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Building in Public: This Ames startup is sharing its process with everyone

Nebullam, an indoor farming company based in Ames, announced earlier this month that it will be ‘Building in Public’ going forward.

Building in Public (BIP) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. When a startup builds a product or service in public, they allow people to see their building process including their product, service, team building, management, and metrics.

Co-founder and CEO of Nebullam, Clay Mooney says the idea for building in public first started when he was judging a local pitch competition last year.

“A brilliant, college-aged founder stepped up and delivered their pitch. After their pitch and during questions from the judges, a fellow judge asked them to better describe their product, as he was having a hard time visualizing it,” said Mooney. “The founder’s response was, ‘For IP reasons, I can’t reveal that information.’ I was shocked… that’s the complete opposite approach of what we need to build a cohesive and open startup community.”

That instance led to Mooney talking with more college-aged founders. “I noticed many of them were applying what they had learned in the classroom or using free services for legal or accounting, which later got them in a bind. They were absorbing information from many people who had never started a company before. I started to share more about our lessons learned, and I became overwhelmed with the amount of questions coming my way.”

Mooney says there are multiple advantages to building in public.

“We believe BIP improves mental health. We’re no longer going to have to keep every negative experience bottled up. It’s no longer going to feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders all the time,” said Mooney. “The second advantage for BIP is the fact that it can accelerate your startup community. Sharing an equal amount of your good and bad experiences can save others time, capital, and heartache.

Another reason for Nebullam’s decision to build in public came earlier this year, when the company decided to pivot from a business-to-business model to a direct-to-consumer model due to the pandemic.

“I’m excited by focusing on consumer products,” said Mooney. “By BIP, we can invite all potential, current, and churned Nebullam subscribers in for open dialogue. That advantage has instantly raised our accountability for our mission, ourselves, and to our customers.” 

Want to put it all out there? 

Here are some links to get you started with building in public:

  • Buffer breaks down the pros and cons of total transparency.
  • Gabby Goldberg has created a how-to-guide for building in public
  • Nebullam’s own Clayton Mooney has created a Twitter list of founders building in public

Previous coverage

Nebullam launches farm-to-door program for central Iowa residents -June 1, 2020

Building in Public: This Ames startup is sharing its process with everyone | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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