Reaching a Critical Mass of Negative Feedback, Failing Faster, and Building Back Up

Posted by admin on Nov 18, 2011 in Uncategorized |

I often hear about the importance of failure. What? This is the antithesis of what we learn in school. Work hard, practice, know your stuff, etc. BEFORE you share your idea with the world… That doesn’t work in reality, particularly around consumer products on the web. I’ve had several unsuccessful attempts at building products. BUT, I thought they were great when I first shared them… WRONG. Often times, I’m the “anti-Midas” – I tell my guys what I think with the explicit direction to do just the opposite. Why? Sometimes, you think a user is going to use your project in a certain way and they do just the opposite. OR, we find that users will use the product in ways that you never imagined. I think the important thing is to get your product out there as quickly as you can. HOWEVER, my one caveat is to do so in a manner that gives you the best chance at success. Here are some thoughts on a potential gameplan:

1.) Get a core feature that you think is cool and try it on a few users AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Don’t worry about the UI too much (I know it’s hard)

2.) This is NOT a public alpha. Rather, get folks that are not afraid to give you the HARSH, UGLY, and DIRECT truth about your product. This is key. It is also important to get users that have not been involved in ANY of the product discussions or iterations. You need a fresh set of eyes.

3.) Keep it PRIVATE. Given the massive amounts of new products that appear everyday, you had better be sure you are damn confident about the alleged awesomeness of what you are sharing. Start small first and don’t be too quick to push something out of the door to the masses. HOWEVER, YOU DO NEED TO PUSH SOMETHING FOR USERS TO TRY ASAP. If you are going to fail, at least fail fast. You’ve heard that one before, but it is so true.

4.) Try to do as little talking as possible about the product. Let the users struggle through it ON THEIR OWN. Try to avoid the need for lots of words to explain what to do. No one reads FAQs except power users. The UI needs to be intuitive.

5.) Be open to negative feedback. Do not explain yourself. Just collect the feedback. It’s amazing if you just shut-up and let a user vent about a product, they build momentum and fully voice their frustrations. Open a Google docs form to collect feedback, but keep in mind the best pearls of advice come from watching a user struggle with the product or a direct conversation about what happened. Keep in mind that positive feedback is simply NOT useful. You can’t act on “This is great!” You can act on “I hated the fact that I couldn’t quickly figure out how to…”

6.) REACH A CRITICAL MASS OF NEGATIVE FEEDBACK… FAST. Collect the feedback and at some point, the glass of negativity will start to overflow – meaning the pieces of negative feedback will start getting repetitive. I doubt there are many products that come out of the gate as awesome.

7.) Collect the feedback and regroup. Chances are that you’ve already been struggling with some of the issues that your test users have mentioned.

8.) START FROM SCRATCH WHEN REBUILDING… I often hear that iterating on an initial design that is flawed is the way to go. I’m not sure I agree. If there are fundamental problems, I think it’s better to start with a clean slate. It clears the mind and the clutter that results from throwing new features at the problem.

9.) Do ONE thing well. I often struggle with this problem. You come up with a few good ancillary ideas that you want to bolt on to the product. The result: a cluttered UI where the user doesn’t know what to do. Redefine the core value proposition in words may be needed. Do users care about the need? Is it even a real need? Why can’t they simply use another product to do this? I know everyone says it, but it’s so true: SCRATCH YOUR OWN ITCH.

10.) Hire a good UI/UX designer. Outsource, or in some cases bring someone on board full time. There will be plenty of stuff that they can do…

And, because we go to “11.”

11.) Spend as LITTLE money as possible in the test phase. The cardinal rule of a start-up is NEVER RUN OUT OF MONEY. OK, maybe that’s not possible, but most start-ups pivot and reach success doing something totally different than what they first thought about. You just need a long enough runway to have a few chances to screw up before you find something that works…

Here are some great blog posts (much better than my own) that touch on pieces of what I’m talking about:

Why I’m treating startups more critically lately

Bill Nguyen: The Boy In The Bubble

Hey mom – since you’re the only one who reads this blog anyway, give me your feedback.

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