4 situations where saying ‘no’ will benefit your business

Steve Jobs in 2010. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The vision Steve Jobs had for Apple was not to make products for everyone, to be all things to all people; it was to make products for people who “think different”.

In saying yes to making products with this consumer in mind, Jobs was also saying no to making products for the consumers who didn’t think different. Saying no made yes mean so much more.

I was reminded of this when Business Insider recently asked me to answer the question “What mistakes should you avoid when growing a young business?”

In the early days of starting up BikeExchange, focus was everything. The word focus is bandied around a lot by entrepreneurs (in fact, all high performance professionals) and what it comes down to is having the discipline to define your vision and execute upon it in an effective and productive way.

And just like Jobs at Apple, it’s about embracing the power of no. Here are four powerful no statements that helped to define the early stages of our journey at BikeExchange and have held good as we expanded to become Marketplacer.

1. Don’t be afraid to say no when hiring

The people you hire in the early days are not always the ones you might hire later on, and vice versa. Different life cycles of a company require different skill sets and also different personalities. This is why some people thrive in the slightly manic atmosphere of startups, while others prefer the structure and long-term purpose of an established company.

As a leader, you need to be able to pick the right skills and attitude for the stage your company is at. This means sometimes saying no to people who might otherwise tick all the boxes. By saying yes to a person you should have said no to, you set your business and them back.

2. Don’t be afraid to say no to things that don’t fit with your culture

There is nothing wrong with having a corporate culture, just as there is nothing wrong with having a more laidback company culture. You might have come from a traditional corporate background before starting your company and taking that across to your own venture makes the most sense. In which case, embrace it, and don’t be afraid to say no to things that don’t fit with that.
The problem with company culture is not whether you’re this type of company or that type, it’s when employees are getting mixed messages about the culture the company seeks to foster. If bean bags and foosball tables feel wrong: say no. If suits and strict protocols feel wrong: say no.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no to the wrong investors

This is a very hard one to say no to, especially for early stage companies. We all want to grow, quickly. If potential investors come along and offer you a bag of money to do that the inclination is to immediately say yes. However, don’t be afraid to say no.

At Marketplacer, we’ve managed to raise more than $20 million in two private investment rounds in the past two years. These investment rounds have been by the likes of David Paradice and Gerry Ryan, two venture capitalists who know the business and appreciate its potential.

But we’ve held off on pursuing a stockmarket float whereas quite a few of our tech-based contemporaries have gone down that path. We said no where others said yes. We looked at the fundamentals of where we are and where we want to be and, at this stage, saying no made more sense. By saying no, we were saying yes to the kind of control we want over the company, which is something our private investors understand.

4. Don’t be afraid to let others tell you no

As Michael Dell said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room.” This goes back to hiring and culture. If you’re hiring people purely because they can get certain functions done with a minimum of fuss, you will be creating a culture in which there is no debate and no spark for innovation. You actually need people in key positions with the smarts and confidence to say, ‘No, you’re wrong on this.’

We may not want to hear others say no to what we think are great ideas. But that no means we revisit and refine the idea, or realise in the light of day the idea isn’t that great after all. Surround yourself with people who have the integrity to say no and you’ll know when they say yes, they really mean it.

Conserve your ammunition, and only commit to what really matters to your business and customers. This requires focus and some hard thought about what your business is really about. Learn to say no and the opportunities you say yes to will be the ones that really count.

Jason Wyatt is the managing director of Marketplacer.

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