The Magical Power of “No, Thanks”

How Good Communication Can Make or Break a Start-up

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One of Steve Jobs’ favorite expressions was “Focus means saying no”. When he was launching the new iMac, everyone, from the consumers to newspapers, condemned his decision to abandon floppy drives. Yet, Jobs said “no” to public pressure, worked through the doubts and uncertainty, which resulted in the creation of a revolutionary, Internet computer.

As harsh as it sounds, if you satisfy all the requests, enquiries, and offers, you’ll risk burning in an altruistic fire.

Realize that you have to say “no”

We all know that the first step to overcoming a problem is to realize that you have one. However, not all business owners think that an overwhelming amount of requests is a real problem. Yet, unless you’re at the helm of a newly founded startup, which strives for its place in the sun, accepting all the offers is not necessarily a good strategy—it distracts you, spreads out your efforts and in the long run costs money. As a wise leader, you should establish the borders of your company’s capacity.

At some point, Beetroot realized that, although being an almost overly flexible and cooperative partner, we can’t accept every potential client coming our way. There needs to be a basis for understanding each other. Saying “no” helped us grow and focus our energy on clients we thought had the potential to lead dedicated teams in a good way. Even though saying “yes” sometimes felt like the textbook answer. Going for the wrong partnerships would risk placing a millstone around our necks.

Saying “no” helped us grow and focus our energy on clients we thought had the potential to lead dedicated teams in a good way.

Beetroot co-founder Andreas Flodström admits to having gone for “things that turned us on at the time,” only to later realize that we should have said no.

In the majority of cases saying “no” doesn’t mean that an offer is bad, it just means that you have a different focus. If we had cloning superpowers, we could instruct our many doppelgangers to say “yes” to all the things we, ourselves, have to turn down. This is hardly possible, and a resonating recommendation is being put forward in Crossing the Chasm, a marketing best-seller. It encourages us to focus and dominate in one niche, before expanding efforts on other spheres. To make every “yes” count.

Say “no” straight away

It is always easier to play for time, instead of giving a straight answer—especially when your answer is “no”. We know how tempting it is to say that you’ll think about it, or you’ll call later, or come up with any other lifesaving excuse just to avoid that awkward conversation. However, if you categorically know that you’re going to reject the offer, surely it’s respectful and decent to say “no” straight away? It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid: fast, clean and effective.


However, there are countries, where saying “no” directly is rude and inappropriate. For instance, in Japanese business etiquette, there is no word “no”. When negotiating with your partners, you might hear something such as “Me personally, I like it” or “I’ll see what I can do”—this, basically means “no”. Apart from such culture-related situations, try to avoid vague, indirect answers.

The Sandwich Strategy

It sounds like something that’s applicable only to conversation, but in reality, the sandwich strategy works on any level. Put your polite, but firm “no” in between two non-committal, but nightingale-sounding “yeses”. As a result, you don’t feel like an assertive egoist and the recipient doesn’t feel flabbergasted with your flat rejection. It’s not as good as a single answer, and it shouldn’t lead to compromises you’re not willing to make—for an example conceding one service fee in favor of another (and thus removing any outlook of profit). All dialogue is negotiation: buying your morning coffee, calling your loved one with words of affection, arguing over where to find the best wines in France. Haggle wisely.

Don’t lie to back up your “no”

Even if you don’t have any “yes”-cherries to put on your “no”-pie and can’t think of an indisputable reason to reject an offer, you shouldn’t try to invent your alibi. Our unconscious strive for self-justification frequently pushes us on the path of white lies. In business, honesty is always the best policy.


As Fritz Rabeler, CEO of Akuo, mentions in Swedish magazine “Veckans Affärer” (lit. “This Week’s Business”), white lies have become a serious drag to his startup in Sweden. It turns out, Swedes have difficulty saying “no” and frequently invent excuses to postpone the rejection. There is even a Swedish word, “konfliktskygg”, which means being conflict shy, to not hurt people by saying “no”. Although the Swedes’ motives are decent, Rabeler wasted a lot of time, groundlessly hoping for a positive response in various sales processes.

Shhh, maybe it will go away!

Ignoring requests is another type of lying—this time to yourself. We know how alluring it is to disregard annoying emails, quietly hoping that they will magically disappear. This plan never works. The more you ignore people, the harder they try to reach you (ask anyone from our sales team). Be frank and polite—say “no, thank you” and move on.

We speak from experience. We originate from Sweden, after all. When applying Swedish culture and mentality to the work we do, we cherry-pick. Not everything is innately good.

No regrets

Never feel guilty because you’ve rejected requests. Never fear that you might have missed an opportunity. The best part of doing business is that you always have opportunities, in some form or shape, even when it looks tough. It is your right to say “no” to some of them.