People are generally nice in person. You’d know this if you have ever gone to parties where everyone is super nice to others but as soon as the party is over, they start gossiping about the ones who’ve left. Very rarely would anyone tell a person at the party that they look like a clown (while often thinking in their head of the same).
This tendency of people not to tell honestly what they have in mind misleads entrepreneurs when they seek feedback on their idea. Even if the idea is obviously flawed, in general, people won’t tell that to an entrepreneur’s face. This means, if you’re an entrepreneur, you rarely get to hear why your idea sucks.
Combine this tendency of people to avoid giving negative feedback with the tendency of listeners to seek confirmatory feedback and you have a recipe for failure. The problem worsens when feedback is sought from close ones. Friends and family will never want to offend you, so they would go to great lengths to justify why your idea is a bright one. The more a person is close to you, the more the person will rationalize. But what you want is truth, not fabricated reasons.
There are two more problems with asking for feedback from non-experts (such as family or friends).
- First, a common person neither knows enough about entrepreneurship, nor knows enough about a specific market to be able to give you the insight that you might be seeking.
- Second, some people with a big ego interpret you seeking feedback as a sign of their superiority and would likely tell you why the idea will never work. By pointing out (sometimes obvious) flaws, they feel great about themselves, which is what their ego desires.
So, net-net, when it comes to feedback, what matters is who you ask feedback from. In fact, seeking feedback from everyone around you can backfire because you’ll likely latch on to positive feedback while ignoring the negative feedback.
You want to seek feedback from someone who is honest, is an expert in your target market and doesn’t have a big ego.
Such people are rare, but that’s why you have to be selective in deciding whose feedback to act upon.
Remember: not all feedback is worthwhile. It matters who you ask feedback from.
This essay is part of my book on mental models for startup founders.