On Honesty in Startupland
My experience in NYC Tech over the past year has been highlighted by great conversations with people of all backgrounds. I’ve been lucky to get support and feedback from various people in the community. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, but with a supportive ecosystem it can be manageable.
The issue of honesty does come up frequently in these discussions with New York tech entrepreneurs. Are we giving each other honest feedback on the projects and ideas we are working on? I’m worried that we aren’t. In private discussions, I hear people giving candid displays of concern about other startups in their community, while publicly cheerleading the efforts of the same companies. This is usually done in a manner reminiscent of high school gossip. It’s unfortunate, since there are startup founders who need to hear honest feedback in order for their companies to ever be successful.
Much of the issue here is how people take feedback. Is the founder ready and prepared to hear honest/harsh criticism of what they are doing? Will it crush a part of their spirit and make it difficult for them to move on? Is that a bad thing? My contention is that if you are really in the game to win it, you will appreciate the advice that will get you to success faster, however harsh it may be.
Our goal in continuing to develop a strong startup ecosystem hinges on our ability to incubate and support good ideas, and helping each other get rid of the bad ones. We should all be testing out one another’s startups, so that we can help provide honest feedback for others to use to chase after real traction and success, rather than vanity numbers, fake accolades, and tech press stardom.
How harsh is too harsh? Are feedback/call-outs like Matt Mireles’s post on David Tisch (here) or BetaBeat’s (tounge in cheek) dismantling of Hashable (here) helpful to the community? Sometimes I feel that I am in a happy, positive feedback loop when talking to people at meetups, while the real truth lingers underneath the surface of conversation. We need to always accept and appreciate varying viewpoints on the current state of affairs in the community (handling bad actors is another post).
We should strive to find ways of giving feedback that is fully honest yet tactful in delivery. Nobody does this better than Paul Graham. His office hours at TechCrunch were incredible (if you haven’t watched this, I highly recommend you do so now: http://tcrn.ch/PaulGrahamOfficeHours)
You can see why he has been so successful in helping to inspire ideas like Reddit. As I said in the comments on TechCrunch, he gently puts down bad ideas and helps inspire good ones. The same kind of spirit can (sometimes) be seen on the Ask HN or Show HN sections of Hacker News.
An example local to NYC was a discussion I witnessed about Hashable. As a passionate user myself, I understand the value of the service and how it can evolve in the future. I listened as another user broke down in full detail to John Exley (a Hashable intern) in detail why the service was not up to par with her needs. John gave an impassioned plea as to why he thinks the service is of great value to him now and in the future, and they went back and forth for a while, each giving insight into their world. It was a great conversation that helped all three of us fully understand what was needed for Hashable to succeed. These are the conversations I hope can be welcomed and happen frequently in our community.
How can we create supportive feedback loops that encourage entrepreneurs in the right ways? Lets aim to give as much open feedback as we can to the peers we share a community with. As Dean Barrow said earlier this week, a little feedback goes a long way.
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