Without a doubt, one of the most difficult parts of being an entrepreneur is asking for and receiving constructive feedback of one’s idea’s product-market fit. Validating your product or service can be a trying experience, either because you’re told the idea is no good or because you’re given a landslide of new problems to consider. While many entrepreneurs approach user discovery actually intending to understand what the target market thinks, a large number simply want to hear confirmation that their idea works, not criticism that there are improvements to make. As Jack Nicholson famously said in A Few Good Men, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
The reality is that in order to ensure that you are on the right track, you must absorb and process all feedback, good and bad. Many founders have shipwrecked their companies simply because of their resistance to hearing bad news, despite warning signs during initial meetings with friends, family, colleagues, and business associates. Your inner circle’s input can reshape how you define, deliver, and communicate your product in sales meetings and pitches, as well as narrow down which features and functions should be prioritized. Keeping an open mind is necessary for entrepreneurs to build products and services that address an actual market.
That being said, every meeting - regardless of with whom - should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s no one perfect solution to any problem, nor a consensus on what a problem even is. As a founder, it’s your responsibility to determine when to act and when to say “no” - but in order to do so, you have to have as much information as possible. If not, what problem are you even trying to solve with your company?
In my own past, I recall a particularly disastrous meeting - intended to validate the product, woo a partner, and land an advisor - that went completely off-course and accomplished none of those objectives. Despite the support from my Head of Product and my business partner, I found myself in over my head, submerged in a radically different conversation than the one I had been preparing for. While the feedback we received was valid and very valuable, I hadn’t anticipated being told that not only were we not unicorn-status, but that we would face some serious issues with one of our core segments. While our basic idea was validated, it forced me to reconsider how we positioned our product and why. This departure from the expected outcome was certainly jarring, and could have been avoided had I simply taken more feedback earlier.
The following advice are seven tips that I learned through this and similar experiences:
- Do not overthink a meeting in the hours leading up to it. You’ll become stuck in a particular narrative, which can be the kiss of death as few meetings ever go exactly the way you’ve envisioned. New products are especially unpredictable, so keep an open mind and low expectations.
- Do not seek others’ opinions only to validate your own. Make sure you are looking for an unbiased rendering of your product, complete with real flaws. Not everyone will view your project as positively as you do, and your “yes men” can do more harm than good when the project goes live.
- When asking for feedback, give time to fully develop the good, bad, and ugly - this is the only true way to validate your solution and help you position it in the market.
- Seek out people who have a nuanced understanding of the market you’re seeking to enter. These advisors should be already be involved in the target market and can give you a real look into how your idea would work in their world.
- Be sure that you’re ready to hear criticism. While this might seem obvious, many entrepreneurs do not prepare themselves emotionally in the same way that they prepare professionally. Mental strength is a critical component of surviving the entrepreneurship cycle, and is an important aspect of any success story.
- Take notes and dedicate time to rehashing everything that was said. This is a must for any entrepreneur truly interested in developing a keen sense of how the public perceives their product or service.
- Understand that at the end of this journey, you will need to do some soul searching and almost certainly make some alterations to your game plan. Leave room in your business model for change, either as a result of your customer discovery interviews or normal fluctuations in the market. This will help you prevent needing to completely retool your idea when you’re much further along.
With these seven simple reminders, you can turn a good idea into a great product or service and find the kind of support that you need to truly catalyze your success. If this post was helpful, please consider sharing it with your network - you never know who needs to hear it.