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John Petersen

Brutally Honest Feedback from the Heart

I just read a post from Brad Feld called Brutal Honesty Delivered Kindly. It’s one of my favorite posts I’ve read in a while because it discusses the difficulties with always being honest, transparent and authentic.

When we started Firehawk Creative a year ago, we made a conscious decision that honesty was going to be one of the 4 main pillars of the company (the others being passion, expertise and collaboration). As I look back on the first year, it is honesty that I am most proud of. We talk about brutal honesty all the time — Burn Your Ideas to the Ground — but more importantly we are living it every day with every client, entrepreneur and founder we meet.

Where Honesty Gets Tricky

In theory, honesty is a very simple concept. Be truthful and straightforward with everyone including yourself.

But honesty gets complicated when you factor in things like empathy and kindness. Should you tell someone that you don’t like their startup idea after they just told you that it's their life’s passion? Should you tell someone you’ve just heard the same pitch 2 times last week? Should I tell David that the code he just spent the entire morning writing doesn’t actually solve the problem we hoped it would?

We strongly believe the answer is yes — always be honest no matter how painful it might be. Here’s the core problem: often times, it is so much easier to be nice than it is to be honest.

“That’s great David” isn’t going to help us make a better product for our clients. In the rare occasion he writes some code that doesn’t make sense, he knows I’m going to tell him and we're going to work together to fix it. And he certainly has no problem telling me when I suck :)

Be Supportive and Empathic

And that’s why Brad’s post is so great. Brutal honesty. Delivered kindly.

Deep down, we want to be supportive of people making the leap into entrepreneurship. We certainly know how tough it is and we want to see them succeed, but we believe that honest feedback is so much more valuable than being another cheerleader. If we know of startups that have tried your idea and failed, we’re going to tell you right away, so hopefully you can learn from their mistakes. If we think your idea is not at all interesting, we’re going to tell you that and then tell you why.

Friends Don't Give Friends Honest Feedback

We’re not here to be your friend. We’re here first and foremost to help you build an incredible product, and we know that it's important to do that properly (aka don't be an ass). We may not always be right and what we say may not be directly applicable to you, but that's for you to decide.

Our main goal in being brutally honest is to help you improve.

Everyone says they are open to feedback. Most really aren’t open at all. And some even get offended when we tell them exactly what we are thinking. These are the conversations that make honesty difficult. We would much rather take the easy way out and tell you that your shit don’t stink, but that isn’t helping anyone.

We definitely want to follow the lead of Brad and the Foundry Group on this one. We are still always going to be brutally honest, and we are focused on doing it as kindly as possible.

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