Every week entrepreneurs reach out to me for feedback and advice. I like to start the conversation over email, asking different questions and requesting a Simplified One Page Strategic Plan. Inevitably, most of the entrepreneurs haven’t made much progress and are really just interested in feedback on their idea.
When the request to judge an idea comes in — and it always does — I politely decline and explain that I’m not the customer. I’m not the target. The only people that can judge the idea are the ones that need it, will pay for it, and want to sign up for it before it’s even ready.
Entrepreneurs are actually worse off when people who aren’t potential customers judge their ideas. Too often, people give feedback — positive or negative — that puts the entrepreneur on a path that isn’t helpful. In places that are polite and more supportive (hello, Atlanta!) the tendency is to be encouraging and tell the entrepreneur that their idea is great. When the idea isn’t great, which is most of the time due to a lack of customer discovery, the entrepreneur pats herself on the back and digs in even harder. Only, they’re extending their path to nowhere. Too many entrepreneurs continue to pursue ideas that should be killed based on customer feedback, not random person feedback.
While I don’t judge the entrepreneurs’ ideas directly, I like to share different frameworks and ways to think through opportunities. For example, team, stream, and “not a meme” is one of my favorite ways to evaluate a startup. The team, of course, is the entrepreneurs. The stream is the trend or inevitable change they’re riding. And, finally, “not a meme” means the solution is a “must have”, not a “nice to have” (every meme, no matter how funny, isn’t mission critical).
Fight the urge, don’t give entrepreneurs feedback on their idea. Instead, push them to talk to customers (customer discovery). Push them to talk to partners. Push them to talk to the experts in the specific industry, not a random person who’s been successful. Help an entrepreneur by not judging her idea.