At TINYpulse, we grew from 0 to 300 paying customers in 10 months. How'd we grow that fast? By saying "no" to clients, prospects and partners.
Saying no helped us to stay focused and true to our vision as a small company, especially one just starting out.
My general outlook is:
- If I never say no, then I'm not focused enough.
- If I always say no, then I'm not customer focused enough.
There's definitely a fine balance, but my rule of thumb is to say no to requests about 20 percent of the time.
Say No To Current Customers
Every day, as a survey system that gives business owners insight into their employees, we receive product feedback and feature requests. We discuss these requests at our product planning meeting, but have to say no frequently to stay true to our vision of creating lightweight, easy and approachable products.
For example, we've had clients ask us to send more than one question a week to their employees via our system. We had to tell them no and refer them to other survey systems. We've architected our system to only ask one question per week so employees can quickly provide valuable feedback to management. By doing so, we've been focused on creating the best pocket knife we can instead of creating a Swiss Army knife with tweezers, toothpicks, can openers and screwdrivers.
Say No To Potential Customers
We've had numerous requests to translate our weekly employee surveys into other languages, such as Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese. Prospects have even offered to translate our survey questions for us. But thus far, we've said no.
One reason is that the English speaking business market is enormous—300 clients doesn't even scratch the surface. But the biggest reason is the hidden costs of supporting other languages. For example, we'd have to think through how to translate and support our emails, customer service, QA, error messages, etc., all in these new languages, which would just tax our team too much.
Say No To Partners
Earlier this year, a customer referred us to the vice president of marketing at a large, fast-growing franchisor. The franchisor wanted to use TINYpulse to get a read on how happy his franchisees were. Doing this required slightly modifying a question from, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?" to "On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you with your franchisor?" That's only changing three words, but we said no.
We had robust debate internally if we should adapt our offering to support this. At the end of the day, our mission is about "making employees happier," so we passed, because this opportunity was about franchisees, which we know precious little about. We believe that if we focus on our mission, we can become the best at it even if it means passing up the opportunity to work with hundreds of franchisees, too. But it is important to us to listen, collect and discuss all the feedback before saying yes or no.
Say No To Investors
I've raised more than $10 million for my prior startups, and I've also been an angel investor. But early on, I decided that I was going to bootstrap TINYpulse and see how things go. I have to admit I've been tempted, especially when clients wanted to invest, along with other angels and venture capitalists. It's flattering, and the attention can be intoxicating.
But a couple months ago, I put a six month hold on even thinking about fundraising. This self-imposed boundary has enabled me to fully focus on building a product that delights our clients. From my experience, every minute I spend thinking about or actually raising money is a minute that I'm not obsessing about our customers.
I often tell new entrepreneurs that the blessing of being an entrepreneur is doing anything you want. But that's also the curse because you can get too randomized. Say no and focus on your mission and vision, and you'll find success.
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