Listen to the Quiet Ones

While the more visible extroverts seem like a natural first choice to approach for feedback on your product, you can learn as much when you listen to the quiet ones.

Listen to the Quiet Ones

This a joint post with Howard Dernehl.

Creativity and inventiveness are vital traits in a bootstrapper. Pursued to their logical conclusion, they can result in new products that are exciting and essential, rewarding for customers and bootstrappers alike. But first, you have to get feedback and perspective on your next product offering: you need others to validate the possibilities that you see and suggest refinements

Seek out and listen to the quiet onesIt’s tempting to approach the folks at the front of the stage at events and gatherings or the highly visible commenters in forums who are never at a loss for an opinion. On the plus side, they can offer simple, clear-cut assessments, and if they like your product, their visibility means that their comments will help you promote it. But they are often pressed for time and short of attention, so they may not take the time to understand the complexity of the problem you are solving or the more subtle nuances of the benefits you offer.

In our experience, you are better to start with the quiet, more thoughtful people who are more comfortable behind the scenes. Then, if you treat them with respect, you can have a long and intelligent conversation backstage that yields more insight. Of course, you will need to boil down your product description, demo, and answers to questions, so they fit the sound bite format required when you are on stage. But you get there by starting with long conversations with the curious and open-minded.

When it’s your turn to speak

When you have your turn on stage, there is a tendency to speak with the same bold declarations and certainty that the highly visible tend to embrace. But a “fake it until you make it” posture may undercut your chance to impress real prospects. While it’s fine to be optimistic about capabilities and likely outcomes when you can be confident, answering “I don’t know, but I am happy to work with you to find out” is more likely to engage a prospect.

If you have developed an innovative product, something unique and potentially disruptive, you are more likely to gain traction with well-grounded assertions. Make statements that you can prove, keep them as accurate as the data you have gathered permits. Strong claims are acceptable where you have examples or other proof.

A novel product returns an entrepreneur to amateur status until its capabilities have been fully verified in actual use by customers. It’s normal to feel doubt. You can be confident in your ability to succeed eventually but allow for enough doubt so that you listen patiently to complaints, critiques, or suggestions for improvement from prospects.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Bertrand Russell


If you want to be successful as an innovator:

  • Seek conversations based on mutual curiosity with the quietly knowledgeable.
  • Earn their trust with plain-speaking assertions based on what he knows.
  • Admit when you do not know.
  • Ask for a critique of your product and act on it.

About Howard Dernehl

I met Howard Howard Dernehl, at the first Bootstrappers Breakfast we hosted in Sunnyvale in October, 2006. Francis Adanza had met him at several entrepreneurial networking events earlier that year and invited him. He was a senior product manager at NetApp by day and a startup entrepreneur in the early morning, evening, and on the weekend.  He has contributed to this blog on several occasions, this is our first joint post.

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Image Credit: Pablo Gentile for “Hello” (Unsplash license)

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