I’ve noticed that founders often optimize for finding the most positive feedback possible. That’s directionally a good move and it aligns well with Paul Graham’s idea that it’s “better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent.” The benefits of positive feedback in conversations with potential customers are clear: you validate your product, build up a network of fans, and get to iterate towards what specific dimension of your product drives the most value.
But once in a while I run into early-stage founders who have nothing but positive feedback from all parties or have a hard time naming objections and complaints. You’d think that’s great news, but it always makes me a little uncomfortable as an investor. It usually indicates that the founder is exaggerating demand or they’re not executing their validation correctly. If literally everything you hear is positive, it probably indicates that users aren’t being totally honest in their feedback or you’re not pushing hard enough to establish an initial cult following. Here are two things to keep in mind as you talk to users:
Users won’t want to hurt your feelings. Make sure you present your startup as someone else’s idea. Or as a product already on the market which you happen to be researching. While users will have no problem criticizing an fintech product, they’ll be too nice to healthcare products or other “socially positive” businesses. Take every precaution to make sure the feedback your getting will match up with users’ revealed preferences (true needs) when the product comes to market.
Take what you can get
If people say they love your product, then make your ask larger and larger until you’re out of slack. In the early days of Stripe, the Collison brothers would ask people whether or not they would use Stripe. If the user said they would, the Collison brothers didn’t stop there. They’d respond with “great, give me your laptop and I’ll get you up and running.”
If you’re simply interviewing people, ask them to sign up for the beta waitlist. If that still works, ask them to refer you their friends as well for your waitlist. If that still works, ask them to pre-pay for a discount when the product launches. This will not only tell you how badly people actually want your business, it’ll build up your customer base! This is also super useful for investors.