March 21, 2023

“No” – my favorite founder word.

Growing up, my dad always told me the most important word in the dictionary was no. As an investor, operator, partner, parent and friend – this resonates with me now more than ever. No is such an important word for all of us, but especially founders. In a market like this, saying no is critical; there are simply too many demands on your time and limited resources to say yes in effort to be polite. If you feel underwater and stressed, if your runway is tight, or your team isn’t shipping quickly enough, start problem solving by asking yourself – do I say “no” enough? Here are a few areas you have permission to say no.

  1. Casual networking. It’s ok to say no. No to meetings with graduates from your college looking to break into your field. No to meetings with colleagues from your previous company. No to industry events, happy hours and conferences that you’ve been invited to attend or even speak at.
  2. Investor & LP meetings. It’s ok to say no. No to meetings with your existing investors, potential future investors, or LPs visiting from out of town. If you are not in the headspace to fundraise or have confidence a meeting with an investor/LP will yield an investment, you can say no. 
  3. Recurring 1:1s and meetings. It’s ok to say no. Your team needs you – but not proportionally. Not everyone on your team needs to meet with you weekly. You have permission to skip any and all recurring meetings that don’t give you energy, or drive your bottom line (frankly, those meetings should be canceled). Do not “sprinkle” your time evenly across the company to be seen as equitable. Disportionately say yes to people that make things happen.  
  4. Internal projects. It’s ok to say no. No to an idea your team is excited about. No to a project that has already started and would be painful to stop. This is not just about saying no to protect your sanity, but to protect your company. Your team may be disappointed you say no, but they’ll appreciate the clarity that no provides. Saying no keeps the entire company focused on what you say yes to. You inform how your team allocates their time – not the other way around. 
  5. Customers and existing clients. It’s ok to say no. No to loyal clients who have been with you since day 1. No to big brands who dangle their logo but have feature requests that aren’t on your roadmap. No to paying customers who drain your team’s resources. No to prospects who continually ask for demos and meetings that have yet to convert. Protect and insulate your team by giving them permission to say no to someone they feel they should say yes to. 

It’s counterintuitive to say no to the 5 invitations above. Yes is polite. Yes is likable. Yes is fun. Saying yes can also open doors to new partnerships, investments, and customers. So it’s worth clarifying that it’s ok to say no today and yes later.  Saying no today, however, isn’t being rude, selfish or overly transactional. Say no, so you can eventually say yes. Set tight boundaries today so you can eventually open them up. Not every invitation is made equal. Be discerning with your time, resources and energy – and sometimes the easiest way to do so, is to simply say no.

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