How do you tell someone their idea is bad?

Vincent Turner ‏@vinaeco: My question – how do you tell people who you think will never get funded that you think this is the case? #startups

ANSWER:

You are a good friend for wanting to guide your entrepreneurial friend in the right direction. But don’t forget that it’s his life, his ideas, his dreams. There’s a way to tell him that doesn’t step over boundaries but you also have to be very careful not to ruin your friendship. Try to keep the love, and it is love when you want to save him from financial ruin, time ruin, emotional ruin – and try to keep the discussion as honest and gentle as possible.

I say, “that sounds like a bad idea. Here’s why.” And I give not a criticism but a constructive criticism.

I find I get unconstructive criticism a lot. Which is fine. People can say whatever they want. But I often get letters that sound something like, “I don’t usually like your stuff but this time I did.” Or…”I don’t usually agree with you but I like this one thing you said.” Why do people want to tell me (or tell themsleves) that they usually don’t like me BUT. People like to know that they are safe inside. That nothing has moved them. “I’m usually normal but every now and then I…” take a naked swim in a public pool.

It’s the same thing when criticizing an idea. Most people like to be critics. They think they aren’t smart unless they are criticizing. So that makes most people bad critics since usually their criticism has no basis.

Don’t say anything unless every word is dripping with value. “I don’t like your idea because…” you have no plan for getting users, OR…the product is going to be too expensive and you can’t raise money…OR it’s been done before by X, Y and Z companies… OR your valuation is too high – don’t be a pig. This way you have given him what you feel is a roadmap for success. He may agree with you. Or he may not. That is his business and not yours.

Don’t say something useless like, “Google can easily do it.” Duh. Google can do anything. But they won’t. Google has done nothing except search well (ahh, Gmail also but a lot of people have done email. And I do admit I’m typing this into Google Docs on a Google Chrome browser right now. Ugh, I guess they can do your product. But they aren’t going to do a dating service. Or a car. Well, a car they will do. But maybe you can do a better car but you won’t get funding for that).

Be constructive and really help. In order to do that you have to dig deep. Your friend has put a lot of thought into his idea. You won’t put the same amount of thought in, but you owe it to him to dig deep to come up with an answer. Or don’t respond at all. Silence is golden.

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