Start With “No”

Against her instincts, an entrepreneur’s default answer should be “no.” This is true for small startups and large companies.

It’s hard for her to say no. She’s an ideas person. She started a business because she wanted to do something original, something great. She started at yes.

But then she takes off. She’s on a rocket ship. So many things need to happen. She tells herself that she needs more people and more time. She’s wrong.

She needs focus. She is distracted because she consistently says yes or maybe. Her routine — unnecessary emails, coffee catch-ups that take too long, distracting conversations with potential partners — is scattered and unfocused. She needs to start with no.

By starting with no, she clearly sets expectations. People will be more thorough before approaching her about non-critical issues.

Another benefit of starting with no is that it separates the hustlers from the philosophers. After being told no, the hustler will work harder. They will prove it to her. They will find a way to yes. But the philosophers will continue the conversation elsewhere.

Describing what he learned at Apple, Bob Messerschmidt praised Steve Jobs for his ability to “say no until it’s just right.” By starting with no, entrepreneurs win. And so do their companies.

Originally published on August 15, 2016.