Have you ever had someone tell you that “you suck” multiple times in one day?

I have.  And I have grown to like the feedback.  Here’s why.

Over the last three days, I had the opportunity to participate in startup weekend.  Startup weekend is an intense 54-hour event, designed to take an idea from infancy to startup business stage in a little over two days.  Many people pitch their idea, whether they thought of it ahead of time, or on the spot, cross their fingers, and pray that others will vote their idea as one of the best.

If your idea is picked, you build a team and generated intense amounts of effort all weekend to create a working prototype, which you then present with your entire business pitch/model and more on Sunday evening.  Sounds fun right?

Yes.  It is awesome.

But, I can confidently say that I have never heard the words “that sucks” and “horrible….do it again” so many times in 48 hours.  You don’t win a startup weekend because you have charisma, build really good code, or a background in money or fame.  You win because you’ve done work on all three fronts:  product development, market validation, and business model.

At first, I was caught off guard by the sharp comments.  Should I be hurt? After all, if they voted my idea as one of the best, it didn’t need much work right?


Just like athletes with boatloads of potential, good criticism digs deep into the very essence of your being and calls you be to greater, work harder, clarify further, and complete more research.

As the world changes, it’s time to take this approach to companies outside of startup weekend.  Even those that have been in business for 50 years.  From mom and pop shops to online marketplaces and service-based businesses, we all need a good dose of good, blunt feedback.

Because you just might be fooling yourself in one of these areas:

1. Your product or service sucks.

You’ve been in business for so long that you don’t really even know what makes you different than your competitors.  In surveys, you ask leading questions that validate your assumptions, while leaving out the questions that might garner a negative comment or two. Finding out your product or service sucks isn’t easy, and chances are it’s not horrible. However, the information that you’re missing might be keeping you from expansion, growth and more.

During startup weekend, the coaches and organizers continually listened to my pitch and viewed our product and tore it apart.  Really ripped it up.  We could have been crushed. Or gave up. But instead, we pivoted, rewrote, regrouped, and kept moving.

2. You rely on friends for feedback.

Too many people are afraid to hear that their idea or business opportunity might be stupid.  So, to keep the warm fuzzies on their side, they resort to gathering feedback from their family and friends.  The danger here is the same that comes with a husband asking his wife if the dress she’s wearing makes her look fat — we are tempted to lie to our friends, not full-fledged lying, but white lying enough to avoid hurting their feelings.

A psychological study cited in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, even confirms that we often bend the truth when we’re trying to please the recipient. If you want feedback for product improvement, ask people who will tell you the truth.  And brace yourself for some tough critiques.

3. You see competitors as enemies.

If companies stopped seeing their competitors as enemies and more as sources of inspirations, or excuses to rise to a higher level, I believe the progress could be monumental.  Also, when your competitor is your inspiration, you will spend less time gossiping about them, and more time working on your business.

Startup weekend has a strange competitive, collaborative environment.  Those are probably two of the most polar opposite words you could use to describe it, but it’s true.  We’re all hoping that the best idea wins, but we’re secretly hoping that it’s ours. At the same time, we’re hoping that we stay connected with this outstanding group of people, leveraging the group’s talent and skills to change the world.

[Note: In case you are wondering, my team did win with a pitch for group exercise scheduling software – www.exercisemyschedule.com. We’re still working on development to move forward. There were many fabulous ideas shared this weekend from other teams as well]

Check out Startup Week

If you missed startup weekend, you still have a chance to absorb some of the energy from the startup community.  Check out the event going on during Startup Week in Lincoln – I hope to see you there!