Let me start by sharing some real anecdotes from last year, when I was incubating the idea of my startup (PriceMap), and decided to bounce it off with a few people. Some were close friends, some relatives, some from the investment and entrepreneurship background. Just for the benefit of all, PriceMap is a mobile application which helps an online shopper to find the same product in local markets at a competitive price.
Here are some sample conversations which will help me drive the point home:
Skeptic #1: This idea will never work. Offline retailers can never be as price competitive as online players due to the fundamental saving in the on-line model
Reality Check: Less than 2 months into product launch and I discover that off-line is as price competitive as on-line for majority of the cases!
Skeptic #2: This idea will never work. Online shoppers want immediate gratification. Who is going to wait for retailers to revert…
Reality Check: The PriceMap team discovers that majority of shoppers are OK to give as much as 24 hours for retailers to revert!
Skeptic #3: This idea will never work. I am looking for extreme convenience. Who wants to take out the car and go to a shop, even if it is nearby, when I can get the product sitting at home?
Reality Check: We discover that people are more than happy to visit a nearby shop to “touch & feel” the product, provided we can confirm the product availability at the shop and its price. Even a survey by Google proves that we are right!
I hope you can get what I am arriving at. The point I am trying to make is that as an entrepreneur, you should know when you are talking to people who are skeptical about anything new by their very nature. They can only cause damage by – imposing their highly biased opinion (rarely data-based); only finding faults with your value proposition and last of all by de-motivating you. See of you can keep them not just at an arm’s length but at mile’s distance! Also make sure that you have none of these guys in your founding team or the first lot of hires.
Entrepreneurs are believers in new ideas. Skeptics are believers of status-quo. The two can never mix.
Now, here are a few traits, that you can use to immediately figure out if you are talking to a skeptic or someone level headed, who can give you some really useful advice. Use these as a quick dip stick test:
- Skeptical people are not good listeners. They will interrupt you many times even before you have explained the value proposition.
- They like to punch holes in other peoples logic. It just gives them pleasure. So, while you are elaborating to them the merits of your idea, their mind in the back is working devilishly to defeat your argument.
- They never really understand you. They are so caught up in the “status-quo” that they never give you a patient hearing to even comprehend the problem you are trying to solve
- In most of the cases, they start the conversation with a negative tone. Something like “This idea will never work…”
- They have inflated egos and their body language is typically the “one-up” kind. They seem to put themselves on a higher pedestal just by the sheer fact of you soliciting their feedback. I find this truly funny as I believe the entrepreneur is far more intelligent and informed than the skeptic at the other end.
So, while soliciting feedback on your new venture idea is so important, it is also equally important to quickly figure out when you are talking to a skeptic or a real mentor.
A real mentor’s body language will make you feel at ease. He will give you a patient hearing and make a genuine attempt to understand the problem being solved and the core value proposition. Instead of being judgemental about your venture, he will point out certain challenges which he foresees and advise you to watch out for them!
To close, let me recap the conversation with a real mentor I had almost during the same time:
Mentor: Hey, this is a great idea and it really attempts to solve the product discovery problem in brick & mortar retail. But you know what, even if you bring the greatest value to retailer, you can’t take them for granted. They have a different mindset than you & me. So, you may face the following challenges …
Reality Check: That was one of the best pieces of advice we have received and it proved to be a key input for us to tweak our value proposition to the retailer!
So dear skeptic, please spare the entrepreneur…..find some other punching bag to satisfy your false sense of achievement.
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