Saying No

Evan Hamilton published a article on the UserVoice: Understanding Your Customers blog, “Launchrock gains one million signups during beta by saying no to customers.” As I was reading it, I realized the one thing that might be missing, is an understanding of how hard it can be to say no.

I posted this as a comment there as well, but wanted to share it with you here.

To completely over-generalize I think engineers are very good at saying, “no, unless you justify it.” So, they might have a tendency to say no to customers TOO much. But, CEO’s and bizdev, and sales people love to say, “yes of course we can do that, and it will only take two weeks to give that to you, now give us money…” Then, they get all disappointed when they find out their team cannot deliver on their promise in time.

But, the type of no I am describing here, is different from that set of yes or no. This is more like the Apple no. The–how can we create the most simple things that works without too many buttons and menus–no.

That kind of no can be very difficult for startups who are still trying to find their product/market fit. And when you are in the midst of that, you’ve got to get out of the building and talk to your customers.

And, ironically, the best way to understand your customers is to say, “no”.

“Yes, that is on our roadmap.”
“Yes, we’re already planning that.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.”

These are all ways to kill a conversation. There is nothing more for your customer to tell you, and you’ll have no idea whether you really understood their request. But, by saying no, AND keeping the conversation open, you give your customer a chance to justify their need and explain why it would make such a difference to their business.

Then, that is a perfect time for a, “maybe.”