How Rejection Can Fuel Your Entrepreneurial Success It isn't always a "no"- it may just be a "yes" to a different question.
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Entrepreneurship, much like parenting, is operating with the belief that your "baby" is the most beautiful. How can anyone not see what you see? Why isn't the world around you as obsessed as you are? I have been an entrepreneur for the better part of my life, and I can tell you with certainty that I feel this, every day. It is hard watching the world passively engage with something, when your passion for it is boundless.
When I launched Daddy's Digest in April 2018, I set out to change the world. I was building a space for men to be better partners and parents- a place for them to learn, share and grow. A global community, a business without borders.
Our story had no final destination; it was all about achieving milestone after milestone. 250,000 Facebook followers became 500,000. Everyday dads were writing for us, bestselling authors and celebrities were making videos for the platform, experts were reviewing our content, and they were sending in their own as well.
We were flying high on our own supply, and with good reason- people were paying attention. I will admit, there were times when our sense of reality was a bit deluded, but that is part and parcel of the startup life. Great things don't happen if you aren't operating on a different wavelength from the world around you.
Like many startups, with each passing day, we inched closer to the point where we could no longer grow by bootstrapping. Our future goals were tied to dollar bills, and it was time to face the reality of raising capital. Or so we thought. Take a moment to imagine how confident we were, given everything we had achieved.
In October 2018, I remember walking into our first meeting with an associate at an angel investment group. When the life of your business is on the line, you tend to remember things vividly. He was young, casually dressed in a green round neck, and had lovely bedside manners. Our deck had been reviewed in advance, and we were given the opportunity to formally pitch.
He seemed so proud of how far we had come, and I got the sense (for a brief moment) that our work was done. That we would walk out that room with the promise of a check. That wasn't what happened. He congratulated us, and then politely ushered us out of the boardroom, indicating that our business wasn't the kind of investment his enterprise was looking to make.
Basically, he said: "No."
I was devastated. It didn't matter that we had four more pitches lined up for the week. How could our achievements not have been good enough for this entity's money? What had we not said, or done right? We asked ourselves a lot of questions, and all of them were designed to soothe our bruised egos. We were licking our wounds, wanting sympathy.
When you've been an entrepreneur for long enough, you know that wallowing in self-pity comes at the cost of survival. Thankfully, we snapped out of it quickly, and we then asked each other the questions that mattered most:
- "Why did he say "no'?"
- "If he said "no,' will everyone else also say "no'?"
- "What will they say "yes' to?"
These were the three questions that saved us, that helped us grow. Of all the things I am proud of in my professional life, what we did next ranks pretty high up there.
Admittedly, we knew we weren't going to raise the money. But we also knew that we had built an amazing business. We knew we had meetings lined up with some of the sharpest minds in the venture capital business, and that it was an opportunity for us to gain insights and perspective.
What followed was a series of meetings that started with short introductions to our business and the milestones we had achieved. The bulk of the hour we were given was dedicated to soliciting feedback. I urged them to give us the unfiltered version of their thoughts.
And I promise you, they did just that.
It's amazing how honest people can be, when given free reign. We learned a lot from that time, and we walked away with valuable, actionable next steps. In fact, our attempts to raise early-stage funding and the repeated rejection that followed was the wake-up call we needed. It was like the slap in the face that you are grateful for, because it set you straight.
But we didn't just take the critique- we also took action on it.
The Daddy's Digest website became the focal point of our efforts, and we went from 5,000 monthly article reads, to over 375,000 per month with over a million users. Our social media following grew from 500,000 to over 800,000. Our readers became contributors, and they brought their own friends and family into the fold. And what did all of this lead to? In February 2021, Daddy's Digest was acquired by a Canadian digital media firm, and it has since moved its headquarters to Toronto.
As a startup, we count ourselves lucky to have made lasting impressions with the approach we took to build and grow Daddy's Digest. We turned the feeling of rejection into fuel that powered our engine. No one may have given us money- but they did give us their time instead. In fact, the investment associate from the first meeting is now a dear friend, and we are founding members of a mutual admiration society. I made a choice back then to talk less and listen more, to stand on the shoulders of giants- and that has made all the difference in the world.
Indeed, what I have realized is that the repeated rejection we faced back then wasn't really a "no." It was, in fact, a "yes"- but simply to a different question.