Facing Rejection as a Female Founder
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Starting a business? Get ready to face rejection. From your first pitch to fundraising to growing your team, there’s no part of the entrepreneurial journey that doesn’t have a potential “no” tied to it. You’re putting your ideas and yourself out into the world -- and frankly, few people are going to get on board right away.
That doesn’t mean rejection is necessarily a bad thing. It’s a sign you are taking action, you are doing something that puts you on a path toward accomplishing your goals. And if you aren’t getting any no’s, that doesn’t mean that you’re golden. You probably aren’t taking big enough risks in the first place.
As a female entrepreneur, rejection is even more common. Even though 13 percent of all founders are women, we hold just 6 percent of the equity. We get no’s -- and less enthusiastic go aheads -- on many levels and in many different ways. And while these disadvantages need to be addressed, ones that we are already working to change, in the short term, we aren’t going to get a “yes” by looking at what holds us back. Instead, we have to recognize that we’re coming from behind and shift our approach. We have to anticipate our no's.
Anticipate your no’s.
In my own entrepreneurial journey, I’ve faced a ton of no’s. I did 320 sales pitches before landing my first five enterprise contracts. And as both a tech founder with a background in science and a Caribbean American woman, I’ve seen just how frequently I am not who people expect to walk into the room. I’ve also seen time and again how hesitations and outcomes can grow out of the assumptions people make.
Because of that, I’ve found that I need to be prepared not only with my ask or my pitch, but also with an awareness of the biases that people carry into the room -- and, more importantly, a game plan for how to address them. Because I’m a black woman, people assume I’m not analytical. Because I worked at JP Morgan, people assume I’m not scrappy. Neither of these are based in truth, but I still need to have a way to neutralize their fears. I lead with my analytical strengths. I share stories of how our startup has hustled. And no, I’m not going to change everyone’s mind, but I can often subdue people’s reservations by addressing them preemptively. Not every assumption is set in stone.
Yet, even if you are able to address people’s concerns, rejection is still unavoidable. So, how do you process these no’s in a meaningful way to move your business forward?
1. Be systematic.
The feedback you get from rejections is valuable data. While no one reaction should spur a full-on pivot, collecting trends in people’s responses can inform where you can learn more.
For example, when first founding Squad, I tracked every rejection we received and then categorized each reason. Over time, this allowed me to see clearly the most frequent pieces of feedback we were getting and figure out a way to address those early on. When we were selling, we saw that we were getting a lot of hesitation around our pricing. In response, we shifted our pitch to demonstrate more value upfront. It also helped us unpack the qualities that would make for a good client at that point in our growth. Collecting and looking at this information in this way made it easier to take a step back from the disappointment and see how to turn it into growth.
2. Know when to let go.
Every rejection is nothing more than one half of a transaction. Not every product or service is going to be right for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. The key, in the end, is to accept and move forward. If people give you a reason why they didn’t invest or support or sign the contract, keep an eye out for any information that might make them excited and continue to update them along those lines. With Squad, I’ve had several investors and partners come back to me with a “yes” that had originally passed. Every no may not be a no forever. It could be not right at that moment in time. Or their response can also clue you in on when to step back all together. You don’t want to waste your time on a lost cause.
3. Have a group of personal cheerleaders.
Being a founder can be isolating. Few people can relate to the challenges of building something from scratch or the feeling of getting rejected day after day. Because of this, it’s even more important to have a strong circle that is there for support, to pick you up when you’ve been knocked down and give you real talk when you need it. As a result, most of my closest friends now are other founders. But whoever you pick, know that your circle will be crucial in helping you mentally process and stomach the challenges that founders face.
So, no, rejection can’t be avoided when starting a business. But you’re a female founder, you’re smart enough to know that already. What you can change is how you approach rejections. How you’re able to parse different pieces of feedback and use that to make your business stronger. And that starts with being preemptive with your approach.