What Airbnb Can Teach You About The Lost Art Of The Rejection

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When Airbnb was getting started in 2008, the company’s founders met with seven top Silicon Valley investors. The founders were looking to raise $150,000 at a $1.5 million valuation.

“That means for $150,000 you could have bought 10% of Airbnb,” founder Brian Chesky wrote on Medium recently.

That 10 percent would be worth $2.5 billion today.

Instead, all 7 investors passed on the opportunity.

The rejections didn’t stop the founders. They kept at it, they found other investors, and went on to build one of the most valuable startups in the world.

Chesky recently shared those 2008 rejection emails on Medium (he omitted names of people and firms). There are two valuable lessons we can learn from this material.

The first is the obvious one: don’t give up. Even the biggest and best operations faced rejection early on.

But behind this lesson is another opportunity, a window into the art of rejection, from some of the world’s greatest rejecters. And I mean rejectors in the best possibly way. These are the top venture capital firms controlling billions in assets. Their job is as much about rejecting offers as it is accepting them.

In fact, they send a lot more rejection letters than acceptance letters. They meet with and reject some of the brightest, most talented people in the world. They are world-class rejectors. And these emails give us a chance to see how it’s done.

How great rejections are built

Let’s take a look at one of these rejections.

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We can break this letter down into three parts.

1. The No is early and clear.

This letter does not belabor the point or dance around the subject. The answer is no, and that’s very clear. Compare this to the wishy-washy, we’re-not-sure kind of rejections that you’ve maybe gotten before.

2. A clear reason is given.

In this rejection, two reasons are given actually. But they are concise and to the point. The offer is (1.) not in their prime markets and (2.) not an area where they feel they could lend their helpful expertise. This makes the recipient know the offer was carefully considered and discussed. It also prevents a tedious back-and-forth. They didn’t wait for Airbnb to ask why the offer was rejected, they anticipated the question would be asked and answered it ahead of time.

3. If there is an opportunity for followup and a future relationship, instructions are given

Again, the investors here are anticipating a question. “Can we follow up with you?” Not only is the question answered, but specific instructions are given as to when they should follow up. This ensures that any future relationship is relevant and based on the kind of concreted progress the firm wants to see. Imagine if every rejection these investors sent included only the line “keep us posted on your progress.” They send a lot of rejections, so they would be inundated with followups. Their inbox would be an avalanche of “hey we got three new users!”

3 Parts

All the Airbnb rejection emails follow this formula, in some way. Let’s take a look at another.

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We can see this hits the same notes as the first email. The no is clear and early, and a clear reason is given. In this case, the investors aren’t interested in a follow up so they don’t leave instructions.

And again in this message.

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These firms did not collectively get together and decide to write their rejections all the same way. No more than the world’s greatest golfers got together and decided how to swing a club. The rejections have so much in common because they are the best possible way to craft a rejection.

Try this in your own life. You might not be meeting with the next Airbnb, but if you run a business or work for one, eventually you’re going to be sending a rejection. You might as well learn from the best.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

How Distractions At Work Take Up More Time Than You Think

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Make an estimate on how many times are you are distracted during an average work day.

Now take that number and multiply it by 25.

That’s how many minutes of concentration you’re losing. It takes an average of about 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption, according to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.

Multiple studies confirm this. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction, they derail your mental progress for up to a half hour afterward (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half hour).

In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain. It’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

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The Lemonade Stand Effect: Why Kids Love Being Entrepreneurs

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At my elementary school, there was one particular day of the year that every kid looked foreword to. Kids loved it, lost their freaking minds over it actually.

It was better than field day, better than snow days. One time we actually had a snow day on this day and everyone was furious.

It was called Junior Entrepreneur Day.

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What Managers Are Getting Wrong About The World’s Greatest Job Ad

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Here’s how the story usually goes. Sometime in the early 20th Century, British explorer Ernest Shackleton needed to hire a crew for an upcoming expedition to the South Pole. So he placed a newspaper ad:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.”

The copywriting — and its strong, direct language — has been printed, reprinted and talked about for decades. It’s beautiful. Possibly the world’s greatest job ad.

Though his accomplishments went largely uncelebrated in the years after his death, Shackleton in recent years has become a revered leadership figure thanks to new literature on his life and career.

The ad copy has taken on a life of its own, with hiring managers and entrepreneurs pointing to it as an example of how to lure exceptional people to your organization.

But there are two problems here. For one, the ad probably never existed. Even if it did, many people — it seems — are missing the point.

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Why Amazon Hires Good Managers, Not Great Ones

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Really great managers are hard to come by. They’re even harder to hire.

Those who are truly and undisputedly world class are already working. And the company they’re working for will do whatever it takes to keep them. These managers are rarely, if ever, on the market. Even if you’re Amazon.

The top 1 percent of product managers, for example, are so rare that one Amazon director believes he has never encountered one in a job interview.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever met a 1% PM, certainly not one that I identified as such prior to hiring,” Ian McAllister, Director of the AmazonSmile program at Amazon, wrote on this Quora Answer.

So how does Amazon consistently hire world-class managers? Here’s how. Identify the areas a 1 percent manager excels at, and hire someone who excels at some of them, but not all.

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Why I Ignored a Late-Night Email From My New Boss (And You Should Too)

 

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It came, like most terrible and dangerous things, in the night.

OK so like 9:30.

But late enough. It arrived through the buzz of my phone. A new message in my inbox. A message from my new boss. And on week two of my tenure here at iDoneThis. The subject matter was nothing time sensitive, he wanted to introduce me to Jimmy Daly, an excellent writer and content marketer (whom you can find here).

I immediately opened the email and started typing a reply. I was excited. I felt that rush of opportunity. That ah-ha here’s my chance moment. Then I stopped myself. I deleted the draft and put my phone in my pocket. This is dangerous, I realized.

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How Micromanaging Poisons Productivity and Creates a Vicious Cycle of Despair

 

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Here’s the thing about bosses who micromanage. None of them think they’re actually doing it.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Managers, typically, were once experts at the work their subordinates are doing. That’s likely why they were promoted.

But this changes at the management level. Their jobs are more strategic, less hands on. Many managers aren’t up for the transition, so they sink back into what they’re familiar with — the gritty details of the work they used to do.

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Make Statistics More Meaningful By Using Fewer of Them

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Let’s play a game. Pretend I’m pitching you a fictional business.

“Since launching 29 months ago in 12 cities across 4 states we’ve acquired 208,000 users and 195,000 daily active users averaging a 10.5 percent monthly user increase over the last 7 months.”

Now here comes the important part.

There were a lot of statistics listed there, right?

Close your eyes and remember as many as you can.

How’d you do? There were seven statics in that paragraph.

Did you remember all seven? Three? Any of them?

There’s a good chance you didn’t. Let’s try this again.

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What Sports Knows, and Business Gets Wrong, About Motivation

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Big teams are bad for productivity. The bigger the team, the less people do.

Maximilien Ringelmann discovered this more than 100 years ago. The French engineering professor measured effort from students in a simple rope pulling exercise. Not only did people exhibit less individual effort while pulling as a group, individual effort quickly diminished as the size of the group increased.

Ringelmann found that eight people didn’t even pull as hard as four. It became known as the Ringelmann effect.

Unfortunately, many businesses are run like a giant game of tug of war. There can be a top notch team, a clear objective, everyone working toward the same goal. And maybe it’s successful. But who actually helped pull the rope? Did they do their best? We’ll never know. Stop running your business like tug of war. Want to be successful? Run it like an NBA team.

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