Don’t Believe The Hype

Last year I helped create an alarm clock app, called Rise. To our surprise, it received a lot of attention. A lot more than we had ever anticipated. With this kind of attention there are bound to be haters. It just comes with the territory. It’s not that I think the app is perfect and there should not be criticism. To the contrary, there are a lot of things we have changed that were not even on our radar. Customer feedback has really helped us improve the base product. Listening to customers has made Rise what it is today.

That said, we’ve seen a few of what I call “sniper emails.” Those are the kinds of critiques where that individual, or troll, is just angry and wants to inflict the maximum amount of pain from far away. This person doesn’t know you and possibly hasn’t even really used your product. There is nothing valuable that you can extract from them–and that’s their point. No matter how thick your skin is, it does sting to have someone sucker punch your hard work.

However, there was one of these kinds of emails that ended up unintentionally giving me some excellent insight. He [the troll] basically told us what a huge let down the app was and that the other alarm apps were much, much better. He said our app wasn’t deserving of the attention that it was getting. The tone was cold and meant to simply strike us down. Normally, I hit delete and move on. But there was one line that stuck with me. He ended it with: “Don’t believe the hype.”

I didn’t catch it at first. But then after some thought I realized that that comment was insinuating that we had made this app without talking to anyone; we made it just sitting in our bubble. Then, we released it and were met with media praise. And from only that media feedback we continued to live in our bubble believing we had a great product.

He, of course, was dead wrong. The app was a labour of love. We built the kind of product we would like, without much expectation. Wherever I was, I’d ask someone to try it. I user tested at family gatherings, in airports, and waiting rooms. After iterating we reached out to some people online to beta test. They kindly took the time to review it and write feedback. It wasn’t all praise–there was confusion with some parts of the app. We learned from it and decided which points to address, keeping the focus on the simple product we set out to make. We continue to get feedback from users today and we listen. Closely.

Getting some attention is great, but attention doesn’t make a product great; being focused and having a clear vision of what you are making does. I think that believing the hype can be a dangerous thing in building a product and it does happen. Building it for real people and hearing what they have to say is what validates the hype. It’s great to get excited about a product or startup idea early on. You need to believe in it first, before anyone else does. That desire is what drives you. But be careful not to get to a place with it where you begin to have a “maserati problem.” This is basically creating your own internal hype about the product, when it’s not even close to being there.

The troll ended up giving me some great advice because he made me realize which kind of feedback matters. Reflecting on the responses, the feedback that is truly meaningful is an email from a real customer saying they love our alarm app and they can’t wait to go to sleep so they can wake up with it. Or, even someone fairly critiquing it and saying if we tweak something it would make it that much better of an app for them.

That is the kind of hype I choose to believe.