How to deal with rejection when starting something

This lesson was summarised from Anne Boden’s book titled, Banking On It is about how she started Starling Bank, one of the top online-only banks in the UK

Starting a new venture especially if it’s something as complicated as a bank is no joke. Except you have all the money you need, the task of starting it can seem almost impossible.

Anne Boden who had always worked as an employee experienced this firsthand as she worked towards launching an online-only bank. The challenges she faced were endless including having no start-up experience, no money, and no people to work with (in the beginning). But what she lacked she more than made up in being a tough-minded person.

In the early days starting with nothing meant she had to go around asking for help and support. The rejection was intense and soul-destroying but how did Anne get through all this? She developed some coping mechanisms to deal with the constant sound of ‘no’ and ‘sorry’ which will drive even the most confident person to give up.

As we go about doing our own things we can learn a bit from how Anne learned to cope with the rejection she faced. Following are some of her coping mechanisms.

I developed many personal coping mechanisms. One of the simplest was to immerse myself in books about other entrepreneurs, which has been a long-term interest of mine anyway. I find it hugely absorbing to learn their stories, and it’s useful to discover how others have withstood the pressures. It’s a comfort to know that other entrepreneurs have experienced exactly the same emotions.

Anne read stories about other entrepreneurs and it helped to see how they dealt with the kind of challenges she was facing. She learned from their stories and was encouraged by the fact that others had faced what she was now going through and succeeded.

When I desperately needed some respite, another of my fall-back positions was to send out what felt like hundreds of emails at a time, asking for help and advice. Often they went out to people I knew, and who were unlikely to be in a position to further my cause. However, their kind and encouraging responses kept me sane at the toughest moments and gave me some valuable breathing space.

This is an interesting technique, contacting lots of people, asking for their help even when you know most of them can’t help you. But their advice and encouraging words kept her going. When we are working on something we should not assume that because people don’t have the money, expertise or resources we need that they are not worth asking for help or advice. Such people may listen to us and offer words of support and encouragement. That can go a long way in helping us to get through the rejection and tough times.

Whenever the number of rejections threatened to become unmanageable, one of my favoured tactics was to arrange meetings with friends in the banking industry whom I had known for years. Again, these were people who were never going to invest in New Bank or play any sort of role in the business. However, they had the advantage of being long-term associates who would give me a polite hearing and perhaps even a snippet of advice and feedback. What they absolutely wouldn’t be doing was doling out abrupt ‘no’s along with some apparently ‘helpful’ advice as to why my entire business model was completely ridiculous and would never succeed. Such a meeting would be like food to a starving person, offering a much-needed break from the seemingly endless cycle of rejection.

Similar to the previous technique, talking to previous colleagues in person meant Anne could get some well-needed positive vibes from people who were never going to invest in her bank but would not make her feel bad or like a failure for attempting to start the venture either.

No one can continue in the face of an endless negative barrage. We all need some respite from it. It’s nice to have a pleasant and positive meeting at least once in a while, because it leaves you refreshed enough to tackle what comes next. I also used the conversations to reinforce my belief that I was right and the banking system was wrong.

Another important technique to handle the stress was how she looked at the whole venture. That helped her not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of what she wanted to achieve which in itself can be scary and demotivating.

She writes that:

I think it was also useful to look upon the journey as a series of sprints, rather than a single marathon. Yes, I aspired to grow a significant digital enterprise, but I needed to break that ambition down to bite-sized goals. If I hadn’t done so, the scale of the task would have quickly become overwhelming. I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks about their start-up as part of a trajectory towards running a multimillion-pound corporation (with all the personal wealth and prosperity that goes with that) is heading for a fall from the start. Fortunately for me, it was never about the money, or fame, that entrepreneurial success would bring. Neither was an incentive for me then and that remains true today.

Anne was trying to pull off almost the impossible. While she had a lot going for her, there were more odds stacked against her. But by employing some tactics she was able to continue and not give up. A summary of the tactics are:

  • Reading stories of entrepreneurs who have faced similar challenges.
  • Emailing as many people as possible and asking them for help and getting comfort from their encouragement even though they could not directly help her with building the bank.
  • Having face-to-face meetings with former colleagues who encouraged her.
  • Seeing setting up the venture as a series of sprints rather than a single marathon made it more manageable.

Don’t let age stop you

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I’ve been reading Bank on it by Anne Boden, the founder of Starling Bank, an online-only bank. 

When I read books like this I reflect on what I’m learning from the book by writing about them. So, over the next couple of days, I will be sharing my lessons from Anne with you. I hope you will bear with me.

So, what’s this thing about not letting age stop you?

To be precise, if you have a dream, vision or a goal don’t let your age stop you from giving it a go.

I will back up my point with a statement from Anne:

“Oh, and there was one other, crucial elephant in the room: I was a fifty-four-year-old woman. In a sector dominated by younger men, a female entrepreneur in fintech is a rarity. In the UK, just 1 per cent of venture capital funding goes to all-female-founded teams and that figure remains stubbornly stagnant year after year. In Switzerland, which has been named the ‘most equal country in Europe’, companies led by women still only get just over 22 per cent of available funds. Hardly surprisingly, many women self-select out of the IT sector because of its astonishing lack of gender diversity.”

Ignoring the bit about women and diversity which is very important and should be talked about but is not my focus in this write-up, let’s talk about a 54-year-old woman. One with experience from the traditional banking industry trying to start a fintech start-up which would typically be seen as more appropriate for younger men with tech backgrounds. 

Most people in Anne’s position would not even think about the idea. But Anne did. Not only did she think about the idea. She pursued it, suffered a lot along the way, and in the end launched Starling Bank. This made her a pioneer in the fintech and banking industry for starting one of the first online-only banks.

Now, there are a couple of online-only banks around but when Anne started, there were none in the UK. She had no template to follow and had to build everything from the ground up.

That says a lot about the type of person Anne is but it also is an encouragement to all of us. Whether you are old or young (whatever that is) don’t let age stop you from trying out that dream and don’t let anyone use your age to discriminate against you. 

Sometimes the best way to prove people wrong is to go on and do what they said you can’t do. Just ask Anne. Actually, you may not be able to ask her. Just Google Starling Bank. That’s all the proof you need that age should not stop you.

Business Insights From Play Nice But Win by Michael Dell #2

TO GROW BE CURIOUS

Play Nice But WinMichael’s first computer was the Apple II. It had cost a fortune at $1298 which he paid for out of his savings. When the computer was delivered by UPS, his dad drove him to pick it up at a local warehouse where it was held up.

When Michael got home with the computer, he did something almost unbelievable considering it’s steep price. He took it to his bedroom, unboxed it and then took the computer about. Not surprisingly, his parents were furious.

Michael’s rationale for doing that? How could you understand the computer if you didn’t take it apart? By taking the computer apart Michael got to understand it’s open architecture and other things you could do with the computer such as reprograming it.

This obviously wasn’t the first time Michael was taking things apart and it would not be the last. That process of taking things apart and seeking to understand what they could do helped him develop a deeper understanding of how computers work and what you could do with them. Hence, he was able to start a very profitable business at a young age taking IBM computers apart, customising them to make them more efficient and selling them. This of course was the foundation of Dell as a business.

Michael’s strategy at that time was to customise existing computers and sell them directly to people and it became the foundational strategy for which Dell Computers became known by selling directly to consumers instead of selling through retail stores.

Michael’s curiosity helped him to learn things that others could not learn and build products that were highly profitable.

PERSONAL LESSONS

  • Curiosity is a key learning behaviour. It will cause you to ask questions, try different things and sometimes take risks with the aim of further developing your understanding of the way things work. By being curious you are guaranteed to keep moving forward because you will keep learning. Lack of curiosity will keep you stuck and stagnant.
  • No matter how old you are, don’t lose your curiosity. Keep asking, keeping taking things apart and keep learning.
  • Use your curiosity to understand things better so you can build new products and better services. If you see things the same way all the time, you will keep on producing the same things. But if you seek to see things differently, you will produce different things.

Business Insights From Play Nice But Win by Michael Dell #1

Play Nice But WinThe book I am currently learning from is the latest business autobiography from Michael Dell the founder of Dell Computers. The book is titled Play Nice But Win and was published in October 2021. Michael Dell is one of those understated yet successful technology entrepreneurs who has managed to weather the storm of running a technology company with a decreasing market share. Dell started out as a direct-to-customer personal computer company and with the advent of tablets and other mobile devices, many forecasted the demise of company. While the company is less prominent, it survived and is still thriving.

In this book Micheal tells us a bit about his own personal story by giving some insights into his childhood and family (not much) and also how he started Dell. He then goes on to write about what he did to make sure that Dell as a company did not die, which involved taking the company private from being a public company and taking it public again.

Over the next couple of weeks as I read the book, I will share with you some of the insights I am getting from it and below is my first lesson.

THAT’S A LOT OF CASH!

Michael was 17 when he decided to buy a brand-new BMW 320i for over $15,000. So, his parents followed him to the car dealer for back-up. After agreeing on the car to buy, the dealer looked towards Michael’s parents to pay but they didn’t. It was Michael who paid with a $15,000 plus cashier’s cheque and the rest with a lot of cash. His parents had not contributed a single penny to the car. Yet Michael had paid for it without any credit card or loan debt. How does a 17-year-old pay for a car that expensive. Where did he get all that money from? To answer that question, let’s meet Michael. Continue reading

25 life lessons from What It Takes by Stephen A. Schwarzman

712C-vuWojL._AC_UY218_I’ve just finished reading What It Takes by Stephen A. Schwarzman. Stephen is one of the co-founders of Blackstone which is one of the biggest investment companies in the world. I got a lot of lessons from the book but I would like to share with you his 25 lessons for life. I am sharing the lessons exactly how they were written in the book and I do hope you gain one or two things from them.

Here they are:

 

  1. It’s as easy to do something big as it is to do something small, so reach for a fantasy worthy of your pursuit, with rewards commensurate to your effort.
  2. The best executives are made, not born. They never stop learning. Study the people and organizations in your life that have had enormous success. They offer a free course from the real world to help you improve.
  3. Write or call the people you admire, and ask for advice or a meeting. You never know who will be willing to meet with you. You may end up learning something important or form a connection you can leverage for the rest of your life. Meeting people early in life creates an unusual bond.
  4. There is nothing more interesting to people than their own problems. Think about what others are dealing with, and try to come up with ideas to help them. Almost anyone, however senior or important, is receptive to new ideas provided they are thoughtful.
  5. Every business is a closed, integrated system with a set of distinct but interrelated parts. Great managers understand how each part works on its own and in relation to all the others.
  6. Information is the most important asset in business. The more you know, the more perspectives you have, and the more likely you are to spot patterns and anomalies before your competition. So always be open to new inputs, whether they are people, experiences, or knowledge.
  7.  When you’re young, only take a job that provides you with a steep learning curve and strong training. First jobs are foundational. Don’t take a job just because it seems prestigious.
  8. When presenting yourself, remember that impressions matter. The whole picture has to be right. Others will be watching for all sorts of clues and cues that tell who you are. Be on time. Be authentic. Be prepared.
  9. No one person, however smart, can solve every problem. But an army of smart people talking openly with one another will.
  10. People in a tough spot often focus on their own problems, when the answer usually lies in fixing someone else’s.
  11. Believe in something greater than yourself and your personal needs. It can be your company, your country, or a duty for service. Any challenge you tackle that is inspired by your beliefs and core values will be worth it, regardless of whether you succeed or fail.
  12. Never deviate from your sense of right and wrong. Your integrity must be unquestionable. It is easy to do what’s right when you don’t have to write a check or suffer any consequences. It’s harder when you have to give something up. Always do what you say you will, and never mislead anyone for your own advantage.
  13. Be bold. Successful entrepreneurs, managers, and individuals have the confidence and courage to act when the moment seems right. They accept risk when others are cautious and take action when everyone else is frozen, but they do so smartly. This trait is the mark of a leader.
  14. Never get complacent. Nothing is forever. Whether it is an individual or a business, your competition will defeat you if you are not constantly seeking ways to reinvent and improve yourself. Organizations, especially, are more fragile than you think.
  15. Sales rarely get made on the first pitch. Just because you believe in something doesn’t mean everyone else will. You need to be able to sell your vision with conviction over and over again. Most people don’t like change, so you need to be able to convince them why they should accept it. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
  16. If you see a huge, transformative opportunity, don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it. You might be seeing something others don’t. The harder the problem is, the more limited the competition, and the greater the reward for whomever can solve it.
  17. Success comes down to rare moments of opportunity. Be open, alert, and ready to seize them. Gather the right people and resources; then commit. If you’re not prepared to apply that kind of effort, either the opportunity isn’t as compelling as you think or you are not the right person to pursue it.
  18. Time wounds all deals, sometimes even fatally. Often the longer you wait, the more surprises await you. In tough negotiations especially, keep everyone at the table long enough to reach an agreement.
  19. Don’t lose money!!! Objectively assess the risks of every opportunity.
  20. Make decisions when you are ready, not under pressure. Others will always push you to make a decision for their own purposes, internal politics, or some other external need. But you can almost always say, “I need a little more time to think about this. I’ll get back to you.” This tactic is very effective at defusing even the most difficult and uncomfortable situations.
  21. Worrying is an active, liberating activity. If channeled appropriately, it allows you to articulate the downside in any situation and drives you to take action to avoid it. 
  22. Failure is the best teacher in an organization. Talk about failures openly and objectively. Analyze what went wrong. You will learn new rules for decision making and organizational behavior. If evaluated well, failures have the potential to change the course of any organization and make it more successful in the future.
  23. Hire 10s whenever you can. They are proactive about sensing problems, designing solutions, and taking a business in new directions. They also attract and hire other 10s. You can always build something around a 10.
  24. Be there for the people you know to be good, even when everyone else is walking away. Anyone can end up in a tough situation. A random act of kindness in someone’s time of need can change the course of a life and create an unexpected friendship or loyalty.
  25. Everyone has dreams. Do what you can to help others achieve theirs.