Sure, curmudgeons are good in theory, but can critics improve a company? I figured it was an idea worth exploring. Here’s what seven entrepreneurs learned from their biggest critics. Share your insights from grumps in the comments.
Procrastination is worse than making a mistake I had a Board member who was a critic but a constructive one. A situation occurred where I delayed a decision and it resulted in a delay which was detrimental to the company. The Board member was aware of it, took me aside and pointed out my procrastination and the negative impact it had on the company. I knew I was procrastinating at the time and perhaps it was the fear of making the wrong decision. After thinking long and hard about past situations like these I have evolved my thought process in order to not procrastinate, to be more decisive, not fear mistakes and to take risks where appropriate. Prompt decisions, based on the best information at the time, even though they may be wrong, lead to innovation and forward progress. This discipline has helped my subsequent businesses in terms of making better decisions faster, preserving cash and getting quality products to market sooner. It should also be noted that concurrent with the above, good planning, implementation and execution is critical. Peter DeComo is the CEO of ALung Technologies, a medical device company that’s developed an artificial lung
Delegate I’ve learned over the years the importance of surrounding yourself with talented people and personal time management. There’s a very important relationship between the two. Too many entrepreneurs and senior executives try to do too much themselves, with the mistaken belief that they need to personally be involved in every important decision. This feeling can create havoc with personal time management, allowing everyone access to you at all times so you and only you can make the “important” decision. The reality is this approach does not scale. To successfully grow an organization, entrepreneurs and senior executives need to surround themselves with highly skilled and talented personnel, empowered to make many key decisions.
Tim Kowalski is the CEO of Halfpenny Technologies, a health IT company with a cloud-based clinical data exchange for clinical laboratories, hospitals, health plans, and EHR vendors.
Explain your product The best criticism I got was from an associate at a VC firm whom I had a 30 minute phone conversation with at the very beginning of starting Context Matters. He was very polite, asked some good questions, and then sent me a rejection a week later. When I asked him to explain his decision, he took the time to write me an email asking me a series of questions which were both specific and showed inconsistencies in my original pitch to him. Examples included how I was going to make something abstract into something tangible and how was it possible I could believe that a single product could satisfy multiple customer segments. These were valid observations and forced me to realize that I needed to get out of my own talk track, stop trying to raise money based on an complex idea that was difficult to explain, and begin working immediately with a prospective/beta customer to build out what I was imagining. That email was a turning point for me because it allowed me to think about raising a smaller family and friends round of money and to start shopping to a handful of industry contacts the chance to work with me to help build out the idea. It worked! Not only did we get our first “beta” customer, but we were able to validate what we were building because of their involvement. We were also able to use the cash to build a small prototype based on the specs we had developed with our beta customer. In essence, we changed our approach to “show” rather than “tell” what the idea, the vision, and more importantly, the application was. Dr. S. Yin Ho is the founder and CEO of Context Matters, a company that aggregates global drug reimbursement data packaged as a risk management tool.
Be a better manager I would say the thing we learned from our biggest critic was to focus on asking more questions and listening more in meetings with customers and partners, and to also take copious notes and stay organized with managing all action items from each meeting. It was super useful feedback to learn early-on, and it helped both of our businesses in understanding the needs of the customers better and also proving that we cared deeply about their needs and were trying to build a solution. Nat Turner, co-founder of Flatiron Health, an oncology data analytics business.
Simplify Our biggest venture capital critic pointed out that QUICK needs to stay focused and be the best at ONE product. Putting all the companies’ time, resources and passion into ONE product gives QUICK the best chance for success. We have focused on diabetic saliva glucose testing and are very glad we took their sage advice. Dr. Ron Clark is an ER physician, co-founder of smartphone diagnostic company, QUICK.
Be device agnostic Some critics said we shouldn’t offer a combined hardware/ software solution. In the early days, I was sure this was bad advice. Just look at Apple and their business model. It seemed to make sense to me to bundle our software with hardware, just like Apple was doing. When we first launched our business, there were limited hardware options, and none that had all the functions we wanted, so we went down the combined hardware/software solution route for a while. Now, with the proliferation of hardware options, our original critics turned out to be right and we’re now a device agnostic, Software as a Service company. Joe Blewitt is the CEO and founder of Epion Health, a provider of patient education tools for patients in doctor’s office waiting rooms
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