Edward Land, founder and CEO of Polaroid, was one of the greatest innovators of all time. Land provided the ideas and impetus for a long line of innovative photographic products — and he was obsessed with product improvement and pushing boundaries. When he retired, he personally held over 500 patents.
Land was a mentor to Steve Jobs, who idolized him and drew inspiration from his innovative spirit and entrepreneurial approach to business. Jobs once called Land "a national treasure" and said that he "had more inventions and ideas than any person I've ever met."
One of the extraordinary things that set Land apart from competitors is that he continually cherished critical feedback and sought it out. Under Land’s direction, Polaroid hired critics to make their products better.
The company hired Ansel Adams, America’s most famous landscape photographer, to take the latest Polaroid camera out in the wild for days at a time and come back with a list of criticisms and product suggestions.
These days, startups hire influencers to promote their products on TikTok and Instagram — but they should also be hiring professionals to test their products and provide unfiltered feedback and criticism. Many PLG companies never get the chance to talk with their critics, because these users often drop away from the product without saying goodbye. That’s why it’s particularly important for PLG companies to proactively seek out their critics’ opinions.
Let’s take a look at why hiring your own Ansel Adams could play a pivotal part in your startup's success.
Understanding the role of a critic
A critic isn't simply a naysayer or a professional pessimist. A critic is a clear-eyed analyst who provides valuable feedback about your products, processes and vision. They can look beyond the glossy surface of your startup, delve into the details and call attention to areas of improvement you might have missed.
A hired critic can help you:
- Identify flaws or issues that might not be obvious to you.
- Verify pain points for users.
- Give you ideas that can spark innovation and creativity.
- Promote open dialogue about your startup’s strengths and weaknesses.
How to leverage paid critics for your startup
Critics and product testers should be involved in multiple stages of your startup's journey.
In the product development stage, they can assess product feasibility and fit. Feedback at this stage might prevent you from building a product that looks great on paper but fails to meet your real users’ needs.
During beta testing, critics can provide insights into the user experience and suggest areas for improvement.
As you iterate and your product grows, your critics can provide feedback on new features or updates so your evolution aligns with your users’ needs and market expectations.
Keep in mind that incorporating a critic into your team doesn’t mean you’re creating a negative culture — it means you're encouraging continuous improvement. There are always ways to make your product better, and constructive criticism can be a good thing.
What to ask your critics
Here are some questions to pose to the people testing your products:
- What are the flaws in our product or service that we might be missing?
- Which parts of the customer experience could frustrate users, and are there ways we can address those problems?
- Are there features currently missing from our product that users might expect or appreciate?
- Can you identify inconsistencies in our product’s performance across different platforms or devices?
- How can we improve our customer service and support to serve users who face problems?
Criticism as a catalyst
As a tech founder, remember that a critic is not an adversary but an ally in your PLG journey.
Constructive criticism is an opportunity for growth and learning, not an attack. Hiring critics helps you go beyond the echo chamber of your team’s perspective and see the reality of your product in the wild. When you can embrace this type of hands-on testing, you can create better, more user-friendly products that help you grow and scale.
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