Dealing with Rejection when STARTING A STARTUP

When starting a startup, rejection is inevitable. That’s why all successful entrepreneurs require a high adversity quotient. The concept of Adversity Quotient was first coined by Paul Stoltz in 1997 in his book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities. An adversity quotient (AQ) is a score that measures the ability of a person to deal with adversities in his or her life. The AQ is one of the indicators of a person’s potential success in life and is useful in predicting attitude, mental stress, perseverance, longevity, learning, and response to changes in environment. After years of study, we know that all successful entrepreneurs have high AQs. If not, they would quit at the first sign of rejection.

Rejection and entrepreneurship go hand in hand, yet for many first time founders it can be soul crushing. The lean startup methodology is all about getting out of the building and interacting face to face with early adopters to turn business model assumptions into known facts. That means interacting with hundreds of potential customers before building anything. During these customer discovery meetings, entrepreneurs test their assumptions in the real world. They do this before they build, to ensure that what they will eventually build will be bought. The idea is to fail fast, removing misleading assumptions (e.g. early adopters in X customer segment want a solution for problem Y) and confirming underlying concepts that solve an unmet market need.

Fail Fast: Fail Often is a mantra adopted by many startup founders engaged in the lean startup methodology. The idea is that business failures can be a good thing as long as you learn the lesson. These founders believe that this mantra is not just a way to console yourself after things go wrong: it is actually a strategy that can help a company grow. Fail Fast: Fail Often is a philosophy that values extensive testing and development to determine whether an idea has value. An important goal of the philosophy is to cut losses when testing reveals something isn’t working and quickly try something else, a concept known as pivoting. In the real world founders must learn to embrace rejection. Here are some of my favorite things to keep in mind when dealing with rejection:

  • You always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Even Basketball’s Michael Jordan, failed to score with every shot he took. But he definitely missed any shot he didn’t take. The same is true with entrepreneurship. The only true failure is not to try. So when you do decide to try, accept that you are already winning.
  • It is only a failure when you don’t learn. If you never fail, you never have a chance to learn, to improve, and to grow. Even the world’s greatest athletes accept failure, not as an eventuality, but as a teacher. After if you never fail, you really aren’t challenging yourself.
  • Eliminate what doesn’t work. There are a multitude of possible solutions to any problem. By failing at some, one learns what doesn’t work. Once you eliminate what doesn’t work, you are left with …what works! And isn’t that the point?
  • Overnight success takes years. Despite the movies and stories of wunderkind, 99% of overnight successes are years in the making. Don’t fall victim to sensationalized stories in the media about billion-plus dollar exits or news of companies raising astronomical amounts of capital. These stories can be discouraging for founders, but they need to realize that success doesn’t come overnight.
  • Everyone gets rejected. There are literally thousands of stories of both large and small companies facing rejection in one form or another – only to persevere and win. Starting a Startup is a marathon not a sprint. The goal is success but the road will be long and full of bumps along the way.

Now that you have those 5 things firmly in your mind, here are a few techniques to help you deal with rejection:

  • Celebrate small wins. If you celebrate all wins, no matter how small, then rejection gets lost in the sea of success.
  • Not about you. The sooner you realize that it is not about you, the easier it will become for you to find the lesson in any rejection. So be sure to leave your ego at home, and instead come at rejection with an open mind and appreciate the feedback.
  • Focus on the goal, not the path. You are trying to start a successful startup. That is the goal, along the way YOU WILL PIVOT. If you accept that, then you can accept that failure leads to pivots, and pivots get you closer to your true goal.
  • Share the pain. You are not alone. Founders all over the globe are struggling just as you are. When rejection is getting you down, go see some other founders. Grab a coffee or beer and swap stories of rejection. Before long, your mood will change and the sense of comradery will make you stronger.

So whether you are following the lean startup methodology or agile development or even the 100 Steps 2 Startup™ program, accept and embrace the rejection in your future. After all, that’s how you learn.

Sean Wise headshot

About the Author

Dr. Sean Wise

Dr. Sean Wise is a best-selling author, venture capitalist, award-winning entrepreneurship professor and serial entrepreneur. He spent two decades in the venture capital industry, specializing in supporting high-growth ventures at the seed stage. Dr. Wise was named Mentor of the Year by Startup Canada in 2014. He has written six books and hundreds of articles on entrepreneurship, with work appearing on or in Forbes, CNBC, CNN Financial, The New York Times, Fox News. and the Globe and Mail.

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