It Never Hurts to Ask

In the early days of starting a new venture, it’s important to get out and speak to as many people as possible about what you’re working on.  As Chris Dixon advises, you should share your new idea and why you think it will work with people because this is one of the fastest ways to work out kinks in your pitch and hear interesting perspectives on underlying assumptions in your business model.  But despite knowing at a conceptual level that this approach is useful, many entrepreneurs (ourselves included) sometimes fail to ask people for the time to listen, for advice, and for introductions.

Why don’t we ask more often?

Most things we don’t do as often we should fall into two camps:  the boring/repetitive/painful (see: the gym and flossing) and the things that make us scared, like asking people for favors.  We often fail to ask for help and advice as often as we should because we’re afraid on some level.  You know the feeling I’m describing; you get a bit of adrenaline and you start thinking about everything that could go wrong.

They could reject me outright.  They could totally misunderstand what I’m trying to do and ridicule it.  I could waste their time and be caught in that skin-crawling moment where their eyes try to find the waiter for the check 15 minutes into talking or they stop answering the questions over the phone.  But the reality is that this only happens in the rarest of occasions, as long as we follow a couple key rules of engagement.

People like being experts, they like sharing their viewpoint.

Almost every time you ask for someone’s advice, they are going to be happy to share it.  Let them share it on their own terms though.

Make your schedule work for theirs.  Use the time they have to allot.  Structure your thoughts and questions in order of most important, so if they get pulled away after 15 minutes for an urgent matter, you’ve addressed the most pressing things you wanted to ask them.

Most people are inclined to help others, and as long as you’re being respectful of their time and opinion, they will help you.

You always learn something from getting other people’s opinion on your product

The product you see in your head and are mocking up is not fully formed yet.  It hasn’t encountered customers yet.  It hasn’t had people who have been in business for 20 years pick holes in it.  Talking about it and hearing different perspectives gets you closer to a viable product.  Most people want you to succeed too, or at least they have no vested interest in seeing you fail.  They aren’t going to cheerlead you like your parents, but that’s a very good thing.  These people will be the most honest about where your product needs work and will be the most likely to spot sneaky problems with your assumptions you haven’t seen yet.

It never hurts to ask people for their time to talk about your product, so overcome the petty fears and get out there and do it.

 

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