Constant feedback is like a sonar

Issue #40

Hey there, I’m Lesley. Welcome to the latest issue of Failing Forward — A weekly newsletter sharing my experience as a bootstrapped co-founder.

There’s no bravado here. I fear failure, just like you. I write this newsletter to remind us both that failure is not only okay, it’s often the best way forward.

A new look and listening to feedback

New look

As you can see, this week’s newsletter looks slightly different. I had some incredible feedback on the newsletter from Taylor and Colin this week. And what you’re looking at is the result of those suggestions.

Most importantly, they both highlighted that I should provide more context, and create headlines that better explain what the section is about, and why a reader should care.

I hope I’ve achieved that. Thanks for the feedback, guys.

If you’re reading this and have opinions on the new format, please don’t hold back. As you can see, I love getting feedback and will actually take action.

Listening to feedback

Speaking of feedback, I’ve noticed with interest how tentative some people have been about sharing feedback for Newsletter Glue (the WordPress plugin I’m building).

One person began with, “I had an idea, forgive me if it’s not part of the roadmap!

While another ended an email with, “I realize that my advice is unsolicited. I don’t mean any offense by it.

I don’t know if this tentativeness is due to their lack of familiarity with me (which is totally reasonable, I am a stranger on the internet), or if they’ve had some negative encounters in the past. Likely, the answer is both.

But for the purposes of this post, let’s focus on the latter bit.

Responding poorly to feedback seems like the norm.

So many founders fear receiving feedback and bury their heads in the sand to avoid it.

Others get defensive and lash out because they feel like their product is being misunderstood. This happens because they conflate their product with themselves, and take everything personally.

Other times, founders simply don’t prioritise it, and leave the customer hanging.

Finally, some get an irate customer and respond in kind.

Over time, this compounds into a vicious cycle — customers are trained to avoid giving feedback, so they typically only do so when they are really angry. And this in turn trains owners to fear feedback because the only type they get is from really angry customers.

Obviously, this is bad for everybody.

Sorry to interrupt, but if you’re enjoying this post, you might want to subscribe and receive new issues via email. Your future self will thank you!

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Instead, your default response to feedback should be “Interesting… Can you tell me more?”

Defaulting to being polite and trying to learn more is a better approach. Here’s why:

A virtuous feedback loop

First, it fosters a habit of getting feedback from users. This creates a virtuous cycle of users wanting to share bugs and feature ideas with you. You never know which ones will end up being game changers, but you’ve now increased your likelihood of finding out by several orders of magnitude.

In contrast, if you default to a defensive “yes, but…” you’re training your users to avoid reaching out. Getting data is now harder because you’ll always have to actively solicit for feedback when you want it, rather than having a passive trickle of feedback constantly coming your way.

Constant feedback is like a sonar

This lets you make tiny course corrections as you go or simply reaffirm you’re headed in the right direction.

In contrast, shutting out feedback risks going too far in the wrong direction and changing course becomes much harder.

First you lose touch with what your customers want, then you lose the customers.

And that’s not even the worst part. This is:

Recovery is impossible. You don’t know why you’ve lost your customers, and don’t know how to talk to them to troubleshoot and get them back.

Wrapping up, and why I love feedback

I’m at the start of Newsletter Glue, so I have to work doubly hard to get even a small amount of feedback as I don’t have a large user base to begin with. And of course, this is exacerbated by most users defaulting to not giving feedback.

To get the feedback party started, I try hard to help users move past this negative default. And to do that, I actively solicit and encourage feedback almost every day.

The returns have been undeniable and many users are genuinely surprised when I give a shit.

One user said, “That’s very good news and it was very fast! Usually it takes 1 month or 1 year or 1 decade to have this kind of answer 😉

Before I go, let me just say that I’m not perfect. I can definitely think of times where I was reflexively defensive, or took the feedback too personally. It’s hard but I’m learning, and getting better.

We’ve now come to the end of this post. So of course, the best and only way to end it is with this:

What you think of this newsletter? I’d love to hear some feedback from you!

I’m building Newsletter Glue — an email newsletter platform on WordPress with a Gutenberg-first approach. Here’s what I got up to this week…

🔥 Highlights from this week
  • Newsletter Glue can now be used for custom post types. This lets users use Newsletter Glue across their entire website, rather than just for blog posts.

    The first time I heard this feature request, I didn’t react. But then I heard it twice more in quick succession, and implemented it asap. Such is the value of a steady stream of feedback! 😉
💔 Lowlights from this week
  • Noticed some plugin conflicts causing Newsletter Glue to break some sites. It’s always stressful to hear this, but it’s super common inside WordPress. 35% of the internet is on WordPress, which means there are millions of different WordPress configurations and it’s impossible to account for all of them.

    I spoke to a bunch of super experienced WordPress plugin and theme owners, and they said the best thing I can do is fix things as they come, test for those conflicts in the future now that I know about them, and try not to stress out too much. Sound advice!
✅ Completed this week
  • Made huge strides on our Newsletter block manager
  • Moved to for emails, website, support and more. This was super mundane work, so I’m glad it’s mostly done now.
🎯 Goals for next week
  • Continue to build premium newsletter blocks that give people more features for creating newsletters inside the Gutenberg block editor.
  • Start building out the website.

Worth a thousand words


Worth your time: Sharing my favourite links from this week with you

Watch: Andy Miller recounts how he once accidentally stole his boss, Steve Jobs’, laptop.

Andy Miller is now the Chairman and co-owner of NRG e-sports, but he used to be VP of Mobile Advertising at Apple. In this video, he tells the story of how he was booted from Steve Job’s office and, in his panic and hurry, he accidentally took his boss’ laptop. Eep! Watch video →

What happens when you follow data at all cost

Excellent article on the dangers of an over-reliance on data. Measuring the wrong thing, wrong attribution, and a perversion of incentives are just some things covered.

“When Spotify opts you in by default to noisy push notifications (“the Beatles are now on Spotify!”), they might increase some engagement score, but they also annoy their users. That annoyance may not show up in any dashboard: maybe users keep using the service exactly as much, but when some PR fiasco blows up the following year, they’re less inclined to take Spotify’s side.” Read article →

Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind

Aphantasia is a mental condition that prevents a person from picturing things in their mind. In this post, writer Blake Ross explains his experience with it and how he came to realise this wasn’t normal.

I first came across this post some years ago, but am sharing it again because it remains the best way to show how we’re all wired differently and that one can never be sure of what’s going on in each other’s minds. Read article →

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