The Power of No

Posted: May 13, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in Leadership, People

In startupland, which is full of Hackers and Hustlers, the Hacker spends their effort on excluding potential issues, features, product paths, partners, technologies, etc., while the Hustler focuses on including, well, everyone.

It is in the DNA of the Hustler to work towards getting a ‘yes.’ It’s what drives them. Getting users, investors, partners and the like to say yes to their vision and passion is the penultimate effort for a Hustler. For most, it creates the appearance of a lack of focus (for some) and a complete lack of focus (for others).

This is the primary rub between Hackers and Hustlers and the #1 reason that founders divorce. Hackers demand focus. Hustlers demand ‘yeses,’ which, by definition, require a high level of flexibility that leads to a lack of focus.

I am a Hustler. Yes, a Hustler with a capital H. And because of that, my #1 fault is my apparent inability to realize when I am being unfocused.

I love the word yes. Who doesn’t?


Yes means work. Yes means shifting priorities. Yes means roadmap adjustments. Yes means late nights and frustration. Yes means a loss of faith.

I hate the word no. Passionately hate it. It doesn’t compute. How can we become a better company because people are saying no. When I raised my Series A, 37 potential investors said no. That’s more than enough no to last me a lifetime.


About eight months ago, I realized this very dynamic. To help a Hacker be successful, they need the space to focus on problems and solutions, and to do that, everything that is not core to that mission has to be thrown away.

The Hustler has to learn to say no, and by doing that gives the Hacker the ability to build awesome things, because they aren’t spending time in meetings or thinking about how to “just make it work,” or make “that deal that is going to make the company” work. They are just building.

Eight months ago, I started to force myself to say No multiple times per day. I started with my dogs. And, yes, those punks didn’t listen, but at least I learned I could say the word and not feel bad. Then I took our product roadmap, and every time an idea or potential deal was brought to the table, I weighed it against that roadmap, and as a default, I said No.

No. Not right now. And the quality of our product and the speed at which it was developed – and more importantly, the ease at which it is selling – has accelerated.

The power of no.

Saying no for the Hustler is a learned skill. It seems like a simple thing, but it’s really the antithesis of a Hustler’s core value.

Does that mean a Hacker should learn to say yes?


Micah is CEO and Chief Community Caretaker of in Denver, Colorado, is a mentor at TechStars Boulder and is the Skypenote speaker at the UpTech Accelerator session in Northern Kentucky on June 4.


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