Founders: Ask Questions, then SHUT UP and Listen

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If you have ever started a company you know that founders can’t do it alone. You can start working on the idea and get customer feedback but you can’t go very far with a new venture without help from others.

And, it is best if the help you are getting is from people smarter than you or who are coming from a different perspective. If you are solving a problem or creating a new product without different ideas from others who have different backgrounds than yourself, then it just won’t be as good. Any founder who has tried to get a product customer-ready without other people’s feedback turned out a product that was really only 50% of what it could be.

Talk To Smart People

Yes, I know you have a great idea and no one knows the customer’s problem like you do but you (the founder) are too close and can’t see all the opportunities or possibilities of your new product. Go find people who know more, or at least as much as you do, about your products or services, and ask questions frequently. When you talk to other smart people they may bring up ideas that you can expand on to make your product exponentially better. It doesn’t matter where the kernel of the idea comes from, it just needs to be talked about and discussed in detail. That can help you visualize your product being used in ways that you may have not even thought about.

What I’ve Learned

I am bringing this up because I am doing exactly this with the new TV talk show I am working on. I have never done a TV show before. I have never written for a TV show before. I have never designed a TV show’s set before.  But, what I can do is look for people who have done all of these things before.  I can ask around and look on LinkedIn for people who have done some of these things much better than I can even imagine. I can meet with people who have been on talk shows and get the tips and tricks they used.Two tall chairs sit next to a cafe table in front of the Start IT Seattle logo which is on a TV screen

So, I am bringing all of these people together to fulfill the vision I have of helping startups in Seattle be better so they will have a bigger chance for success. My job is to explain where I think the show should go and listen to feedback. I have told the story many, many times over the last several months and I have learned a lot about what people want to see.

I’ve changed the segments. My original idea was not to have two founders compete with their one-minute elevator pitches. I originally thought of showcasing one founder but, as I talked with others about the idea, people told me that they wanted to interact with the show. That’s the reason we have two founders competing; it allows the audience to engage, ask interesting questions, and be part of the show.  

People have helped write for the show, designed the set, directed the show and I obviously had a crew of professionals to shoot in the studio. There are ten experienced people doing different jobs when we shoot the show.

I have been lucky to get smart people, who have done this before, to give me their ideas about how to create, deliver, and promote Start IT Seattle. I sit down and explain my vision and then shut up and listen to these smart people. The result, hopefully, is a great product.

Get Feedback to Improve Your Product

This should be true for all products or services…surround yourself with smart people, ask questions, listen to the feedback and do your best to incorporate what you hear into your vision. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but that is why you are there to guide the creation of the product.

My big lesson is…seek out very smart people, ask them questions, and then SHUT UP and listen. Take their feedback and make your product better. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t. But it is possible.

Start IT Seattle premieres Saturday, December 12th at 7:30 p.m. on KIRO TV 7 and will be streaming on the KIRO website. Maveron’s Co-Founder Dan Levitan is my first guest. We’re sharing resources for startups on our Facebook page in our Twitter feed @StartITSeattle. Additional parts of my interview with Dan that we didn’t have time to run on-air will be available on our YouTube page. And, here’s the show’s video promo.

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