Entrepreneurs and Rejection: it’s better to get a no than to never know

Rejection. That could almost be synonymous with “entrepreneurship”. Since I started Play Across America, everything I’ve read said to expect 100 “no’s” before getting one “yes”. So, I prepared myself for the rough journey ahead but even still, the rejection hurts. The funny thing is, the flat out “no” hurts less than the ones that lead you on.

It honestly feels like some kind of warped dating relationship where I’m constantly wondering, “what did I do wrong?” or “I’m just not sure what they’re looking for”. Sometimes the rejection is not so clear cut.

So, to help you along in your own entrepreneurial courtship, I’ve put together a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Maybe you, too, have experienced them or, if not, you can find solace here when the rejection ultimately does come…because it will.

  1. I’m now actually thankful for the direct, “no, we’re not interested” response. It used to really bum me out when a company wouldn’t even give me a fighting chance but now I realize they are actually saving me a lot of time and effort.
  2. Initial interest in you/your product does not equal a “yes” from the client/customer/investor. These are the rejections that made me appreciate the straight forward “no’s” mentioned above. This scenario is when the prospective party seems interested, asks for your pitch deck, your numbers, and even for more information about you as an entrepreneur. With each inquiry you become more hopeful that they will commit. But, alas, in the end they ultimately say “no” after dragging the process out for several exhausting, adrenaline-inducing, days or weeks.
  3. “I’ll look into it” = “no”
  4. “I’ll get back to you” = “no”
  5. “I’m interested” = often a “no”, especially if they don’t immediately act on their interest.
  6. “That’s a great idea/product” = “I don’t really want to talk to you anymore about it” = not interested. Honestly, it’s the people who ask the hard questions and are possibly a bit critical who are probably the most interested. That’s not to say that someone who likes your idea isn’t interested but it often means they just like you’re idea/product but don’t want to invest in it or buy it (for whatever reason).
  7. “Yes” = yep, you guessed it, “no”. Now, this is not always the case, but these are the ones that really catch you off guard. You got a “yes!” only for it to mysteriously, suddenly turn into a “no”. These are the embarrassing and humiliating ones because you frequently tell everyone you know about this “yes” because you’re excited. You celebrate, and sometimes party like a rock star, only to wake up to a nasty hangover and it ain’t because of the alcohol.

As I reflect on my most recent rejection (today) that came in the form of #7 above, I don’t want to leave my fellow entrepreneurs totally deflated (even though that’s how I feel right now). I want to also share some good insights I’ve gained along the way.

  1. A “no” now is not always a “no” forever. It could turn into a “yes” down the road. Ask the prospective buyer/investor what it would take for them to be interested and then work your butt off to get to that point. Then, re-engage later and try again.
  2. It’s better to get a “no” than to never know. If you never try, you’ll never know if something would have worked out. You have to try and getting a “no” means you tried. (If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again).
  3. Failure (rejection) actually shows you what you’re good at! I heard this for the first time while attending the Inc 500/5000 conference and almost all of the attending successful entrepreneurs gave this response when asked what failure taught them. It forever changed my perspective on failure.
  4. The “yes” will come! If you keep trying and keep putting yourself and your product out there, if you truly have passion for what you are doing, then the “yes” is as sure to come as the “no’s” that you’re bound to encounter along the way. In fact, all the “no’s” will make you appreciate the ones who say “yes” all the more.
  5. The “no’s” will sting a little less as you gain more experience. At least, this is what I keep telling myself. I’m still an entrepreneurial baby so I pretty much cry every time I get a no. But as I grow into an entrepreneurial adult, I won’t cry every time I fall down. I’ll get tougher, stronger, and braver along the way.

So, as I sit here sulking in self-pity because the news story about my company got bumped because of an Octopus that escaped from a New Zealand aquarium (in all honesty, the story was really cool), I’m simultaneously giving myself (and all other entrepreneurs) a little pep talk.

Go ahead, let yourself sulk for five minutes but then get right back in the game and know that you’re not alone! We all fail. We all experience rejection. Yet, we’re a rare breed that won’t let it stop us. We move forward and carry on and know that tomorrow we may get another “no” but the “yes” will ultimately come!

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