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Facing rejection

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

“Here I made this for you”, Seth Godin’s immortal line exposes that incredible vulnerability all of us must face as founders when we share our product with our customers. It’s like we’re stripped naked and judged, opening us up to rejection.

Except it’s not. Or it shouldn’t be. The fact we see it as the same exposes the problem.

Our products are not us or our children. They are simply vehicles to solve a problem for our customers. If we get something wrong, we aren’t failures. In fact we are winners, because we’ve learnt something – and that could give us a headstart, an advantage.

We feel this pressure and this vulnerability partly because these products are our idea, and no-one particularly enjoys their idea being criticised. But also partly because we’ve invested time, maybe money, and definitely energy in building them. We feel a bit silly if someone says you’ve wasted your time. Even sillier if they say we’ve wasted our money.

But there are some ways through this.

1. Get feedback earlier

No wonder it’s scary to ask for feedback when your product is nearly ready – by then, there’s not much you can do if you get a thumbs down or even suggestions what would make it more useful.

The earlier you get feedback, the more chance you’ve got to take it on-board, the less it hurts if it’s not positive – and the more chance you have of building a relationship with the person giving it, to go back and get more.

2. Stop perfecting

No-one wants to put a rough looking product in their customer’s hands, but perfection is the enemy of done.

Too often, we delay feedback because we want to wait for one more feature, one more bit of content, one new product.

Remember your customer will forgive clunkiness, appreciate you telling them what’s coming up and can guide you where to focus your effort and resources.

3. Make your learning specific

It’s quite common to get mediocre or vague feedback if you give a customer your product and ask “what do you think?”

If you’ve done this and it’s put you off try getting more specific about the feedback you’re seeking. Don’t show them the whole product or just focus on a specific use case or problem area and get feedback on that. This way you can skate over areas of your product that don’t work or have poor UX and seek out more targeted, actionable feedback.

On the other hand, we’re all looking for “I need this!”, “You nailed out”, “Can I get this now?”. But it’s not terribly helpful (beyond a good confidence boost) unless you find out why. Get specific.

4. Hunt out new audiences

Sometimes feedback is wrong! Because we’ve been talking to the wrong audience for our product.

If people don’t seem to get what you’re doing or why, maybe they aren’t your customer. Go and find people who need your product – people who are making do, botching something together or complaining. And think laterally – your audience might be totally different from who you first expected.

Open your mind. Step back from your product and think how else could my product help someone.

5. Look for nuances

Listening to feedback requires a high degree of empathy – looking deeply at what someone is saying or not saying, looking at what they do rather than what they say they do.

Looking for subtle clues, inconsistencies and dots you can connect. Your customer may be a subset of a subset of a subset of your original customer, easily lost in the hunt.

It takes guts to ask for feedback. Because we might hear something unpleasant, something that tells us what we’ve built it useless or not wanted. Crucially, we can’t let this translate into we are useless or not wanted.

Feedback is simply a way to de-risk our product and our route to market. Treat it as a route to competitive advantage, because many of your competitors won’t be testing and may make the very errors you’ve learnt to avoid.

Instead, be dispassionate about your product and instead focus on your customer and the problem you are helping them solve. That's the route to attraction - and if you keep on that route, it's the route to low cost acquisition too.

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