Don’t Listen To Your Friends

I don’t ask my friends and family what they think of this blog.  If you have a product or service you want to demo, you don’t want to ask your family and friends for their opinion either. 

A good friend’s husband is working on launching a cooking school here in Southwest Florida.  Utilizing the Lean Startup method (and wisely so), he decided to rent out his neighborhood clubhouse to do a cooking demonstration in order to see how it would go and what the participants’ reaction would be.  

A brilliant strategy for validating the concept without actually launching the school.  What wasn’t so brilliant was who he invited – all their close friends.  I am not close friends with the husband, but his wife knows I teach entrepreneurship, so I think that’s why I was invited. 

My boyfriend and I decided to attend, and I promised to give my honest feedback.  I didn’t think this would be a problem, but I also didn’t think I’d be sitting across from one of the couple’s closest friends.  Here are some examples of the problems: 

Example One: 

As the cooking demonstration began, the wife started handing out ingredients from the fridge (non-refrigerated items were already on the table).  I started musing aloud “I wonder how many assistants are required for every eight people?”  The couple across from me immediately said, “I think it’s going great! I don’t know what you are talking about!”

Example Two: 

The chef/husband came over to our table after it was over and asked what we thought.  I immediately asked, “So who is this cooking class for? The beginner cook or advanced?” Immediately the couple sitting across from us said, “I think anyone could do this class!”  

Example Three: 

In this class, we made fresh pasta with several heavy-duty pasta makers.  My boyfriend then asked, “Would we be able to make pasta at home without your pasta maker? How would we do that?  And, as expected, the couple across from us said, “Everyone has a pasta maker! You don’t have a pasta maker?!”

At this point I resigned myself to the realization that no matter what I said or asked, that couple across from us were never going to let us be critical of their friend.  In the end, I never gave them my honest assessment of the event and still haven’t today.  

Not that my opinion is the only opinion that matters in this case, but it was an opinion from someone he probably should have gotten.  I had so many questions to ask him about how he was strategically thinking about the type of class, the time of day, the ingredients, the costs, etc.  I’m fairly certain he had not yet thought about many of the questions I had.  

The bottom line is that when it comes to validating your concept, friends and family suck at it.  They will always point out the positive and encourage you because, well, they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.  As an entrepreneur, you want your feelings hurt.  You want frank, honest, and sometimes heartbreaking feedback.  The more a person doesn’t know you, the better. 

After you’ve done several low-cost/lean startup experiments and truly validated the concept, invite your friends and family to your grand opening, but not to any opportunity where you want actual customer feedback. 

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