Why I ignore great advice from my smartest friends
Marketing | July 21st, 2016
This spring after a conference in San Diego I was having dinner with two experienced software founders. I asked a question that I’ve been using lately to try to encourage unsolicited advice: “What are some mistakes you see us making in growing ConvertKit?”
I know ConvertKit is growing quickly—I’m proud of that—but more praise on the subject doesn’t help us meet our insanely ambitious goals. So this question is an attempt to learn about our weaknesses and strategy flaws that I don’t see. But since most people are polite, they won’t point out your flaws unless you ask. So this is my attempt at asking (you should try it too!).
Now back to the conversation. My two friends looked at each other, smiled, and then launched into the same advice: “Stop sharing your revenue numbers publicly.”
“Turn off the public Baremetrics dashboard. Remove the blog posts that share revenue along the way… Actually, you should get a job in the Google search team just so you can sneak in and get the posts delisted from Google’s cache.”
Alright, point taken. They both felt very strongly that sharing numbers publicly was foolish.
I’ve heard this from a few people before—all of whom I really respect. But during this conversation I simply smiled and said that wasn’t going to happen.
Is it a core value?
Last winter I attended a talk from Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz.com. Over the years he’s always been public and transparent with Moz’s numbers. At this particular talk he shared that Moz was just shy of $40m in revenue for 2015—which I found very useful as I’m also building a small software company.
After the talk I waited in line to ask him a question: “Do you ever regret sharing numbers publicly?”
Instead of answering the question, Rand asked why I wanted to know. I explained our situation: we were at almost $100k/month in revenue and I heard from people I respected that sharing numbers was no longer a good idea.
I also felt that telling the story may be helpful early on, but now the numbers were getting large enough that it might not be as relatable and wouldn’t be valuable to as many people. So what should we do?
Rand simply asked another question, “Is sharing your numbers part of a core value?”. Before I could answer he continued: “Because if it is, then you don’t need to be asking the question. And if it isn’t, then the question also doesn’t matter. Do whatever you want.”
So… is it a core value?
I loved Rand’s answer. Instead of making each decision on a one-off basis he had a lens of core values that he could analyze each decision through. For Moz, transparency is a key part of TAGFEE (their values). They will always share their numbers. Though interestingly they don’t share employee salaries publicly (as Buffer does) because they feel it conflicts with empathy, which is another core value.
While I’ve been working on writing out our core values, they still aren’t done yet. Mainly because I don’t want them to be trite or generic. But even without all our core values in place I do know we have one that is critical to everything we do:
Teach everything you know.
Teaching is the best way to build an audience, the shortcut to a great online business, and helps others to follow in your footsteps. For me it started when Sacha Grief and Jared Drysdale both shared their eBook sales numbers and inspired me to write my own book. From then on I was determined to pay it forward by sharing all of my own numbers.
Then in the early days of ConvertKit I shared the entire journey. We were actually one of the first companies (even before Buffer) to make our Baremetrics dashboard completely public.
Sharing numbers is about inspiring other entrepreneurs, keeping us accountable to grow, and providing public benchmarks that other founders can learn from. It also helps to get attention, which is easy to turn into customers.
Now, there are downsides to being an open book
Absolutely there are! For one, people think that sharing numbers is bragging – even though our Baremetrics dashboard was public when we were making just $3,000 per month. It’s about teaching, not bragging.
Sometimes it means other companies can learning the inner workings of your company. Besides just our top-line revenue you can deep-dive into the details of churn, customers per plan, and a lot more! We expose a lot of data that could be very useful to competitors.
We also found recently that contractors will inflate their rates to what they know you can pay. Quotes from three different contractors came back higher after we announced that we were profitable. I don’t blame them, it’s just annoying.
And there are plenty more downsides that I’m forgetting right now.
So why ignore advice from people I respect?
I ignore the advice from people who are far smarter and more successful than I am because I see ConvertKit as a bigger mission. It’s not about having a small advantage over the competition or about making sure there aren’t unintended consequences of sharing too much information.
Instead it’s about living out our core value of “teach everything you know”. If our story and numbers help even a few founders build a successful company it’s totally worth it.
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