When I was younger, I hated criticisms that were directed at my business or ideas. I always felt it was like an insult. That thinking plagued me for years. But I also learned that people who are critical are often the best people to hang out with for entrepreneurs. Here’s the story.
When I was selling grasshoppers at age 10, a friend told me that grasshoppers can be categorized into different types — red legged, blue legged, with/without wings — and sold at different prices. To me, that felt more like a criticism or insult than feedback. I was obviously young, egoistic, and arrogant. But eventually I did categorize and sell them at different prices. It was a success.
When I was running an online tuition agency, we wanted to work with one of the bookstores on a partnership deal. Our traffic was miserable but nonetheless, we managed to meet up with one of the major bookstores in Singapore. That was back in 2005. She laughed at our traffic and saw no reasons to work with us. She was right. My partner and I worked to improve our traffic (which we would have done anyway) but also hated her for being so mean. As arrogant youngsters, we walked away without saying goodbye. It was bad and unprofessional.
When I was in college working on group projects, I always thought my ideas were the best. In some sense, that might have been true, because my group always managed to get ‘A’. But reflecting back, I realized that I wasn’t a person that was very easy to work with. I would talk down others’ ideas and even brand them as stupid or GPA-grabbers. And for people who gave their feedback on my ideas, I was very critical and insisted that my ideas was right.
Perhaps I matured along the way. Over the last two years, I have started to understand the beauty of listening to feedback and advice. Some advice is still crappy though. But I’ve learned to think from the other person’s point of view. No one is right for sure. So filtering advice is important, especially in Asia, where culture compels people to say nice things about others. The ‘truth’ is often unspoken.
I learn that if you want the best feedback — particularly in Asia — you need to ask or even force your friends or mentors to say nasty things about your startup. You need to make them feel that you’re cool with them giving you feedback or even criticizing your business.
Often, I realized that people who are mean are the best people to listen to. And I collect them along the way and keep them in my brainstorming group because these are the people who I can trust to give me honest feedback. They may be mean but they are also people who give a shit about your startup. So shower them with love and get them to criticize your startup often — it is like a free can of Redbull that keeps you sharp and on your toes.
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