In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to deal with rejection.

Rejection is very common. If there’s one thing that is going to happen to you as a founder is that you’re going to be rejected a lot, and this hurts. But just because you’re likely to be rejected when you ask for something shouldn’t stop you from asking. How you deal with rejection can determine if you’ll be successful or not.

In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how nobody likes being rejected, coping mechanisms that you can use to deal with rejection, the problem with rejection and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:23 Why this topic was chosen.

01:08 How Steli doesn’t like to be rejected.

03:13 How Hiten deals with rejection.

04:30 The problem with rejection.

04:50 Why rejection is just an idea.

06:01 Why you need to ask all the time.

07:43 Why your decisions matter.

08:24 Why you shouldn’t put your self worth in someone else hands.

11:00 Tips to help you deal with rejection. 

3 Key Points:

  • I encourage people to get rejected and put themselves out there.
  • I, for sure, don’t like to be rejected.
  • Ask the person who you think is good at dealing with rejection how they do it.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: This is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: Today on The Startup Chat we’re going to teach you how to deal with rejection. If you know Hiten and me, you know that we do believe great things come with taking great risk. If you know me, you know that I encourage people to get rejected. To put themselves out there, and to ask for things specifically that will place them completely outside their comfort zone, and with that bring a lot of risk of being rejected. Both Hiten and I have been rejected many, many, many times in our lives, and we know a thing or two about it. I do believe this is such an important topic. We thought today we’re going to do a little bit of a back and forth of just like coping mechanisms that we have developed, strategies, ideas, habits that allow us to deal with rejection. One thing that I’ll say right out of the bat, before I’ll ask you for your first tip Hiten here, is that I do not know anybody, I’ve never met somebody, and I surely I’m not somebody who doesn’t care about being rejected, or who likes being rejected. I for sure don’t like to be rejected. People think, especially when they see somebody that is as outspoken and as loud as me, and has as much sales experience as I have that I don’t care anymore. I could attempt anything and get rejected and I would not even just nothing from me, I would just dust off my shoulder. It’s not true. It is simply not true.


Hiten Shah: That’s not true?


Steli Efti: That’s unfortunately not true, no. Even after many, many, many, many, many thousands of rejections over the past 20 years of being an entrepreneur and in sales and all that, I still don’t like the feeling. I still don’t like the word no. No does not feel good to me. It doesn’t. I have just learned to deal with it. I’ve just learned to deal with it better than most people. I have learned to not run away from it as much. Not delay my actions as long. To me it’s like I’ve jumped a thousand times from this super high point into the water, and every time I’m a little afraid I get a little bit of goosebumps, but when I look down, I’m like, “I’ve done this many times. It sucks the first few seconds, but I’ll just jump.” That’s how I deal with this, versus what I think most people think, which is after he learned the magical art of not caring about being rejected and being so confident, nobody can shake his confidence. Now Steli walks around like a machine, and could ask anybody for money or for anything. Has zero emotions, zero fear, zero hesitation or anxiety around it. It’s just not true. With that disclaimer out of the way, which I think is a really important one, let me ask you, Hiten, how do you deal with rejection? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind if somebody asks you for advice on dealing with rejection?


Hiten Shah: On my end if someone came to me for that advice, I would do something that you just did. What I would do is I would go ask the person who I think is good at dealing with rejection, how they deal with it. This would be the best person that I know that’s good at dealing with it. Even if I’ve already experienced it myself and done a good job, but if I have some hesitation. The reason for that is I think you’re just basically down, you said, “Hey, I still deal with it. I’ve been rejected a lot.” You still deal with it, and it still either bothers you, or it’s something that you have in your mind, it’s not something you just literally just ignore. I think that that’s really important for you to hear when you are dealing with rejection, or more importantly, this is one of the problems with rejection. The problem with rejection isn’t rejection itself, it’s what it stops you from doing. What that means is rejection is just an idea. The idea of rejection stops you from doing whatever it is that you thought people are going to reject you for, or reject you about, or say no to you about. I have a story from my father that I don’t forget, and when I deal with rejection, that’s all I really need. But sometimes I ask him and he says the same thing every time. Basically when I was five years old, we moved from, I was born in Africa so I was born in Zambia. We also lived in Zimbabwe, and then moved to New York when I was five. In order for my dad to get his job that he got, he had to basically apply for 1200 jobs. He’s a physician, and he applied for literally 1200 jobs in two rounds or something like that. I just remember that because I’ve never done 1200 of anything that I can remember, except maybe lived for 1200 days obviously. I’ll ask him and he just says the obvious thing, which is like, well, if you don’t ask then the answer’s already no. I think that that’s really powerful. We get caught up in our rejection story of, if I do that I’m going to be rejected, or what if this happens? I’m sorry what if this does not happen, this thing I want? In his case it’s like he really wanted to come to this country. Bunch of reasons I won’t get into today, but in short it was just to provide better for his family. Myself and my mom and him. He essentially didn’t take no for an answer. I don’t mean like he would cause any trouble with the people, but he just didn’t take no for an answer because he believed that he will be here and make it, and then he will do whatever it takes for him to do that. He could have stopped at 100 and said, “Wow, I sent 100 of these applications nobody said yes I’m done.” He didn’t stop till he got the answer he wanted. I think that’s another way to think about rejection, which is like if you don’t ask, the answer’s already no. Then perseverance, enduring the process however way you find it is key. That’s really key and finding it is really important.


Steli Efti: Fucking love the story. Particularly today, the way you shared it today I think is incredible. One thing that stood out to me that I want to share, that I haven’t thought about in this very specific way before I think, which is see there are small distinctions that really matter. Sometimes you make a decision, like let’s say your father made the decision, I want to move to the US with my family. Your father’s decision was not dependent on any singular entity, person, institution. He made the decision. He knew I’m going to go to the US this is what I want. Anytime he applied somewhere, they could say, “No, we are not going to be the ones that will enable that step.” But they couldn’t tell him, no, you’re not going to come to the US.


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: They couldn’t tell him, no, you can’t have the desire or no, you can’t have the determination. They just said, “It’s not going to be us.” When they rejected your father, your father was like, “Well, it’s not going to be them. Must be somebody else.” I think it’s when we put the decision, and the complete outcome in the hands of the person or institution that we are approaching, it’s then when the rejection feels so devastating. It’s when we put our self worth in the hands of somebody else, is when it feels so devastating. This person said, no, I’m not worth anything. I will not accomplish my dreams. My family will not get an opportunity for a better life, I have failed. If you think in those terms, that’s very devastating. Anybody would be devastated. Any father would be devastated by a single rejection, if you gave that person or institution that type of vote, but your father didn’t all right. Your father just gave them the appropriate amount of vote, which was is it going to be you guys? Is it going to be you that gives me the job? But I am going to get a job independently if one person or one institution says yes or no. I think whenever you go out, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to raise money for your company, if you’re trying to close deals and acquire new customers. Doesn’t matter if you go and approach a man or a woman somewhere, and because you find them interesting, you want to get to know them better. It doesn’t matter what it is that you do. If you place disproportionate amount of power in their hands, the power to fully decide what your destiny is going to look like with their vote, then it becomes so much bigger of a daunting proposition. When they reject you, it is going to crush you. But if you realize and put things in context, and acknowledge that you have to make the decision that you are going to raise money, you’re going to succeed at that. Or you’re going to close a deal. Or you’re going to find a partner that loves you and that you love and that you find attractive and vice versa. If you make that decision and it’s decided within you, and then you approach somebody to see if they are interested in giving you money, becoming your customer, whatever. Even if they say no, it’s never going to feel as devastating. It’s a bummer. It’s like, it’s not going to be you, I wanted it to be you, but okay. Well then I guess it’s going to be somebody else. It’s never going to feel great. You’re like, not you? All right. That’s sad. I wanted it to be you, but okay. But it’s different. It has a different emotional impact if the outcome is, you don’t want to date me versus I am going to be alone for the rest of my life unloved. That’s a very different outcome. Who wouldn’t be crushed by that? Every human being would be crushed by that. I think that that kind of making that clear to yourself first rationally, and then emotionally. A lot of times it has to do with the power and clarity of decision. I find that when people have made a very clear decision in their mind, then through that decision, they gain the confidence to approach people or institutions, and not put that power in the other person’s hand because they made the decision in their mind, this is happening. I am doing this, I am going to accomplish this. It’s when you’re not sure, when your decision isn’t as crystal clear, when you’re not as confident, when you’re not as determined when you’re like, not sure, is where you over proportionately place the responsibility at the response of the person that you’re approaching. With that your overall responding when they reject you. That’s one big thing. I love that story because it’s so clear that your father had made a decision, and it was not up to anybody else on the planet. It was decided. Your dad decided, and now who was looking for the right partner to make that decision manifest and become a reality. But it didn’t matter if it took him 100, 1,000 or 10,000 sooner or later he would find the right entry point to make it happen.


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: I fucking love this. Maybe we’ll do another episode with 10 different hacks and tips, but I just want to wrap this [inaudible] up.


Hiten Shah: Let’s do it.


Steli Efti: This story was so beautiful, let’s just wrap it up right here. But rejection is a really important topic and it does, and I love the way you phrased this so poetically before. The problem with rejection isn’t the rejection it’s what it’s stopping you from doing after you’ve been rejected. If you’re listening to us, and you’ve just been rejected or you’re afraid and you’ve been messing around, waiting, hesitating because you’re terrified of being rejected, send us an email., subject line rejection. Tell us your story. Tell us what’s going on. We will help you with advice, with stories, with encouragement. We want to help more of you deal better with rejection, because you’re going to accomplish a lot more in your life, and it’s going to be a lot more fun if you know how to deal with this very important topic. All right, that’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See you.