Feb. 22, 2023

How to Grow Your Audience Through Authenticity: Kevon Cheung of Public Lab

How to Grow Your Audience Through Authenticity: Kevon Cheung of Public Lab

E19: Kevon Cheung is the author of Find Joy in Chaos: How to Build Your Twitter Presence So Connections and Opportunities Come Find You. He's widely recognized as a thought leader in finding your voice and making meaningful connections online. Kevon has a unique framework called the PIERS framework, which he uses as a personal identity guideline for developing his online persona. He'll break down this framework which will explain why he uses a broccoli emoji as part of his online identity.

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TOPICS:
Why Build An Audience? (1:40)

How to Survive the Early Days of Building an Audience (4:13)

Why Your Circle of Friends Evolves Over Time (6:15)

How to Develop an Authentic Voice (8:34)

Framework For Developing an Online Identity (11:04)

Secrets to Building Meaningful Relationships Online (18:39)

Benefits of Building in Public (21:26)

Ask Me Anything (25:48)


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LINKS:

Kevon's Book: Find Joy in Chaos
Follow Kevon on Twitter
Build in Public Mastery

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DESCRIPTION:
What do all world-class performers have in common? They solve the problem of growth. Join host Yong-Soo Chung each week as we simplify growth frameworks covering personal development, wealth-building, and business. Listen & follow!

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ABOUT YONG-SOO:
Yong-Soo bootstrapped his business to near 8-figures over the past 7+ years. Now, he's on a mission to help entrepreneurs grow their business one week at a time. Join us!

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Transcript

Yong-Soo Chung:

What's going on everybody? Welcome to the First Class Founders podcast. My name is Yong-Soo Chung, and I'm the founder of Urban EDC, an e-Commerce brand serving the everyday carry community and GrowthJet, a Climate-Neutral Certified third-party logistics company. For the past seven years, I built three companies in e-commerce, and now my goal is to help you unlock the hidden growth levers in your business. Today we have a special guest, Kevon Cheung. Kevon is widely recognized as a thought leader in finding your voice and making meaningful connections online. He'll tell us how he approaches his online identity and how he's able to build these strong relationships with larger public figures online. Kevon also has a unique framework called the PIERS Framework, which he uses as a personal identity guideline for developing his online persona. He'll break down this framework, which will explain why he uses a broccoli emoji as part of his online identity. Let's dive right in.

Kevon Cheung is the author of Find Joy in Chaos, How to Build Your Twitter Presence So Connections and Opportunities Come Find You. Kevon has a pretty interesting background where he works directly with the founder of a SaaS startup that eventually failed. Today, Kevon has a large engaged audience of over 17,000 followers on Twitter that he's built through his authentic voice. He's also a big advocate for building in public and has built a successful online cohort-based membership business called Build in Public Mastery. Let's begin our conversation with Kevon by asking him what made him want to build an audience in the first place.

Kevon Cheung:

It was at the end of 2020, so I was running a SaaS company at that time with investors, and I actually was the left hand person of a founder before that. So I had a bit of experience here and there about starting things and running things. But when I decided to walk away from that opportunity, there was a big realization in me. Which is, whoa, Kevon, like, what are you going to do next? And all I have is a LinkedIn profile and a really up outdated resume PDF. And then I was thinking to myself, Kevon, how come you have been working so hard in your career building things, but there's nothing to show for at that time? So that was the big moment for me and say, hey, maybe I should start building something or maybe just having a voice under my own name, so whenever projects don't work out, I still have my personal voice to go back to. So that was a big moment for me, and that was 24 months ago when I started writing my first article online.

Yong-Soo Chung:

So building an engaged audience online can be a powerful tool for spreading your message. I asked Kevon how to choose between building a personal brand or a business brand.

Kevon Cheung:

Yeah. So a lot of people ask me, hey, Kevon, should I build a business brand or a personal brand? And I keep telling them, hey, your name is life long. If you put in just a little bit every day, that investment is going to be maybe a thousand X more important than any other investment. So because I felt really lost not having a name for myself, so I thought, okay, this could change everything. And later on I realized we change projects here and there like, Yong-Soo, you have so many business ventures, and then we grow and then our values change, our circumstances change. So I think a personal brand is the only thing that can stick with you. And you know what? People love you. They will love you when you do your next thing as well.

Yong-Soo Chung:

I love this insight about your audience following you everywhere you go. So if you have an engaged audience, they'll be rooting for you on whatever journey you choose to go on next. So we've established many benefits to building a personal brand, but what if you're just starting out? How do you jump into building an audience from scratch?

Kevon Cheung:

I think one thing really helped is that I had a runway from my previous job, so I save up a little bit so that I know, okay, Kevon, you have 12 months to figure this out. I think this is super important because I do see a lot of people on Twitter or other online communities when they want to build a presence online, but then they have a very short runway. They need to make money in two or three months, then it automatically shifts your mindset or approach to something that drives quick money. And really early days, I already knew that the internet, because we don't get to meet people, it is all about credibility and trust between different people. And to do that, you just need to give a lot first before you ask for anything. So I think what really helped is a six to 12 months runway.

I have more than that, but I was able to give myself 12 months to try this. And I don't know if you know this, but I made $0 in the first six months. And that was shocking to a lot of people. But it was actually intentional on my side because for me, it's not about making some money from selling courses or some digital products. I knew I can easily make a thousand from a product, but to me that thousand doesn't mean anything. It's more important that I was able to grow a community around me so that I can do more for them later on. But yeah, overall it was a bit lost, a bit frustrating, but because I was building in public, I was able to see many tractions here and there, and that really kept me going.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Celebrating small wins and finding your circle of supportive friends is how Kevon got through the early days when he had no audience. I was curious to find out if Kevon's early circle on Twitter still exists today or if it has evolved over time?

Kevon Cheung:

Oh yeah. This is such a good question because as you ask me this question, I'm thinking about my circle for the last two years, and it has definitely evolved. In the early days I have this rule, which is the Magic 600. I keep telling people, if you're new on Twitter, don't talk to big accounts. They're not going to reply to you, but talk to people under 600 followers, I mean, because they are there. They also want to grow. They're there to make friends. They're usually very active on the platform. So my first goal was just make friends until I get to 600. And I still remember I would be friend with people that I just enjoy hanging out with, enjoy seeing updates from. And honestly, I think most of them are not around anymore, and that's because probably they're not my target audience now. They don't resonate with what I say these days.

But I think one of the key lesson is that we need to be okay with this. You cannot say, oh my God, I'm so frustrated because things are changing all the time. Well, in business, things change. And I can say that a lot of my early friends, they are already not on Twitter. I don't know what happened. Some go back to having a job. We still exchange email here and there, but they're just not active anymore because this is not a top priority for them. And I also change my circle regularly because you know, always want to be around with people two step ahead and two step behind you. So, yes, people change. People come and go, but at the end of the day, there's so many new exciting people coming into my circle that I enjoy hanging out with, I enjoy helping. So that kind of feeling goes away a little bit.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Kevon has one of the most authentic voices online that I've come across. In fact, when Kevon and I were on a video call, the first thing that Sandy, my wife, mentioned to me after the call was how authentic Kevon was. So I asked Kevon if this was a skill that he learned over time or if it just came naturally to him. His answer was not what I expected.

Kevon Cheung:

To be honest, I'm not sure how this worked out too. If you asked me for the top reason, I think it's because I'm not very competitive all my life. In school, in college I never want to be number one. So that maybe makes me not a business guru that a lot of people see online. The other thing is the vulnerability that I talk a lot about. I also don't know how you can be trained to be vulnerable in a month or so that some courses promise you to. I think it comes from your upbringing. So I still remember I was 13 years old.

I was playing football and then someone on the sideline was yelling, hey, if you're so slow, maybe you shouldn't play football. And you know what? I never touched football ever again since 13 years old because I let that voice criticizing me and making decision for my future. So growing up, I still remember that moment. It is haunting to me, but I find that the sooner I accept who I am, the sooner I'm able to present my best self, and people can see that. So maybe this is why I'm so open to sharing my mistakes. I'm not afraid. I think Yong-Soo you read my 2022 year in review.

Yong-Soo Chung:

I did.

Kevon Cheung:

I'm actually scared to share that because in retrospectives, some people might say, wow, that's nothing. That's a small number. And maybe my future student or my coaching clients would see that, oh, this guy is not making a lot of money. Why should I trust him? That kind of fear comes into me. I just feel like maybe out of 10 people, three would feel that way, but I should care more about the seven people who actually love to see the real stuff. So I really don't know how this come about, but in my book, find Joy in Chaos, I do have a framework called a PIERS framework. I think I created the framework after the fact that I was looking at myself and how I was able to shape my behavior and attitude online. And I think this framework can help people out.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Let's dig into Kevon's framework called PIERS spelled P-I-E-R-S. This framework is his own personal identity guideline for developing a unique voice online. It's how Kevon is able to build such a loyal, engaged following and build his online business. Here's Kevon to explain the PIERS framework.

Kevon Cheung:

So it stands for principles, interests, exceptions, reluctance, and strengths. Principles, P, I was thinking about myself. The reason why I got into building in public is because when I first learned about it at the end of 2020, I was like, oh my God, this concept is so Kevon. It is about honesty, integrity. It's about helpfulness. And that is really what I do in real life. I cannot think about another topic that I would want to talk for maybe a decade or even a few decades. So I see this as my principle in life and I try my best to live up to that. So an example would be if a student asks for something, right? I wouldn't naturally go to, hey, you need to sign up for a call with me, but I just help them out first or my retrospective, I share all my numbers.

So I said before, I don't care about the three people who might look down on me because they see my numbers, but I care more about the seven people who just love this honesty and integrity in business. And then let's go to I. I is interests. So I think not enough people show their interests online. They think that they need to become this expert or guru trying to share all these values on Twitter or other platform. But to me it is important that people know who you are as a person. So for me, you can see from my background right now I have my hot air balloon, some elephants, some rabbits. It's because this is my second daughter's room and I'm not afraid to show it because I'm such a family oriented person. So family's first for me. So I'm not afraid to hide that from the online self.

I talk about my family here and there, not a lot, because that would scare people away, but maybe 10% of the time I would feature them in my newsletter, on my tweets because that's my interest. I really love doing this so I just want to show more. And now let's get to exceptions, which is the E in PIERS. Exception is really what you stand out. I think someone recently told me a book called The Purple Cow by Seth Godin, and it stuck with me because I love finding ways to stand out. So the way I think about standing out is that you just need to pick one to two things about you and go the extreme to double down on that. So if you look at my brand, probably the first thing you spot is the transparency. So the way I think about this is I talk about building in public.

So transparency is key, but I also care about it. So why not double down and share almost everything? Right? This is why I share all the numbers, all the mistakes and lessons learned. I could probably just share a little bit, like just the revenue number, but then I'm just no different than any other person on the internet. But now I'm taking that extra step to share my expenses and even my profit margin. Now I'm the person who go the extreme in transparency. So that's how I think about standing out. But on the other way, Yong-Soo, you look at my broccoli and you were like, what? What is this broccoli? It is another way of standing out. I love eating broccoli. I think broccoli has a special meaning. It's not fancy. It's practical. And I want to create a conversations. And guess what? I just did my rebranding of public lab.

And at first I was a little scared of using broccoli as the logo because I was like, why would someone do that? But then I put it out on Twitter, and guess what? Everyone hated my first logo idea because I was trying to put in the concept of community in the logo. And so many people in the replies were saying, Kevon, you should use broccoli. That's so you. That's different. And then I came back, I was like, maybe I should use broccoli. I don't know if this gives people a feeling that they want to take my courses or do my coaching programs, but at least it's me. I've been using it for two years already, so I just doubled down and use broccoli as the logo. So exception is about going the extreme to stand out. And then let's go to reluctance, R in PIERS framework.

The best example is probably posting memes on Twitter because you can grow so fast if you post memes. But there's one day I was asking myself like, oh, should I post memes as well? And I was like, no, no, no, no, no. I'm not that funny in that way. And I would probably hate myself if I become one of the memes guy. So reluctance is about figuring out what you don't want to do, so you don't fall into the trap of just doing it for the sake of copying someone. And then lastly is strengths. Basically know what you're good at and focus on them.

I'm the person who I don't think we should focus so much on our weaknesses because we all have so many. So I think about my strengths. I think about how I'm pretty vulnerable. I would say I'm probably top 1% vulnerable and I'm pretty good at one on one, just like how we met up two weeks ago and we had a good chat and now we become friends. I knew that, so I double down on them. So this is what you can do with your strengths. All I know, this is the PIERS framework, and as I mentioned, it's a way for me to guide my actions and how I behave online. It's kind of like how brands have brand guidelines. This is kind of my personal identity guideline.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Let's quickly review Kevon's PIERS framework P for principles, I for interests, E for exceptions, R for reluctance, and S for strengths. This is such a powerful framework not only for developing your voice, but standing out from the sea of other voices online. It's how people will remember you. Think about how you can incorporate each part of the PIERS framework to develop your unique personal identity guideline for when you're writing online. So I wanted to dig further into building meaningful relationships. Meeting someone online is very different from meeting someone at a party. I was curious to hear Kevon's thoughts on how he has been able to build so many great relationship with other large public figures. What's the secret to building meaningful relationships online? Let's hear from Kevon.

Kevon Cheung:

I still remember when I first started out, my whole mindset is that people grow audiences and try to sell them things, but I don't believe in that. I think an audience composes of different people. So there's a part that is just there to support you and, no, actually you support each other, and then there's a part that will buy from you. So we need to be clear about this. Otherwise, you are just trying to reach out to people and try to turn them into your customer. That's not the right way to do it. So in the early days, I was just looking for like-minded people. When I sense that, oh, I can't talk to this person. I will enjoy the conversation and likely we can help each other grow, then I just reach out and say, can we hop on a call? But I never just cold outreach to someone to set up a call.

The process has always been a tweet to each other first publicly so we kind of know each other existence, and then we do some direct messages, and then we chat more privately, and then we hop on a call. So this is more a natural way to make friends instead of reaching out to someone random and say, hey, can we hop on a call? Most people would say no, I think. The ones who are saying yes are probably not worth meeting. And so that was the early days. A community and audience are just friends when you're under a thousand, but these days are probably different. Two years into my journey when I choose to meet people, for example, how I met you, right, I don't know. I just sense that we can be friends. I know your experience in business. I feel that I can learn something from you, and I can probably show you a few things about my journey as well.

So that was like, oh, okay, let's just hop on a call. I don't know what would happen, but it's probably worth it. So I was looking for buddies that we can learn from each other, and of course business talking, right, if I sense that that person might have a chance to learn about building in public, of course I'm more willing to get connected and be closer. That's just everybody. Right? We all want to do that. I think the key is that I'm not trying to turn people into my students or my clients. I'm just there to share and learn from each other. So I meet people I feel like, and I let that relationship maybe carry over for half a year, a year, and I just trust that something magical would happen later on.

Yong-Soo Chung:

One great way to build your circle of PIERS is to put your stuff out there and build a project in public. This concept of build in public is something that Kevon is not only familiar with, but he's built an entire course on it. I'll link to its course in the show notes in case you're interested. Let's hear from Kevon on how to properly build in public.

Kevon Cheung:

So building in public really is attractive to me because now I'm able to get so many early signals from the community. They are telling me what they need, and then I can just work with them to shape the product. And guess what? Because they're part of the development process, they're there to buy and they're there to spread the word when the product is ready. So that's why I was into it. But if you ask me to describe building in public, right, I would say, I don't know if you heard of this term called omakase.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Omakase is a term commonly used when dining at Japanese restaurants where the customer leaves it up to the chef to select and serve their choice of dishes. So how does building in public relate to omakase.

Kevon Cheung:

So building in public, usually people look at it as, oh, it's an open garage, open kitchen. So you are showing people what's goes behind a scene so that it's more transparent. That's step number one. But what most people don't get is actually step two, which is more like omakase. So if you love Japanese food, you would know that omakase means you go in with a set price and the chef just prepare food to feed you. You don't have a choice. Well, they ask you for your preference, but you don't really have a choice until you are full. So at those Japanese restaurants, right, it's not just open kitchen. Yes, they prepare the ingredients, they do everything in front of you, but what people are missing is that the chef interacts with you. You are involved in the process. The chef will explain the fish. The chef will explain the philosophy.

The chef will invite the customer to come prepare the sushi together, all kinds of stuff. So this is the step two of building in public where when you're building your product, a lot of people just share your updates. No. You share updates, but you also throw out questions critical to your business journey, and you ask them for feedback or comments, and you take them and you use it to shape your business. Just like how the omakase chef does it. It's about involving the audience. This is why it's so great. You're looping in the community. You're doing this together. They're invested in your journey, and guess what? They become your super fans.

Yong-Soo Chung:

Before we summarize today's episode, the full length conversation with Kevon was close to an hour long, which was cut down to fit into this episode. If you want to hear the full uncut extended episode with Kevon, I'm releasing it as a bonus episode to our First Class Founders members only. You can join by going to FirstClassFounders.com/Join. Let's summarize today's episode with a few action items that you can take home with you today. To get started building an audience online, celebrate small wins and find your circle of PIERS for support and accountability. Then use the PIERS framework as a personal identity guideline for how you develop your online voice P for principles, I for interests, E for exceptions, R for reluctance and S for strengths.

Connect with larger public figures by adding value to their posts and developing relationships and public. Then take it to DMs, and after a few exchanges, see if there might be an opportunity to hop on a video chat if there's mutual interest. Remember, relationships are not transactional, so invest your time into building them. If you want to jump into building an audience right away, consider building a project in public. You'll have a group of people cheering you on as you make mistakes and learn from them. It's time for this week's Ask Me Anything. Sounds like you've had some success and you could be working on a lot of other types of businesses, so why the creator economy? Why build an audience in general?

So there are a few reasons why I started sharing my ideas out public. First one is meet awesome people. Sometimes it feels like I'm alone in this journey, and by putting my ideas out there in public, I can connect with other like-minded entrepreneurs who are in the same boat as I am. So I'm putting myself out there to attract and connect with other creative entrepreneurs. The second reason is helping others. I've helped others for years, but in private, I wanted to have a platform where I could do this in public. I love helping others grow their business, and I figure I could help more by publishing content based on my experiences. All right. The third reason is increasing luck surface area. I've spoken to a lot of folks who are creators, and they told me that so many doors have opened up for them having an audience, and it's not what they expected. So I don't know what will come out of this journey that I'm on, but I'm open to new opportunities that might come my way in the future. All right. That wraps up today's show.

If you want to ask me a question like this, join our community by going to FirstClassFounders.com/Join. Each week, I'll pick one question and answer it on the show. In the next episode of First Class Founders, we are airing a conversation that I had recently with entrepreneur, Jim James, host of the UnNoticed Entrepreneur Podcast. We had a great chat where I reveal a mini framework for folks who are just getting started on how to grow their business. Tune in next week to listen to my entire conversation with Jim James. All right, one last thing before you go.

If you're a new listener and you enjoy this episode, you can follow the show by going to FirstClassFounders.com and clicking your preferred podcast player like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you're a repeat listener, I would really appreciate a five star review. You can head over to FirstClassFounders.com/Review to leave us a five star review. Thank you so much. If you want to connect with me, I would love to hear from you. You can follow me on Twitter at Yong-Soo Chung, and let me know if you enjoyed this episode with Kevon Cheung. I take feedback very seriously, and I would love to hear your thoughts on how to improve the show. You can find links to all my social accounts in the show notes. All right. I'll see you in the next episode of First Class Founders.