... for both startups and VCs in new-company-land.
In the world of startups, there's only one thing that we can't make more of -- and that's time.
As a person who spends a good portion of my day being pitched, and another healthy portion of my day pitching, I've been on both sides of the table. Which is why I've come to admire and appreciate the people I deal with who can deliver a sharp, quick, and decisive no.
The truth is, they are few and far between.
So let me lay out the reasons we all find to duck the hard choices, and then give you some personal guidelines to how to manage decisive decision making.
Here's the scenario: Someone comes to you with a deal, an offer, a service, or a partnership that you find interesting enough to consider. At the end of the meeting, the presenter asks you for "next steps," trying to move things forward. You don't think it's a fit. So what do you do?
a). The Slow Roll. Suggest that they come back with more data, more endorsements, more clients, more "traction," simply put -- you say "no" by saying not now. This is easy for you, because you're keeping your options open. But for the startup, these soft no's are death because they seem like a maybe you can turn into a yes. The result is that they take you at your word, and bring back more data hope for a yes. But it's still a soft no, and odds are will remain so.
b). I Won't Lead. Here's the simple, I'll-follow-someone-else response. This means, I want someone else to vote with his or her "yes" first. Maybe you'll come in as a second vote, but here the presenter should write you off. Weak support is worse than no support.
c). The No $ Adviser. After a presentation, a potential investor will often say, this isn't a good fit for me but I'll make some introductions. This can seem like help in lieu of cash, but in almost all circumstances it's not. If you're a great investment, a red-hot company that is going to be a hit -- then folks want in. Introductions from folks who have passed don't hold much credence, and can hurt you.
There are lots of ways people say "maybe" when they mean "no." But for a startup out on the money trail, a crisp clean no is far more helpful. It helps you stay focused, it helps you narrow your options, and it limits the number of open potentials you have on your plate.
Now, let's flip the conversation the other way. You're being pitched. If you're like me, your phone and emails are full of offers to use offshore development, hire recruiters, look at real estate, or startup-centric business opportunities.
When the phone rings, you say: "call me in a month" or "talk to someone else on my team," when you really mean "This isn't a good fit for us, please don't call back."
When you mean "no," say "no." Giving startups that don't know better the hope that a maybe will turn into a yes is wrong for both of you. Sure, keeping your options open is great. But in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and abundance, the power of crisp decision-making can't be overrated.
So, practice saying after me: "No, we won't invest." "Thanks, but if you're not going to commit to this round, we're going to move on."
For both VCs and startups alike, it's scary to close doors. But try it. Being decisive about funding can provide clarity and freedom.