taking a leaf out of their book in several ways.” And they did.
Above is the first section of their open page. But they didn’t stop with the metrics. They decided to implement amazing work benefits and practices and give the best of the best to their employees, staying as a non-profit foundation “so that it would always be true to its users, rather than shareholders or investors”.
I’m sure that in the same way that they learned from Buffer, a lot of new adopters grabbed their ideas from Ghost.
They shared and kept sharing essential business metrics, product updates, and their environmental impact on their dedicated open page.
Later in this article, I share how they used their Boat-odometer to stay motivated and grow toward a meaningful goal.
The open startup movement did a lot of good
Building a startup openly did a lot for brands and indie makers all around the world because:
Transparency and honesty increased their trust tremendously
Founders were able to “market” their product without marketing it - by speaking about it with authenticity
Many products were selling even before their launch
Feedback was given 24/7 and iterations made to products were done with data and not just by following “instincts”
Since all you had to do to join the wave was start and share, the movement also increased many creators' accountability (and thus productivity).
Once you were committed to sharing your progress, your MRR (monthly recurring revenue), or building a new feature - it was hard to give up or get distracted - and since this is what kills more business ideas, building in public became a catalyst for creation and growth.
That without mentioning, the access to expert talent in the community, who gave great feedback and even more in-depth mentoring if they got interested in a particular product.
But to me, the golden era of being an open startup is gone.
Some founders and early adopters are shutting down their open pages and changing their transparency practices.
I don’t think they are doing it just because.
Things change, and we need to cope.
It was good while it lasted, and I feel happy I was a part of it during its best time.
To be honest, I think that we all got so caught up with the flow and the good things this movement brought that we forgot how the business world works in practice and that not everyone is playing fair.
I will still build in public and share my learnings and ups and downs, but I will stop sharing critical business metrics like revenue.
The main reason behind my decision is that I used to share the revenue to track my solo journey. Now with someone else on my team, it’s no longer my personal milestone anymore. I somehow have to be responsible for the whole team.
Other reasons are:
when talking to big companies, when they know the revenue, they will belittle us
it increases the chances of being copied
it won’t inspire many people when crossing a certain threshold. Like normal distribution, in the beginning, when MRR is $0 or a little, it won’t inspire many people; when you’re at $5k, $10k, you inspire most of the people; when you’re at $20k, $50k MRR, people may get jealous, and fewer people really get inspired.
Danny Postma used to share his revenue, but recently decided not to do so anymore.
Jon Yongfook said he would remove his revenue bar once he hits $1M ARR.
Tony Dinh removed it too, though he didn’t announce it officially; he mentioned it would bring some physical IRL risk as $10k MRR is a lot of money in Vietnam.
Sabba Keynejad, CEO and co-founder of veed.io, stopped sharing their numbers after hitting $500K MRR. Sabba even regrets they should have stopped posting about growth and revenue milestones much earlier, as there is little benefit to them.
Why are some of the main evangelists and pioneers of this trend leaving now?
Because bad examples and negative stories are now becoming so common, everyone thinks twice before disclosing things openly.
From envy and toxic feelings dividing teams and friends to businesses copying other businesses completely, the scene is getting spotted by more and more cases.
That’s why, in my opinion, it’s no longer the way to go.
Here is one case that I found recently on Twitter that exemplifies what I mention perfectly:
Getting inspired is one thing, but copying a project from A to Z, and taking advantage of the founder’s willingness to spread transparency, seems evil to me.
This and many other negative things I mentioned above are becoming the daily bread for many founders.
Gumroad shares its internal metrics with the public in a unique way during its quarterly board meetings hosted by Sahil Lavingia. This transparency allows the company to build trust with its creators' community.
Their open page was showcased above. I also mention them here because it was so cool to see how @JamesIvings and @dinkydani21 used their Boat-odometer to track their progress and finally bought their boat to sail the world.
Their AI image creation services Avatar AI and ProfilePicture.AI were similar in nature, and even though they could have seen each other as “enemies” due to the competitive situation, they chose to be friends and not only navigate things in peace, but help each other.
These are some of the tweets that back up what I say:
These companies and founders are doing good, and I commend them for it.
I wish them the best as they keep building great products and a better ecosystem for all of us.
As I said, I’m glad I was able to be part of the open startup movement during its best moment. It was good while it lasted.
A special “thank you” to everyone that supported and engaged with Testimonial.to and me during those great days.