Learning to Say NO

For the past 5 months, I’ve been sending an AM text message to my closest F&F as motivation to start their day with momentum.

While these messages are intended to help others, it’s amazing how they serve as a self-reminder to hold myself accountable.

Last Friday, I sent out the following text:

Happy Friday! If it’s not a “FUCK YES,” then it’s a “NO.”

Our time is money — the things we spend it on and the people we spend it with. Learning to say no is a reflection of how we value ourselves. Let’s treat ourselves with integrity.

Admittedly, the ability to say NO has been one of my core weaknesses. At heart, I’m a people pleaser. I want to be liked. And over the years, I’ve conditioned my mind to think: if I say “NO” to someone, then he/she won’t like me (as I write this out, I realize how crazy this sounds).

After sending out the above text, I was confronted with a challenging situation for Panacea that would test my ability to say NO — moving forward with two videos that would be featured on our website for launch or saying NO because they didn’t align with our brand.

The details are only relevant for context, so I’ll share high level. We had commissioned a content team to come with us to Korea, capture a bunch of content, and create two videos to reinforce our brand narrative: one focused on our product development process and the other focused on Korea as the skincare capital of the world.

After returning from Korea and going back and forth on the first round of edits, I realized these videos didn’t meet our standard. In a vacuum, it was a no-brainer to not use these videos.

However, we had invested a significant amount of money ($13k) to go to Korea and tape the content. In addition to the financial investment, we had invested other forms of capital — energy, mindshare, and time. We also had no Plan B, if we decided not to use these videos, then we wouldn’t have this type of content for launch. With these variables added to the equation, it was anything but an easy decision.

After discussing with our team and weighing the different options, I made the right, yet difficult decision — say NO and not use these videos for launch.

The above situation taught me three things:
  1. Trust your gut. If there’s doubt, then there’s no doubt. Leverage data, seek the counsel of those you trust, be open-minded, but at the end of the day lean into what your heart is telling you.
  2. Decisions determine your destiny. Decisions — small and large, private and public — determine the trajectory of a company. The above was a decision that no one will hear about (outside of this post), but it has tremendous implications for the future of Panacea. Often, we trivialize the small, private decisions (i.e. the above situation) and overemphasize the importance of the large, public decisions (i.e. fundraising, going public, M&A activity). All decisions must be treated with integrity.
  3. If it’s not a “FUCK YES,” then it’s a “NO.” This situation brought me full-circle to the text I sent earlier that day. Ultimately, to build a great brand requires extreme discipline — an ability to say NO 99% of the time.

After deciding not to move forward with the videos, we had to finalize the following:

  1. Informing the content partner and working out an amicable agreement for the project payment.
  2. Reallocating budget to minimize the impact of the financial investment.
  3. Coming up with a Plan B for new creative that would be used in place of these videos.

As we were weighing our options, (1)-(3) above were the aspects that made us hesitant about saying NO. However, once we made the decision to say NO, it’s amazing how everything else fell in line.

I had the tough conversation with the content partner, and we worked out an amicable agreement to minimize the financial impact while maintaining the integrity of our partnership.

We reallocated budget from other planned investments, so the financial impact would be minimal.

Finally, we came up with a great Plan B with our existing creative partner (Institute) and are confident that the new direction will be even better than before. All in all, we were rewarded for making the right decision.

Learning to say NO is hard. Really hard. But I’m reminded that the ability to say NO is a reflection of how we value ourselves. When we treat ourselves with integrity, great things happen.