Why you must learn to say “NO”

Focus is not what you do, but what you choose not to do. Startup CEO Kristo Ovaska learned the hard way to say “NO”. He now declines long meetings, non-vital emails, external press requests, speaking engagements, and investor contacts that are not yet needed. This has brought about an entirely new level of productiveness.


Marten: Let me introduce to you Kristo Ovaska. Kristo is the CEO and founder of Smartly.io, a company that’s growing really, really, really fast. I know Kristo as a social, kind, fun, nice guy – one of the most nice guys I know. Yet, Kristo says No a lot of times. Kristo, what’s the story here?

Kristo: I think saying No is one of the most important things. It goes down to the priorities, and that you’re able to do exactly what is needed to do, and then let the rest of things to be not done.

Marten: You mean that focus is not about what you do, but what you choose not to do?

Kristo: Absolutely. I’ve seen in my professional life so many startups failing because they use most of their focus and energy to talk to investors, to talk to press, and have keynote speakings. I say No to all of that. I also receive only 20 emails per day, so I’ve delegated most of that.

Marten: That’s amazing. Most startup CEOs do 200.

Kristo: Yeah, I know, and I think it was one of the most time consuming things I had. I also try to eliminate all the meetings, but have 15 minute meetings when needed. I felt that I can’t concentrate on recruiting, or I can’t concentrate mentoring my leadership team, or contributing to our product strategy.

Marten: You say No to external press requests, speaking engagements, long meetings, emails and investor contacts that you don’t need yet.

Kristo: Exactly. I feel bad every time saying no, but at the same time I understand that saying yes to them is saying no to my team.

Marten: Do your employees know you as Mr. No or Mr. Yes?

Kristo: That is very important point. The priorities in the company is the team and the customers, and I have all the time in the world to help my team to grow and become better, and I have all the time in my life to help my customers, to get better service, or to get a better product, but everything else is no.

Marten: Were you always this good at prioritizing and saying no?

Kristo: Absolutely not. I think I’ve been able to learn it because working in a very chaotic environment like Startup Sauna and Slush and at my previous startups. I failed miserably, focusing on too many things. I’ve destroyed several companies and ecosystems because of that. I think I’ve learned a very hard way of saying no, and I think now I’m more efficient than I’ve ever been.

Marten: You’re saying this has changed your professional life?

Kristo: I think this have changed my professional life. I believe I’m not 20% but 10X more efficient with this time consumption. Earlier, I had a meeting for an hour, and we got no output. Now I have a meeting 15 minutes, now we get output. So I get 4 meetings with amazing output in an hour. It’s so much more efficient.

Marten: Kristo, because you’re such a nice guy, I’ll call you Mr. Yes Who Says No.

Kristo: That’s a very good quote. Thank you, Marten.

Say no

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