“Don’t tell me what you like…tell me what you don’t like” – Elon Musk
Seeking feedback is like seeking a punch in the stomach. It’s painful. Entrepreneurs work so hard on their start-up. They take so much risk. There is so much riding on the success. So many promises. Your reputation is at risk. You feel so good about what you are building. And then you talk to customers. And customers focus on what is missing. What they dislike. Some times, this process actually makes me feel physically sick to my stomach.
Guessing right is impossible
Guessing the right product or feature set all of the time is impossible. You simply can’t guess how other people in their own unique environments will use your product. So you have two options:
As you would guess, Dogfooding is a short way of saying “eat your own dogfood.” Apple and Google do this extremely well. They play with prototypes over and over again. Give feedback under the safe confines of fellow employees. They structure the company’s culture around this and thus they produce brilliant products that seem to cover every possible thing you could think of. Creating a beta program helps too. Every company Dogfoods, but to really get unique perspectives you need a significant community doing it, and start-ups don’t have those resources.
The Lean philosophy is rooted in hypothesis testing. In testing ideas and iterating. In seeking feedback from early users. Learning how they use the product. Learning their needs. It starts with the initial product concept, but that philosophy extends to every feature that is built into the product. It is a mindset. And it works extremely well for small companies or teams that don’t have the resources of an iPhone or of Google Labs.
Seek The Pain
The hardest part of an early stage startup is when you find out that your idea/or feature set isn’t what the customers want. It can be so painful. You work so hard and you feel that you are getting closer, and then talk to new customers and realize how far you still have to go. You can’t take it personal, but it is hard. But make no mistake, you have to seek the pain.
I talk to young entrepreneurs all of the time. And this is the #1 mistake they make. They find every excuse to avoid this pain. But really they are just delaying it. The best thing you can do is start this process early. Talk with customers and listen. Test your hypothesis. And be prepared to change.