Never say “no,” but rarely say “yes.”

So the principle is easy: Set the conditions of “yes” such that:

  1. If they say “yes,” you’re happy because the terms or money are so good, it more than compensates for the distraction, possibly even funding the thing you really want to do.
  2. If they say “no,” you’re happy because it wasn’t a great fit anyway, so it’s not worthwhile for a small return on your time and effort.

So that’s the punch-line, but before you go I’d like to over-emphasize the idea of “funding the thing you really want to do.”

This can take many forms, but it’s the single best way of figuring out how to qualify your “yes.” Examples:

  • “Yes” if it pays for an entire additional person.
  • “Yes” if this extends the runway of our startup by at least three months.
  • “Yes” if it completely funds development we’d like to do anyway.
  • “Yes” if it means one of the co-founders can quit her day-job.
  • “Yes” if it will completely pay for three new marketing efforts.

Think of it like another form of funding. Funding is always a distraction from actually running your business, so the amount of money you get must be transformative to the business. Each of those bullet points are transformative, in that each has the potential to move your company from “hobby” to “real business.”