Stop With All The Puffery

If the first thing you here from someone, when you tell them your idea for a new business, is “that’s a great idea”, go talk to someone else.

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Over the past years I’ve had quite a few opportunities to meet with entrepreneurs looking to start new businesses. Or those that have a business, want to talk to someone about a particular problem they are facing, a new product feature they are considering or wondering if they should be raising money to grow their business. I love talking to founders about their ideas. You can tell within minutes if their idea is truly a passion or a fleeting interest to capitalize on a current trend. But what I don’t understand is why we, members of this supportive startup community, partake in puffery. 

Puffery - the act of making someone feel like they should take this idea of theirs, quit their job and go start a business - when deep down the only thing you are thinking is this is the worst idea you’ve ever heard.

Now I know what you are thinking. The startup community should be supportive to those looking to start new businesses. This is how startups become businesses right? And many of them would never come to be if it hadn’t been for those folks that supported them, encouraged them. I just think we’re going way overboard. We’ve lost all honesty in our interactions. There is a lack of genuine transparency. Why do we feel like we can’t look someone in the eye and tell them that their idea is terrible or that you just don’t understand it? Don’t quit your job. Don’t sell your car. Don’t do it. Either you are the problem or your idea is the problem. But either way, it’s not gonna work out for you, and you will waste a huge part of your life and possibly your life savings following something that isn’t going to make it.

That’s a hard thing to say to someone. And certainly there are appropriate ways to communicate that to someone in a more tactful way. But you are not doing anyone any favors by not saying what you really think. I remember showing a business plan for an idea I had to a number of my friends. 99% of them said it was a great idea. They loved it. Go for it, they said. Only one said “I don’t get it. This isn’t going to work out at all”. That’s what I needed to hear. I needed to know why people think its going to fail. Not why its going to be a huge success. Tell me why you think its not going to work, and lets have that discussion.

I think we owe it to others to be honest and stop with all the puffery. Best case scenario is that you’re wrong, your entrepreneur friend takes your feedback and builds the business anyways, and years later sells to Facebook for 19 billion. But then again, you may also save that person from making a big mistake by selling their car, leaving their job and spending the next two years on a product you thought was a total disaster. Either way, you were totally honest and upfront with them from the get’go.

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