Each Wednesday, we bring you another piece of The Hum’s story as it unfolds. The goal is to bring you, our readers, an unfiltered, no-BS account of what it is like really like to start a business, as it happens. We will be honest, vulnerable, and relatable in hopes you will learn both from what goes wrong and what goes (occasionally) right.
When we started The Hum, one of our many, many, many worries was if we would be able to build enough connections with young entrepreneurs to regularly host valuable contributor content. We knew we would have a small audience — there was no real benefit to write or interview with us.
Despite a few relationships with entrepreneurs from our alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (say that 5 times fast), in Massachusetts, we also didn’t have many connections in the industry.
But these worries quickly melted away. We learned first-hand how supportive the entrepreneurial community is. There is a certain level of empathy that connects each human silly enough to take on this lifestyle.
Everyone knows the same struggle. The same grind. The same obstacles. So when you have the ability to help someone else in the community, most people do.
In short, entrepreneurs are really freaking nice. This has helped us gain connections and build a bit of a presence in the community. It has been a blessing.
But it has also been a curse.
How nice is too nice?
One of the issues with this inherent kindness and empathy is that few people are willing to give you legitimate, honest feedback on your idea or company.
Fellow entrepreneurs often say nice things they don’t really mean because they want to come off as supportive.
We know this is true because we do it ourselves all of the time. We have spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs with every idea you could imagine.
There have been plenty of times when we thought an idea sucked but we didn’t bother to tell them. It’s pretty hard to crush someone’s dream 30 seconds into meeting them…
And we know people do the same to us. Countless people must have heard what we are doing and thought to themselves, “There is no chance in hell that is ever going to work,” but instead they replied with some generic turn of phrase like, “Oh, that sounds really cool.”
That’s why, when you do get negative feedback, it is insanely valuable.
“You guys are still super small…”
We recently attended our first (rooftop) networking event in the beautiful city of Boston. Our awesome friends over at LaunchByte were hosting their Water P_Roof (get it?) event, and we were lucky enough to catch the invite.
It was one of our first events with oodles of potential contributors and even some investors on the guest list. Our team was itching to make connections and the nervous jitters slowly faded as we started to work the room (roof).
As the night rolled on, our confidence built until we struck up a conversation with two younger gentlemen who own an 18-month-old Boston-based startup that has accomplished a whole lot more than we have.
We had received positive feedback all night and expected another nod of approval, but instead, we ended up getting tossed on our asses. “Less than 500 subscribers? You guys are still super small.”
That’s no secret. We know we are still small, but it was the first time someone bluntly pointed it out to our faces. Normally, we tell someone our subscriber count and we get a simple smile. We mention our growth rate and receive approval of a job well done.
But this founder was unimpressed. He saw through our optimistic talk and began to pick us apart piece by piece.
“You NEED to get funding”
“With your current growth rate, you need to stop playing around. You need to get funding if you want to make it.”
This was the first time we had spoken to someone who viewed our failure as inevitable if we continue on the same path we are on. It was frustrating, scary, and motivating all at the same time.
These conversations can be tough to handle, but it’s become apparent that we need to be having them.
We love our moms more than anything, but it’s probably time we stop listening to them when they tell us how perfect our company is.
Actively seeking out criticism
We have learned the need to actively seek out criticism. Sunshine and rainbow conversations are good for the ego but they don’t make you better. They don’t make you grind harder to prove someone wrong. They don’t make you think differently.
So, here’s what we are going to do.
Approach conversations differently.
We can’t really blame others for not offering up constructive criticism if we don’t ask for it. Instead of just accepting the, “Yo, that sounds pretty cool,” statement, we are now going to follow-up to ask others to dig deeper.
We are not sure what form this will take on yet but we imagine ourselves asking something like, “What do you think our biggest challenge is?” or “What’s the weakest point of our idea?” or “Why are you lying to our faces?”
Maybe we will tone down that last one.
These conversations will be a little awkward at first, but we will get over it. Quickly.
Meet with the savages.
We do have a few people we have met with that offer straight up savage feedback whether we ask for it or not. It can be natural to try and shy away from these conversations but instead, we will actively seek them out.
And we want to let them know we appreciate their candor so that they keep providing it. We need it to make ourselves better.
Talk to investors.
We still want to bootstrap this company. But we have realized that there is no group of people in the entrepreneurial community who will do you the favor of tearing apart your idea like an investor will.
So whether we have any interest in taking money or not, we want to start to build connections with this group of people. We want the benefit of being told our idea is garbage. That someone would never give us money for it. That we should give up.
Do the same for others.
Realizing how much value there is to be gained from criticism, we now pledge to offer the same to others who share their ideas with us. No more head nods and smiles if we have serious doubts about an idea.
We will ask difficult questions, pick apart potential weak points, and do what we can to try and make others better in the most constructive manner possible.
Criticism breeds improvement.
We have realized being criticized is essential to our improvement, maturity, and success as a company. And the same is true on an individual basis.
If everyone around you is constantly telling you how wonderful you are, it may be time to actively seek out constructive criticism.
Ask your boss what you can do better at work. Approach strangers to get feedback on your latest article, vlog, or podcast. Ask your friends what you do that annoys the hell out of them. Find people who are blunt, honest, and will not hold back.
It will make you a better person. Hopefully, the same strategies will make us a better company.
Criticism is the missing ingredient.