The advice that stings is the advice you need to hear.

Many folks are saying everyone from our kids to our SVPs and CEOs can’t take criticism anymore. It does seem to be more true, in my experience.

VCs are reluctant to be critical of founders, even as they run out of money. VPs of Sales are reluctant to push reps missing quota, again and again. Customer success reps are defended, even if their top customers churn without there even having been a conversation.

Everyone is worried they be called toxic, or things will blow up, if they’re critical of almost everyone today. It’s probably true, to a large extent.

I can only share one life learning:

Criticism stings. It stings me too, even today, albeit less than before.

The criticism that stings the most is the advice you actually need to hear.

The “criticism” that’s just mean? That isn’t actionable? That’s truly unfair? That annoys, but in the end we brush it off.

No, it’s the painful criticism that’s right that stings the most.

  • That yes, we have to sell even harder.
  • That yes, if we don’t make changes, we may run out of money.
  • That yes, our churn rate is too high or our NRR too low.
  • That yes, maybe we’re not as competitive as we used to be.

I needed a good arse kicking a few times as a founder. Not every week or every month, but a few times especially when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Talking to my top mentors was actually often not that fun during those tougher times.

Some of the best tough advice I got as a founder:

  • You’ll fail if you don’t get out of the office and go meet customers
  • You have to work even harder than you are already working
  • We’re canceling our contract (the largest you have) because your product doesn’t work like you promised

And some examples of tough advice I’ve given, that founders have … bristled when they’ve heard:

  • You are going to run out of money if you don’t make changes
  • You’re not being honest enough about the competition
  • That VP isn’t going to cut it, and they’re burning all your cash — and time
  • Your CXO isn’t seasoned enough to do the job you’re asking them to do
  • Your CXO is nice, but that’s not what you need.  You need to execute.
  • Your metrics aren’t really accurate

Perhaps I should sugarcoat that sort of advice better.  Probably.

Unlike a soft boss, or a VC that wants to be seen as founder-friendly, my top mentors were really tough in their advice when I was struggling.  Really tough.

In fact, I can still remember the sting today.

But they were right. Unfair criticism is annoying. But the criticism you really need to hear?

It stings. When it truly stings, try not to take it personally. And go do something about it.

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