EntrepreneursVenture Capital

The difficulty of getting feedback

By June 21, 2007 2 Comments

As a VC getting good feedback is hard. Nobody wants to run the risk of annoying you so they only ever come through with compliments. A case in point – the talk I gave at NMK 07 last week should have been better – I knew that as soon as I got off stage, but I’ve only had people come and tell me how interesting it was.

The same is true for startups. I try and give as much feedback as I can but it is difficult. This post from Marc Andreessen explains some of the reasons why. To pick out a couple of highlights:

[when VCs say no] politely ask them for feedback (which they probably won’t give you, at
least not completely honestly — nobody likes calling someone else’s
baby ugly — believe me, I’ve done it)

If I’m giving feedback I am only doing it to try and help. There is little benefit to me. I try and weave my messages into conversation and keep things subtle but inevitably there are sometimes ‘elephants in the room‘. In these situations before I open my mouth I evaluate whether it will help. I wonder ‘will this feedback be well received?’ ‘is the recipient ready to hear the message?’, or ‘will it just make them angry?’ or, worse, ‘will it dent their confidence and send them on a downward spiral?’ Get any of these wrong and it is no fun – nobody likes calling someone else’s baby ugly.

Later on Marc gets more specific about the difficulty of getting honest feedback on your team:

[to get funding] You may have to swap out one or more founders, and/or add one or more founders.I put this one right up front because it can be a huge issue and the odds of someone being honest with you about it in the specific are not that high.

Giving feedback on a subjective, personal and emotional issue like this is always going to be difficult and especially so when you don’t know someone very well. Put into the context of a fundraising process the challenge is that if there are serious questions over the team it is unlikely that the VC and entrepreneur are going to spend enough time together to build the kind or relationship that is a necessary precursor to this sort of message.

I guess my point here is that feedback is hard to come by, so we all need to keep our antenna up listening for any kind of messages, particularly of the ‘constructive’ variety. Doing this well requires a high degree of self awareness.

Marc Andreessen’s post is well worth a full read by the way, as is the first in the series. I am looking forward to the next one.

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