People have told me no more times than I can count. No, that idea won’t work. No, I don’t want to buy your product. No, I don’t want to invest in your company.
Rejection is a part of life, especially an entrepreneur’s life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. Even after building a couple of billion-dollar businesses, I still get rejected. No one likes being told no — especially me — but no just might be the most important word an entrepreneur can hear (and say).
1. No fuels your entrepreneurial fire.
I became an entrepreneur simply because someone had the nerve to tell me I couldn’t sell pest control door to door during a summer in college. After calling repeatedly to convince the owner to hire me, he told me I simply wasn’t cut out to be a salesman. I decided to assemble my own team and made $80,000 in a few months selling for his competitor. I won’t deny taking a little satisfaction when I later bought his office furniture after his business went under.
In the moment, rejection stings. Someone is sizing you up and saying you don’t have what it takes. Don’t feed the pain. Channel the frustration and let it fuel your fire. Go show them why they just made one of the biggest mistakes of their life.
2. No sharpens your focus.
As CEO, my role requires that I also dish out my fair share of no's. Three years after starting my business, I was offered $1 million to sell it. I passed -- a pretty bold move considering I was paying my way through college. It wasn’t the right time and I had bigger dreams for the business. Nearly two decades later, I said yes when my company, Vivint, was acquired for more than $2 billion.
One of the most important skills an entrepreneur can develop is to learn when to say no, whether to a buyer or even to a good idea. Apple’s Tim Cook once said, “We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.” One of the biggest things that can crush a business is getting spread too thin. Saying no helps your team prioritize and maintain a hyper-focus on creating nothing but the best.
3. No never stops coming.
Given the success of Vivint and our one million smart home customers, some might think I’m done hearing the word no. They’re wrong. In 2011, we were preparing to launch our residential solar company, Vivint Solar. Not only did the “smartest” venture capitalists pass on the opportunity to invest, but even our current backers at the time passed as well. Although our own partners witnessed first-hand that we could build an enormously successful company -- and put a whole lot more money than they invested back in their pockets -- they didn’t think we could do it again in an adjacent market.
We did it anyway after finding backing from firms who actually wanted a surefire return on their investment. Vivint Solar went public three years later with a $1.6 billion initial public offering. When we rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, I wore a T-shirt with a collage of headshots of everyone who said we couldn’t do it.
While I got a lot of satisfaction from making those VCs regret their decision not to invest, the fact is that you will always be challenged and face naysayers, no matter your track record. That’s when it’s time to get all hands on deck and prove the haters wrong.
The reason we as entrepreneurs hear no so often is because people don’t believe we’re capable of making our dreams a reality. You can’t control how people respond to your ideas, but you can control how you face rejection. When you get rejected (and you will), remember that "no" isn’t the end of the road. It’s just more wood on the fire.
Related: Make Rejection Work for You