A Silver-Linings Playbook: 3 Lessons From Early Rejection
In 1964, the immortal rock band The Who--known at the time as the High Numbers--got a rejection letter from EMI, the record label representing The Beatles. The letter, from an employee at the record company, reads:
I have listened again and again, to the High Numbers' white labels, taken from our test session and still cannot decide whether or not they have anything to offer.
It's interesting to reconsider this letter 50 years later, as The Who's two surviving members are in the midst of planning a new album to celebrate their semicentennial anniversary.
Here are three other lessons that rejection letters have to offer.
1. Rejection happens to everyone--even great talents--so don't take it personally. In the music world, it happened to The Who and, incredibly, it even happened to The Beatles. ("Guitar groups are on their way out," were the exact words used.)
The fact is, rejection happens to most entrepreneurs. Exact statistics vary, but any way you slice it, the majority of small businesses do not survive five years. And even in surviving businesses, there are rejections galore: From sales prospects, from investors, from partners.
It's bound to happen if you're introducing a new product or service to the world. So don't take it hard. You are not going to hear "yes" every time.
2. Rejections supply motivation and advice to learn from. Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream, has shared four lessons he's learned from investor rejection letters. One of which is so obvious, you may have overlooked it: A letter (or an email) is a document that, in many cases, allows the recipient to respond to the sender's critique. That's exactly what Kim did:
A full year after I came *this* close to telling the lot of them off, I started hitting reply to those rejection emails. I updated them on my progress with the business and asked for a chance to show them how far it had come. Almost all of them took the meeting request and many were amazed to see how far I had gone, bootstrapping on my own.
And 90 days later, Kim had two term sheets from venture capital investors.
Had he not received his rejection letters in the first place, Kim might never have known how to make his business more appealing to those investors. Following their advice, he pumped close to $250,000 of personal savings into his business, changed his pricing model, and filed for provisional patents.
No wonder they were more inclined to invest.
3. Rejections provide an authentic story that your peers and fans can appreciate. Late last year, I read a great post on Medium by Karen X. Cheng, CEO and cofounder of GiveIt100. In a wonderfully honest essay, Cheng describes getting rejected by Y-Combinator--and sharing that rejection on Facebook. Here's what happened next:
One by one, people left comments about how they'd failed before. Joel Gascoigne from Buffer wrote how they didn't get into YC -- they didn't even get an interview. People told me about other YC founders who didn't get in on their first try. Drew Houston from Dropbox is one of them.
Though rejection is a commonplace occurrence in the business world, too often, the stories we hear--either through the business media or social sharing--are of successes. Cheng's experience proves that sharing a rejection can be fruitful too.
As for The Who, they famously shared their rejection too. They enclosed copies of the letter from EMI in their 1970 Live at Leeds album. By that point, they were already rock-and-roll immortals. Including the EMI letter with Live at Leeds was their way of chronicling the unsuccessful side of their early days.
Reading the EMI rejection for the first time, fans of The Who could extract a similar lesson to the one Cheng cites with Drew Houston and Dropbox: That the road to success, in any creative or entrepreneurial endeavor, is dotted (and sometimes saturated) with rejection.
So don't let it bring you down.