Here's my theory: harsh criticism is one of the most valuable commodities out there, and you should be collecting as much of it as possible. Secondly, people enjoy giving harsh criticism, but only if they know it will be appreciated. If they think you might react poorly, you'll never hear it.
Sebastian and I pretty much have a relationship based on harsh criticism. I remember a year ago or so he was in San Francisco, it was after midnight, and we were circling this random patio in the middle of the park. And we were just unloading on each other. It felt like a boxing match or something.
And, you know, after the conversation we were both better off, and probably better friends, too. We both love giving and receiving harsh criticism.
I got an email from him last week, saying that it seemed like my focus on Sett was waning and that I was spending too much effort on learning languages, traveling, and being crazy. It was more eloquently written than that, but that was the gist.
Part of my brain immediately flipped into defense mode. We're growing! People are happy! We're doing well. Okay, but is it possible that all of that is true and I'm still not performing at my best? It was not only possible, but it was also the case. I thanked him for the advice, thought about how I'd implement it, and began immediately. I wouldn't say I'm as focused as I was last year, but I'm ramping it up since getting that email, and it shows in my results.
Yesterday I was talking to my dad on the phone. As you might imagine, we don't often trade style tips. He casually said something about how my hair used to look better when it was shorter. I brushed it off, but he replied and said he was serious and that I should consider cutting my hair.
I composed an email to ten or so people. Close friends, family, a few exes. I linked two pictures of my hair long, two of it medium, and two of it short. What looks best? Anything else I should consider?
I didn't really want to send the email. Maybe people, especially exes I never talk to, might think of this as an imposition. Maybe it would seem vain or trivial. My guy friends would probably just reply with jokes, since we're always giving each other a hard time.
Of course, I sent it anyway. People started replying immediately. At least a third of the people who replied said that they were flattered or honored to be asked their opinion. Some people went into detail and attached photos of styles they thought would look good. Every single reply was constructive and valuable.
I didn't really expect consensus. I figured I'd get responses across the entire range and that I'd have to think about each person's aesthetic and taste and then weigh the results. But I was wrong. Nearly every single person said medium length, and most of them suggested I go on the shorter side of medium.
Whoa! I was nearly certain that long hair was the best look I'd ever had and that my dad was out of touch. Turns out I was the one who was out of touch, and all I had to do to get good information was to ask.
My hair is a pretty trivial example, but the results were so clear that I couldn't help but use it. What other advice are my friends ready to give that would help me? What advice do I have for my friends that I don't share because I'm not sure how they'll take it?
If you have friends that are willing to give harsh feedback, take that feedback, thank them, and be happy about it. If you argue or get defensive, you're cutting off that valuable line of communication. If you're unsure about something, try sending a short email out to a cross-section of your friends. You might be shocked at the replies. Last, err or the side of giving harsh feedback to those you think will appreciate it. It's one of the most valuable commodities you have, and it costs you nothing to give.
Photo is that sweet lion's mane that will be chopped off on Friday.
By the way-- consider it open season to give me brutal feedback, whether you're a friend, acquaintance, family member, or even someone who's just been reading for a long time. I really appreciate it.
I mentioned last week that I had a deadline which I was working towards. I'm going to explain a bit more about this because a) it's consuming my life these days and b) I have the feeling this is going to be the beginning of something big. If it is something big, I think it might be interesting to hear it from the beginning.
What is Y Combinator?
Y Combinator is a "startup accelerator". Since that doesn't mean much, I'll explain how it works. You and your cofounder apply to Y Combinator. If they like you and your startup idea, they give you around $20k in exchange for a small piece of your company.
I meet with a lot of people to exchange ideas and advice. Lately I have noticed a very powerful trait that the most authentic founders, investors, and advisors exercise. I call it the "DGF Principle." Since I come from a military background, I really love acronyms. DGF stands for "Don't Give a F#$k" (aka Direct Given Feedback). Despite containing a curse word, this acronym actually connotes a very positive trait that I've noticed in the most authentic people I've come across in Silicon Valley. DGF People are not insecure and they are willing to provide direct and honest feedback to you.
People who demonstrate the DGF Principle are always mindful of your time. Out of respect for you and for the process of *becoming* an entrepreneur, they don't waste your time by giving you mixed signals or blowing sunshine up your ass. If they don't like your product, they will tell you why. If they are concerned about your market or product they will explain their rationale. If they are concerned about your team, they will communicate this to you. Sometimes their criticism might come across as being harsh, but I have found that so long as they are authentic and honest, then the feedback is constructive at worst and empowering at best. You always walk away knowing where you stand with DGF people, which frees up mental bandwidth to focus on other priorities instead of attempting to second guess them.
When I meet with fellow entrepreneurs I try my best to exercise the DGF Principle. This motivation stems from my belief that you should strive to live the Golden Rule and "treat others as you would want to be treated." Although it seems simple enough, sometimes it can be hard to exercise the DGF Principle because delivering honest feedback can often be a bit uncomfortable in the near-term. But in the long-term it is the most efficient and valuable way to exchange ideas and feedback if you're an entrepreneur, advisor, or investor.
In the past I wish more people would have just told me if they thought my product sucked or if they would NOT use it rather than sidestep the issue. Sometimes giving or receiving a 'No' can be a blessing in disguise, especially when it's wrapped in a thoughtful explanation, which provides clarity on the issue. That's why it's important to seek out authentic people to exchange ideas and advice — because they are most likely to exercise the DGF Principle.
Case in point, a few years ago when I was raising capital for a software company, I had introductions and meetings with notable investors. One investor, in particular liked our market, liked our team, and appreciated our ability to execute with product and customers. He dug in to get more information about the deal, made great introductions, provided honest feedback, and most of all — he was *fast*. He did not waste our time. When he ultimately passed on the deal, he thoughtfully explained his rationale and thanked us for considering him. To this day, I still have a great relationship with this DGF investor. In fact, I have referred him good deals and recommended him to other founders raising capital.