Starting Up (Is Hard To Do): The Perils Of Positive Feedback

Entrepreneurs have become the 21st Century Cowboy. The idea of starting something from scratch, bucking the security of a bi-monthly company paycheck and venturing out to the great unknown to strike it rich calls back to the ethos of the cowboy. Waylon could very well update his song to be “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to do startups.”

Just as people loved cowboys, they love entrepreneurs. I have never met anyone who wanted a person to fail when they venture off to start a business. While you should certainly be appreciative of positive feedback, you should not fall into the trap of thinking that positive feedback equals automatic success. Praise doesn’t pay the bills – a signed contract and endorsed check do. Here are three positive feedback traps that you should be wary of if you are starting a business.

1. American Idol Syndrome

Friends and family are often the best support for entrepreneurs. These people are always there for you with an encouraging word to get you through the tough times. However, you might not get the entire story from them.

Consider how many bad vocalists try out for the popular singing competition American Idol. Yes, there are those over-the-top atrocious performers like William Hung who will get air time so we can get a good laugh, but think of how many truly awful singers line up for an audition that you never see. I am positive that these people believe they are talented singers. Why shouldn’t they? Their friends and family have told them for years how amazing they are.

This is the American Idol syndrome. As much as the people closest to you want you to be successful starting a business, they also don’t want to be the ones to give you bad news. As you receive positive feedback from these folks, ask them what they don’t like about your idea, product and service.

2. The Ugly Baby Syndrome

I have never met an ugly baby in my life. I’m going to bet that you never have either. Whenever a new mom or dad, grinning ear to ear, shows you a picture of their newborn child, I’m sure you can’t help but respond with, “What a beautiful baby! She is so adorable!” This is your response even if it appears that child fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Your new idea might as well be your baby. As mentioned before, people want entrepreneurs to succeed. Even if they might think you’re idea is absurd and full of holes, very few potential clients and customers will come out and tell you. There is that part of them that wants you to succeed, and there is no way that they are going to tell you that what you have been working on is stupid and will never work.

This is hard to tease out if you really have a “cute baby,” or if you are blinded by the love of your idea and passively accept others halfhearted compliments. Again, open up conversation as you pitch your idea to see if people have any feature requests or ideas for improvement.

3. The Used Car Lot Syndrome

My love of cruising car lots comes from my dad. While I try to do this when there are no salesmen around, one will inevitably snare me. Regardless of how many times I tell the salesman that I am just looking, they will accompany me throughout the car lot, show me all the bells and whistles of each car and invite me back to their desk to talk more.

I’m a nice guy and, reluctantly, I will go with them to the showroom floor. I mean, this guy spent all this time showing me all of the cars on the lot so the least I can do is go and hear his pitch. I politely sit at his desk and give him 15 minutes to talk before I have to go to an urgent appointment that was previously scheduled, but one that I had forgot about until just now. The salesman comes to his close and I take his card and I tell him, “Good deal. I’ll be sure to give you a call.”

There is no way that I am going to call him.

Most of us have been in a situation like this. You know you’re not going to buy anything, however, you end up telling the salesman that you’ll give them a call. As a person starting a business, you are now on the other side of the table. There will be plenty of potential customers you pitch who will tell you “We’ll be in touch.” Rather than celebrating a potential sale, be more measured with the thick skin of a used car salesman who knows that only very small fraction of people will ever return a call.

Starting Up (Is Hard to Do) is a weekly series published every Friday on the Rackspace Blog from a guy who is in the trenches of starting up a business while working a day job. Check out Garrett’s previous post that talked about lessons he learned from his first pitch.

Garrett Heath develops content and supports customers on the Rackspace Social Media team. His previous experience includes technical project management in the cloud, content marketing and social media marketing. He enjoys writing about how the cloud is spurring innovation and telling stories about the people behind the tech. You can also read his work at In his free time, Garrett writes about food and local San Antonio culture at SA Flavor.


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