When to Actually Give Up

There are always reasons to keep your startup going. And that’s great. Really. But there are also, sometimes, very compelling reasons to stop and go do something—anything—else.

In my experience and estimation, you should actually give up when:


1. Your heart’s just not in it.

You were super-duper excited to run your small data analytics startup when you launched and began to ideate. But you began to think about donuts all the time and not just when you were hungry. You begin to spend your free time (as well as time when you should be working) drawing up plans for a donut startup that will be totally jelly (sorry).

Do that instead.


2. You’re really not going to win.

When kids play organized baseball, there is something called a mercy rule. It’s when the other team is so far ahead that you’re just not going to come back to win. So they call the game early, which is seen as the humane thing to do.

Sometimes you need to call your startup early. Maybe things have changed internally within the team or maybe your market or the competition has changed dramatically. When the playing field looks so unfavourable that a win is no longer a realistic possibility, strongly consider calling it a day.


3. Your hypotheses were all wrong.

When you have an idea for a startup, what you really have is a series of hypotheses for the behavior of those who you want to convert into your clients. You hypothesize that they’ll react to your offering by using (and hopefully, eventually, purchasing) your offering.

If you’re wrong about this and you can’t fix it, you don’t have a business. Something you feel passionate about building but people don’t use is called a hobby.


4. You over-pivoted.

Remember that in basketball a pivot always involves having the same foot on the floor. If you lift it you’ve traveled and turn the ball over.

This matters because you don’t get to just keep lifting your foot and calling it a pivot. You lose the essential nature of what you’ve done, built, ideated. When you over-pivot, you’re building something different. Which is maybe what you should be doing instead of this.


5. You run out of money before you figure out how to make any.

The harsh reality is that if you have a startup and can’t figure out how to make money before you run out of money, it’s not a business (it’s a hobby). Sometimes in Canada we find ways to artificially extend our runway with really wonderful grants and other assistance. These are great things when they’re well-used and well-timed. When they simply extend the life of a startup that isn’t working, what’s not a great thing.


6. You have an un-fixable process flaw.

If what you’ve build isn’t a good fit for your users, the venture won’t survive. Often these fit flaws are structural and, no matter how hard you try, irreparable. Users have habits that they carry into the experience of using what you’ve build.

If, for example, you make your users click a button too many times or have other more perplexing and counterintuitive features of your product, people won’t use it. It’s that simple. Be really hard on yourself with process flaws, which almost always only get worse with time.


7. You’re on the wrong side of a trend.

This would not be the best time to begin a Doge-based business. That meme has sailed. You need to become really amazingly good at predicting trends and getting on the right side of them. Yes, this is infinitely harder than it sounds but you need to do it.


8. You spend too much time reading articles such as this.

Go. Do. Follow yourself and those you trust. Write at least half as many things as you read.