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The Art of Saying NO For Startups


“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” ~ Greg McKeown

The word’s out. 90% of startups in India will fail within the first five years. Entrepreneurial India, a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics has come up with the stat. Infact 77% of venture capitalists believe that Indian startups bite the dust because of lack of innovation.

I get what they mean.

Innovation isn’t just the use of cutting-edge technology or out of the box thinking. It is also diligent execution. Having helped dozens of entrepreneurs walk the GTD® path over the past few years, I agree.

To be truly innovative ideas must go from paper to reality. And you don’t need more time for that.

What is required is mind-space and a current inventory of commitments so you can say yes to offers that will benefit you the most.

In startups entrepreneurs provide the bulk of the leadership. And unfortunately they don’t have the clarity or the mental room to be an innovative, hustling captain and commander of their venture.

Why Saying “No” is the Key to Startup Success

After you’ve said “yes” to your dream of independence, it is essential that you learn to say no with confidence and without regret.

Because if you keep on saying yes to every perceived opportunity you put yourself at the risk of taking on too much which ultimately undermines your output.

Today there are hundreds of messages coming at you through emails, IMs and on social media. There are scores of tools to take care of every aspect of your company – from bookkeeping to marketing. The avenues to secure funding have also diversified – there are traditional banks, VCs, angel investors and crowdfunding.


Isn’t it the best time to be a business owner?

But it is also the absolute worst time to be a business owner.

If you don’t have control over where you place your focus and the perspective to say no to everything that takes you off course.

How can Startups Master the Art of Saying No?  

No is the hardest words that a startup owner can utter. It is closing the door on a potential client, on possible revenue and viable exposure.

What if nothing worthwhile comes along and you are stuck where you are? Just because you said “No”.

Or on the other hand, the high of getting that first taste of success is infectious and tends to drive a long chain of “yes”.

Yes to this, yes to that, yes to everything because luck has finally smiled on you.

In the former case you are susceptible to negative thinking where you believe you don’t have control over your own company and everything is full of uncertainty.

And in the latter you are lacking perspective – you don’t really understand that all waves aren’t meant to be surfed because they may not take you to your desired destination.

The Sweet Spot Where Magic Happens

According to David Allen the balance between control and perspective is critical to making trusted choices.

If you have low control and low perspective, you may feel like a victim. If you have high control and low perspective, you turn into an obsessive micro-manager. If you have low control and high perspective you generate great ideas that never get executed.

But when you have both high control and high perspective, you can strategize as well as execute. And this is the sweet spot where the magic happens.

This is where you become the captain and commander your startup deserves.

Getting to Your Success Sweet Spot & Saying No

Saying “No” to opportunities that don’t align with your startup’s direction is the first step to reliable innovation.

But how do you get to that space of confidence in your decisions?

By doing two things:

Getting Control Using The 5 Steps

You Capture everything that has your attention. You Clarify the next actions you have to take to make instant progress on your projects. You Organize these actions so that you can take them in a setting that makes optimal use of your resources. You Reflect on your system on a regular basis so that you can Engage with your work by making trusted choices.

The result?

When you say No, it will be a confident No.

And when you say Yes, it will be the one that will move you towards your Goal.

Vertical Management: The Horizons of Focus

Horizons of Focus: Helping startups say no.

Each of us have commitments at different horizons. The Horizons of Focus® model makes it clear what these horizons are.

The clearer we are on each of these commitments, the clearer decisions we can make.

When the next opportunity comes, we’ll know if it is aligned with our higher goals and purpose… or not.

Getting Things Done® (GTD®) is the methodology that gives both Control & Perspective, enabling entrepreneurs to make trusted choices.

Learn more about the art of saying no and GTD® by attending a workshop happening near you




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