A wise person once said there are a lot of things you can't control in life, but you can control your reaction to them. And sometimes, you'd better.
Hold that thought. Now imagine you're an entrepreneur. (Maybe you are one, so you don't have to imagine.) You came up with an incredible product idea. You tested it a on a crowd-funding site, where it was a big success. Now you've built a business--and it consumes your life.
You've tied your net worth to its fortunes--heck, you've probably tied your sense of self-worth to it, too. On a Saturday evening when others are out having fun or relaxing with family, you're obsessing over how business is going.
And then you come across a bad review.
"A piece of [junk]"
The review runs only 35 words--and three of those words are "piece of [junk]." (Only it doesn't really say "junk," but this is a family website.)
It's a short and frustrating and negative review, on the community support website you set up, no less. Now you learn there's one just as bad on Amazon, and people are responding to it. You throw your hands up in frustration, and you have three choices:
- You can ignore it.
- You can ask yourself if there's any good feedback to be culled from the bad review, and respond diplomatically.
- Or, you can hit back. Hard.
Guess which one the entrepreneur in the real-life story chose--and how it's turning out for him?
Garadget Unit No. 2f0036
The entrepreneur is Denis Grisak. The product is Garadget, which is an internet-of-things garage-door opener that you can control from your phone. It raised more than 200 percent of its goal on Indiegogo in February.
I haven't seen one of these in person, so I can't recommend it or not recommend it. Come to think of it, I live in a city and I don't even have a garage; still it seems like a cool product idea. People seemed to like it.
But then a reviewer called R. Martin who bought one was obviously disappointed. Here's the non-cursing version, which he posted on Amazon.
Junk - DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY - iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products.
Grisak wasn't having it. On his company's public forum, he lashed out at Martin:
The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I'm happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I'm not going to tolerate any tantrums.
At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036 ... will be denied server connection.
Attack a customer--helpfully confirm for the world that he or she is an actual, verified purchaser--and refuse to provide further support. So much for "the customer is always right."
Amanda Peet has the answer
You can imagine how this has turned out. I'm the first to admit that I'm not exactly the first to cover this story. Startups are always trying to get media attention--and Garadget certainly has it now. It was on the front page of Hacker News, and then it hit The Atlantic.
And the internet has responded. Go to Garadget's Amazon page now, and it's flooded with 1-star reviews. R. Martin's "piece of junk" review has more than 100 sympathetic replies.
Grisak replied a few more times in the comment thread on his company's site--which honestly seemed only to fan the flames. Finally, last night, he added a flat-out apology. But it's hard to imagine a startup overcoming this kind of PR flameout.
You know what would have been a more productive thing for Grisak to do last Saturday?
He should have read the actor Amanda Peet's article in The New York Times.
Ironically, at just about the same time Grisak was going live with his ban-the-customer response, Peet was going live with an article about why she never reads reviews. Short version: She says she learned the hard way that reacting to a bad review can negatively impact her performance.
And maybe that's the moral. They say if you can't say anything nice you shouldn't say anything at all. This whole episode suggests a corollary: If you can't react constructively, don't put yourself in a position to react at all.