Any start-up will tell you that the course of small business success never runs smoothly. But sometimes it is the obstacles that can prove to be the launch pads for many entrepreneurs in their business journey.
While undoubtedly disappointing at the time, getting told ‘no’ can actually turn out to be the catalyst for motivation that some businesses need, or the fortuitous twist of fate that pivots them in a more suited direction.
In honour of its month-long campaign calling on small businesses to #RejectRejection and find out about the full range of finance open to them, the British Business Bank runs down some of the most notorious ‘no moments’ – or NoMos – that helped to shape history across business and beyond.
It will surprise many to hear that not only was Bill Gates a Harvard drop-out, but the business he left university to found – the uninspiringly titled Traf-O-Data – was an utter flop. He and business partner Paul Allen, however, remained undeterred. They pressed Ctrl-Alt-Delete on their first venture and went on to try again, this time giving rise to Microsoft. Not bad as runner-up ideas go.
Michael Bloomberg was hardly a business failure, having managed to make partner at world-renowned investment bank, Salomon Brothers in the 1990s. However, when Salomon was bought out by Citigroup in 1998, Michael was surplus to requirements and let go. He used his redundancy to kick-start the rest of his career and, according to Forbes, is now the sixth richest person in America.
He might not be in the pantheon of business greats just yet but hairdresser-turned-entrepreneur and genius behind the Tangle Teezer, Shaun Pulfrey, has proved that a rejection – from non-other than Dragon’s Den itself – can be just the close shave you need to get your business going. While the Dragons weren’t convinced, millions of women up and down the country thank Shaun daily for helping to tame their tangled trusses and it has recently been revealed that he is due to sell his business for £200 million.
Even the Material Girl and all-round money-making, music machine, Madonna, struggled to ‘get into the groove’ when she first started out. She found difficulty in landing a label before signing with Sire Records in 1982, launching her seminal self-titled album and a career spanning several decades, which saw her tot up over 300 million album sales. The decision to reject her must still rankle music execs.
Still in the world of entertainment and the NoMos don’t come much bigger than the most successful film director and franchiser in modern movie history, Steven Spielberg. But the mastermind behind Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park had a close encounter of his own kind with rejection early on in his career when he received a ‘no’ from the University of Southern California’s film school. He received another school place only to drop out of that and pursue directing solo, not actually getting around to finishing his degree until 2002. He definitely proved he had the directing chops (or should that be Jaws) with three Oscars to his name and a net worth of $3.7 billion.
So, we’re back in the Dragon’s Den and this time the gurus say no to Trunki-founder, Rob Law. The Dragons just couldn’t get on board with the world’s favourite sit-on suitcases for children and let him trundle out without a deal (although he did get some offers). Now Trunkis have sold in their millions, are a familiar sight at airports across the world, and are viewed as priceless by most travelling parents.
J. K Rowling
The magical wizarding world initially failed to cast a spell on publishers, with the original manuscript reportedly getting rejected by 12 publishers before charming Bloomsbury. The British author faced a similar round of rejections under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym and went on to publish her rejection letters on Twitter to encourage other authors in the same position. Rowling illustrated that perseverance really can prove key as she went on to pen the best-selling book series in history and often frequents the Sunday Times Rich List.
Rice Rice Baby: The founder of Sony may not be a household name and even less familiar is the story of how its first product, a rice cooker, was really only good at burning rice. However, they used that experience to build bigger and better products and ultimately gave the world the PlayStation and the ability to pretend to burn things through Call of Duty.
Changed the face of their industry forever? Tick. Redefined the limits of success for a British rock band? Tick. Sold up to an estimated 600 million albums worldwide? Tick. Despite the astounding achievements of the Fab Four, they got a ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and were rejected by record label Decca in 1962. The Beatles however, used one of the most famous NoMos in history as a catalyst to change their line-up (bringing in Ringo Starr later in the year) and propel them to the history books.
The Innocent Drinks company was founded by three graduates who quit their jobs to pursue the dream of healthy smoothies for all. In the early days, the three friends and business partners faced multiple NoMos in their quest for start-up finance, as investor after investor rejected their idea. However, all it took was one right finance fit in the form of a sole investor and the smoothie plan came to fruition. Now a multi-million pound empire, with Coca-Cola a majority stakeholder, the original entrepreneurs behind Innocent Drinks are a tale to all start-ups when seeking finance.
The British Business Bank knows that hearing a ‘no’ from a finance provider can be discouraging for a smaller business that is seeking finance for its business needs. Indeed, the recent Small Business Finance Markets report found that 38 per cent of smaller businesses who sought finance but did not get what they wanted, gave up or cancelled their plans. But a rejection does not have to mean a business dead-end – there are a wide range of finance options available to small businesses across the UK, both as traditional and alternative forms of finance.
When exploring finance options, the Business Finance Guide, published by the British Business Bank in partnership with the ICAEW, and a further 21 business and finance organisations, is an excellent place to start. It impartially sets out the range finance options available to businesses – from start-ups to SMEs and growing mid-sized companies.