My Proficorn Way (Part 80)

Saying No

Decisions abound in our daily life. For an entrepreneur, there are many make-or-break decisions The big decisions one never forgets. Even in happy endings, one realises how close a decision that was – the other path and it could have all been very different.

In the early stage of a venture, the entrepreneur is typically alone. So, the decisions haunt. No one else can fully understand the choices. An hour’s conversation with a friend or mentor can never fully do justice to conveying the depth of thinking and what-ifs that keep buzzing through the mind. Some decisions are consequential and irreversible – deciding on a co-founder or senior team member, making a call on a potential investor or M&A situation are some of them. The impact of some of these decisions can stay for a lifetime.

A decision has to be made. One can do the SWOT analysis, weigh the pros and cons, meditate, procrastinate, debate. At the end, a decision has to be made. Yes or No.

Through the years, for the big game-changing decisions, my instinctive decision now is a No. There is a path one is on, and it must require something very monumental to shift me from that path. Even if a Yes may seem logical, I start with a No and then think deeply on why I should change to a Yes. In my early years as an entrepreneur, I was exactly the opposite. I was more willing to say Yes, and would only say No if I found something going wrong – or of course if the No came from the other side.

In late 1999, I had an offer from a US company to buy IndiaWorld. It would be a stock deal and in a few months, IndiaWorld would be spun off with a few other assets to be listed on Nasdaq. (This was at the height of the dotcom boom.) So exciting! Imagine, an IPO in the US. I was all too eager to say Yes. After a week of negotiations in the US on the term sheet, I was handed a final copy just as I was readying to leave for the airport for the flight back to India. In the cab to JFK on a dark winter evening, I read the term sheet in detail. I expected it to be on the lines we had discussed – after all, we had just spent a full week discussing it clause by clause. As I read, I was surprised to find two clauses changed from what we had agreed on. There was no typo – these were deliberate edits. And in that moment, my Yes turned to a No. I could not trust the other side. Financially, it was an incredible deal – but for me, the trust issue far outweighed everything else.

In the past couple years at Netcore, we have had the opportunity to consider a number of large game-changing acquisitions. Each could have transformed our future, but I have stepped back because I could not find reasons to convert my default No into an emphatic Yes. There is a sixth sense – beyond the numbers and narratives. It could be a fear of the unknown, or a hesitation to cross the rubicon. In each such situation, I said No when the expectation was a Yes. At times, it is hard for me to fully explain – but after 29 years of being an entrepreneur, I have learnt to trust my judgement. Big acquisitions are very hard to pull off, especially if there are geographical and cultural differences. However compelling the logic, I consider the worst case scenario. There is a default path we are on, and the acquisition takes us on a different path. Maybe, I am less of a risk-taker because there is more to lose now. I am willing to wait and build, rather than be in a hurry for a fast-track IPO or scale just for the sake of showing off. Businesses take time to build and nurture. All it takes is a single mistake that can undo years of work. As an entrepreneur, you have the wheel and in control. No one else understands the business and future better than you do. Just because others are clamouring for a Yes, do not be afraid to say No.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.