Sent on October 14th, 2022.

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People are busy. There’s a struggle with putting on more external communication when you’re already working hard to keep up with your internal comms and commitments. You’re trying to talk more with your team, and at the same time, your inbox is filling up with emails.

Saying no

What I like about working with founders is the connection; to share notes and thoughts about building companies. But it’s hard to cater to the needs of every entrepreneur.

As every hour goes by, my inbox fills up with more and more requests for my time. I’ve gotten pretty good at saying no. I’ve built templates to make it easier not to take up more commitments than I can handle.

Here are my templates. Note that these work for an investor but can easily apply to a startup founder.

1) ‘No’ to Pick-your-brain call request. “My workload doesn’t allow me to take on advice or sparring sessions. So, unfortunately, I won’t have time to help you at this stage.”

2) ‘No’ to mentoring or coaching requests. “Currently, I’m not taking on any mentoring roles. I try to help and mentor people with my online content at https://elitegamedevelopers.com/blog/”

3) ‘No’ to QA call, but Ask Me Anything permission. “Thanks for reaching out! I could answer this question in one of my future Ask me Anything episodes. That would be the best place for something like this 🙂 What do you think?”

4) Keeping things async. “Would it be possible to keep this async, and if you’d share a presentation or other material with me? So I could send comments over? Here is my email:”

Note! Saying ‘no’ has a mental barrier: people don’t want to come off as negative. It requires time and commitment to say no more often.

I was recently listening to Cal Newport’s podcast, and he highlighted an article in Nature where a research group had gamified saying ‘no’ for a year. They tracked themselves, saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to requests.

The main finding was that the more they said no, systematically, the less they took extra stuff on their plate. The group became much more critical of what they wanted to add on their plate and figured out the things that mattered.

“We logged our 100th ‘no’ in March 2022. We learned that saying no requires more than a how-to guide. It involves rethinking priorities and empowering ourselves and our colleagues to set boundaries.”

The group came up with four insights:

1) Track all the ‘yes ‘and ‘no’ responses. It made saying ‘no’ much easier over time.

2) Say ‘no’ to larger tasks. The group said, “We declined too many little things,” resulting in less impact.

3) Saying ‘no’ is emotional work. FOMO, etc. The more you say ‘no,’ the easier it becomes. FOMO turns to joy-of-missing-out.

4) Don’t soften the blow. Don’t kick the can down the road by saying, “I’m too overwhelmed with work right now.” Just say, “I’m too overwhelmed with work.” Period.

Challenge with warm intros

Warm intros are the hardest place for me to say ‘no.’

I’m all for warm intros where game industry people and investors introduce me to founders raising a round. They’d want to get acquainted. Warm intros are the way I’ve discovered most of the investments I’ve done.

But often, as our network of people grows, things can get messy.

Here’s a situation: an email arrives from a friend, introducing me to their friend, CCed to the email, who is raising a round.

I don’t want to upset these people, so I’ll look at their deck before I get back to them. I do end up saying ‘no’ to many people who are fundraising after I’ve seen that, based on the pitch deck, the company is not a good fit for me.

But what if the warm intro was towards someone who is thinking about doing a startup? They don’t have a pitch deck yet. Now I need to take the call.

Sounds like an investor problem? Here’s what warm intros could look like for founders:

“You’ve been building in web3 for six months. My friend Richard (CCed) has a mobile game studio looking into web3. Maybe you could share some thoughts over a call?”

“You’ve been using this UA agency to run campaigns. My friend Cat (CCed) is looking at using them. Maybe you two should have a call and share thoughts?”

How do we manage the expectations in warm intros to say ‘yes’ and be mindful of our time?

Opt-in is the way

As I said, I’m OK with introduction emails, but I’m most joyful about an opt-in email where the mutual friend reaches out to me and asks if there’s interest in chatting with this person.

It’s an opt-in. The opt-out is a lot easier in this case since you can essentially point out that you aren’t looking for companies like these or that mentoring or “pick-your-brain” calls isn’t something you have time for.

If you are a founder and your investors are sending you intros, requesting them to inquire about an opt-in before proceeding is OK. You might feel that all the introductions from VCs are essential, but you must be mindful of your time.

Conclusion

I think everyone has a quota of introductions to new people they can deal with daily. So let’s be mindful of people’s inboxes 🙏

To end this piece, here are a few templates to enable opt-ins.

Someone asks you for an intro to X: “Sure, no problem. I’ll check with X if they are interested in chatting. I always like to let people first opt-in before an intro :)”

You ask for an intro from a mutual friend: “I’ve seen that you are friends on LinkedIn with X. Would you mind asking them if they’d have interested in chatting with me? It’s totally opt-in. I know people are busy, so I want to be mindful of their time.”

The more elaborate you can be about your request, the better. Share a blurb text on what you are “selling.” I’ve previously written about blurbs that work well for founders who want to reach out to investors.

Read more by going here.

(Photo by iam_os on Unsplash)