By Steve Touhill, Partner.
As oblivious toddlers, we hear the word, “no” more often than we hear our own names. Parental admonitions to steer clear of hot stoves and other temptations of childhood exploration save us from real danger. But “no” feels restrictive, controlling. We rebel as teenagers. We engage in impulsive behavior that seems like a good idea at the time but often, if we had reflected just a little bit beforehand, we might have not gone through with it. Eventually, we grow up and learn that sometimes saying “no” is for our own good, and we end up repeating the cycle with our own children.
The lifecycle of a company is not all that different, except that companies are born as impulsive teenagers. In the zealous pursuit to land new customers, generate revenue, and create value for shareholders, it’s tempting to say “yes” to any prospect willing to part with their money, even if it means taking a detour from the product roadmap or accepting margins that are not in the best long term interests of the business. Perversely, that impulsive “yes” is now restrictive because the young company’s future is dictated by the custom needs of a few early adopters rather than the scalable needs of a larger market.
That’s why successful companies have an adult in the room who can say “no”. Saying “no” when it’s not in the long-term best interest of the organization (even if it means enduring the occasional tantrum from the seller who needs the immediate gratification) gives the business the freedom to stay focused on building a sustainable operation with a clear value proposition and the opportunity to carve out a market niche it can dominate. Ultimately, customers, investors, and employees will respect you for it. Who knows, maybe some of them will even say thank you.