𝗦𝗮𝘆 "𝗡𝗼" 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝗺𝗹𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗥𝗲𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗹𝘆
Updated: Sep 29
As your vision takes shape and the business grows, you will get considerably more requests from stakeholders.
Sometimes, you just need to say “No”.
Some founders have a debilitating need to always say yes while other founders leave requests without closure so they keep coming up.
“𝑯𝒂𝒍𝒇 𝒐𝒇 𝒍𝒊𝒇𝒆'𝒔 𝒕𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒃𝒍𝒆𝒔 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒃𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒔𝒂𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒚𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐𝒐 𝒒𝒖𝒊𝒄𝒌𝒍𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒔𝒂𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒏𝒐 𝒔𝒐𝒐𝒏 𝒆𝒏𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉.” – Josh Billings
Let’s review some stakeholders and the best approach for each.
Alternatives to No
Founders sometimes feel compelled to respond quickly and completely to investor requests. Depending on the urgency, a fast reaction may be appropriate.
Other times, however, you can position the request in terms of other priorities. For instance, if you came out of the last board meeting with the priority to expedite growth over the next two quarters, an investor’s request to review three potential portfolio companies will detract from that objective.
You may remind the investor about the last conversation and note that you are heads down for the next few weeks. If being that blunt will cause too much friction, there may be a compromise where you can offer to help in a few weeks once you get through an immediate push, you can refer the investor to someone else who can help (e.g. someone on the team who knows the space even better), or you can ask to help with less (e.g. you will review one company instead of three).
Early-stage founders are used to doing many things themselves to get off the ground. The transition to a leader who delegates can be tough for you (letting go of control) and for the team (taking more responsibility).
If you are getting inundated with requests for meetings and decisions, dedicate some hours to blocking your calendar and whittling down your responsibilities. With meetings, determine which ones you truly add or receive value and either cut the rest or join them much less frequently.
With decisions, choose which ones you should make, which one you should discuss, which ones you should be informed, and which ones can occur without you. For instance, you may want to be part of hiring new leadership and simply greet other new employees when they start. By dividing decisions into those four categories, you will start to create a framework to guide the team and soon find yourself involved in fewer discussions. Eventually, the system will essentially be saying “No” on your behalf.
You may be working with a dozen large clients or thousands of users. Some requests will help you to enhance the product or service and deliver a better experience or reach new audiences, and that’s great.
Other requests will fall outside your roadmap and need to be addressed. A simple “No” would be off-putting, but an explanation about your future plans often helps to set expectations.
In a service-based business, some clients are incredibly demanding. Ironically, often the smaller clients have the greater demands for your time and resources. If those requests are reasonable and cause minimal impact, you may want to support the relationship. However, if those requests become disruptive, you need to have a candid conversation with the client. If that does not work, then you may need to consider the right way to fire them.
In general, finding success will create more pressures on your time including requests for interviews, speaking, and assisting other founders. You need to sit in a room alone and determine how your values align with your situation so you are recognizing both others’ requests and your time.
If you decide to decline a request, it’s tempting to just not respond. Remember, however, it can be really hard to ask for help. In less than a minute you can communicate your choice in a clear and supportive way.
Here are some options how to respond based on your situation (you can):
Offer a date when they can reach out again
Suggest a way to assist that requires fewer hours
Recommend a substitute person to help
If you cannot help at all, be firm and respectful in your response and wish them well.
Some people (knowingly or unconsciously) will keep asking for help. When someone asks, remember that you are not obligated to help and do not need to give an explanation.
Key Takeaway: The world is highly demanding. Be a decent person while pursuing an ambitious vision. Balance those needs and be respectful when pushing back on requests.