Why you need someone who ruffles your feathers

Why we don't always say yes to clients

As a founder, you’re prone to bias. (Really, as a human, you’re prone to bias, but we’re going to park this in the founder spot for now. 🚙) Some of the ways this might show up for you: 

  • Optimism bias: The things that sunk other startups? Those won’t happen to you. 

  • Anchoring bias: That one customer conversation totally confirms your idea. 

  • Sunk cost bias: You’ve come this far, so you have to keep going. Obviously.  

  • Confirmation bias: Your Twitter feed 100% backs how you’re running your startup. 

  • Curse of knowledge: Users know as much about your product as you do. 

  • Endowment bias: Your idea is a million-dollar idea because, well, it’s yours. 

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The thing is, it’s really hard to know when you’re biased, let alone fix it. 😬Plus, we adopt biases because they make uncertainty and confusion more comfortable. The world is a busy, noisy, information-overloaded place; biases make it simpler and easier to navigate. Unfortunately, that also means you have a good reason not to even want to admit bias. 🙈

That’s why you need someone who will challenge you. Someone you trust, who will tap on your protective bias cocoon and say, “okay, but what about things from this angle?” Far from hurting your business, this kind of feedback helps it. 💪

We exchange challenging advice on our team each week. If you sat in our Thursday meetings, you’d hear things like: 

  • “That’s really interesting. What would it look like to do it this other way?”

  • “That doesn’t fit with the goal we established.” 

  • “Let’s talk more about this on the side.” 

  • “I’m not sure anyone besides us would like that.”  

This newsletter is an example, too. Andrew challenged me to cut the draft of the email you’re reading in half, so the end result would be more clear. (I think everyone finds research as interesting as I do—a type of bias called the false consensus effect. 🤓Andrew called it out. You’re welcome.) 

Don’t get me wrong. None of us are perfect about giving feedback, throwing out uncomfortable ideas, or admitting when we don’t know something. Doing any of that is hard; the fear of looking stupid or incompetent is deeply ingrained in most people. (My stress dreams all involve me looking like an idiot. For example, leaving my passport at home and not realizing it until I make it to the airport. 🤦‍♂️)

But we say hard things because we believe in challenging assumptions and biases for better end results. In fact, if you ask any of our clients if we’re “yes-men,” they’d tell you no. They’d tell you we’re not afraid of challenging our partner’s ideas and execution plans. We know that’s how you build a great product and get results. 📈 

For example, one of our clients wanted to add automatic payments in their app’s first release. We challenged them to manage invoices manually instead. This kept the original release less bloated and expensive (payments can add $10,000 and a month or more to an initial build), but no less functional for customers. And after testing a self-serve payment option later on, our client realized manual sign ups achieve better results.

More recently, Andrew Morris, client and CEO of GreyNoise, said our hard questions forced him “to think about looking at our product from the user’s perspective” and “pare it down to things that really matter.” He came to us with a huge vision. We helped him hone in on what’s important, so we could go and build those important things for his users. And the engagement around his web app has been incredible. Compared to the old version, the bounce rate has improved by 80% and the time on page has improved by 300%.

👆Oh hey, this case study is coming soon. Stay tuned.  

Challenging assumptions, asking hard questions, and creating an environment that’s safe for all is how we’ve built products for other incredible clients, too. Products that are now used in places like Yale and Dropbox. 🚀

If you’re building a business, find someone who will ruffle your feathers a little. 

Whether it’s an agency you partner with to build out your tech, or a co-founder who helps you do the whole thing, find someone you trust who will call out your biases, challenge your thinking, and keep you focused on what matters. It’s in your startup’s—and your customers’—best interests. 

Need an agency that’s not full of yes-people? Schedule a free call to meet us. The worst thing that happens is you get to chat with Andrew. 😉