Entrepreneurs and Wantrapreneurs: Keep these things in mind when receiving feedback!

One piece of advice every early-stage entrepreneur will get is to get feedback from a lot of people on your business. This is indeed important, especially customer feedback, to improve your product and business model; but also investor feedback, mentor feedback and feedback from anyone who could potentially add value to your business. However, one of the challenges with going out and getting all this feedback is dealing with NOISE. Noise is feedback that should NOT be included in your decision-making process, because it is, well, noise; not useful information! For various reasons, people don’t always give useful feedback.

A real challenge is avoiding the tendency to dismiss negative feedback as noise because you don’t like what you hear.

So, how does one figure out what is useful feedback and what is noise?

I had an opportunity a few months ago to go through this process, as I met with several mentors at 500 Startups as part of the accelerator program. We also went through several weeks of modifying our investor pitch, getting feedback and going through that cycle again and again. The people giving us feedback were investors, ex-entrepreneurs and others in the startup scene. I got feedback from well over 50 people in a period of 3 months. Here’s how I went about separating the feedback from the noise.

Is he good at giving feedback?

Where I had an opportunity, I observed the person giving feedback to others before I formed an opinion on that person’s ability to give good feedback. You watch someone giving feedback a few times and it becomes clear to you if the person understands the objective of the process and is actually giving good actionable feedback – something the entrepreneur can use to improve the pitch/business model. Observing as a third-party helps you be neutral and not let your own pre-conceptions cloud your opinion of that person’s feedback-giving skills.

Does the person understand your space?

Somebody who might give excellent feedback to an entrepreneur in the real estate industry may not be the best judge of online media. Industry knowledge and experience matter, especially when diving into the details. Give more importance to feedback from someone who has done something similar before, more so than from someone who is a celebrity but has never dealt with your space before.

Un-bias yourself, be statistical in your approach

If 10 people who are good at giving feedback and understand what you are doing tell you something you don’t like, it is more likely that you are biased in your opinion. Don’t kill the dream, but take something constructive out of every feedback and incorporate it. Intuition is great, but bias towards something as personal as your own venture is a real thing. So, when in doubt, get statistical. Are many ‘credible’ people telling you the same thing? Use it!

Take something positive out of every interaction

While we like to read stories about how successful entrepreneurs beat the odds by defying conventional logic, remember that the untold story is one of the mentorship and feedback they got from others who tread that path before.