Startup Diary: Don't Fear Negative Feedback, Learn to Love It!

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Entrepreneurs are vulnerable. Successes and achievements, failures and weaknesses are there for all to see. It is very different situation from my previous professional life. I was always good at school and my previous jobs and could easily bluff when I didn’t study or understand something. Now, I don’t and this has become a strength. 

Emotionally, it is a challenge to swallow my pride whenever I hear a negative remark on my company. But, it is extremely valuable so the sooner I speak to potential customers the better. 

At the early stage, I mainly discussed Green Crowding amongst my friends and family. Feedback was positive and encouraging. This largely changed when I entered the incubator programme The Founder Institute. Every week, I pitched in front of a panel of entrepreneurs and investors. Feedback was brutally honest. A simple rule was not to defend yourself. You could only answer direct questions. It sounds strange but actually helped me a lot to control myself in the situation. 

Initially, I feared negative feedback. My reaction was too argumentative and emotional. By not being able to defend myself, I had to make notes and learn instead.

Saying “Thank you for your constructive feedback” already changed a lot. It had a lot to do with attitude. I just kept in mind that all mentors actually wanted to help me. People invest time, thoughts and energy by providing constructive criticism to me. Feedback is not about winning an argument but about improving my company. My family is too emotionally involved to give objective feedback so it is always biased towards the positive.

In my experience, women are often better at saying “I don’t know” than men. In my case, it was actually a strength. 

I actually apply a similar tactic to sales. Whenever I talk to a renewable energy producer, I spend a lot of time understanding their situation. Then, I try to find out what kind of solution they are looking for by asking many questions. Strangely enough, I achieve the best outcome whenever a potential client tells me openly their doubts about Green Crowding. I prepare a catalogue of potential reasons upfront. Then, I ask them, if solution A or B would address the particular concern and provide concrete examples where it worked and why. Again, it is not about winning an argument but finding out how to improve a solution. 

Another thing I realized is that you actually look very weak when you are not able to cope with negative feedback.

Whenever fellow entrepreneurs and sales people give long, unrelated answers to concrete questions I get the impression they are trying to hide a weakness.

Such answers in combination with an arrogant attitude are the worst, in particular in front of clients.

First-time entrepreneur Sissy Müller recently founded Green Crowding, a crowd investing website for tangible green projects.

In her last job as an energy trader, she decided to move to the renewable sector and start a meaningful company. She is putting the best of her knowledge, network and skills to work, making it possible for renewable energy projects to find finance from their local communities. Her experience at an economic consultancy and the European Commission helps her along the way. For the past decade, she has lived abroad, currently in the European capital Brussels.

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page. If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor for details.

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