Lean Startup 201: Are You Afraid of Customer Development? Why Bad Feedback Is Good!

One of the biggest lessons I learned at Lean Startup Machine was how absolutely critical customer feedback is, especially in the early stages of building a business. The lean startup methodology is all about getting your minimum viable product (MVP) out there and seeing what customers think. At all the startup events I’ve been to this year I’ve heard successful entrepreneurs share one of the biggest problems they see new companies facing. The problem is that you come-up with an idea and then you tell your family, and your best friends and guess what? They all tell you, “hey – that’s a great idea!” because they are your family or friends, they aren’t going to say, “you’re an idiot, don’t do that!”

At the same time, unless your family and friends are your target customers, they aren’t really the people you need to be getting feedback from. Here’s the problem, many people don’t want to hear that their ideas suck, or that their ideas aren’t perfect. However you don’t really know how good your idea is if you’re saying things like, “I think everyone needs this,” or “I think this group of people will go nuts over this.” Don’t think, know, and don’t be afraid if your idea is wrong, or not completely right the first go.

One of the most interesting points that I’ve consistently heard venture capitalists bring up is that when they invest in a company they are completely aware that the first rev will probably not be perfect, in fact it might be terrible. What they want to fund is great people that are willing to get feedback and iterate or pivot completely based on customer feedback. Another point that came-up is that people do customer development often with the wrong people…you have to do customer development with your customers not just people who want to share their opinion or are strongly opinionated by the topic.

If you’re building a social network for surfers from all over the world, don’t ask your friend who doesn’t surf, or a group of motorcycle fanatics, they aren’t your target customer so you won’t be doing real customer development. You will be getting feedback, but not customer feedback since these people won’t be your customers.

Now for the most important piece of customer development – don’t be afraid of bad feedback from your customers. That’s the whole point of getting your minimum viable product out to customers, to get their feedback! It is very unlikely that everyone will like your MVP, but it’s the people who don’t like it that will actually help provide some of the best feedback. These will be the hardest people to make happy, but if you do make them happy, and can solve a problem for you, they can be your greatest supporters.

Always remember, if people are taking the time out of their day to give you feedback, that in itself is very meaningful and absolutely valuable. It’s the people that just say, “that’s great” or “good job” that really aren’t helping you create something incredible. Next week I’ll be doing a Lean Startup 301 post covering different ways to conduct customer development and get real feedback. Now it’s time to go back to all those people who wrote you long emails, wrote blog posts, or left messages telling you how much your product sucked and say, “Thank You!” because at the end of the day it is those customers that will help you the most. Don’t be afraid of bad feedback, remember, bad feedback is good!

Now it’s your turn, comment and let your voice be heard!

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton