How to Make the Most of Feedback About Your Startup

Gabe Zichermann
Jun 19, 2020 · 5 min read
Pitching your company is hard enough, but how do you handle feedback? (cc flickr GES2016)

The hardest thing to do in entrepreneurship is to seek out, accept and prioritize feedback. This is one of the most common mistakes I see entrepreneurs make. Why we suffer from anti-input cognitive biases will be the topic of another essay, but suffice it to say that you need to master this skill.

Plus, the sooner you start exposing yourself to others’ opinions of your team, company, product and market, the better your chances of success.

Based on my work with startups in my coaching and mentorship practice, I’ve developed a 7-step approach for dealing with feedback about your startup. These steps can be used whether you are getting opinions from mentors, investors, team members, analysts or customers.

Know Their Backgrounds

Record the Meeting

Listen — Don’t Argue

The more you let others in the room speak, the more content and fidelity you get. But if you feel your blood boiling or you’re getting a run up of nerves, take a deep breath, calm yourself and lean into that feeling without taking outward action. The more intentionally you do this, the easier it will be.

Ask Clarifying Questions

  1. What is your problem?
  2. How does this solve your problem?
  3. How do you solve your problem today (without this thing)?

If you think of your prospective investors and mentors as “customers” (they buy in by investing or agreeing to mentor you), this may also help how you run your Q&A.

Try to avoid questions like “What would you do” or “What do you propose we do.” These will make you seem weak and lacking in market knowledge or conviction. If you want to get someone to answer this question (because you’re looking for true market knowledge) it’s better to frame it as “What experiences have you had that are similar, and what did you do?”

Process Offline with Your Team

Compile in a Doc

Look for Patterns

For example, in one startup I mentored, investor feedback repeatedly pointed out that their category (salon bookings) had a lot of competition, and that competition was not doing great. After hearing this a few times from different corners, the founders retooled their market focus and presentation to higher-end and multi-site salons, who were not being served by their competitors. They went on to raise significant capital and have done a stellar job of execution. This is not solely because of the feedback, but rather the feedback helped them see something and short-circuit an otherwise costly customer development process.

As you’re looking at patterns, be sure to include a “weighting” element based on the speaker’s experience and interest. In the salon example above, a single point of target-market feedback would be more heavily influential if given from a prospective salon owner than from a junior venture partner. Just like VCs, you’re trying to match patterns and find leverage in discerning signal from noise.

Deciding What to Do

The first thing to remember is that this is your startup. You (and your co-founder) ultimately make the decisions and have to live with those decisions. Mentors, customers and investors get to go home at night. You’re living/breathing/sleeping your startup. If something legitimately doesn’t sit right with you, don’t do it.

Beyond that, you’re looking for patterns — and from people who you trust/have good opinions on the matter. Be especially conscious of the times when the feedback you’re receiving contradicts your plans or vision for the future. This is often the place where you get the most interesting learnings and outcomes.

Just don’t be over-reactive. I’ve seen many startups (my own included) whipsaw from one strategy to another after a single investor meeting. This is rarely a good idea, and can actively work against you by muddying your message and undermining your convictions or confidence.

Be true to yourself and persevere. But as my grandfather once said, “If 10 people tell you you’re drunk, lie down.” I think this is great advice for any alcoholic — or startup founder.

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Gabe Zichermann

Written by

Author and Public Speaker on Gamification, The 4th Industrial Revolution, the Future of Work and Failure. More about me: https://gabezichermann.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Gabe Zichermann

Written by

Author and Public Speaker on Gamification, The 4th Industrial Revolution, the Future of Work and Failure. More about me: https://gabezichermann.com

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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