Ask most people in the startup community and one of the most important characteristics, if not the most important, of entrepreneurs is resilience. Resilience in the face of competition, loss (financial or otherwise) and everything else that makes this whole thing a roller coaster. Personally, I feel the only way to really build up resilience is to become immune to rejection.
Lessons from the sales track
Sales never came easy to me. In fact, when I first started my career I loathed those who decided to choose it as their career path. Mind you, my father who I have more respect for than any other human being in my life, has been in sales for over 40 years. For whatever reason, I’ve always seen sales as being something of evil. Either way, I quickly got over that and learned what sales is all about. I now love it, but it took some time.
The most defining characteristic of sales that I’ve learned is coping with rejection. Once you understand and more importantly personally feel that most sales pipelines only convert something like 1% of their leads (not real statistic, but probably pretty damn close) then and only then, can you understand how much rejection is required to successfully convert. You get comfortable with it and finally realize it’s just part of the game. It get’s easier though.
The real problem is that the feeling of rejection sucks. If I look back at my life, it’d be hard for me to recount the number of times I was rejected for something. Girls. Jobs. School. You name it. Everyone gets rejected for something. And yes, even some of the most successful tech people in the world were rejected at some point. It sucks and getting over it sucks even more.
Startups get rejected all of the time
I just recieved an email rejecting our startup for an incubator. Possibly for the first time ever, I shrugged and said “meh”. Here’s another person who doesn’t believe in us. Great. Should I get an excel spreadsheet to count the number?
For anyone who has applied to YC, you’ve probably seen the all too familiar email from Kirsty Nathoo that begins “We’re sorry to say we couldn’t accept your proposal for funding.” Ya, we’ve seen it 3 times. Ever sent an email to a potential investor and got no response? Ever sent an email to a potential customer and no response? Yup, been there; done that. It sucks.
What keeps me going
I started reading frequently about 5 years ago after my first startup failed. When I say frequently, I mean a lot. Blogs. Books. Everything. Consume, consume, consume. Every day, every spare hour. I wanted to learn everything about why I wasn’t successful. Why weren’t my amazing ideas (vetted by my mother) making me the next Gates? What became widely apparent was that everyone of these uber successful people was an absolute nobody at some point. They faced rejection. They faced loss. The reality is, not one of these paths are identical in their shape, but their themes are largely consistent – rejection. Then once on top, rejection appears almost non existent. When I finally groked this, rejection came a lot easier.
We’ll continue to glorify successful tech entrepreneurs, but fail to fully appreciate the resilience these people must have had when building their companies. That’s something I plan on not taking for granted.