“Here’s what you should do.” It’s a sentence you’ve probably heard a lot. Friends, family, peers, mentors, investors—they all have helpful advice, but when your cousin Billy gives you business advice this Thanksgiving that conflicts with advice an investor gave you just last week, what should you do?
First, take a big bite of stuffing.
Then think about it. Advice and feedback is important, but you simply can’t weigh all feedback the same. Startups at PIE have spoken to peers, investors, and dozens of mentors over the past few months and here’s how they’ve sorted through it all.
How invested are they? How much care / concern do they have for you and your goals?
Kai, cofounder of Krumplr thinks about this every time he chats with someone. “You learn a lot of how to read people over time—customers, your bosses, people you manage, and across many different cultures. I start out by saying, ‘Does the person I’m talking to like me or not? Does the person I’m talking to care or not?’ And that’s something that you can very quickly establish. If it’s a positive relationship, I multiple pretty much any critique I get by a factor of five.”
You might meet with someone who doesn’t care and isn’t willing to put in the intellectual effort. Their feedback may be vague—platitudes in a way—like “focus your message”, “find your target audience.” It might be helpful to ask probing questions to find out if they really understood your problem.
There are on the other hand also people who don’t really care but are still willing to put in the intellectual challenge. “Those are good people to listen to,” says Kai. And finally, people who care and invest their time and effort to understanding your problem and thinking about your solution. That’s a given, pay attention to their input.
How experienced are they?
This one’s a little trickier to navigate because it’s often easy to confuse loud volume and confident delivery with actual success and experience. Aunt Susan’s confident remarks on how you should launch your business may sound extremely persuasive, but being an excellent baker doesn’t mean she has relevant experience in your industry. The same is true with anyone else who gives you feedback—investors, mentors, peers. Just because something worked a certain way in their field doesn’t always mean it’ll translate to yours. Levi from Droplr looks for people who have a track record of experience and success. He’ll give them extra attention if they’ve achieved success in his particular industry.
Are they willing to tell you the truth?
Kevin from Nutmeg appreciates individuals who exhibit a sense of trust with no hidden agenda. “The most value we received from PIE were from mentors who weren’t afraid to call bullshit right away. They’d say, ‘you should do x, and here’s why.’” Are the people you’re hearing from worried about offending you or hurting you? You might want to be careful if all of a mentor’s feedback is as sweet as that pumpkin pie. There’s nothing wrong with good feedback, especially if you’re on your A game as a startup, but make sure the person you’re talking to isn’t afraid to make you cry if they need to.
Are you receiving repetitive feedback?
Imagine arriving home on Thanksgiving day only to find your friends and family sitting in a semicircle around the front door. You soon realize that this is a planned intervention. They have a message to tell you—it’s important and everyone seems to realize it except you. (Let’s hope this doesn’t actually happen!) The point is, while there are multiple ways to run a business, hearing repetitive advice from a number of people is probably a good indicator that it’s worth listening to.
What’s your gut telling you?
Lastly, here’s the comment I heard from nearly every startup. Learn to listen to your gut. Ultimately, it’s your business. Deep down inside you know where you want to steer this ship, and you wouldn’t feel comfortable going against this anyway. Use feedback as a way to rethink your direction, but at the end of the day, if you can’t convince yourself that the advice you’re hearing is good and true, you might just have to go with your gut.
And while you’re having that Thanksgiving conversation with your friends and family, don’t forget to get seconds on that stuffing.
One can always make better decisions with stuffing.