The ability to say “no”


Like many of my blogs, this post was inspired by something I’ve read. This time it was Michael Jordaan, who tweeted this a few days ago:


For ease of use, here is the link to his article. It is a lot more about saying “no”, but he does write about all the coffee and wine invites he gets and why (understandably) he doesn’t have time for all of them. Here is an extract:

“Most applications for funding start with the following line: “I’d like to have a cup of coffee with you”. Now I really do like a proper cappuccino but if I had a cup with every applicant the caffeine overdose would permit no sleep. So I tweeted that I’m actually a wine lover. Big mistake. Now the applications came with invitations to share a bottle of vino. Lack of sleep and insobriety was not going to be a promising start and I knew I had to find partners…”

I should know, I have bugged him in the past with one of the projects I am involved with – sorry Michael.

What’s my point? I have learnt the hard way that it is not easy to say “no”. Like Michael, I used to be a banker, although not as senior as he was, of course. And, like Michael, I have now got involved much smaller companies, many of which are at a startup phase. It is a much more exciting and rewarding experience, and, for the vast majority of people I deal with, does not come with the ego of the corporate boardroom, especially those of listed companies where people seem to forget that they are there because they are appointed by shareholders, not because they have some God-given right to lord it over all and sundry. But I digress…

The difficulty in this space is that there are many people who want to talk to you and seek your help. Now my partners and I are not rude people (most of the time) and are also on the look out for genuine businesses to get involved with, so we are generally open for discussion. But this leads to exactly the problem that Michael writes about – there isn’t time to have coffee with everyone.

Our mistake over the past while, however, is that we have tried to do this. And it has caused us to waste a huge amount of time. Let me explain – people who want to chat to us fall into the following very general categories:

  • People with a great idea (even if only in their mind) but nothing else
  • People who have already developed some sort of MVP, but now need advice and funding for scale
  • People who have reached the growth phase of their business and now want funding to grow accordingly

We have taken a decision that we just cannot expend time and effort on the first. We are not being rude when we turn you down, it is just that the effort and reward equation don’t work for us. Come to our Miracles of Capital course and spend 3 days learning how to move beyond your idea.

The second group are more interesting to us, but we will now only engage over coffee if we are introduced by a trusted relationship and/or we are given a lot of detail over email/Dropbox beforehand. Or you are part of the Miracles of Capital network. Again, its not being rude, but we cannot afford to “waste” at least an hour on every lead (no, your coffee is never just 30 minutes and invariably we have to take travel time or some other distraction into account). So please be ready to share as much information as you can before requesting an actual meeting.

The third people are always of interest to us because it is just so much easier to get involved, source investment and, frankly, be rewarded for our time. But even then, we will require a lot of detail before we agree to physically meet.

While I am on this point, it is highly improbable that we will get involved in an advisory / fund raising mandate if you cannot or will not agree to pay us monthly retainer and / or milestone fees. While we will always agree that these are set-off against any success-based raising fee, we also cannot live without them. We also have bills to pay.

The other area where we have learnt our lesson is sharing too much IP, too soon. Or even too often because of repeat meetings. We are open people and tend to get enthused and jump right in with advice, many times because we can see how to move your idea along or have identified some areas for improvement or change. What often happens is that entrepreneurs act a sponge, suck the advice up and go on without us. And often they are quite subtle in their approach by getting repeat meetings. Again, unless we are on a paying mandate, no more.

The last lesson we have learnt is to cut a painful or irritating business relationship quickly. Too often we have continued to take calls, answer emails and meet with people who we really shouldn’t. Those that don’t really want to work with you, or want to suck as much as they can, or are just not the people we really want to do business with. We have learnt to be ruthless, in a nice way of course.

The result is a lot more focus and extra time on our hands to get involved where we want to and where we should.

We have learnt to say “no”. You should too.

Carpe diem!

About vcmaven

I am an experienced investment banker. I provide investment banking advice and access to funding to companies and entrepreneurs
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