Nothing clarifies things quite like a hyperactive, all-knowing, all-seeing, real asshole of a devil’s advocate beating the living crap out of you.
Baseball players swing heavy bats before going up to the plate; acclimating to difficult working conditions makes it easier to hit the ball out of the park.
What’s the equivalent of the heavy bat for honing your skills at pitching your product and raising money for your company?
For years I’ve been a fan of Scott Berkun’s concept of Rude Q&A:
What would the meanest, nastiest, but smartest people in the world grill you on when you show your work?
A Rude Q&A is a list of questions [about your work that] you don’t want to hear.
When you’re contemplating an exciting new idea, you don’t want to hear questions that might contradict your concept.
And of course, that’s exactly when you need the biggest, baddest, smartest, devil’s advocate to challenge all your assumptions.
It’s not just about testing the mettle of your ideas, it also forces you to refine and clarify your marketing messages, your target customer profile, and your feature set. When you’re being grilled there’s no room for being generic about how you’re different from the competition, no leniency for not knowing exactly what customer pain you solve, and no clemency for wavering on your company values and what compromises you’re willing to make.
Scott goes on to explain just how unfair the questions need to be:
Make sure to include questions that are unfair or based on erroneous information. Reporters, clients, and the public all have their share of unfair questions and erroneous information, and you want to be ready for them.
These answers take more time as the responses need to be more polite and mature than the questions. They also need to carefully refute assumptions in the questions without being dismissive.
I love it; now we’re deep into “heavy bat” territory.
So how do you go about writing your Rude Q&A? Oddly, the hardest part can be coming up with the questions.
To get you started, I’ve assembled a laundry list of questions common to many startups:
- Your biggest competitor just dropped their price to $0. How do you continue to justify your price point?
- If your idea is any good, you’ll have competition from multiple players, both funded and bootstrapped, both smart and stupid, both large and small. How will you persevere?
- If the economy stays bad for two more years, how will you survive?
- The last thing anyone needs is another damn tool. What’s the overwhelming reason I should even bother looking at you?
- Technorati reports one million new blog posts appear every day. Why should I read yours?
- What are the top three features your competitor has that you lack? How do you address that today, and what are you doing about it in the next six months?
- How can you call yourself an expert when you’ve only been at this for a year?
- What are three tangible, undeniable ways in which your product/company saves more money than you cost and saves more time than you consume?
- Truly great products and companies are rare, even when smart people are at the helm. What makes you think you have what it takes?
- There are thousands of consultants who make the same basic claims you make: high-quality, on-time, on-budget, good service, happy customers. What makes you any different?
These are generic; you’ll need to come up with more specific attacks. For example, if I were defending this blog and answering the question about why anyone should read it, I would make the question more specific:
There are already too many blogs about startups, especially high-tech startups. Those blogs are far more popular than yours, their authors far more famous, and their advice is excellent. Smart Bear is a success but it’s nothing like the success earned by someone like Steve Blank. Why should anyone listen to you?
And here’s my answer:
I read those blogs; they’re great! But the world needs more perspectives, not fewer.
For every Jason Fried who says “simple design is better than complex features,” someone else needs to point out that they’ve (I’ve!) made millions with poor graphic design and too many features. For every Seth Godin who says a tribe of 1,000 followers is all you need, someone else needs to point out that it’s not true in practice.
The biggest reason to read is that my advice and perspective, while not a massive thought-revolution in the universe, is “unique enough” that I constantly meet intelligent, capable, thoughtful entrepreneurs who haven’t heard it before, haven’t thought of it themselves, and whose lives and companies are improved after they’ve heard it, even when they disagree with my point of view.
I know this because of the comments and wonderful emails I receive. As long as people keep saying that I’ve lifted a burden off their chest or produced invaluable customer feedback or prevented them from wasting time and money, or even if they just get a laugh, that’s my answer to why anyone should listen.
Don’t get discouraged if you’re not happy with all your answers. That’s a good sign — it means you’re being honest about the exercise and you’re not yet satisfied. Keep it in the back of your mind and look for answers while you forge ahead. Discuss the hard ones with other people to get more ideas.
This is all just another way of being introspective, but it’s a technique I’ve found to be particular useful.
Do you have more Q&A to contribute? Leave a comment!