Hats off, fellow entrepreneur. As CEO (and at times, janitor) you have at your disposal whatever resources your budget allows, except for one thing. From launch to sale you will have a dire shortage of honest feedback. You need to seek out the elusive unicorn of unbiased feedback by actively searching for it.
While the best insights often spring from diverse, unpredictable, and even random places (like the checkout lady at Gristedes, who did not like my significant other and said to me one Friday night, "You're pretty, he's crazy, what are you doing?!"), when it comes to your business, you need to tread carefully when sourcing advice.
Here are some places to look:
Create a trusted inner circle.
Your first impulse may be to go to your friends, family, and mentors. They are easily accessible. They certainly want to help you succeed. Their advice comes with an unbeatable price tag: free. If you need a pep talk, naturally, the people you know, like, and trust are the first to spring to mind. However, this is your fan club we’re talking about here. Friends and family are a self-selected group who see you through very rosy lenses.
Do you ask your mom if you’re smart/pretty/handsome? If you want to feel better, sure. If you want a straight answer, keep looking. A cheerleading squad is not going to help you make the tough calls.
Research invitation- and revenue-based professional groups.
There are organizations and societies that will place you in a small group setting where fellow entrepreneurs meet regularly to exchange advice. These are people who are out there in the same trenches as you are every day, and can offer their first-hand experience with the wild ride of entrepreneurship. Some of the many groups out there include EO (Entrepreneur Organization), YPO (Young Presidents’ Association), and Vistage.
For many entrepreneurs, the community aspect of an entrepreneur group proves invaluable. Feedback from those in the trenches! I’m often temped to join one. What stops me? The initial investment to find that “perfect” group. You do have to put in legwork to find a group that’s “right” for you. I know some entrepreneurs who lucked into a great group and swear by it. On the other hand, a mismatch could mean that you don’t get a great return on the most significant investment of all - your time. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur growing your business from the ground up, a group of business owners who are at the opposite end of the business life cycle and aiming to sell out are going to be focused on completely different issues.
I’ve opted to create my own entrepreneur’s group via monthly dinners with a few fellow alphanistas who are also the founders and CEOs of successful businesses. We use the same give-get system, bouncing ideas back and forth on any and every topic from hiring to PR. (We also get to catch up and drink, a lot!) This works for some issues because we all have a very “tough love” rapport with one another.
Entrepreneurs may face a dearth of feedback from within their organizations, but there is a wide range of outside sources available. If you want to go beyond "I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me," then you must seek it out. You and your company will grow faster, smarter, leaner and better because of it. And your Mom will still think you’re the smartest in the room.