Arvid Kahl: Your audience is already out there!

February 12, 2021 · 43 minutes reading time

Transcript of episode 9

Arvid's photo

Matthias: [00:00:34] Hi folks. Welcome to the next episode! Today, my next guest is Arvid Kahl. I’m pretty happy about that. He’s a book author, he is a founder, a bootstrapper, all kinds of things! I’m so glad that I have you here. Good morning!

Arvid Kahl: [00:00:49] Nice to be here.

Matthias: [00:00:51] This morning, I got inspired by a new email newsletter from Rosie Sherry, the fantastic community manager of Indie Hackers. She writes a newsletter called Rosieland. And in a new issue, she wrote an interesting paragraph about “what is an audience” versus “what is a community?“. She writes:

This is the magic that often people don’t understand: to be part of a community people want and need to be seen. Tagging people is a modern way to do this. You can also compare this to people who build an audience, they don’t tag people. They seek to raise their own voices. This is why it is important to understand the difference between audience and community building. — Rosie Sherry in Rosieland

What do you think about this, Arvid?

The term “audience” is ambiguous

Arvid Kahl: [00:01:36] That’s the whole point of this discussion that is currently ongoing in the entrepreneurial community. Like,

  • What is an audience even like?
  • What is audience building?
  • What is “audience first”?
  • What is “audience centric”?
  • What its “audience focused”?

There are so many different terms that are slightly different!

And even the term that they refer to, audience, is not clear, at least not for me and for the people that I talk to. So I feel that there is this tendency for people to understand an audience as something highly passive, like what Rosie’s currently referring to. The kind of an audience:

Imagine a stage. There’s a musician on stage, and there’s a group of people just listening and maybe clapping, showing their collective approval, but there’s no individual voice. The only voice that you hear is actually the musician talking “at” the audience, right?

That is, I guess, the common definition of audience, because it comes from the Latin words. I don’t know, audio?

Matthias: [00:02:30] “audire”, yeah,

Arvid Kahl: [00:02:31] Yeah, but to me, it just really means “to listen”.

So, listen … that’s fine but I feel in our community, what we do is somewhere between this: It’s somewhere between having this purely passive, consuming group of people, listening to everything we say, and then clapping, right?

Which is like the classical idea “of audience building”: You create this following of people that are purely passive consumers, then you build something for them and you throw it at them, and they pay for it and you get rich. So like the idea of audience building, right? Build it, they are there and now you can sell them something, which I find is a very narrow definition of this!

Communication with your audience should be bi-directional

Because I feel (with particularly that the kind of following that I’m building), I’m much more interactive. With everybody that I interact, that I engage with on Twitter, there is some sort of “back and forth”.

Either they consume my stuff and they share my things, which is an act, right? They act on this, they do something or they actually respond to it and involve me in some sort of like knowledge-deriving conversation like that. They give me a response and I respond back!

They ask me a question, or they just like put a meme there, and I put a GIF there and then something comes from that, right? It’s still a very bi-directional kind of communication which is more like a community, but still…

Particularly on Twitter, it’s not the same! It’s not a community that you can go into (e.g. the “Indie Hacker Twitter”), and expect there to be, like, a bounded community.

It’s just an ad hoc community. People just interact, and that turns into a community. So I would like my definition of audience, and the definition that other people have, to go more into that direction but still be something different than community.

Mentioning others while talking to your audience

Because, in the end, an audience is still about you right? And it may be the problem that you’re alluding to. Like: “Is it okay to mention other people, does this take away attention from myself because I want this audience to grow and I want all these people there eventually to buy my I dunno course or workshop or book or SaaS product or whatever.”

But that’s also what you’re working on with your tool is to have some insight into this group of people, so you can better engage them to at some point… I wouldn’t even say take advantage but … allow those people to become your customers. Just have the existing infrastructure of this audience, of this community there, and then convert them into customers for your product.

And what I think is that it should totally be allowed, and it should totally be encouraged for people to involve other people in their audience building process! If you can call it audience building, or community building, or something in between like maybe it’s an audience community, or a community audience.

I don’t really know which one it would be but it’s somewhere on the spectrum because the moment you start pulling other people in a conversation, their reputation is kind of added as a tiny sliver to yours! An audience builder is not just building this group of people, it’s also building a reputation for yourself!

Your personal brand

It’s building a personal brand: You as a founder, if you are an indie hacker, if you build an audience on Twitter because you’re selling to, I don’t know, software engineers, or you’re selling to other people who are on Twitter, you’re building a professional brand and you’re building a tool, like you do, right?

You are an example where people see both of the things at the same time: Your personal brand and your professional brand is literally the same Twitter account, but there’s people who try to split this, right? They have like a personal account for themselves, and they have this professional account for whatever service they’re building.

And it doesn’t matter if you have two distinct accounts or one, you’re still building two brands:

  • you’re building the business that you’re building to help people in your community
  • and you’re building this personal brand as this amazing person that builds in public, that shares their learnings, that builds this tool for the community.

Empowering others lifts everyone up

So if you do this, if you try to build a personal brand, then empowering other people in the community is part of that brand. And it’s part of the audience building process!

You know, if you bring in people into the conversation, you benefit from that! They benefit from the conversation, and the people reading this on Twitter, they benefit from the conversation, too!

It’s like literally lifting everybody up at the same time. So I’ve been doing this for many, many months. I’ve been tagging people, engaging with people…

Matthias: [00:06:40] Yeah, I totally admire this, by the way…

Arvid Kahl: [00:06:41] It’s just fun! It’s just super fun too to get people into a conversation:

I did this earlier today, I was talking about recording a podcast and I did that yesterday when I was talking about tools that I was using for my writing, and there’s always people coming in and learning something and there is (Arvid, becoming enthusiastic) nothing better than seeing people learn something and make a positive impact on their lives!

Just like posting something to Twitter and then seeing how they go “Oh my God, this is the best thing that happened to me today! This is going to revolutionize how I work!”

Matthias: [00:07:15] The ideal!

Arvid Kahl: [00:07:16] Yesterday was Grammarly and tools that make writing easier or editing. And that was like 10-12 people that actually saw this for the first time!

Matthias: [00:07:27] Oh really?

Arvid Kahl: [00:07:27] Now they have something that they never thought was possible be a normal part of their daily workflow. And like, if I hadn’t involved other people and asked other people and talked to other people, if I had just like posted a really really smart tweet – it wouldn’t have had that impact, it wouldn’t have changed people’s lives!

In a way, that increased my audience, because somebody else saw this happening, and now they’re following me, and now they are interested in what I have to say.

Matthias: [00:07:51] This is really interesting! I would have thought that everybody knows Grammarly, but maybe that’s not true!

Arvid Kahl: [00:07:57] Haha, you can you can exchange Grammarly with every kind of tool that you use. Any person that you meet is at a certain point of the journey, and it’s never your point that you’re at currently.

Matthias: [00:08:09] Right.

Arvid Kahl: [00:08:10] So that’s why engaging and talking on social media repeatedly, and saying the same things over again, is actually a viable strategy because…

Repeating yourself can give value to your audience

Today, somebody decides to join Indie Hackers Twitter. And if the first thing that they read is a tweet that I posted, that I’ve said 20 times before, it’s still the first time for them!

And they learned something, and they will follow me for that. You know, like, everybody’s on a different journey, and I think to know that means that you will be much more supportive of people who don’t know things yet, because we all learn all the time.

And you can use that for your own brand building because, obviously, you can help newbies just as much as you can help people who’ve been in the community for ages.

Matthias: [00:08:53] Amazing point of view! I’m always amazed when I see your tweets because you are so much focused on engaging with people! I recently recall your podcast about the Twitter strategy that you use, where engagement is really a number one thing on the list, and it’s really so, it’s so much fun to to interact with you.

Should we invent a new word for “audience”?

So let’s get one step back, Arvid, you initially mentioned it: the definition of an audience is kind of ambiguous. Everybody uses the term in a different way. Yes, the Latin word “audire” = listening or hearing, it’s a more or less passive thing.

What do you think: Is it a good idea to still use the word “audience” or should we invent something totally new? (chuckles)

Arvid Kahl: [00:09:39] Well if I have those two choices I would opt for the actual new word that we would invent because I feel like when it comes to definitions, clarity beats familiarity, right? It’d be like, if you have something that is very precise, and that might just be the German in me speaking, because you know we have words for everything! But even if they are compound words, which would actually be a good idea this case, (Matthias laughs: oh, oh!) you know like something between audience to community, it could probably have a German compound word for that.

You know what? (laughs) That is actually a great idea! I’m going to think about that!

But if we have to use audience and we just need a better definition, because we are in a in a digital age where you are not just putting up a billboard somewhere and somebody reads it but you’re now immediately available for people to actually communicate with, then I would use the definition that I have in my book.

Because I’ve been writing about this, right? Because this is the last one I’ve been writing every single day, I’ve been writing about this topic. Either audience building or audience discovery or audience exploration, everything about how to build a future audience for yourself and your business and your life.

How to define “audience”

Matthias: [00:10:43] Yeah. So you must have a definition right?

Arvid Kahl: [00:10:45] I have one, and that’s like really the best I could come up with, because it’s so hard to get this right. And I wouldn’t claim it’s right, I just would claim it’s closer to what I want it to be. Let me just quote myself here: (ahem)

An audience = everyone who should be interested in you, in your business, and your products.

That that is my definition…

Matthias: [00:11:01] …“who should be interested” so this looks also into the future, even people that you don’t know… (Arvid: and the past), and the past yeah!

Arvid Kahl: [00:11:08] Right! Because I feel, when people talk about audiences right now, they talk about the actual following that they have. My “audience”, at this point I don’t know 13000 people on Twitter, but I kind of have the feeling that this is not what I would consider my audience.

This is my present, today’s audience, but my audience a year from now, the people that don’t know me yet but I know they’re out there, they are just as much a part of what I can conceptualize in my strategy as an audience.

I know that there’s at least 50, if not a hundred thousand Indie hackers somewhere in the space that I could be connected with more, that I could talk to, that I would like to reach both with my content and my book because I just want to help them, right?

That is my audience! It’s not my audience of today. It’s also the people that interacted with me in the past but have since gone into other places they still remember.

An audience exists in the past, present, and future

You know like if you have a SaaS business, and like I used to run a SaaS business with my my girlfriend and life partner Danielle, we had a business called FeedbackPanda, and much has been said about this so I’m just going to be quick about this: It was like a productivity tool for online English teachers. Danielle taught English online. She had some problems with getting student feedback done, every single day. We built a tool to automate that, and then we started selling it to our peers. We built this within two years, from zero to $55,000 MRR (monthly recurring revenue).

And then we sold the business to a private equity company, for what I’m allowed to say is a life-changing amount of money back in 2019. (Matthias laughs) And ever since then I’ve been writing and like sharing what I’ve learned, both during that business and let’s call it “failed bootstrapped businesses” that I’ve tried to build before.

So that’s kind of where we come from, but the people that we sold to, the people that we sold not the business but the product to … our English teachers, right? They are still in many ways part of my audience because I am the person that relates to them, or related to them back then with the product.

Matthias: [00:13:01] Yeah, you interacted with them on the on the phone, or you were on support call, right?

Arvid Kahl: [00:13:05] Exactly! We had this little Intercom chat bubble on a product and I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people that I’ve never met, that were pretty much like sitting somewhere in Texas at three o’clock in the morning, trying to teach Chinese children to speak English through voice chat.

Matthias: [00:13:20] Oh boy, yeah!

Arvid Kahl: [00:13:21] and they had some trouble with a product or whatever but we had a little conversation going and I learned about their day, and learned about their kids, we had a connection, and these people are still part, in many ways, of my story and of my audience! I’m not selling to them directly, obviously, but they were also entrepreneurs, right?

These were online English teachers who were doing this as their second or often third job. Like they had a main job going, and they were trying to sell something on Etsy, they understood what it meant to be an entrepreneur! And I’m now writing books for entrepreneurs, so it still connects, right?

And audience is something that is more flexible than just the people that you have currently following you on Twitter that are liking your posts. So I hope that makes the term more clear because it kind of could be a community that you form around yourself, but not every audience member in your audience is part of your community, and not every community member in the community that you’re in, is part of your audience.

So if you had a Venn diagram it would be like a wobbly, intersecting thing! Like some of that, and some is not, some is intersecting … again, it’s a complicated definition to get right. So maybe we would need another term but I don’t think we’re there yet!

Why Arvid renamed his book “Audience first”

I think the part that I found interesting, and I’m going to talk about this in my podcast that I just recorded earlier this morning, is: “Audience first” is the definition that people currently have for building an audience and then selling them something. And it’s hard to change a definition that already exists – it’s really hard, right?

Matthias: [00:14:47] Right. “Audience first” has become pretty well known, I think at least in our niche here!

Arvid Kahl: [00:14:53] And why change something that people already understand? I mean, at first I was trying to battle this out and say “no, this is what audience first means: let’s put the audience first, not build the audience first” but hey, why would I fight the community that I actually am trying to serve with this book?

So I stepped back and changed the name of the book in in a way that…

Matthias: [00:15:12] Why are you doing this? I heard about it, and I didn’t really get it: What was the problem, and why are you renaming the book?

Arvid Kahl: [00:15:19] The problem is that the book was called “Audience first” from the beginning. It’s not a problem, it’s just what it was. A year ago, after I published “Zero to sold”, my first book that I ever wrote, I was thinking

Hey this is fun. People seem to like my writing and they are buying my book, and I get good reviews on Amazon. I should continue doing this!

So the first thing was “okay let me get a couple more book ideas out and see which one I like most”. And since in “Zero to Sold” I talk a lot about the initial stages of a business, like half the book is really the preparation for getting your bootstrapped business off the ground.

The first part of this is like building or like understanding your audience, “building” … not as much! The building part I kind of left out of “Zero to Sold”, and that’s kind of a hint here because there was something still missing from that book. But I wouldn’t want to add it to the already 500 page book that it is, so…

Matthias: [00:16:04] Really a big book, yeah!

Arvid Kahl: [00:16:07] So I was looking into what part of “Zero to Sold” can I dive deeper into and actually give some more actionable advice? “Zero to Sold” is already actionable. It already tells people what we did, but I wanted to even build a framework that people can use to get to a result faster.

So I took the audience part because, to me, like building a bootstrapped business is like

  • get your audience right
  • understand that critical problem
  • find a solution to the problem
  • then, build a product that implements that solution

It’s kind of four steps. Getting the first one is the most important one because if you don’t get that one right, all the validation attempts later are kind of built on a very unstable foundation, right?

Matthias: [00:16:42] on a misunderstanding, possibly.

Arvid Kahl: [00:16:45] Yes! You have this assumption that you can verify because you just thought it was right: “ah, yeah this will be a great audience for my product, eventually!“. And then it’s not, so you built a product for nobody so that’s a problem! Getting this right is essential, and that’s what I looked into.

So I thought: “okay, what is the cool thing I’ve just learned about it so that I know that could describe this, this whole movement?”

And I thought: yeah, “audience first”, because it is literally the first thing you should do. But that is me! That is just my interpretation of what that means. (This makes Matthias laugh)

If you ask another founder “what is the business that comes to mind when I say ‘audience first’”, they look at people like Nathan Latka that built these gigantic audiences, or Jack Butcher, right? Having a lot of people as an actual Twitter audience, and then selling them something.

Matthias: [00:17:31] Yeah.

Arvid Kahl: [00:17:31] The thing is, as much as I want to fight this, they are actually right! That gets literally what “audience first” means is like “get an audience first!“.

It’s not like word-play stuff like I was trying to do with “put your audience first” which is still kind of true but it’s not the same. So instead of trying to fight people on this … because I tried that on Twitter, I tried to explain to them what I mean, and they said “well that’s not what audience first means!”

And then I said “well, what what is a better word for this?” And then they were “I don’t know”.

Finding a more specific term

So I was trying to find a better word for this when I meant “audience first” to mean. And it turns out that audience-driven and audience-focused and audience-centric are much more specific terms that describe what I mean without being overlaid by this definition of what audience first already is.

So I took that to heart. I said “okay, well then let me just not call it audience first. Let me let me put the audience-driven part in there”. But you can’t call it audience-driven. That’s boring. So I looked into what I had actually written.

And here’s the other part: I had written this book. I had set out to write an audience first book. I wanted to write about audience first. So I started I think on January 1st [2021]. I took what I had already as an outline. For the last couple of months I had created an outline for the book. All the kinds of topics that I wanted to write about in January 1st was the first day that I started actually writing the meat of the book, like the actual prose.

So every single day in January I wrote. And then on … yeah three days ago … on February 1st, I finished a book so it took exactly a month.

Matthias: [00:19:01] (amazed at this speed) Wow!

Arvid Kahl: [00:19:02] but it was just … I mean … I have a lot of time! In between tweeting, I have nothing else to do, so I spend it on writing. And what came out of this process was a slightly different book!

It’s quite surprising but in writing the book about audience first, I found that this audience first approach that people consider audience first is not even that interesting. Like it’s something that we all think is interesting.

Matthias: [00:19:25] Ah, so the process of writing changed the content that you were writing, or it even changed the idea!

Arvid Kahl: [00:19:31] Yes. The perspective on building a business, right? It used to be “okay, let me find all these audience first businesses” … my initial idea was this:

  • I get case studies of all these audience first businesses
  • then I go through them
  • I highlight what worked for them and why

Which is an interesting book but I didn’t write it! I wrote something else.

I wrote something that is much more in tune with what I’ve been both talking about in my work, what I’ve been teaching my mentees, and what I’ve been doing in my consultant work is: helping people find this future audience, from day one!

It’s like helping them figure out

  • who do I want to serve?
  • who do I want to empower?
  • how can I find them?
  • where are they?

How can I learn from them what they need? How can I figure out if the things that they need actually are something they have a budget for? and then … How can I work with them to build a solution to their problems and how can I then build this community and audience around me that will help me build this and will help me sell this?

And that is a totally different approach than “build some sort of audience and then sell them an ebook”, right?

Matthias: [00:20:34] Yeah this is not the case.

The embedded entrepreneur

Arvid Kahl: [00:20:36] It’s a completely different approach, and I learned this in just writing about this, going through my outline and figuring out “Oh yeah, there’s actually this process of embedding yourself in a community”.

And that’s what the book finally ended up being titled: “The embedded entrepreneur”. That’s the name of the book now, because…

Matthias: [00:20:53] (pondering) “the embedded entrepreneur”…

Arvid Kahl: [00:20:54] That’s much closer to what the book is about:

  • embedding yourself in a community, learning, observing, and engaging with people to understand that critical problems
  • find a solution with them and build a business out of this

which to me is much more exciting than building a random audience of anybody and then trying to sell them something because it’s validated from the first moment.

You validate every single step because either you are in the community you see what people talk about. Like you see the people that you eventually are going to be ending up selling to, right? They are right there, literally complaining about stuff in their work, in the communities that they engage with each other.

So that step-by-step approach to me is always much better for bootstrap and self-funded businesses because we need to make sure that our business works out. We’re not we don’t have the luxury of like VC funding where we could just say “ah … let’s try…

Matthias: [00:21:43] Yeah

Arvid Kahl: [00:21:43] … and see where this goes…

Matthias: [00:21:44] … try for five years and then we will see…

Arvid Kahl: [00:21:47] So I’m going to spend, like, whoa … 20 million a year? That’s not going to happen, right.

You’re going to spend like 200 euros, or bucks, dollars a month, if you’re like savvy on saving all over the place because you don’t have the money, you’re self-funded, and a self-funded business better work from the beginning, otherwise you’re going to be in debt, or you’re going to have trouble with surviving financially.

So, to me this is so much more interesting approach, hence the name: “The embedded entrepreneur”. Building an audience driven business”. I think that’s the current work in progress.

Matthias: [00:22:18] Ah okay. So you put “audience something” into the subtitle so that it becomes clear what the book is about!

Arvid Kahl: [00:22:25] Yeah, and that’s the other thing, that’s the amazing thing about being embedded in a community and getting immediate feedback: There was a couple of developers yesterday, just telling me “Hey, embedded, is that is that related to…”

Matthias: [00:22:35] Embedded systems?

Arvid Kahl: [00:22:36] “like, is this about like the Arduino or something?”

And I was like “haha, no it’s not”. But that is a a very specific niche within my audience that might misunderstand that, but I was thinking “Hey if they understand it then that’s great! If they misunderstand it they should look at the subtitle before buying the book. And if they find it intriguing because it reminds them of something, but it’s different than what they already know, even better! Then they’re gonna read it to it with much more interest because they want to find out what it is.”

Matthias: [00:23:01] That’s great!

Arvid Kahl: [00:23:01] So yeah. So that happened. And that happened over the last three days just by really engaging with my community. I asked the people that were already in my following, and outside of it, what do you think it is? What is the word that makes most sense?

I had a poll actually with all these terms…

Matthias: [00:23:16] Yeah. I saw that…

Arvid Kahl: [00:23:17] it’s hilariously inconclusive!

Like when I ask people “what is this?” And I said like

  • embedding yourself into an audience or into a group of people
  • learning about their problems
  • building it with them
  • building a following.

Which one of these four terms: audience centric, audience first, audience driven, or audience focused?

Yeah. Like all of these terms. And it was like completely split, like 30% here, 20% here, 30% here, 20% … people are very confused about this but it’s fun. It is like I have to deal with this.

So I took that term, put it in the subtitle, and put a much more interesting and thought-provoking term in the title that is less polarizing.

I just wanted it to be less polarizing. I didn’t want anybody to buy the book and say “Hey, I thought this was about audience first, but you’re not talking about audience first, arrrrrr, 1-star review!”, right?

It didn’t want that because I don’t want the people that buy my stuff to be surprised in a bad way, I want them to be surprised in a good way!

And that’s what I ended up. I leaned into my community, and into my existing audience, by just saying “okay, you don’t seem to understand what I’m trying to say. Let me change how I speak to you!”

Different flavours of “first” in “audience first”

Matthias: [00:24:27] Yeah that’s really practicing what you preach, right? You put your audience in the front and center and say “Hey, how would you say it? How would you do it?

What I find particularly interesting is that this word “first” can be interpreted in many different ways, and the traditional way interpreting it in terms of time, the audience has to exist first.

It’s kind of not consequential, it’s not needed, I think. It can be this way or the other way: the audience can be there or it can be not there.

Arvid Kahl: [00:24:58] You know, as a German … it would be so much easier on our language, right? We have “zuerst” which means to temporal kind of “first” and…

Matthias: [00:25:05] yeah. Right.

Arvid Kahl: [00:25:06] … then, we have “vorrangig” which means like “first” in a sense of priority. So we could already use different words for the same kind of notion, and in English it’s the same word! And that’s the confusing part! It’s just overlapping definitions of a word.

So I’m just stepping away from this kind of battleground because, first off, I’m not a native English speaker, so anything that comes to my mind is colored by my perception of the word.

I learned to speak English like, I dunno, in school – long after I spoke German! So the the the kind of notions that I have with the English language are different from many first native English speakers.

So not going to go there anyway… It’s just going to use that term…

Matthias: [00:25:44] it’s not necessary.

Arvid Kahl: [00:25:45] I think it’s important (and that’s what I’ve been both writing and doing a podcast about this week) to understand that we are in an industry that doesn’t have well-defined terms, just yet.

I kind of make the comparison to opera in my newsletter and the podcast. If you talk to opera singers, and you mention like an Italian term that is specific to something in the music space that they use for opera because it has been used for four or five centuries… It’s crystal clear what it means. There’s no question about it…

Matthias: [00:26:17] yeah, no misunderstanding at all…

Arvid Kahl: [00:26:19] Because everybody gets taught the same definition. The people who do this professionally for decades, they use it the exact same way! There is no doubt about what it could mean.

Our entrepreneurial language is poorly defined

But if you look into the digital entrepreneurial space

  • We don’t know what a market is.
  • We don’t know what demand is.
  • We don’t know what an audience is.
  • We don’t know what a user or a customer is. (meanwhile, Matthias is laughing about the sheer number of unknowns)
  • We don’t even know what a service is!

It’s like these terms … every single founder you will meet will have a unique definition of all these terms. Unless they went to like a grad school and got an MBA.

And still, the MBA definition that they learned at school is going to be completely thrown out the window at the moment they start their own business because, all of a sudden, it doesn’t make sense anymore.

And I feel … as enjoyable as it is to fight with people on the internet, and to have this little conversations about like … the epistemology … oh no … Yeah, even that, right?

It’s like the philosophical meaning of words and ethymology of where these words come from. It’s not… It doesn’t… it shouldn’t happen! Like, we have better things to do in our businesses…

Matthias:* [00:27:21] …to spend our time…

Arvid Kahl: [00:27:21] …and to spend our time like fighting over the definitions. But we are like in a flux state when it comes to definitions, right?

It’s very fluctuating what people said about like audience first. I looked into this because I was enraged. That was super enraging about “why do I have to change the name of my book”?

And it was like … after I already made the choice, right? Like “Arrrr, I spent so much time thinking about this and now I kind of have to change it” … but it’s fine, that’s what iterating is, right. You change.

“Audience first” is a 2017 thing

But I looked into this, I looked at Google trends. I’m trying to find out when people actually started using audience first a lot. And I tried to search for audience first in the meaning that it has now is “building an audience and then selling them something”.

The first articles about this were coming up in 2017 and…

Matthias: [00:28:11] Oh it’s fairly recent!

Arvid Kahl: [00:28:13] …the first real interest in the term was in 2015 when it started like actually taking off like we’ve been talking about this for five years! That is nothing right? And we have such strongly held positions already on what it means!

And then. I compare this to “belcanto” in in in the opera language which has been around for like 300, 400 years. And people are completely clear what that means! And we talk about market, demand, blablabla … like, the term “bootstrapping” is now supposedly not to be used anymore because it’s self-funded and …

Oh man, it’s just we are very very … it’s a young industry!

Matthias: [00:28:50] Yeah, we are a really young industry.

Arvid Kahl: [00:28:53] the terms are as well.

So I feel, we should fight less and try to be more precise together, but maybe the the fight is the way to making change … I don’t know! I’m just … I stepped out of it, and I tried to make the book better for the people that should be reading it.

And I think, actually that is has been quite a successful couple of days for me, a lot of growth internally dealing with this, like dealing with the fact that I was running on the wrong name for a year? Kind of it hurts the ego, right?

And I’m trying to suppress any kind of…

Matthias: [00:29:22] Absolutely, absolutely! It must be a change for the ego!

Arvid Kahl: [00:29:26] It is, but it’s also a good one! It’s like being able to learn from your community, and seeing the positivity that comes out of being hurt. Like the people that suggest that this … that’s just changing it, that gave me alternatives. And that helped me find a new name.

When I actually went there and took a new name, the positivity that came back, the encouragement, the motivation that I got from just seeing people saying “Oh thank you for listening”.

(Matthias: “That’s amazing!“)

When it finally “clicks”…

I actually had – sorry for going on all these tangents but it’s just coming to me – I had a conversation on Twitter in a DM.

Somebody sent me a message, and he was saying “I’ve been listening to what you were saying for a year now. And the conversation that you had today finally made it click what you meant”

Like this public conversation about what it means to be an “audience first” founder, he finally understood what I meant with this, because of the conversations that we were having, he was super grateful because all of a sudden, the concepts that he’s built around this in his mind, they all started to click, and he now understood!

Matthias: [00:30:29] Aha, I know that moment! Right! I recognize that moment.

Arvid Kahl: [00:30:33] And that conversation just lifted my spirits, like “Ha, I might’ve changed my name for the book but I changed somebody’s perspective today!” and that is much more enticing and encouraging than anything else ever could be. So it’s a win-win, for everybody involved.

Matthias: [00:30:50] Wow!

Extending your audience

This iterating and changing … I had a similar experience this week when I had talked to two more of my users. GetTheAudience is a SaaS product (just briefly to say this to explain it for our listeners) that allows people to understand Twitter audiences as a group. The most frustrating thing I think of Twitter is: you go there, you see lots of tweets, and you see lots of people, but you don’t see anything about the relationships between the two!

So I wrote a tool that allows you to understand and explore audiences and … The lady whom I was talking to, she said “why do you focus so much on entrepreneurs and creators?” like book writers podcasters, etc. And she said “why don’t you go, for example, for community managers because they have the problem every day!“. A founder or entrepreneur has the problem only on one day.

And I thought “Hmm, this might be an idea!” What would I have to change? And I found out

  • I would have to change the landing page.
  • I would have to change the software because it’s talking about entrepreneurial stuff.
  • I would have to change the podcast, even the prerecorded intro and the prerecorded outro of my podcast talk about a certain audience, and so on.

So changing is quite hard for even … two words … the definitions for my audience!

It’s kind of frustrating, but I think if you did it (and in your case, you perfectly did it!) you found a new language! It’s it’s an amazing development. It’s a very positive thing.

Arvid Kahl: [00:32:25] We have to … Yeah, I think, learning to deal with the sunk cost fallacy thing, like, you have already invested so much, but yeah if you want to get better then you just invest more! It’s really like … you just continue working, right?

The idea, I guess, in the end is to build something that will generate income for you or that will generate like opportunities for you.

So that is a future thought. But right now, to get to that point, you still need to make changes to work on whatever you’re working on. So I feel I am also reluctant to change these things like imagine, I would need to rename my podcast or anything, probably I wouldn’t, or I would just start a new one!

I don’t know. Find a way to to keep one going and then do something else… but yeah I feel what you’re saying like the the fact that you have already built a particular audience for the tool, and you now notice that you need to extend it to another audience…

Matthias: [00:33:21] Yeah.

Arvid Kahl: [00:33:22] …that is going to be kind of frustrating but at least you have a tool to find that audience!

So that’s kind of useful (Arvid and Matthias laugh about the meta-joke) and you know

Matthias: [00:33:29] Right. Use my own tool to find that that new audience, yeah!

Next thing would be a social media manager. The lady also said: “Imagine the social media team of Red Bull, they could use it!”

And I thought “Oh wow, that’s an enterprise stuff. That’s a B2B stuff, suddenly! This would be totally different! How would I do that?”

Working for an audience requires specificity

Arvid Kahl: [00:33:51] Yeah. The interesting part here, when you think about this, is specificity, because you built this tool for entrepreneurs, right? You built this particularly with the problems of an entrepreneur in mind, which logically means that if you do it for somebody else, you would need to change the tool because it’s such a specific tool for this particular industry.

So, the moment you you start building this tool so that multiple people can use it, it loses this particular specificity. It loses the kind of connection to your audience because you need to make it possible for everybody to use it for whatever purpose they might have.

Because, if you actually ended up selling to the Red Bull social media team, well I wouldn’t rule it out that they immediately come and ask you for integration into Facebook, integration into LinkedIn, integration into … you know … like building something that they can use for every single one of their problems!

And now your specific, Twitter-focused, entrepreneurial audience discovery tool … it turns into this generic, completely social media, all-over-the-place audience insight tool of which there are quite a few already…

Matthias: [00:34:58] Yeah.

Arvid Kahl: [00:35:00] Is that even something you want, it’s always an important question when you are looking at the pivot, like I relating this back to it to my experience.

I guess I changed the name of my book because I wanted to make sure that my existing audience does not get confused!

Matthias: [00:35:14] Yeah that’s a different point. Yeah. It’s a different point.

Arvid Kahl: [00:35:17] You are broadening up your SaaS because you think you could serve other people, you also dilute the intentionality and the connection that you have to your audience.

It’s a balance you need to strike. I don’t need to be considerate of at all times.

Matthias: [00:35:30] I am currently reluctant to do that because I thought “Hey I have this wonderful people who follow me on Twitter, actually, and I have a conversation with …, and suddenly I would be forced to talk to totally different people with totally different problems. So I’m a little hesitant to do this.

Arvid Kahl: [00:35:48] I mean it’s interesting to figure it out. I mean, you can always dip your toes into that audience into this community and learn about how they would use it, how they are using existing solutions, and what they have problems with. Because like the thing is the more information you have about this, the easier the choice is going to be, right?

It’s easier to actually look into the community first before you commit to actually building the tool out, for that particular community. So … then again, you’re only one person, and you already have the podcast, you already have the tool, and you’re building and public, quite intensely! So why will you take that time, right?

That’s another hour a day spent like scouring Twitter and online forums for information. That is also part of the equation, like having the time to focus on whatever issue currently serving. Yep, That’s gonna be fun! (laughs)

Matthias: [00:36:40] Yeah … (with an unsure voice) … absolutely!

(Matthias escapes from those thoughts and asks)

An alpha audience for the “Embedded entrepreneur” book

Let’s get back to your book, finally, what’s the current status of it? How far have you come, and what do you want to do next?

Arvid Kahl: [00:36:49] So I wrote the book within a month, after having collected all kinds of headlines for chapters, in my outline. The outline was the Notion document which is really a nested structure of…

  • this is the first part: audience discovery
  • second part: audience exploration, learning from the inside
  • problem discovery within the community
  • audience building: creating this kind of brand and following.

So that’s like four parts to the book. Initially, when I started the whole project, I really set up a WordPress blog and told people what it’s going to be at, back then it was,

(Remark: This site redirects to, now).

I mean, the site still exists. I had two pages there: the front page and two other pages, one was a page where people could sign up to become an alpha reader to read the first draft. And the other page was where people could just send me a little message about what they want to read in the book.

And I would put it in the book like a little content list about all the things that they wanted to see.

Matthias: [00:37:44] Oh okay, good idea! The questions they have, and so on, right!

Arvid Kahl: [00:37:47] From that list, I created my outline, and then I wrote the book in the whole of January 2021 because what are you going to do if you’re stuck inside with a lockdown anyway? So I wrote the book, and now I’m at the point where I’m doing one final editing pass.

I’m going through the book essentially with Grammarly and the Hemingway app or just trying to figure out like … What are my grammatical errors, what are my typos, and get them out so people can actually read a book.

Then I’m going to send it to my alpha audience. I have an email list of, at this point, 400-something readers that are interested in helping me with it. I’m going to set up a tool that allows people to comment on the book, something like a Google doc, or something comparable to that, where people can just give me their insights. If they have questions they can put the question to a particular chapter or whatever in there and just tell me what the problem is.

I’m going to send that out to the community for a month or so, maybe I’m going to stagger it into two groups of two weeks, I don’t know, going to do that later.

Once I’m done with my first editing pass, I’m going to take what people tell me, work that into the book, get that to an actual editor, like a professional editor, to go through that stage and edit the book again.

Then I’m going to have a beta reader phase where there’s going to be a couple of weeks where people can just read the book for review purposes, or if they are interested in giving me their final feedback, and then I’m going to release it, publish it, self publish it. That’s that’s the plan, at this point.

So the first draft is kind of the rough thing that I wanted to communicate. It it’s already a book it’s like 53,000 words. It’s like 250-page book, kind of a regular two centimeters / one inch kind of book.

But now I’m going going through kind of quality control, I’m doing editing with the people that are actually gonna read it, which is the whole point of this alpha reader stage, right?

I have this 400 people. It would be my customers and will be my customers for the book. And they’re going to be able to read the book, tell me what they think, problems, ideas, something that I got wrong, or something that I could add. And then I’m going to “shout them out” in the book: They kind of get a little chapter!

Well, the names are going to be in there, you know, like involving people in the book (Matthias: that’s nice!)

Because the whole point is that it’s a book about embedding yourself into your community, so, I need to be part and involve my community in the book itself, right? It’s an audience first book about audience first. That was the initial idea!

So involving the audience from the start, which it did.

Yeah. So I’m going to see where this leads to. I’m just going to try and finish the editing as quickly as possible so I can get out there and see what people think.

Matthias: [00:40:18] Ah cool! I’m very happy that I signed up for this alpha list, too! So I’m one of those 400-something. So I’m quite happy about that.

The good-bye

Arvid, this was a blast of a talk! I really enjoyed it! I think we’ll close for today, our conversation will surely continue on Twitter because I like it so much!

And thanks for being here, it was really fantastic!

Arvid Kahl: [00:40:45] Yeah, thanks so much for what you’re doing for the “audience-driven movement”, let me call it that instead of saying “audience first”, for focusing on allowing people to, like, build an audience, understand, “get” an audience, and really get insights that they otherwise would not have and build a worse business around.

So, I’m really happy to see what you’re doing and thanks for getting me on the show, like the other episodes that I listened to were already great. So thanks for the opportunity!


Thanks for listening to The Audience Explorer podcast, today.

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