I woke up this morning and I couldn’t stop thinking about how evil “sugar coated” feedback is when trying to build great software – especially from end users. It drives me crazy when I know someone is holding something back.
Both posts are spot on. Our team met one-on-one with Suster for 15 minutes during TechStars Boulder 2011 and we really appreciated his candor. He gave us some honest, direct feedback that rattled around in my brain for the next few weeks. Now, that piece of feedback is an important part of our current strategy.
Part of the magic of TechStars is its “no bullshit” culture based on brutal feedback and intellectual honesty. David Cohen has done a great job instilling these principles into every TechStars founder, employee and mentor.
Unfortunately TechStars ended, and we had to rejoin the human race. Now, I find myself encountering way too much “sugar coating” – but now I think I prefer the term grinfucking.
How It Goes Down
I tend to meet with lots of people every day, in person, on the phone or via email. I encourage entrepreneurs to Tungle me if they want a quick 15 minute mentorship session. I find that helping others with their problems serves as a sort of ‘mental gymnastics’ and keeps me ready to solve the most difficult challenges at my own company.
No matter who I meet with, at the end of the meeting I usually show the other person what I’m doing. It used to be our website. Then our API. Now it’s our new iOS app that we are currently iterating on.
I’m finding that a most people naturally try to grinfuck me by being polite about our software. I literally have to draw their feedback out by saying:
I’m going to watch you use our iOS App and take notes. Tell me exactly what you’re thinking as you install it and use it for the first time. I’m not going to say a word.
Usually, this is followed by some hesitation and I have to reassure them by saying:
You can’t hurt my feelings. I went through TechStars – we CRAVE brutal honesty. I’ll get upset if you sugarcoat anything. Hit me!
If they’re still hesitant, I usually remind them that I just gave them brutally honest feedback in some way, shape or form, and they should repay the favor. This usually does the trick.
What transpires next is magical.
Honesty = Actionable Data
Watching a stranger use your app for the first time is always incredibly humbling. But if you can get them to provide a stream-of-consciousness commentary while doing it? It can blow your mind and open your eyes. Usability issues scream out and are inherently obvious. Features that the entire company (including myself) thought were smart end up being dumb features and vice versa.
If you do this over and over, you’ll collect enough feedback to have some real, actionable data.
If you’re not ready for it, the process can hurt your feelings. But there’s no crying in baseball. And I guarantee the process will make your product better. After enough iterations, the feedback focuses on smaller details. That means your product is getting better. You’re making progress.
In short, don’t let users grinfuck you. As Steve Blank espouses, get out of your own building and make sure you get honest feedback about your product.
Just don’t be a grinfucker.
*UPDATE: Our iOS app is not currently available – since our acquisition of Cobook, we’re working on a new, improved version of the app.
For the meantime, sign up for our web app and give us feedback! The new iOS app will be coming soon.