Please Call My Baby Ugly: Eight Tips To Ensure Intellectual Honesty
Getting feedback is typically when your ideas suffer a tough death. Entrepreneurship can be a devastating endeavor and the highs and lows are often familiar to passionate inventors and innovators, convinced they have come up with a nobel prize worthy concept, like a new parent showing off their “adorable” offspring to an unimpressed audience.
For entrepreneurs ideas equal livelihood, so it can be hard to face criticism, no matter how constructive. Harder still is to take-in feedback and objectively assess it for its value. Intellectual honesty and self-editing is never easy and can even be a little soul crushing. Last summer we participated in the Techstars Chicago accelerator program, and the director wore a shirt that said “Your Baby Is Ugly” to hammer the point home.
Here are a few ways to maintain passion while acknowledging weak spots and hurdles while staying open to smart pivots.
1) Don’t get overly confident based on friends and colleagues praising your idea. Generally speaking their job is to pump you full of confidence and they also may be hesitant to call your baby ugly. This is a very early litmus test, but dig deeper.
Intellectual honesty and self-editing is never easy and can even be a little soul crushing.
2) Actively ask for people to poke holes. Find the people in your life that aren’t afraid to say “really?” with a not so subtle eye roll thrown in the mix. Maybe that is a trusted mentor that has given critical and constructive feedback to you before or maybe it’s your spouse (shout out to my wife). Give them permission to poke holes. Figure out where you have major gaps. Jam on it. Go back with a new pitch. Rinse and repeat.
3) Interrogate potential customers and add the Jobs to be Done framework. Start pitching would-be end users. Build a rough prototype and create 3D printed models if it’s hardware. Conduct customer interviews, but keep this in mind: Even potential customers will tell you what you want to hear so you need to really press hard. Heck, stand on a street corner and start asking people questions, but maybe wear a company t-shirt so they know you’re not crazy. (Tip: If you use a qualitative session, consider making it remote as users will open up more when they aren’t physically in your presence.)
Additionally, talk to people who have bought a product similar to yours: What was the path they took to that purchase. It’ll give you a clear understanding of what job your product could play in a customer’s life (Highly recommended reading about the Jobs to be Done concept).
4) Pitch people you don’t know, often. Ask for introductions to domain experts, investors, and other startup CEOs; try to get outside your network and outside your circle. Pitch people you respect, or have an incredible LinkedIn profile. Listen to what they say about their expertise in particular. You also might find some of these people come around down the road and become helpful in other ways, or even invest.
5) Build a “schmutz pact” into your startup culture. Make intellectual honesty part of your company culture. At Chicago startup Jellyvision, the CEO, Amanda Labert said her team has the “schmutz pact,” a collective agreement that they will tell each other when someone has metaphorical schmutz on their face. If the environment cultivates honesty in all its forms, everyone will have the chance to evolve and thrive.
6) Get the data, but avoid analysis paralysis. There’s no such thing as too much data, but there is such a thing as staring at it so long you’re unable to make a decision, or stretching the data to prove the point you hope is true. The data and feedback are what they are. Move onto the next thing rather than getting stuck on a data point you’re not thrilled with.
There’s no such thing as too much data, but there is such a thing as staring at it so long you’re unable to make a decision
7) Put It Out In the Wild. Get this in people’s hands! Start internally and move to a more diverse group of users. Your product isn’t ready to go because 10 friends used it and said, “this is great.”
As a point of caution, I’ve found engineers, designers, and even marketing can be fearful of putting things out in the wild. Get an early version of the fully functional product into people’s hands and push them for honest feedback. It’s more than likely what you feel is the “finished” product isn’t ready to ship. You still might hear 9 things you expected, but maybe the 1 new insight could be game changing.
8) Don’t be afraid of the P-Word: Pivot. Start-ups are so commonly associated with the term, but for good reason. Companies realign when their customers want something tangential to the current offering. Whether it’s big or small, look at the data, don’t get paralyzed, and move to the next task.
If you set expectations right, you are giving others permission to call your baby ugly, and to be honest, your baby is probably a little bit ugly, but you’re the last to know it.
Since I’m constantly learning too, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have pointers on how you approach this. I’d like to know!