03/18/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated May 18, 2013

The Next "No"

It seems like when anyone gets into the startup game, one of the first things that they begin to hear is that they need to have thick skin. A hard exterior is necessary protection from all the "No"s and "That won't work"s that s/he is going to hear over the ensuing months, and hopefully years.

These "No"s will come from everywhere: potential customers, channel partners, investors, mentors, vendors -- the list could go on forever. Starting a company with just an idea is difficult for a reason. An idea is just that -- an idea. Success depends on execution. Plus, if the idea is new and has never been tried before, there's generally a good reason why. If it was easy, the upside (financially and emotionally) would not exist. Given that hearing "No" is pretty standard and an understood reality for entrepreneurs, I wanted to talk about something entrepreneurs rarely talk about, the "Next-No".

While most entrepreneurs ride an emotional high when they get good news (promising customer meeting, investor interest, product release, distribution channel partnership, etc.), I typically move onto the next potential set of "No"s I might receive. I have little capacity to enjoy the small successes as I look anxiously towards that Next-No.

I immediately begin to think about the problems and issues that will inevitably arise at the next step while converting that small "Yes" into a company changing win. For example, it would be fantastic if when an investor showed interest and discussed investing, it meant it was all smooth sailing from there. However, the reality is that while a significant hurdle has been leaped at this stage, the race has really only just started. One has to be able to understand getting large, company-changing wins does not happen overnight. Many of those exciting opportunities will die and one cannot waste too much time dwelling.

Think about it like buying shoes at Zappos; but from Zappos' perspective. First, a customer decides that they want to shop for shoes online. Then, they find Zappos. Of those that find Zappos, some percentage actually browse the selection. Of those who browse, a remarkably small percentage actually put a pair of shoes in their shopping cart. You might think that is a big step... and it is, but there are still several places for the customer to fall off. She still needs to go back to the cart and complete the purchase, which does not always happen. Then, congrats... she buys the pair of shoes. Success, right? Wrong! Lots of shoes get returned too, so let's not chalk up a success just yet. Hopefully you are starting to see my pessimistic (read: realistic) point here: it's hard to cross the finish line and there are lots of "No"s on the way.

The Zappos analogy illustrates the process of just about any success one hopes to achieve as a startup. Getting the meeting with a new customer / investor / insert pivotal-decision-maker here is just the first (extremely) necessary step. Many times an entrepreneur will get a "No" at this point and one has to shrug it off and keep going, but just as importantly, one needs to have the same attitude as they leap successive hurdles. As I like to think "I never know when the Next-No is coming!" One must continue to believe in the mission and keep on trucking. My dream -- please withhold your laughter -- was to create the largest public database of commercial real estate in Houston, and after traversing a ton of "No"s, we got enough "Yes"s to make that happen.

I do wish I spent more time enjoying the wins before immediately leaping to worrying about the Next-No. However, that time spent getting ready to evade the Next-no is often an asset. It is like when a football team wins a crucial playoff game. The best teams know that any celebrating must be brief. They must immediately go on to prepare for the next opponent.

Focusing on the Next-No might be unhealthy for your blood pressure, but it's good for your business.