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Poker facing entrepreneurs with poor startup ideas

If you’re one who’s suffered the misfortune of having to maintain a poker face while an overexcited entrepreneur shared their “revolutionary” idea, then this article might be helpful. And by helpful, I mean unhelpful.

It appears some startup founders have spent endless hours trying to execute an idea only to realise – after severely disfiguring their bank accounts – that it wasn’t quite as brilliant as they’d initially thought.

Here’s the moral dilemma: do you really want to tell someone who’s so filled with hope that their idea sucks? Especially when you consider the success of technologies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, iOS and PayPal, that were all terrible ideas – right up until they became indispensable tools?

See how Michael Wolfe puts it (via Quora):

  • Google – we are building the world’s 20th search engine at a time when most of the others have been abandoned as being commoditised money losers. We’ll strip out all of the ad-supported news and portal features so you won’t be distracted from using the free search stuff.
  • Facebook – the world needs yet another MySpace or Friendster except several years late. We’ll only open it up to a few thousand overworked, anti-social, Ivy Leaguers. Everyone else will then join since Harvard students are so cool.
  • Twitter – it is like email, SMS, or RSS. Except it does a lot less. It will be used mostly by geeks at first, followed by Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen.
  • iOS – a brand new operating system that doesn’t run a single one of the millions of applications that have been developed for Mac OS, Windows, or Linux. Only Apple can build apps for it. It won’t have cut and paste.
  • PayPal – people will use their insecure AOL and Yahoo email addresses to pay each other real money, backed by a non-bank with a cute name run by 20-somethings.

Then again, isn’t it better to just tell them rather than have the blood of their business on your conscience?

It is hard to shit on someone’s dreams, but according to utilitarianism, it’s more morally acceptable than to let someone pick up the pieces after a predictable train wreck.

Mat Beeche, Founder of Shoe String Media Group has never shied away from informing me of how craptacular my ideas are. It certainly saved me from having to rob a bank to pursue my self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary’ ideas. Therefore, his honesty saved me from being sentenced to prison. Ultimately, that’s a better outcome.

I say this while fully acknowledging my own hypocrisy. I’ve never been able to say, “I think you should consider a different idea”.  I generally say, “Oh … that’s cool”. After all, who am I to criticise?

But those same startup founders have come back after developing their mobile or web-based applications begging for publicity because they haven’t been able to attract any users. This is because there are many other applications in the market that are well-designed and do the job much better.

Proof of concept. Product-market fit. All of this business jargon is actually important, at least if you’re looking to commercialise your product.

Of course, it’s not always easy to see the flaws when you’re emotionally invested in an idea.

But if there’s any ounce of uncertainty, it’s not a bad idea to stand in front of investors and pitch your heart out. They will be brutally honest – probably, more so than your friends. But that’s the point.

I personally would never tell a friend that her bonbons look massive in “that” dress, even if it did. Surely, I’m not the only one?

And those who suffer from being too nice, it might be a good idea to think about the potential consequences of not being completely honest.

Think of it this way, and I apologise in advance for using this example – when you’re watching those excruciating X Factor auditions, don’t you wish someone had told those people that they can’t sing before they decided to go ahead and humiliate themselves on national TV?

The point is: Sometimes, we shouldn’t sugar-coat criticism.

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Startup Daily