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How to know which feedback to listen to for your startup.
If you’re starting a new business, launching a new idea, or doing anything at all really, you’re going to be getting a lot of feedback. People are going to tell you if they love it. And you’re inevitably going to hear some verison of:
“That’s not a good idea.”
The fact is, you’re probably going to hear that one a lot, and from a lot of different people. Some of them perfectly well-meaning.
So, how do we determine which feedback matters the most? When we’re overwhelmed with messages about our ideas being too risky or not good enough, how do we filter out the noise and get to the feedback that really matters?
How do we know whether to listen to the people saying yes, or the people saying no?
I’ve dealt with this problem a lot. Over the course of my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve had more than a few ideas.
Some of them were winners.
Many, not so much.
Some I never really got the chance to find out if they would be successful until it was too late.
Some I left behind because I listened to the wrong feedback.
This is the story of an idea that I wish I’d done more with, and how it taught me which feedback to listen to, and which to ignore.
Looking back at this, I realize what I should have done differently (and that I potentially could have made a lot of money!) had I only known then what I’m telling you now.
One weekend, my buddy Krish managed to get us a spot in a lean startup machine workshop. Normally, this would have cost us a few thousand dollars. Somehow though, he managed to get us in for free. For three days, we’d be attending this workshop and working on our own ideas for a startup.
I was pretty excited for this opportunity. I'd recently read The Lean Startup, and was interested in getting more hands on with it.
Inside the workshop, we divided up into groups of three to five people. Each group was tasked with coming up with a potential startup idea. Once we had one, it was time to hit the streets.
Having the idea wasn’t enough. We needed proof that our idea had value, and we needed to get that by getting people to sign onto it in one form or another.
We needed to hear from our potential customers.
Now, a lot of the people in my group lived in the upper east side. This workshop? It was in downtown Manhattan.
This was before the days of Uber. We had two options for getting there. Either we cough up the money for a very expensive cab ride, or we use the subway for a much cheaper, but also much slower, commute.
This was the problem that we tackled with our startup idea.
We called our solution “CabPool.” A very clever twist on the phrase “carpool.” People would use an app to find others going to the same place as them and share a cab, splitting the cost.
If you’re drawing parallels between what we were thinking about and rideshare apps? Trust me, I’ve been doing that for a while, too.
When it came time to test our idea, we planted ourselves in front of a Whole Foods market. The plan was simple. We’d wait to see someone hailing a cab and ask them if they’d be interested in a program like ours. We even had a little application.
When someone said they were interested, we’d ask them where they were going so we could find a match for them.
For the purposes of this test, I was the person waiting for the ride, and trust me, I just so happened to be going the same direction. They’d be matched up with me, I’d hop in the cab, and off we’d go. We made small talk along the way, and then, at the end of the ride, we split the cost.
The people I talked to seemed to genuinely enjoy this idea. Not surprising, right? Who doesn’t want cheaper transportation?
Whether that was the idea itself or just my winning personality, you be the judge.
As we did this, we got people to give us money. So, when it came time for the judges to determine which group had the best idea? We were pretty sure that we were going to win.
We did not, in fact, win.
The judges told us that, despite the fact that we’d made some money, our plan wasn’t a good idea. It simply wasn’t going to work.
The winner of the competition had proposed an app that would let people know when a parking spot opened up and where it was. I’m sure it’s a complete surprise that a lot of people in NYC were thinking about traffic, commuting, and parking.
Their group hadn’t gotten anyone to give them money, like ours had. Instead, they had gotten people to sign a letter of intent to use the app. The judges decided this was the better approach.
Now, I don’t want to harp on their idea, but I do feel like it is worth pointing out that a parking spot in NYC is probably only open for about 60 seconds on a good day – according to the team whom presented their findings... By the time you check an app, find an open spot, and drive to it? That spot isn’t empty anymore.
That’s probably the reason we’re not seeing this kind of app around much.
Nevertheless, we took the advice of the judges.
After all, they were experts on these things, right?
This had only been a weekend idea for us, not a serious venture. And the judges had told us it hadn’t been good enough. Why continue on with it?
Obviously, given the success of rideshare apps, we probably should have ignored them.
The judges, the experts on the issue? They were the feedback we chose to listen to. They weren’t the feedback we should have been listening to, though.
The customers that we had over the course of the trial had been giving us feedback too. They’d been doing it with their wallets, and they’d been doing it in a positive way.
That was the feedback we should have been listening to.
Our customers voted with their wallets, and we decided to listen to the people who had no financial interest in the matter.
When you launch a new idea, that idea is always going to have some detractors. Those detractors might even be the experts. They might tell you that your idea isn’t a good one. That there isn’t a market for what you’re thinking of doing.
That data? It really isn’t all that useful.
The useful data comes from your customers, and how they choose to vote with their wallets. We had people voting yes, putting their dollars down on our idea. We didn’t listen to them. We listened to the experts instead.
That was our mistake. Don’t let it be yours.
When you’re starting something new, the main feedback you need to listen to is the one that comes from the customers. Are they willing to spend money on what you’re proposing? That answer matters more than any other, and is going to really tell you if your idea can work or not.
When people vote with their wallets, listen to them.
Do you have an idea or product that you want to turn into a full-fledged business? Click here to learn more about me and my agency, Unbounded, and how I can put my experience to work for you.
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