How to Respond to a “No”

It’s a Long Game — Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Surprisingly, many startup teams as well as VCs don’t respond well to hearing someone tell them “No.”

Which is interesting, in that founders and VCs should be hearing the word “No” all the time.

Learning to respond well to rejection will pay dividends in the future. Winners find a way, and perseverence and tenacity are two of the most desired traits in a team. How a person or team handles constant rejection will show if they have what it takes to run through the many proverbial walls in front of them as they build their platform, product and pipeline.

So how should one respond to someone saying “no” (even when possibly the customer or investor didn’t respect your process or time)? Given that we are quite experienced at hearing “no” ourselves, here are some thoughts:

  1. Be thankful of their time
  2. Tell them one or two things you enjoyed about the conversation/process
  3. Let them know if there is anything you can be helpful with to them
  4. If given no feedback, ask them what they would need to see in the future to change their mind
  5. Tell them you will keep them posted on your progress

This is an incredibly hard muscle to build. Startups are stressful, and selling and fundraising is constant and never-ending. Forging customer relationships is intensively time-consuming and it feels like you are always chasing and asking and getting nowhere. At the same time you can’t violate the number one rule for startups, and the pressure of this can be immense. On top of it all, both customers and investors are happy to take as much of a team’s time and ride them for all the information they can get, to throw a “let’s stay in touch” out after a couple months of detailed discussions (many vcs are just not respectful of founders’ time).

But nothing great comes without sacrifice. The most successful people and teams in this world aren’t fearful of getting rejected but instead ask themselves the hard questions, come to work every day, sweat the details, and keep their head down amidst all the noise to press on to gain the prize in front of them. After hearing “no,” a team is either strengthened to further refine their thesis to press forward and find the next opportunity or they can make excuses and complain and continue along their way until ultimately their way is lost.

Frankly from an investor pov, many times when we have these tough conversations and they don’t go well, it confirms our passing on the opportunity. The way one handles these conversations shows the maturity of the individual and the understanding that life is a long game, and you never know what lies ahead in the future.

We get tired of hearing “nos” ourselves (believe me) but understand each “no” is another at bat and chance to forge another path ahead. Do it well and you’ll be surprised just how well many of these relationships play out positively into the future.