New Biz

3 Subtle Signs the People You’re Pitching Actually Like Your Startup Idea | by Aaron Dinin, PhD | Aug, 2022

Because nobody is going to directly tell you if your startup idea sucks

Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

In nearly two decades of building startups — two decades that have included at least a half dozen failed companies — I don’t recall a single person ever giving me explicit negative feedback on my startup idea. Sure, plenty of investors rejected me. And, yes, tons of potential customers didn’t buy from me. But none of them ever did so by telling me my idea was terrible.

I bring this up because, In retrospect, a lot of my early startup ideas were, objectively, bad ideas. I should never have tried to build them. But I did. I wasted years of my life trying to build things that should never have existed because I thought I had good ideas and the people I was pitching never told me otherwise.

I’m sure I’m not online. In fact, I’d argue one of the biggest challenges every entrepreneur faces in the early days of building startups is figuring out whether or not their startup ideas are fundamentally any good. It’s a difficult problem because, regardless of how good your startup idea actually is, it’s still your idea. The simple fact you came up with it will inevitably make it seem like a reasonable idea regardless of whether or not it’s actually worth pursuing.

Because everyone’s startup ideas usually seem like decent ideas to themselves, most entrepreneurs recognize the importance of getting other people’s opinions. The bad entrepreneurs usually do this by asking the opinions of their friends. (FYI — asking your friends is bad because they’re not an unbiased or experientially diverse group of people.)

In contrast, good entrepreneurs know to seek out the perspectives of people whose opinions might actually be meaningful. For example, they’ll talk with experienced industry experts, potential investors, and people who might be good customers or users.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to at the start of this article, the feedback that comes from talking with the “right” people is still much harder to parse than most entrepreneurs realize because people are terrible at giving honest feedback.

To be clear, I don’t mean people intentionally lie in order to be malicious. Nor am I suggesting anyone is going to deliberately sabotage your startup dreams by telling you your idea is amazing when they secretly know it’s terrible. Instead, the people you solicit feedback from are never going to be entirely reliable because — for the most part — they don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of telling you your idea stinks.

Because this is the case, you, as the entrepreneur, need to come up with better ways of figuring out whether your idea is worth pursuing. Luckily, you don’t have to do anything different than what you’re (hopefully) already doing, which is talking with the right kinds of people. You just need to stop listening to what they’re saying and start watching their actions. To understand what I mean, here are three signals people will give off when they’re genuinely interested in your startup idea:

Signal #1: Excited body language

People are usually good at controlling their words. They’re not nearly as good at controlling their body language. Because of this, you can learn to read what people really think by ignoring the opinions coming out of their mouths and focusing on how they’re interacting with you. Are they sitting comfortably? Are they smiling a lot? Are they taking casual sips of their drinks?

Those people aren’t interested in what you’re doing. Those are people just waiting for the meeting to be over.

In contrast, is the person you’re talking with leaning forward on the edge of a chair? Is the person tapping a foot or fidgeting? Does the person seem a little excited or antsy? That’s someone who’s excited about what you’re showing.

Signal #2: Offering personal intros

When people are genuinely excited about what you’re building, they’re going to switch from people you’re trying to sell to people who are trying to sell you. They want to find ways of delivering value to you in the hopes of making them more appealing as customers, investors, partners, etc.

The most common way of doing this in the business world is by offering to make intros to other potential customers. They’ll say things like, “I also know the guys who run XYZ Other Company, and they’d be great customers for this. I can make an intro if you want.”

Just remember that sometimes people offer to make introductions as a way of getting entrepreneurs to bother someone else. These types of intros look and sound different. Rather than trying to add value, they usually start with phrases like: “You know who you should talk with…”

You should be able to easily recognize the difference. When people are genuinely excited about your product, the intros they’ll offer will be presented as “extras” given in addition to them working with you.. In contrast, when people are offering an intro as a way of getting you to go away, they’ll be implying that they’re the wrong people to speak with, and someone else is a better person. This type of intro is a sign your idea isn’t as good as you think.

Signal #3: Quick and/or pro-active responses

Getting meetings with potential customers, investors, and mentors is often a slow and tedious process. You’ll usually have to chase people down, send multiple emails, and generally work hard to keep the person’s attention.

If, after pitching your startup to someone, communication is still a slog, that person doesn’t think what you’ve built is very exciting. They’re subtly telling you your startup idea sucks.

However, if the person you pitched starts responding quickly — or, better yet, starts proactively reaching out — you know you’re building something people genuinely want. You’re on the right track, and you should definitely keep going.