Entrepreneur

Naysayers Said Our Startup Was Stealing Their "Rice Bowl", Here's How I Dealt With It

“Hey buddy, go meet some new friends in school.”

“Be nice to your friends, don’t mess with anyone.”

Parents have instilled in us to play nice with everyone. Make friends in school, not enemies—neither you nor your parents would want to be in the headmaster’s room and the ‘rotan’ drama thereafter. I think that it is sound advice because I tell my son to do that too.

But in reality, it doesn’t pan out that way all the time; haters are gonna hate. When the unavoidable avoids, what and how should we deal with it?

When my startup, Speedrent started receiving hate mails, we had mixed feelings. We were excited but at the same time we were also worried due to the attention we were getting. Personally, I think both the positive and negative responses were great. With market response, you can learn from the public by crowdsourcing for their opinion. That’s one of the laziest yet effective ways of collecting feedback.

I knew Speedrent was controversial, but I did not expect it to blow up so quickly. To deal with this, I used a simple framework, and for the purposes of this article, I glorified it a little with this abbreviation: LED.

Learn with an open heart

Haters would spell out your product or service’s shortcomings. They wish to demotivate you and derail others from considering what you are able to offer.

When this happens, look at it positively because you won’t have this kind of luck all the time. The incumbents would find and point out a lot of drawbacks, loopholes, and inadequacies of your service. You are basically getting SWOT analysis for free, but at scale.

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When you are doing something that is deemed ‘controversial’, it’s common that you will have two extremes, the ‘yay’s and ‘nay’s. Take note of every single comment from both sides. It is crucial because you are reading what people are saying about your business—the positives and the negatives.

Engage

Founders should be proud of their own ideas but always be grounded to analyse the situation. Make sure that the haters are hating you for a good reason. For example, if some perceive you as a potential threat to their business, that’s a good reason.

Get in touch, engage and debate with them. Let them speak their mind, be curious and authentic in engaging with your audiences. When someone reveals any element that you have never thought of, that’s a new insight for you! Take the opportunity to uncover more about it.

Remember the yaysayers and naysayers? It is important to engage with them and follow through with all their discussions because you will find that:

  • People may have a wrong perception of your business model and goals.
  • In the process, you will have even clearer vision of your company.
  • Suddenly you have more use cases that you’ve never thought of.

Diffuse

Finally, you need to diffuse all this tension, if possible. Throughout the engagement, you will get emotional once in a while but try to be as professional as you can. I’ll admit I was sarcastic at times at naysayers, I don’t apologise for that—too boring to be professional all the time. I guess that’s the fun part of being a founder. You can still have a little fun, and you should while you can.

Here are a few things I learnt while engaging with people:

  • Speedrent key weaknesses: Safety (perceived), Legwork (it’s true, we don’t provide appointment-viewing services like agents), Legality of it (untrue). Since then, we’ve used this feedback to figure out solutions for each one of them and we believe that it has made us 10 times better.
  • How to communicate with the market and Speedrent’s positioning in the market. Often, the media will ask me what I think about taking away other people’s “rice bowl”. I’m extremely good at answering that now because I’ve manage to segmentise the market and diffused the tension a fair bit.
  • People misunderstood our business model and vision. We then noted that we had to revise our marketing message to communicate that more effectively.
  • Some pointed out that Speedrent might have made the work for agents easier since they can now poach owners from our platform. Good luck with that. We have in place a detection system that automatically weeds out agents on a periodic basis to keep to our promise: owners and tenants only.

Sometimes, you may not have the answer to certain weaknesses. That’s alright, nobody is born to know everything. Get with your team to discuss what are the important matters to address, which services would be useful to have, and which are the immaterial ones. Soaking up all the problems is a sure way to fail. As a startup, you have limited resources and time—prioritise to solve key deal killer problems obsessively. After all, startups play on their strengths, not by mitigating all weaknesses.

Image Credit: Whei Meng
Image Credit: Whei Meng

Sometimes, your entire team will feel like shit because of all the drama. To be honest, there is no time for you to feel bad, own it and get down to work. Because the best way to prove your startup’s worthiness is by executing your vision. Communicate your vision, address those weaknesses transparently with your team, get your act together!

Sometimes you’ll have doubts with legal issues, don’t be shy to reach out to the startup community to seek for help. You will be surprised that many lawyers will actually willingly to help you out.

Am I proud of our progress so far? I sure am.

Is Speedrent going to succeed? I remain optimistic.

Will I still disrupt the market even the strong headwind?

I see the future, and the future is now. Prove the haters wrong by listening to their correct assessment of your business, as for the rest, take it in with just a pinch of salt. Sometimes, it might even make you laugh.

It’s all part of the fun.

Whei Meng is a serial internet entrepreneur. Speedrent is his fourth startup to connect landlords and tenants directly, safely, easily and cost effectively.

 

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