A Lesson in Listening: How Crowdfunding Teaches Founders the Most Important Skill of All

I used to think it was all about the money.

From smart watches to designer lamps, seemingly every industry has adopted the multitude of crowdfunding portals in an effort to raise the necessary funds to magically take ideas from prototypes to production in a matter of months.

Money and exposure for anyone with an idea? Seems like crowdfunding would be a no-brainer for any bootstrapped visionary.

There are three main reasons why aspiring entrepreneurs ultimately decide to take their creative ideas to the crowd:

  1. Raise Funds
    “Without money, we won’t be able to manufacture this product and bring our dream to life.”
  2. Gain Exposure
    “We can definitely use the money, but getting the word out there is our main focus.”
  3. Get Market Validation
    “We need to confirm that people actually want this product and are willing to buy it at this price point.”

Now it’s obvious that a successful campaign can actually achieve all three of these goals. But let’s look more closely at, in my opinion, the most important one: Get Market Validation.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
— Ernest Hemingway

If you launch a crowdfunding campaign, you are going to undoubtedly get acrash course in listening. Yes, listening is an art form and most founders suck at it. Whether you like it or not, your backers and skeptics are going to provide you with both tremendously helpful suggestions and utterly unproductive feedback. And you’re going to have to take a breath and listen to every single word of it.

Although I have been involved in several prior crowdfunding ventures, I recently launched my very own Kickstarter campaign for StorkStand, an affordable standing desk that actually fits in a handbag. Having hit nearly 50% of our goal in the first week, I have been more than overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation for our supporters. However, as much as my spirits have been uplifted by the support we have received thus far, so too has my ability to listen been tested.

From prototype feedback sessions with some of our earliest supporters to late-night phone calls with international customers, I have learned and re-learned how to listen more passionately and effectively in a few short weeks than I ever thought possible.

It isn’t easy — re-learning how to listen is a process that undoubtedly requires a founder to completely detach him or herself from the very product into which they have painstakingly put their sweat and tears.

But it is more than worth it.

I have come to realize that one significant sign of a truly great leader is his or her ability to fully and passionately listen to others. At some point, we must recognize that we’re not all Steve Jobs, a visionary of such esteem that he rarely, if ever, pursued feedback from his customers. And because most of us are not Steve Jobs, we must proactively and continuously seek feedback from our customers and listen more intently than ever before. Regardless of his or her ability to stand up and inspire others, a true leader has taken time to master the art of listening (or in some cases, the art of making others feel like they’re being listened to). And crowdfunding has become a crash course in this very art form.

Whether you choose Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any of the other crowdfunding platforms out there, the experience of running a campaign forces you to be extraordinarily vulnerable while welcoming feedback from your customers, supporters and skeptics alike.

At StorkStand, we constantly remind ourselves that our goal is to build a product and business that truly is of value to our customers, in the short and long run. Therefore, we don’t solely look at our Kickstarter campaign as a way to raise funds to manufacture StorkStand. We also look at it as a thirty-day period of passionate and proactive listening when we can truly test all those hypotheses we had previously constructed about our customers and their needs. In other words, because our crowdfunding campaign is simply a necessary step in our long-term process, we are able to fully listen to and process suggestions and criticisms in a much more productive way.

If you’re considering crowdfunding for your next big idea, consider what is most important to your team’s long-term success. Whether you’re after the money or the exposure, get ready to start listening.