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When Do You Quit?

I recently spoke to an evening MBA class at a local university. I was given the entire period, and it is amazing how easily a 14+ year journey can fill two and a half hours! I always hope my message helps the listeners at some level, but the act of speaking is probably more helpful to me than it is my audience. The questions they ask force you to think on your feet and can strengthen your convictions, or perhaps even better, question them just a little.

There are so many aspects to a story that has lasted this long, and mine is not the “how I sold my company for a ba-jillion dollars” version, at least not yet. You can find plenty of those on TV, in magazines, and online.

At the end of my talk, I addressed the elephant in the room that many startup businesses must face. How do you know if it’s time to give up? After going through countless disappointments and setbacks, including having my “golden ticket” of a deal with a major retailer turn into “fool’s gold,” I have asked myself that very question many times. I have come up with four key questions to help with that decision. There is no shame in quitting and starting something new. But the shame of a seemingly colossal failure is often not as gnawing as the shame that comes from quitting too soon and a life spent saying “What if I had tried…” A big flame out can be very public. A flicker that never had a chance is more personal.

So, while there may be many more good ones, here are four questions to ask before you quit. All of these require brutal self-reflection, but they are well worth some thoughtful consideration.

When do you quit?

Does the venture/project/business still excite me?

Do you enjoy the process or are you dreading another day of the
grind? If you can still find some passion and you believe the world
would be slightly diminished if your service or product wasn’t
around anymore, keep going.

Are my customers still excited about my offering?

Are your customers loyal or have they found another version of
what you do that seems to work just as well? Is your offering a
fad or truly fabulous? Maybe you just need a refresh, but if the
basis of your venture is easily replaced, there won’t be much
repeat business to rely upon.

Am I out of money?

This is a biggie. Everyone’s definition of “out of money” is different. Can you handle another awkward conversation with a loved one who has loaned you money before? Can you stand another painful discussion about your “assets” with your banker? Can you go to one more pitch event? Can you fill out yet another credit application? Have you crossed the line in terms of equity already sold? I believe the Universe is an infinite resource, and yes, sometimes that next resource IS another credit card. But only do those things if you have a support network that will still stand by you, regardless of the outcome. Debt and money stress can ruin relationships and lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way if those awkward conversations happen with some frequency, making them, in fact, less awkward. It’s not the pile of debt that is the issue, it is how one responds to it emotionally that determines the outcome.

Have my supporters given up?

As already mentioned, this often goes hand in hand with the previous question. While your customers are certainly considered “supporters,” this refers more to people who have backed you both emotionally and financially. These are your network of friends, family, investors, bankers, advisors, etc. It is ultimately your decision, and many times a loved one will tell you to quit because they think it will end the suffering and you can “move on.” However, if you still have people that believe in you BECAUSE you haven’t given up, that is often all you need to earn their continued support and take that next step. Then, maybe the best choice isn’t “move on,” but rather, “move through.”

The choice is always yours, but my hope is these four questions will help you be at peace, whatever you choose to do.