Welcome to Episode 9 of The Startup Chat with Steli and Hiten. This week’s topic is Feedback – how to ask for it, how to give it, and what to do with it once you’ve received it.

Feedback is a vital part of any creative endeavour, whether it’s writing a book or running a business. But in order to grow and improve ourselves and our work, we need to take a step back and get someone else’s perspective. That means asking for feedback. And not just praise and pats on the back (though we love those too) but real, honest feedback, whether it’s positive or critical.

How can you get more feedback? The answer is simple: you have ask for it. Request feedback, and do it often. Offer people as many channels for sending feedback as possible  – email, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, comments on your website – and regularly remind customers of all the ways they can get in contact with you.

Why should you ask so often? And how do you know whose feedback you should use if you want to improve? Hiten puts it very simply: Quantity is the hack. Just like in science or political polls, a large sample size is key to getting an accurate result. For example: after the podcast first started, we got an email from a listener telling them that the first episode was terrible, but the second one was great. Then, they got an email from someone else who said they loved the first episode, but the show had gone downhill ever since.

Knowing the opinions of two people is not enough. But if you have the opinions of 100 people, you get a clearer picture of what the audience is thinking. The patterns start to emerge, and you have a better idea what you should improve on in the future.

Steli’s hack is this simple rule: “You need to know what you want to create to know how to take the feedback.” For instance, Steli sometimes gets told by listeners that he curses too much on the podcast, and that less cursing would be more professional. But as he explains, he doesn’t curse to be crude – cursing is just what naturally happens when he gets really passionate about something. “Authenticity is part of my brand,” he says, and so even though the advice is well-meaning, it’s more important to him to be authentic.

As a podcast listener, when you give us feedback, you’re doing more than just helping us improve. You’re providing yourself and your fellow listeners with a better podcast in the future. Podcasting is an odd medium; even though it can seem like a discussion, with us talking in your ears every week, our dialogue is mostly one-sided. We want our listeners to be involved in the show, and to make the best podcast we can make. But we can’t reach out to you – so we need you to make it happen.

Again, when leaving anyone feedback it’s important to be honest. It’s okay to be critical of something when it’s constructive criticism. It’s also important to be specific. When you contact us, let us know why you listen and what you get out of the podcast. Are we consistently delivering on that? Do your reasons for listening change over time? And if you choose to stop listening, please tell us why.

Today’s Tip:

Steli: When you ask for feedback, be open to whatever is given to you. A lot of people ask for feedback in order to hear what they want to hear. When faced with honest feedback, many people get uncomfortable and they start explaining or excusing themselves rather than listening to what they’re being told. Don’t excuse and explain. Instead, explore. Instead of getting defensive, it’s more constructive to say, “Wow, you have a different opinion than me. Tell me more about it.”

Hiten: It takes a lot of emotional control to respond to criticism in the way that Steli suggests. When receiving criticism, don’t listen to respond. Listen to understand. The anger reflex is natural for a lot of people, but try to suppress it. The easiest way to do this is to acknowledge the fact that you’re hurt. Try to set that hurt aside and absorb what the other person is saying. You can’t learn anything helpful from them if you’re too busy being angry.

Tweet at us with questions and comments from the show today @Steli and @hnshah.

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