Here’s a lesson it took me a while to learn: praise doesn’t improve anyone’s performance, only constructive feedback and criticism that is acted upon does.
Praise is a danger that entrepreneurs have to watch out for. When I did my first startup I couldn’t even spell “entrepreneur” and I’m not sure my friends and family could either. But today entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg are bigger than rock stars.
There are thousands of accelerators, incubators, angel investors, mentors, et al. And that’s great. But just watch out for showing off your great invention to friends and family. Because they are going to love it! And why not? They love you and they think being an entrepreneur is far better than being a doctor, lawyer or even a dentist.
Likewise with acquaintances. Being an extreme introvert with SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder) I really was not cut out to be an entrepreneur and my only successes have come from being 2nd banana to founders who were cut out to be entrepreneurs. But that’s 20-20 hindsight. When I showed off my own startup ideas to acquaintances I almost always got a pat on the back, lots of encouragement, but no constructive criticism.
So when Steve Blank says “get out of the office” about 6 zillion times in his video series on how to do a startup, you need to go beyond that. Get out of your house and the homes of your friends and relatives too. You absolutely MUST talk to strangers! After all, if you just sold your product to your own social network you’d sell about 150 copies – the average American’s social network. By definition a startup has to sell to strangers – hundreds of thousands of them. As the saying goes, “Inside the office all we have are opinions, outside the office are the facts.”
So get out of the office, get out of the house, get out of the dorm, get out of the incubator, get out of the accelerator, and go where your prospective customers are. And if you are a stone cold introvert like I am, find yourself an extrovert for a partner. And make sure you accompany her or him to every customer interview.
In fact, the more people who tell you your idea is crazy the better. That may mean you are on to something no one else has thought of yet. Just ask them why they think it’s crazy. In fact, keep asking why and other questions until you really understand your prospect and why they think you and your idea are both crazy.
Startups are about learning and learning entails asking lots of questions and inviting critical feedback.
So if you are looking for praise, try the mirror or a dictionary or go visit your mom. But if you want to build a successful startup get out in the world of strangers and get their feedback. Good or bad is good. Indifferent is bad!