I think that most of us show a product to potential users whilst in the same frame of mind as a kid bringing a painting home from school. It’s that “Look at what I made!” moment when we reveal our creation and hope that it will not only be liked, but showered with praise. Beyond the age of 7, this probably isn’t a great way to approach things.
We pour so much of ourselves into developing a product, even just an early MVP, that it’s natural to feel like this. But the search for acceptance masks what we really need from the situation… a discussion about the product.
Lately, I’ve been managing to turn those situations into discussions about whether the product fits, whether it appeals, if it’s useful to that person or their company and, if not, why not. That discussion won’t necessarily always lead to me hearing what I want to hear, but it should point me in the direction of a product that this person, this user, might actually want to use. Whether or not they like it right now it is slightly less relevant, so long as I can turn their reaction into a discussion about why they like/dislike it, or would/wouldn’t use it, and how to mould it into something that would fit their needs better.
Rather than heading away from, I’ve learned to head towards the uncomfortable topics such as whether they would buy it at a certain price and in the way I’m proposing charging for it. “Would you pay for it?” is a tough question, and it often completely colours how they perceive the product. There is a temptation to avoid it, but then that’s a wasted discussion if I plan to charge anyway.
The flipside of making the discussion about the product is that I’ve learned to listen to all feedback, but only act upon it in aggregate. Not every suggestion or comment will necessarily lead to a change in the product, unless the aggregate of the feedback I receive suggests there is value for a significant portion of potential users. Remembering this makes it easier to hear suggestions for crazy features, scattergun feedback on 1001 aspects, ideas for how this product should be an entirely different product (usually in a market I’m not interested in), and other tangential topics. Rather than getting disheartened by this, I can use these as ways to mark the boundary of the product I’m proposing, and to understand why this person either misunderstood what I’m proposing or, more likely, would prefer a completely different product. It isn’t a rejection of the work to-date. Again, it’s a discussion about how to get to something that would actually sell, and that necessarily includes discussing things slightly outside the scope of the product from time to time. Sometimes, those tangential topics even become the product.
So I’ve learned the valuable lesson that it isn’t useful to enter these meetings with my heart on my sleeve and a “Look at what I made!” attitude, difficult though that is. Far better to come out of each meeting with a better idea of what the product should be, and another viewpoint to combine with the ones I already have.
It’s a discussion about the product, not a search for acceptance. And it is absolutely never about me.