How Brandon became one of Twitter's rising stars by learning in public

"I'm a student, podcaster and writer. I believe that learning is lifelong and everyone benefits from achieving the right mindset."

ORIGIN STORY:

What was the origin story behind your podcast "Student Mindset"?

It's pretty distant from it's current form but I actually started "The Student Mindset Podcast," as a medium for other students to learn how to achieve school-life balance and pursue passions outside of school. For the first five or so episodes I solely brought on other students and I realized that they were all saying similar things packaged in different ways. I put my foot down and decided I needed to change, so now the show has morphed into a series where I talk to creators I look up to about their productive and creative processes.

How would you describe Student Mindset to folks who may have never heard about it?

As a student right now, I have recognized that the ways we are taught to learn is broken. Our interests are skewed by the the pressure to find jobs, our perspective is slanted due to our failure to create instead of consume. The Student Mindset aims to address that, covering:

  • Mindful Productivity: Being productive does not work when you burn out. Mindful productivity is a sustainable approach to look at how we work, think, and learn, including techniques such as meta-learning, mental context switching and more.
  • Intentional Learning: the process of viewing learning as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement rather than a piece to add to a resume. It prioritizes being a maker over being a consumer and encourages creating opportunities yourself through your body of work.

What was the origin story behind your weekly newsletter? What are some things you cover in it each week?

I started my weekly newsletter because I loved getting a curated list of resources every week from writers I look up to (David Perell, Nat Eliason). What was special about these lists is that they had no general theme but always provided interesting insights. My newsletter starts with a personal lesson that I find each work before I dive into the readings that can help people build up their mindset.

THOUGHTS ON BUILDING AN AUDIENCE:

Did you have an existing audience before your newsletter/podcast?

No. I started my newsletter around 2 weeks before my podcast and at the start I did little cross-promotion between the two platforms.

Your tweets are a great example of how to add value and build an audience. What specific tactics/strategies have helped you in growing your Twitter following?

The majority of my newsletter audience comes from Twitter. I use Twitter as an:

  • Idea Refinery: Writing tweets is like writing in pencil while writing essays is like writing in pen (This actually came from a tweet itself!). I use Twitter to gain feedback and evaluate interest in my ideas. This has been the biggest key in building an audience, by sharing your raw ideas and thoughts on Twitter, people become interested in your growth and process.
  • A super-charged LinkedIn: I use Twitter to learn from founders, angel investors, and authors, to engage with creators on my podcast and to build a community focused on writing accountability.
  • A Serendipity Engine: On Twitter, I curate my following by quality of ideas rather than by field of expertise. The breadth in the theories and models will lead to unexpected and serendipitous inspiration.

How do you maintain a tight feedback loop with your audience?

I try to encourage two-way communication whenever possible. On my newsletter, I try and incorporate numerous questions to generate discussion. I get a lot of responses on my questions centered around the Quote of the Week. For example, last week I chose the contentious quote “Don’t follow your passion, follow your talent," by Professor Scott Galloway, using questions like "Does following what your good at equate to long-term success and lack of burn out?" to stimulate discussion. On Twitter, I try to have at least one tweet a day where I crowdsource a question to my audience, asking them for the best resource or viewpoint on a certain topic.

THOUGHTS ON BUILDING IN PUBLIC:

When and where did you first discover the superpower of building in public?

I had just built my first ever "Start Here" page and proudly shared it with my 80 or so Twitter followers at the time. When I woke up the next day, one of my DM's actually contained a Loom where a web design specialist gave me a friendly and informed critique. I was not only astounded by how easily he picked apart my page, but that he took the time out of his day to help.

What makes it effective/special in your view?

The Idea Refinery. Like I mentioned above, publishing in public exposes you to so many different perspectives that you would never have had access to. There are times where you will need to learn how to sort through the feedback, but your product is only built through iteration, and building in public allows iteration at exponential pace.

What was the 1st project/initiative you have built in public?

The Student Mindset Podcast.

What were some surprising lessons for you from that experience?

That people began to reach out offering their different products and services. I felt this was interesting as it exposed me to a lot of early stage apps and products in the space (Airr Audio, Shuffle App, Otter)

Who are some of your favorite builders in public?

My favorite builder is Jack Butcher, and I may be a bit biased here as I just recently decided to work for him, but my answer would have been the same before then. His ability to take complex and thought-provoking quotes and turn them into minimal images astound me every day.

THOUGHTS ON DOWNSIDE:

If you were to argue for the downside of building in public, what would it be?

Some of your ideas may cause others to lash out and criticize you. If you want to build in public, you have to be able to withstand some level of public critique. Allow you can mostly brush it off, it is jolting at the start when what you thought was a great idea becomes weaponized.

How do you stay on top of all the notifications/DMs/emails when you have a public persona?

I view replying to them as a benefit to me. It creates an actual connection between you and your audience and allows them to become a "true fan." Also, I'm 19, a lot of people that are reaching out know more about specific fields than me or present really interesting opportunities and resources.

THOUGHTS ON FUTURE:

What goals do you have for the future?

Easy, helping more people achieve mindful productivity.

THOUGHTS ON DECISIONS:

What's the most important decision you've taken in the last 18 months?

I only started creating four months ago, when I decided that I wanted to start publishing my weekly newsletter. Joining the Write of Passage community accelerated my growth. It is not "just a writing course," it is a masterclass in audience building and networking, it shakes up your views on information capture and how to form ideas, it leads to lifelong connections.

CLOSING THOUGHTS:

Do you have an ask for the Build In Public community?

Season 2 of the podcast is around the corner. Subscribe to be ready for when it drops. Featuring guests like Ali Abdaal, David Perell and Steve Schlafman.

How can people reach you on the Internet?

Follow me on Twitter:

My online HQ: https://www.brandonzhang.com/

My newsletter: https://www.brandonzhang.com/newsletter

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