How to Say “No”: Five Templates to Turn Down Opportunities Gracefully

Kevin Rose and Tim Ferris did an episode of The Random Show [https://overcast.fm/+RxHE2lD-I] where Tim Ferris confessed that he had cancelled his next book and refunded the advance. The book he said “no” to was about “how to say no,” which is ironic and something that any super router like Tim or Kevin has to deal with at an acute level.

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For kind folks who get famous, saying no is a non-stop burden, but saying no isn’t just critical for the mental health of famous authors or podcasters, it’s something that founders have to be ruthless about because the startups that succeed are, universally, the ones that scale a single product and business model (Google:Search, Uber:Rides, Facebook:Social Network, etc.) — at least in their first five to ten years. 

As an investor in over 200 startups, I’m constantly having founders text me their new, crazy ideas — after having just invested in their last one. Sometimes it’s great to pivot, hard or softly, into a new product, but saying no to distractions and new ideas is often how you have a big breakout success.

Here are the templates I use. Feel free to share and remix them. 

The “Not Right Now” List

In your own company, people will come to you with a ton of ideas, strategies and tactics, which are three very distinct things. Once in a while some folks will even want to change or edit your mission (the highest level structure in your startup). 

When they do, a great response is the sh@#$t sandwich structure: “Great idea. Let’s put it on the ‘not right now’ list so we don’t forget it — since it’s so good!”

Bread: “great idea” and “so we don’t forget it — since it’s so good”

Sh@#4t: Obviously, we’re not doing this right now. We need to stay focused. 

Defining Your Zone

People will want to engage you and your business to solve their problems. This is only natural, so it’s important to frame for people what you do and don’t do. In my life as a publisher I would tell folks who “wanted to get lunch” or “discuss how we might collaborate” with a simple email template:

“Bob,

Thanks for reaching out, really appreciate you thinking of us! There are three ways to get involved in Silicon Alley Reporter magazine:

  1. Subscribe here: URL
  2. Advertise in the publication: meet Jane, cced, who runs advertising.
  3. Be featured: We don’t take pitches from PR folks, but send updates on your business to the tip line here.

Don’t have time for lunch right now as I’m on deadline for the next issue, but happy to answer any other questions you might have over email. 

Best,
Jason 
Editor & CEO, Silicon Alley Reporter” 

For my role as an investor, I have a similar email.

“Jane,

Thanks for reaching out! Please meet Jacqui Deegan, cced, the Managing Director of the LAUNCH Accelerator (launchaccelerator.co), which is where we engage with founders at the early stage.

Frequently asked questions here: https://launchaccelerator.co/faq

If you could send us your deck, traction (revenue by month since inception in a chart or table) as well as your funding history, that would be very helpful.

Best,
Jason” 

Some folks will of course say, “I’m not interested in coming to your accelerator, but would you have lunch with me and give me $1m in seed funding for my idea?” or “We are past the accelerator stage and have $10,000 a month in revenue.” 

To which I will explain: 

“Jane,

You’re a bit too early for us, but do keep us up to date by sending your monthly updates to investors to updates@launch.co

Our syndicate (http://thesyndicate.com) reviews seed-stage/Series A/Series B companies with $50,000+ a month in revenue, doubling every six months or less. Ashley is the MD of the Syndicate and can answer any questions.

Best,
Jason” 

Now, we will obviously invest in some startups that are pre-launch (i.e., Superhuman) or have very modest traction (Calm.com had $10,000 in total revenue when we invested, I think), but having some basic sorting guidelines frees us from wasting the founder’s time. We will review their product and deck before responding so if something looks wildly interesting we’ll take a deeper dive, but when things aren’t a fit for us, we will still make it really simple for incoming founders to engage with us.

Blank “On Deadline” Reply

We’re all working against some deadline, so being able to have a standard “on deadline” response is important for requests. I’ve used one that encourages any follow-up questions over email, and another one that puts a hard no on it.

“Thanks for reaching out. I’m on deadline for my next book and don’t have time to meet, but I’m happy to try and answer any questions you have over email. 

Best,
Jason”

And… 

“Thanks for reaching out. I’m on deadline for my next book until April 15th 2020, and I won’t have time to meet or review this opportunity. Thanks for thinking of me. 

Best,
Jason“

The “I Don’t Do” BLANK 

Knowing what you don’t do is critical. I often, for example, get asked to fund movies, restaurants, albums and non-profits. I have a simple response for that, too: 

“Thanks so much. While I do enjoy films/restaurants/music immensely — I do not invest in them! 

Best,
Jason”

Use Superhuman Snippets 

I do all of this with Superhuman Snippets, which lets me reply and cc folks automatically when using these templates. Superhuman doesn’t let me share the templates with team members or label the emails yet, but those two features will be killer when they do arrive. 

Giving a quick “no” is compassionate to other folks because it lets them move on quickly. Also, taking the time to build your own “I don’t do… BLANK“ list is critical if you want to achieve greatness — which is often defined equally by what you don’t do as what you love doing.

Once again, listen to the podcast with Tim and Kevin here: https://overcast.fm/+RxHE2lD-I

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