What you’ll learn
In this post, you are going to hear about learning-by-shipping.
It’s a philosophy so simple it seems obvious — but many, many people fail to grasp its core tenets.
If you want to skip right to a particular topic, we’ve got you covered:
- What the heck is learning-by-shipping
- A story about why learning without shipping can be a waste of time (and demotivate)
- Another story proving that learning-by-shipping can be more helpful
- How learning-by-shipping can move you closer to your dreams faster
- What building in public is
- A myth-buster about one of the most common objections to building in public
Now let’s dive in.
What is learning-by-shipping?
As creators, we often have a plethora of ideas and projects that we want to tackle. However, it can be easy to get bogged down in the planning stages and never actually ship anything. This is where the concept of ‘learning by shipping’ comes in. By publicly shipping your work, you open yourself up to feedback, critiques, and opportunities to learn and improve.
But why is shipping publicly so important? For one, it holds you accountable. When you share your work with the world, you are more likely to follow through and see your project to completion. Additionally, by putting yourself out there, you open yourself up to a community of like-minded individuals who can offer valuable feedback and constructive criticism.
In this blog, we will be exploring the benefits of ‘learning by shipping’ and providing tips and strategies for creators to put this concept into practice. Whether you’re a writer, designer, developer, or any other type of creator, this post will provide valuable insights and inspiration to take your skills to the next level.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in and start learning by shipping!
The waste of learning without shipping
Well — to illustrate the point, let me tell you a little story.
Kelly had always loved dogs. She had grown up with them and had always wanted to start her own dog-walking business. One day, she decided to take the leap and start building a website for her new venture. She had no prior experience with web design, but she was determined to learn.
She subscribed to a web design platform, Webflow, and put it on her credit card. She spent hours learning HTML and trying out different designs, but nothing seemed to look right. She also spent a week thinking about the perfect domain name for her website.
Finally, Kelly decided to focus on creating a logo for her business. She wanted it to be just perfect and spent a long time fiddling with different designs. After two months of hard work, Kelly was ready to launch her dog walking service. She was so excited to see the reaction from her potential customers.
To her dismay, when she finally launched her website, there was barely any reaction. Kelly had hardly done any marketing and had been working on the website in “stealth mode” for two months, and had expected some sort of response. Dejected, she gave up on the idea of starting a dog-walking business, and the website sat unused. Kelly learned that building a website is not enough, you need to market it as well.
Feeling defeated, Kelly decided to give up on her dream of starting a dog-walking business. She closed down her website and moved on to other things. However, a few weeks later, she decided to give it one last try. She remembered reading that Twitter could be a great way to promote a business.
Kelly created a Twitter account and started tweeting about her dog-walking business. She didn’t have many followers, and no one really seemed to be interested. She assumed that there must not be a market for dog-walkers in her area. Kelly felt like she had failed again.
Learning by shipping — another, more successful example
Lindsay had always loved dogs. She had grown up with them and had always been interested in the dog services market. One day, she realized that the lucrative and often-overlooked market for dog services might actually be underserved. She had some ideas for what dog owners might want, but she didn’t really know which of these ideas was best.
Lindsay decided to start an account on Twitter called “TheDoggieGuru” to explore the market. She immediately committed to tweeting from her own expertise 10 times daily, offering valuable advice about dog care without expecting anything in return, except genuine followers and engagement. She also started a daily newsletter with 4 points on dog care every day. She focused on substance, and didn’t worry about perfect aesthetic design too much. She made sure the content was good and well-done, but she wasn’t concerned with spending 10k on a website.
Over time, Lindsay started to build a community of dog owners who were interested in her advice. She started a Facebook group and a Discord around the community, and over time, she realized that dog owners didn’t care about ‘dog-walking’ so much but that they really, really needed medium-term doggie day care (2 weeks at a time) for when they went on remote work vacations to other cities or areas. And they were willing to pay!
Lindsay then used a nocode app to create a very basic, not-perfect-at-all marketplace for long-term doggie day care. She tested taking 5% of each transaction as a referral fee as a business model. After sharing this new service with her already-established community, she saw something amazing: the first person actually booked a medium-term doggie day care through her site. She had only made $88, but it was the start of her journey to grow her monthly revenue numbers, and create a lifelong sustainable business that would pay for her life, allow her to quit her job and to have the breathing room needed to make even more businesses — and give her the means to satisfy a lifelong dream of going on a snowboarding trip in the Swiss Alps.
She felt excited to grow her business and improve its functionality, but only as necessary and by listening to customer feedback, rather than her own unvalidated gut feelings. She was learning that, with a clear understanding of her customer’s needs, a clear goal, and a focus on providing value, she could create a successful business in a market that she cared about.
Accelerate your growth with learning-by-shipping
As creators and businesses, we all come to audience growth and entrepreneurship with a different set of skills. Some of us learned to code basic websites as teenagers. Some of us are naturally extroverted and complete naturals at weaving a compelling story on social media to entice people to become customers or partners. Some of us just puke rainbows: brilliant visual designs and user experiences flow forth naturally.
The point of learning-by-shipping is to break out of the habit of only doing “what you’re good at” and avoiding the areas where you don’t have expertise.
You might be good at something, but chances are you are not independently wealthy enough to act like Terence Malick, J.D. Salinger or Lauryn Hill — spending half your lifetime in ‘stealth mode’ perfecting your next thing. If you have a million bucks sitting in a safe deposit box somewhere and ten years to kill — I actually envy you, but that is not the case for most of us. We need to break out of the habit of not sharing anything at all, in any way, until it’s perfect!
Building in public
With this short parable, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all the benefits of learning-by-shipping. There’s another concept that is different but very much adjacent to learning by shipping: building in public.
Building in public is not for everyone. It’s the idea that you might be not just shipping a product or service early and often — but that you will be partially or fully transparent with private obstacles, roadblocks, successes, and challenges that most businesses would keep private.
Again, building in public is not for everyone, but it can be very powerful.
In the past, companies like Buffer would publish all kinds of things — from their own employees’ salary numbers, to their uptime, to core internal performance metrics. These are things that normally would only be talked about with indoor voices, behind closed boardroom doors or on internal company Zoom calls.
You don’t have to expose your entire accounting system to the world – in fact, you probably shouldn’t. Some of the more famous build-in-public influencers are really just chasing clout as a marketing stunt.
But what you can do is share your journey. While you are giving advice on Twitter with a tool like Hypefury, you can throw in a daily thread or tweet that is something vulnerable, interesting, or challenging.
“Here are three versions of copy we tried out for our latest landing page. We ultimately decided not to go with A and B, and chose Option C.”
Most businesses would just launch a new landing page, hiding the two rejected options for the website prose on the editing room floor, never to be seen.
By sharing what you didn’t put on the website, you build a more vulnerable, honest relationship with your audience.
Here are some core tenets of building in public, if you decide to include some ‘BIP’ behaviors alongside your ‘learning by shipping’ journey:
- Transparency: Being open and honest about the progress and challenges of building a product or business.
- Vulnerability: Being willing to share personal and professional failures as well as successes.
- Consistency: Regularly sharing updates and progress on social media or a personal blog.
- Providing value: Sharing insights and knowledge that can help others in their own entrepreneurial journey.
- Building a community: Engaging with and listening to feedback from a community of like-minded individuals.
- Authenticity: Being true to oneself and one’s brand, rather than trying to present a polished or curated image.
- Learning in public: sharing the learning process and the knowledge acquired along the way.
- Feedback loop: Incorporating feedback from the audience in the product development.
- Iteration: Continuously testing and improving based on the feedback.
A key objection debunked
There are some valid objections to building in public.
“I’m a public company that trades on the NASDAQ, it is against securities laws to share certain private information because we will be sued by activist hedge fund shareholders.”
But I’m guessing the above argument doesn’t really apply to you…
If it does, there are probably some different articles you should be reading — and congrats on the IPO!
But if you are just one of many brands and creators who are considering building in public, here’s another objection:
“All my favorite influencers didn’t just ‘ship’ something — they took their time! Like Steve Jobs and his commitment to perfection on the iPhone, and The Beatles with their masterwork ‘Abbey Road.'”
Here’s the hard truth — this is the result of a combination of survivorship bias, recency bias, and some kind of analogical fallacy. The tldr (excuse my language): this is a bit of a bullshit excuse!
If you are launching something (even if you have great design taste) — you are NOT Steve Jobs in 2006 perfecting a billion-dollar product within the luxurious offices of one of the world’s most famous billion-dollar companies. You are also not The Beatles in 1969, with a billion fans and an unlimited budget.
You’re Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the ’70s with a visually unappealing, janky, bug-filled Apple I computer driving around Cupertino and the Bay Area in a beat up station wagon, trying to sling this typewriter/mainframe/Frankenstein machine to early adopters and hobbyists out of the back of your trunk, even though it looks like crap. You’re testing whether the most basic, functional, imperfect offer can meet the market and be received well (i.e. with paying customers).
You’re The Beatles in 1960 in Hamburg, Germany — playing songs EVERY DAY to crowds of West German teens — your own songs, popular covers… playing fast, playing slow. Don’t feel like playing today because you’re an artiste who wants time and space to perfect your craft? Too bad — someone else will happily get on stage and replace you. One day, on day 200 out of 200 of playing 4 hours per day, you realize a new type of rock ‘n’ roll is clicking. You’ve found product-market fit. The crowds like what you are putting down, and you have developed some key insights about what works and what doesn’t. You switch up the drummer. You ditch some of the corny stuff. You switch the leather jackets for a different costume. You start using twelve chords instead of four in each song. All this by putting in public, vulnerable face-time to understand what audiences want.
Also — have you tried the first ever iPhone? In retrospect, it was pretty much a janky work-in-progress that barely worked. For the younguns out there — back in the day, you couldn’t tap to copy and paste text. They added that later.
You can take the oft-quoted (and also probably bullshit) ‘10,000 hours’ to get good at something. But you will see compounding returns beyond your wildest dreams if you commit to undertaking a significant amount of those 10,000 hours of getting good in public.
So what are you publicly shipping this week? Here’s our challenge: Jump on H1ypefury today and tell the world in a tweet thread and tag us. We’ll be out there, too, learning by shipping and building in public