Rejection is Direction
07 Jan 2020
I just finished posting my last article “If I build it will they come…” about how we built wiseHer and in a very short time frame (almost immediately) we had customers--they did come. And not only did they come, they came BACK!.
But like the journey of all startup founders, one day it’s up—and the other it’s down (as this oft-shared meme shows).
I got my first two rejections on the FIRST DAY of 2020.
No One Wants to Hear Their Baby's Ugly
Last year, I was sponsored to attend the Global Entrepreneur Summit by the U.S. State Department, and I met some amazing entrepreneurs. One of them—Caroline Gutman, founder of NuMark—told me about all the programs she had been accepted into, and the list was long. I asked her how she did it, and she told me about a TED talk she saw recently where the speaker outlined how he set himself up to get 100 rejections. This was so he could lessen the sting of rejection—and learn from it. Caroline decided to embrace this concept fully. She applied for pretty much anything. A Fulbright scholar program, a sponsored trip to Uzbekistan, and many, any more. She was up to 20 rejections by the time we connected, and was going for as many as she could, but she also had about the same number of wins by that point. Not a bad run!
So I took her advice to heart, started to apply for everything, and yeah! For a long time we had only yeses, so much so that I grew accustomed to hearing them. So when my first two NOs came through—right after I posted my uplifting year-end article—it was like OUCH. That really hurt.
As a career sales professional—and a former stage performer—I thought I was accustomed to hearing NO. As a singer and actress it was brutal. They don’t just tell you no; they deliver the brutal truth with no speech bubbles, filters, or cushion to their critique; I was: too short, too fat, voice was too pretty, not pretty enough, and so on. You just had to learn how to deal with it, to understand that sometimes you just weren’t the right fit for the part—and do your best not to take it personally.
When I went into sales many years later, and people said “no,” it was much easier to take. It was never personal; it was that they didn’t like or need my product. More often, I hadn’t done my job solving their pain points. Once I figured that out, a “no” most of the time meant “not right now.”
But although I was selling those products, I was not responsible for inventing or building them. wiseHer feels like MINE: it’s my creation, my vision, my “baby,” if you will. And no one wants to hear their baby's ugly…
And of course, for creators and innovators, sometimes our first response is: my idea is terrible, I’ve made a huge mistake, it’s never going to work—but no, it’s not all that apocalyptic. When you are putting yourself out there consistently, you have to accept that you will never be everybody’s cup of "joe".
Rejection is Direction
When faced with nos, some of us want to run and hide, or dive face-first into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a bottle of whatever’s closest (no judgement!). Instead, I have decided to think of rejections as direction. I have to apply the “no sometimes means not right now” mentality, and take myself in another direction. It doesn’t mean wiseHer is a flawed concept; we know it’s not-- we built it and they came, remember! -- it’s simply that we had the wrong ask, at the wrong time, of the wrong people. As I rally myself and my team around embracing the rejection here are some tips I’ve learned to lessen the blow:
Quick—make a list! Write down every single win you’ve had, as fast as you can. Like spraying Bactine or blowing on a scraped knee can make it feel better, covering a loss with a bunch of wins is so helpful. Turns out last year we had WAY more yesses than nos!
- Keep a “fan file.” I’ve been doing this for years. For wiseHer, I take a screen grab of every speaker keynote acceptance and offer, positive reviews, LinkedIn recommendations, pictures of me and my team accepting awards, and so on, and periodically I look through them. Like the win list, it reinforces it see it in black and white.
- Remember your why: I know what we are building is not going to be easy. A two-sided marketplace is one of the most challenging business models and there may be competitors all around us, but we don’t pay those any mind. Our knowledge of—and commitment to—this market is second to none. That is why we are so passionate about it! We’ve been there! We know why we exist: we are the go-to place for women to get actionable, practical expert advice to move them forward in their businesses or careers. And what we are building is already having an impact. We will dominate, one answer at a time! We just need to keep moving forward.
- Thank your "rejector": Once you go through the steps above, follow up with the person who rejected you. Thank them for the rejection; let them know you appreciate the time they took to review your deck, application, or proposal; and (if they haven’t provided it already) ask for actionable feedback. In the case of one of the recent rejections, after the sting wore off, I was able to process all their comments and feedback with my team. And you know what? There were valuable nuggets in there!
- Remember—if not this, then something better. Even in the darkest of nights, I can look back and see that every single time—every one—when it seemed that the light would never come, come it did.
- Keep going and keep applying: in 2020 we’re going to do it all over again, go for 100 rejections, and we invite you on the journey. We’ll periodically post our results so let us know what yours are and we can laugh (and cry) together!