You Need to Let Go of Your Idea (Sometimes)
I fell in love with my idea and ruined my startup. Here’s my take on that.
Do you know the saying “love is blind”? The cliche applies to all sorts of lovers who overlook fatal flaws in their blindness. This saying applies to founders and their startups too. The ambitious founder with their one world-changing idea falls madly in love with it. Sometimes, love can also come with blindness.
You need to strike a fine balance between being blinded and being receptive to feedback. You should stand up for your ideas, and work to support them. At the same time, getting feedback from valuable parties and being receptive to it is also vital to your success. When you get blinded by the love for your idea, you can become shut off to feedback that’s vital to what you’re doing. If someone tells you that it doesn’t work? You might ignore them. You’re playing into your own confirmation bias, and this could end up being your downfall.
I fell into the same pitfall when I was working on a startup idea in college. I was obsessed with the idea, based around sustainable agriculture and gardening. Obsessed to the level of building garden walls in my backyard in the Phoenix summers (ever done manual labor when it’s 120 degrees out?). I got really blinded by this solution and tried to fit it to problems that didn’t work. It became the quintessential story of the square peg in the round hole. I didn’t listen to mentors, advisors, and even investors that were telling me I was on the wrong path. Our startup failed, and being blinded by the love of the idea played heavily into that. To keep your ideas from failing, when should you listen and when should you ignore?
When to listen
There’s a lot of noise in the world. As you’re asking people for feedback on your idea, you’ll want to think strategically about who to listen to. My general advice is to consider who is important and who is giving good feedback. To asses that, answer the following:
- Who’s an expert? Find people who are experienced and key experts when it comes to your solution. They likely know something you don’t and can help you avoid the challenges they faced. They might also have useful insights as to how you can grow.
- Who’s opinion is important to your success? This is probably people who give you money. In the case of a startup, that’s your customers and could also include investors. If a customer tells you they’d never buy into your idea? You definitely need to listen and make note of why.
- Who will be honest with you? My grandma is probably the most unanimously supportive person of me in my life. She would probably 100% back any idea that I could come up with. Could I count on her for hard to hear feedback and truths? Maybe not. Listen to people that you know will be honest with you, and won’t just confirm what you already know — sorry grandma.
When to dismiss
Someone once told me some really great advice on accepting feedback, and it’s stuck with me ever since. They said:
Feedback is a gift. You can choose to accept it, or you can let it sit in the back of your closet.
When someone gives you feedback, you don’t always have to take it to heart. Much like the gifts you receive, some feedback is best left in a box somewhere or even exchanged at the store. How can you tell what to return and what’s useful?
- Get a second opinion. If you’re skeptical about someone’s feedback, ask another person for the same input. Did their feedback differ significantly, or did they say something similar? Getting a second opinion can help you tell if one person’s advice is off base or not.
- Consider where it’s coming from. Regardless of how much we try not to let it happen, our backgrounds and perspectives will always influence what we think. When you’re getting feedback, it’s important to think about the why behind where it’s coming from. We all carry biases that will bleed into what we think — are any of those present in this feedback?
- Let it sit for a while. You know that saying sleep on it? Do that. Before dismissing something, just let it sit for a while and then evaluate. This can help you clear your mind.