Soliciting and receiving in-person feedback is one of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can develop. Compared to other types of feedback -- reviewing your analytics, participating in forums, receiving feedback via email, etc -- in-person feedback is, or should be, the most intimate and most valuable feedback you can get. In-person feedback is real-time, face-to-face, information-rich and highly personal.
As a Betaspring Partner, I’m regularly giving in-person feedback, and as the co-founder of my own early stage startup -- Lockify -- I’m constantly soliciting it. In the hopes that it might benefit other entrepreneurs, here are some things I’ve learned from working both sides of the in-person feedback loop:
--Remind yourself that your primary goal for the session is to learn. You’re not there to impress the other person or to get them to like you. While both of those things are great, don’t let them get in the way of job #1: learning how to improve.
--Encourage the other person to be candid. Make it clear to them that you’re not looking to have your ego stroked, and that the most helpful thing that they can do for you is to be candid. I frequently request that they not, “pull any punches.”
--Create space for the feedback to flow. Don’t over structure the session. Let the conversation happen. That way, the other person can focus on those things that they feel most strongly about--this is the feedback that will likely be the most insightful. Also, remember that in order to give thoughtful feedback, the other person needs time to formulate their thoughts. There will be awkward pauses. Don’t fill the space too quickly.
--Dig deeper by telling the person what you heard, and asking follow-on questions. Don’t take feedback at face value. Paraphrase back what you think you’ve heard. Make sure you understand the person, and then dig deeper with follow-on questions. Get to the gold -- the feedback nuggets that improve your understanding and illuminate actionable next steps.
--Don’t get defensive. As soon as you feel defensiveness rearing its head, take a deep breath. Don’t say anything. Smile. Be grateful for this opportunity to learn. Defensiveness is enemy #1 when it comes to benefiting from feedback, and especially in an in-person context. It can shut the whole session down, rob you of learnings, and reflect poorly on you. When you feel yourself becoming defensive, stay calm and carry on.
Finally, be sure to take advantage of being face-to-face with the person, to look them in the eye and sincerely thank them afterwards. For many people, giving candid feedback is just as hard as receiving it. Depending on the quality of the session, you’ve shared an intimate moment together. They’ve taken a risk and have invested in you. Celebrate that and be sure to return the favor.
Jack Templin is a founder and partner of Betaspring. He is the CEO of Lockify, an online security as a service company. Prior to moving to Rhode Island from New York City, Jack was a Lead Strategist at iXL (now Microsoft), and co-founded Arc, a venture-backed consultancy widely recognized as a leader in the field of customer experience design. As a Co-Founder of Providence Geeks and RI Nexus, Jack plays a leading role in Rhode Island’s burgeoning info-tech and digital media sector. He sits on the board of the RI Economic Development Corporation and the Providence Economic Development Partnership. Jack is a graduate of Middlebury College with a B.A. in Economics., and has a Masters from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). He has served as an adjunct faculty member at both ITP and Columbia.