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5 Times Founders Should Say No


Throughout any entrepreneurial career, there’ll be successes and failures. Running a startup is a huge undertaking with many dead ends and experiments that go wrong along the way. It’s a valuable learning curve for any business leader. However, there are some failures that can be avoided by saying no. This blog will cover 5 times when founders should be saying no.

1. When you can’t commit to a new client

This will not be a natural “no” for any founder. Typically, as individuals, founders are high octane, just get it done, achieve success by any means. So turning down a business opportunity probably goes against everything you stand for. However, not all business opportunities are created equal. As a startup, the end goal is to achieve huge growth returns, so if there are any opportunities that don’t fit with your growth plan, or that don’t seem scalable, you should be saying no.

Likewise, if a client is likely to take up a large proportion of your time, or divert your attention or resources away from other important areas, you might need to say no.

Close-Up Photo Of Person's Palm with no written on it

2. When co founders disagree

The relationship with a co founder can be really complicated, often they also start as close friendships and so these personal feelings can also cloud judgement and decision making.

However, in business, interpersonal relationships should not be informed by personal issues. Business strategies and operational processes should be based on sound assumptions and with clear goals in mind. Personalities should not play a part in making decisions.

It may be that you need to say no to your co-founder. But the chances of this can be and should be, minimised by having an honest and open conversation with partners when you go into partnership. You should discuss and agree on who’ll have the final say should there be disagreement in the future.

3. When an employee isn’t a good fit

Hiring the right talent is a key process to get right. In an early stage startup this process might be hectic and disorganised, as you juggle so many other tasks and responsibilities.

As a founder, you’ll want to employ the very best and brightest. But it’s unlikely that you’ll be ready to have CV’s scanned by a HR rep first, and be in a position to have an interview panel ready to test candidates out. It’s more likely that you’ll be assessing them in the blink of an eye and going off your instincts.

This is where mistakes can happen. Saying no to a candidate might be a new experience for a founder, and might not be comfortable yet, but it’s important to say no to the wrong person before they join your team.

This is something that you will need to deal with at some point though. If you have the wrong person on board, you might need to let them go as soon as you realise they’re not a good fit. Giving them more time, or seeing how it goes, rarely ends well. During the early stages of a startup, ripples of discontent or people pulling in different directions can have a material impact on your success. Say no, early.

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4. When a potential investor isn’t right for you

Making deals with investors can be really tricky, to say the least! There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, as well as the pressure being felt to secure funding and keep the startup moving forward.

Finding the right investor isn’t simple. Individual investors can add tremendous value to your company, and unlock huge opportunities. The wrong investor can stagnate your growth and limit your opportunities.

Saying no to people that want to give your startup money might seem like the antithesis of a founder. However, you need to be able to resist the pressure to secure funding at any cost and think with a clear head, carefully weighing up how each potential investor can complement your business and help you meet your goals. If they can;t help you along your journey, say no.

Woman looking at her laptop

5. When a new product isn’t working

Startups go through a huge development curve during their growth cycle. New products and services come and go as problems and solutions are identified and created.

Sometimes these new products will be necessary for the success of the business and the shift of focus will be justified. In these instances, the new product will align neatly with the business goals of the startup. However, sometimes it will just be a bad idea, and diverting focus and resources will be taking your startup further away from the path it needs to be on.

After carefully considering opportunities, as a founder, sometimes you just need to say no.

In summary

Saying no, or not saying no, poses some challenges to startup founders. Leaders and founders should always seriously consider all opportunities and decisions, and see how they align with helping you achieve your long term goals, before making a decision. If you’re unsure, or you think it might be unsuccessful, you should say no.

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