I’d Love to Hear Your Idea, But if You Want Gentle, Call Your Mom
I’m often asked to look at business plans, listen to startup pitches or assist a struggling venture. I enjoy doing this and genuinely try to be constructive. I strive to encourage entrepreneurs, pointing out both the weaknesses and the strengths of their concepts and plans, but I know we’re headed for trouble when the first thing they say is, “Please be gentle.”
On the other hand, I know we’re off to a great start when I hear, “Don’t hold back. I need you to be honest with me.” Of course, I must believe they’re sincere.
You need me to be brutally honest. The time to shred a concept is before you’ve invested everything you own, risked your relationships and health, raised money from family and friends and built a product or service that no one wants. Your faith in yourself and your idea is admirable, even critical, but it can also be blinding.
Can I be wrong? Can I trash an idea that’s so new, innovative and brilliant that I’m just too stupid to see it? Sure. It happens. That’s why you need to approach a variety of people you trust, and they all need to be brutally honest. If several advisers raise similar objections and concerns or question the same assumptions and projections, listen to them. They’re telling you the odds of success are not in your favor, and it’s something you need to hear.
It’s rare that an idea or pitch is completely worthless, but you might think twice about investing years of your life if you find it’s not as valuable as imagined, the competition is tougher than you think, product development challenges risk shipment delays or manufacturing complexities could drive up costs. Building a successful venture is hard enough without stacking the deck against you with faulty assumptions, poor market research or if you're missing the critical skills and experience needed to bring the idea to life.
Embrace the feedback and incorporate this information into an action plan. Do you need real, feet-on-the-street, market research to learn if anyone would buy what you’re selling (remember, your friends don’t count)? Do you need a prototype to address feasibility concerns and investor doubts? Would a different core team fill critical skill and experience gaps?
Whatever the shortcomings highlighted in the pitch reviews, are you capable of solving them? Trust me; this is just the beginning of the problem-solving world of entrepreneurship. If you can’t fix the problems in your plan, you’ll never survive the problems with your business.