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Sometimes, Startups Need to Say “No”

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 9.49.16 PMOne of the most difficult words to say is “no”.

No means you don’t agree, not willing or able to cooperate or strike a deal, or simply don’t want to do something. It oozes with negativity, which is probably why many people say “yes” or “maybe” when they should really say “no”.

For startups, “no” is particularly hard because they’re always looking for a lucky break or lightning to strike. Saying “no” closes doors, ends discussions, kills potential and gets in the way of traction and growth.

So rather than saying “no”, startups sometimes say “yes”…and that’s when the trouble starts. When “yes” jump the queue in front of “no”, it happens for the wrong reasons or it happens at an inappropriate time.

The desire to succeed, grow or live to see another day makes startups jump into the fray when they should stay on the sidelines. It makes them agree to develop new features, enter into partnerships, hire people or take on investors. While it may seem right to say “yes”, the harsh reality is “no” is the better decision.

Perhaps one of the best reasons to say “no” is it helps to keep a startup focused rather than chasing things that don’t fit with the big picture plan.

It allows a startup to keep their collective eyes on long-term vision rather than short-term wins.

Truth be told, it’s easy for a startup to be seduced by requests from different stakeholders. Everyone has a good idea, a great opportunity or interesting wrinkle they want you to embrace. It is important to keep in mind all these may have benefits for them but not so much for you.

The next time you, the startup entrepreneur, get approach to do something, it’s important to think through what “yes” and “no” means.

What are the implications of saying “yes”, and what are the benefits of saying “no”? Look at saying “no” as the positive, and “yes” as the negative. It may provide a different and valuable perspective.

For some other takes on saying “no”, check out:

- Keith Ashton on why creative people say “no”.

- “Become your best gatekeeper” by Dorie Clark

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