To succeed as an entrepreneur you need to have thick skin. You will hear no multiple times from different people including potential customers, investors and even hires. You also will likely hear a lot of no's about your startup idea.
When aspiring entrepreneurs ask me for advice early on I encourage them to share their idea with as many people as possible in order to get to get critical feedback. With that said, not everyone you share your idea with will provide you with constructive advice.
When I first started pitching the idea of Practice Makes Perfect -- a nonprofit focused on partnering with schools and operating their summer programs in inner-city neighborhoods -- to different people, some went as far as telling me to focus on my schoolwork, because it was not a good idea. In many ways their disapproval was just another way of saying no to my idea. Early on, every no I heard felt personal. In my mind, the idea for Practice Makes Perfect and I were one in the same. When any one disapproved of my idea it felt as if they were disapproving of me. And it stung. I was not used to the constant rejection. After a while, I started to realize that the longer I dwelled on the disapproval and the no’s I heard, the harder it was to make progress with the idea.
Now, looking back, here were actions I started doing to avoid taking no personally and ultimately reducing the amount of time it took me to bounce back:
Look for the no’s.
Early on, I had a mentor tell me for every one yes I should expect at least nine no’s. Well, that statistic isn't always right.
During the summer of 2011, I ran my first triathlon and asked my friends and family members to sponsor me with small donations to support Practice Makes Perfect. I sent out hundreds of messages to friends, family, and friends of friends. I figured if 10 percent were going to say yes, then I would be in pretty good shape. After achieving a modest goal of raising $2,000, I took a step back and looked at the data. I found that only 3 percent of the messages that I sent out were met with support for Practice Makes Perfect. I quickly adjusted my expectations, and today, I aim for three yeses for every 97 no’s. So, the sooner I can get through the no’s, the sooner I can get to the yes. When you start looking for a no, there is very little disappointment, because your expectations are set appropriately.
Related: How to Stop Sabotaging Success
Talk to your champions.
I reserved this option for the big no’s -- the ones I really did not anticipate. Make a list of two or even three of your own personal champions. These individuals should be your most upbeat friends and biggest advocates. (The last thing you need is a person who will point out that the rejection had some validity.) If they are real champions, you will leave your conversation with them excited for your chance to prove your naysayers wrong.
Not every no is a bad thing.
There have been times where a yes has cost us more than a no would have. I once heard that sometimes when you win, you really lose and other times when you lose, you really win.
After four years of experience, I sincerely believe that not every opportunity is a great one to support your work. Embrace a no as a sign that the opportunity with that potential investor, potential customer, or even potential hire was not a good fit.
No’s can have large setbacks on your business if you let them get the best of you. When you are starting a company, you have to be able to step back and objectively reflect on your business's progress if you want to build something that others will value. Take your next no, reflect and then iterate. And remember, no is part of the process, so do not take it personally.