The Best Answer a Startup Founder Can Get is “No”

Most Startups Fail Slowly, Because Most Founders Keep Searching for “Yes”

Joe Procopio

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image by wayhomestudio

As a startup founder, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the word “no.” But as I’ve gained more experience through the decades, I’ve learned to love “no” a little more. In fact, I’ve started to seek it out.

That’s because despite conventional wisdom, founders and entrepreneurs hear “yes” all the time.

Yes, you can pick my brain.

Yes, I’ll listen to your pitch.

Yes, I’ll try your product.

To be blunt, if you’re not hearing “yes” at least a little, you’re not trying hard enough. Or you’re trying too hard in the wrong places. Or your idea just sucks.

The thing is, someone needs to tell you one of those ugly truths. And you need to listen when they do. Success starts with learning. And learning starts with “no.”

Most Startup Failures Happen Very Slowly

Last week, a founder friend of a friend of mine came to me with a problem he couldn’t quite put his finger on, even though he had been living through it for months.

He had launched his product a year prior, and was selling into a market that loved it. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that sales prospects were knocking down his door, and once those prospects became customers, they were loyal and effusive with their praise.

Good problem to have.

But what it ultimately produced was something of a “broken hockey stick” chart across all the company’s metrics. Conversions, engagement, revenue, profit — all of it had exploded up and to the right across the first six months and then leveled off. His next six months had been a frustrating puzzle of new feature releases, marketing campaigns, discount schemes, and a host of other growth experiments that fell on deaf ears as growth stagnated.

Almost immediately, I noticed a pattern. His target market was restrictively small — small businesses buying at low volumes over short periods of time, and not too far out of his natural network. When I asked him why he was setting his sights so low, his…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com