Startups: How to Silence Critics and Cultivate Fans



If you are doing anything worthwhile, you will have critics. Learn to discern between those providing valuable feedback on your product or service and those who simply have too much time on their hands and a sour attitude.

When you encounter valuable feedback, determine whether you should implement the suggestions. Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, is candid in explaining one of his major mistakes while running Intel was refusing to listen when customers discovered a flaw in the Pentium’s floating-point unit. He countered the criticism with a public letter to customers explaining that the part was not flawed. This strategy backfired and he was later required to replace the product. The product was indeed flawed.

Tip: Admit when you are wrong and resolve any and all legitimate issues immediately. Don’t fight the truth.

Swift action is also in order when the negative feedback is not valid. The best way to handle negative reviews or comments is to politely and quickly set the record straight.

If the negative review comes in the form of a lawsuit, you may want to follow Taco Bell’s lead and get right in front of the problem. Not only did they set the record straight about their product; they launched an advertising campaign. The advertising campaign brought more attention to their brand and the lawsuit was soon dropped. The brand struggled to regain its footing in the following months, but eventually recovered. Today, Taco Bell is at the top of their game.

Tip: Don’t allow negative sentiment around your brand to brew. Put out fires before you get burned.

Fortunately, building a company is not always about putting out fires. Most of your time will be spent building relationships with your target audience, including your current users or customers.

Make sure your customers know they are being heard. Provide a method of communication that allows them direct access to you. Seek out their feedback and implement changes when appropriate.

Many entrepreneurs worry that they don’t have time to manage communications with their customers. Remember: your customer is the lifeline of your brand and their feedback is gold. When you learn to value your customers, your customers will value you.

The time and money you spend communicating with your target audience and cultivating support is an investment in future sales. Customers are the best source of capital. Spend time responding to blog posts, answering emails, and meeting your customers face-to-face.

Tip: Your customers provide the best form of advertisement and a source of non-dilutive capital.  If you make time for your customers they will make time for you.

This post originally appeared on Atelier Advisors. Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator of Lean Finance for Startups and Finance Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs. All AlleyWatch readers are automatically eligible for a 50% discount on either of the courses using the preceding links.

Image credit: CC by Garfield Anderssen

About the author: Lili Balfour

Lili Balfour is the founder and CEO of the SoMa-based financial advisory firm, Atelier Advisors, creator and host of Finance for Entrepreneurs, author of Master the Finance Game, and host of the Finance for Entrepreneurs broadcast on Spreecast.

After spending fifteen years in investment management and investment banking, she decided to develop a firm to cater to the specific needs of early-stage companies. At Atelier Advisors, Lili advises leading brands across industries: from tech to consumer goods. In the past, she has advised over 100 brands, including:

Bag, Borrow, or Steal, Visual IQ, Alpha Theory, Derivix, Practice Fusion, Peeled Snacks, Sustainable Minds, Firescope, Chix 6, Duchess Marden, Erin Fetherston, Eckart Tolle, and Stuart Skorman (founder of Reel.com, Elephant Pharmacy, Hungry Minds, and Clerk Dogs (sold to Netflix)).

While advising companies at Atelier Advisors, she observed a common theme – -brilliant founders avoided finance. She began writing about entrepreneurial finance to solve this problem.

As a native of Silicon Valley and a first generation Mexican American, Lili understands the importance of imparting wisdom learned in Silicon Valley to the rest of the world. Her goal is to teach the entire planet about entrepreneurial finance.

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