Surround Yourself With Naysayers

My support system has played an instrumental role in my current success as an entrepreneur. I routinely count on my friends, family and mentors to be in my corner and lift me up when I hit a bump in the road. However, the opposite category of people has played an equally important role in my success to date: critics who regularly poke holes in my ideas and challenge my assumptions.

As entrepreneurs, we naturally think we hold some secret solution to whatever problem we’re trying to solve. Similarly, because we spend most of our waking moments fine-tuning the right approach, we develop a natural bias toward thinking that our answer must be the right one.

But it turns out the best advice I’ve received when building my business has come from naysayers. They have the unique ability to break your ideas by pointing out the blind spots in logic or flawed assumptions. They are impartial judges who see the problem with fresh eyes because they lack your attachment to both the problem and the solution.

As an example, I started my company as an online food ordering solution. I thought my edge was my focus on food trucks. Despite business being slow, my support system continued encouraging me and telling me what a cool concept I had. They wanted me to succeed. But none of us could see that I was entering a competitive market with a solution that lacked sufficient differentiation from the dominant players.

My naysayers were the ones who turned out to be critical in my going back to the drawing board and pursuing the pivot that has yielded some success. Specifically, my critics taught me that the way I marketed and branded the business didn’t resonate with how customers viewed ordering from food trucks. While my own impatience with waiting on line underpinned my business model, the naysayers helped me understand that (at least when it comes to food trucks) people enjoy spending their lunch breaks waiting outside with their coworkers.

This major flaw in my own initial understanding seems obvious in hindsight. However, my naysayers were the only ones who prompted me to both understand where my thinking was wrong and to change the focus of my business rather than fruitlessly fight to change customer behavior. To be sure, seeing my approach through their eyes — especially after I already had put in more than a year of work — was a painful and humbling experience. Even so, I credit their criticism as one of the initial drivers of my current success.

As ambitious entrepreneurs, we want our ideas to hold the keys to whatever problems we are trying to solve. We fight for what we believe in and cling to our views of the world. However, we shouldn’t neglect the importance of naysayers and critics. Surrounding ourselves with those who challenge our paths is a crucial part of building better businesses. More importantly, knowing when to listen can make the difference between pursuing the wrong course and enjoying sustained success.