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When Feedback Hurts - The Pain of a Negative Review

One Startup. No Secrets. Start at the beginning.

It was 9PM on Friday and I was heading to the bar to meet my wife and friends for drinks. It was going to be a fun night, especially since we had just completed an amazing week. Fueled by Casey’s email, the last few days and weeks had been an energizing roller coaster ride that went mostly up: Instagram posts about Bees Knees Spicy Honey from true influencers, positive feedback from raving customers, our favorite restaurants testing our product, requests for high-res product images from glossy-paged food magazines…  In fact, here are the actual results of Casey’s email:

MixedMade Casey's Email Impact Spicy Honey

  • Drove over 500 unique visitors to our site in less than a week
  • Sales in the 10 days following the email bested our cumulative sales from the previous 2 months (~$1300)
  • 3 boutique gourmet retailers and 2 well-known restaurants requested samples
  • Generated social media activity from influential people like:
This post from

    Jason Hudson Instagram Bees Knees Spicy Honey

    And this video from

    So, back to Friday night. I’m all smiles, and then it happened. And it felt like I was pushed right off the top of the roller coaster. I knew I shouldn’t be checking my email that late on a Friday, since I try to separate my personal and work lives, and I paid the price since my night was instantly ruined.

    Bees Knees Spicy Honey Negative Review

    I felt instantly defeated, yet also childish – we had received 24 reviews so far and all were 5 Stars and extremely positive. So how could this one review tear me apart so easily?

    “Surely, the customer was wrong.”
    “They probably didn’t try it with food and that’s why they think it’s too spicy.”
    “It’s called spicy honey, of course it is spicy!”
    “There must be a mistake, its impossible that someone doesn’t like it!”

    A handful of beers later and I was able to enjoy the night's great company, but I did fall asleep later that night and wake up the next morning with my mind racing about that single point of feedback, my blood mildly boiling.

    In an effort to confront my irrational feelings about our first negative review, I decided to dive in and understand what sort of feedback and response we had received, and the results exceeded my expectations:

    • 24% of our online customers have written a review for our spicy honey
    • 39 of those 41 reviews are 5-Star reviews (today's #'s)
    • Multiple people have claimed to dislike honey, or dislike spice, yet love BKSH
    • We have received many overwhelmingly positive testimonials
    Bees Knees Spicy Honey Testimonial

      This got me thinking about feedback. What purpose does it serve? Why do I care about it so much if it can equally make me happy or ruin my night?

      I think feedback serves 2 purposes (internally) as far as the entrepreneur is concerned.

      1. Ego – entrepreneurs are often rightfully accused of having their work wound too tightly with their ego. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I think that the ego is often serving to offset the frequent periods of desperation and loneliness. Those times when all else has failed and options seem to have run dry. I am not condoning an excess of ego, but perhaps that ego is a reserve for the tough times. And so maybe positive feedback, and thus validation, is a way to fill that ego tank…
      2. Learning – if we receive positive (or negative) feedback and take nothing away from it, then it is just a waste of everyone’s time. Instead, feedback can be excellent data for learning, which can lead to adjustments in our offering. Feedback is customers telling us exactly what they are willing to share publicly (we can then focus on spreading this message if it’s positive) and also what they want us to do better. As discussed in The Lean Startup, the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is a process the entrepreneur should be continually evaluating. In our case, when we actually measured the feedback it became clear that we were heading in the right direction. That even one or two pieces of negative feedback didn't warrant any major adjustments.
      So, what else have we heard? What have we learned? What might we do differently?
      • “I love it, but I don’t know how to use it”
        • At first a surprise, we then realized people won’t spend all day thinking about how to use spicy honey, so we need to help them
        • This led to V1 of our pairings page, which we’ll improve in the future
      • “It’s good, but I turn to Sriracha because it’s easier to pour more, more quickly”
        • It never occurred to us that a slow pour would cause less frequent use and lead some customers to opt for alternative products
        • When we reach a volume when we can control our packaging, we will source better-pouring bottle tops (we’ve tried with no luck so far)
      • “I use it all the time and I’m nearly out, can you make bigger bottles?”
        • This was great news. But not wanting to offer more than one product at this time, we decided to do nothing
        • However, since offering free shipping for 2+ bottles, most orders have increased to 2+ bottles and this point of feedback has diminished
      • “I used mine with…”
        • We’ve been amazed at all the pairings our customers continue to invent and share 
        • As we get better at sharing and promoting these, the first feedback point (“I’m unsure how to use it”) will become less relevant
      • “My honey was too spicy” or “My honey wasn’t spicy enough”
        • We realized quickly that we will never please everyone, especially with a product that is naturally subjective
        • We chose to keep making the product based on the testing and feedback we did in our first month, which seems to be an overall crowd-pleaser

      We are lucky to be a part of some really loyal and supportive communities, who have been willing to encourage us, purchase our product AND share their experiences with us (and the world).

      Have you been crushed by customer feedback? We'd love to hear your stories!



      Haven't tried our Bees Knees Spicy Honey Yet? Go ahead, order a bottle or two. We're so confident you'll love it that we'll give your money back if you're unhappy for any reason.

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