As disruptive companies and startups navigate the choppy waters of their early years, they face doubt and skepticism from various angles. Some of the criticism is valid, but entrepreneurs also encounter people who are dismissive, flippant and territorial. 

A strong streak of defiance is the secret to making it through this wave of criticism unfazed.

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People were surprisingly wrong about some of the most successful businesses in the world today. Many of today’s most successful companies made it because their founders were defiant in response to the onslaught of negativity.

Early in my digital media career, I attended a panel discussion about search that had senior management from both Google and Yahoo. At the time, Yahoo was the dominant figure in the digital world and the leader in search, but Google was rising as a potential challenger. It was a great discussion, with lots of fireworks.

The Yahoo rep was very dismissive of the Google rep but what I remember most was how defiant the Google rep was in the face of the Yahoo rep’s attitude.  

Yahoo was the giant in the digital world back then. Google was just another upstart, nipping at their heels, but you could tell that Google employees believed in their product. They were unafraid of the Goliath in the way. We all know how that story ended, with Google slaying Goliath and becoming the new giant in digital. 

Likewise, we think of Walmart as a juggernaut that was always successful. In reality, founder Sam Walton's disruptive vision for discount shopping was unheard when he conceived the idea. Walton had trouble obtaining loans to get Walmart off the ground but he so believed in Walmart’s future that he mortgaged his house to open the first store. He was defiant in the face of bankers and investors who refused to believe in his vision for Walmart. It paid off. 

When I launched my first company in 2003, I experienced something similar. We were looking for minor funding for our startup, and a friend set up a meeting with the owner of a leading local advertising agency. We offered a 25 percent stake in our company in exchange for $50,000. He rejected the offer, dismissing our already profitable company as weak and likely to fail.

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I walked out of that meeting feeling defiant, like Sam Walton and the Google rep. More than ever, I wanted to prove that we knew what we were doing. Today, we are bigger than the business that rejected our proposal.That rejection motivated me. I’m forever grateful to him for not accepting that offer.

You can’t expect someone else to believe in you or what you’re selling if you don’t believe in yourself. When others are skeptical or dismissive of your ideas, believing in a venture or yourself is often expressed through defiance. Everything has a beginning and believing in yourself can start in a pretty lonely place.

Believing in myself started at 5 a.m. alone on a dark parking lot basketball court when I was 15. Every morning I would get up and practice, believing I could turn myself from a bad player into a good one. No one else saw that in me, but I defiantly believed I could do it. The more I believed in myself, the more people started to believe in me.

 I have applied that lesson throughout my life when tackling challenges and chasing opportunities. Having that streak of defiance that starts with believing in yourself shows others that you are committed and confident in what you are doing, and will not only fuel you, but will help you win people over.

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