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When an entrepreneur should call it quits and when not to give up

Tomer Irge


This is a difficult topic because it’s mostly based on personal beliefs. By that, I mean that what works for me doesn’t necessarily have to work for you and vice versa. 

I may not be satisfied with the kind of numbers my business has delivered in a specific time frame so it may be an option to give it a rest and turn my attention to other opportunities. On the other hand, who’s to say that just a little bit of tweaking and outside help won’t deliver growth?

Still, entrepreneurship holds plenty of common truths and experiences to generalize just enough so that there is some guidance for those who struggle or are unsure about their methods. In that spirit, here’s my attempt at quantifying the issues that often weigh heavily on the minds of entrepreneurs. 

The idea isn’t everything

The worst thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to fall in love with your idea and hold onto it no matter what. A good entrepreneur knows this because he/she understands two things:

  1. how that idea can impact the world;
  2. There are numerous factors to take into account to make the impact possible. 

Most entrepreneurs cling on to their ideas because as a group, we are super passionate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it. Passion for something can easily trump the business itself, which becomes a secondary notion. Sometimes, passion can blind you, especially when you invest huge amounts of commitment and energy. 

Homer Simpson GIF

The vast majority of ideas rely on people changing their behavior – something that is impossibly hard to achieve. There is a tiny space for life-changing ideas and even then, the timing has to be right. 

Why is this important?

Besides calling it quits when we are dead (as we won’t have any satisfaction otherwise), entrepreneurs should give up when they realize they are fighting against human behavior.

I often use the example of business cards at events. It’s so stupid and obvious, right? As a society, we are so advanced, yet we haven’t found a way to improve and digitize this centuries-old practice. 

There is no reason why digital business cards shouldn’t work. I can easily pair up my smartphone via NFC, Bluetooth, or whatever with the other person and get their full bio and portfolio in an instant, or an overview of their LinkedIn profile. Technology is simple and omnipresent, and the process is instant and effortless. However, we are creatures of habit, and this one is embedded deep, so the digital exchange of business cards hasn’t happened yet, despite it being far more intuitive. 

Don’t be arrogant in thinking you can change how people function

It’s not a matter of marketing the product or service, establishing a business model, getting connected with the business environment, and so on. It’s about not tackling problems that are interesting or potentially lucrative to solve but those that serve an actual need and don’t require education of the market or a significant shift in user behavior. 

You can do a lot of things right: have a great team, awesome technology, lots of data on customers, on-point leadership but if you’re “fighting” people, you’re fighting windmills. We are so deeply immersed and driven sometimes that it makes quitting difficult to downright inconceivable. 

That’s assuming your heart is still in it and you care. The other thing about entrepreneurship (and what many people don’t know) is that it can weigh you down to the point where your zest is gone. The entrepreneurial lifestyle is highly demanding, and you need to have thick skin to go through the stress and unpredictability that come with the territory. You can become jaded because entrepreneurship is a way of life, not a job. 

working hard homer simpson GIF

For some, the commitment will no longer be there. For others, the physical and/or mental toll will be too much to take. For the lucky ones, a sustainable business that runs tightly without them will open the doors for an exit to go for new challenges and opportunities. Some things just get old, like scouting for good employees, training them only to see them snagged by someone else or starting their own business. There are other scenarios where quitting will likely be the prudent course of action but the circumstances above are among the most dire, the way I see it. 

Persistence is often the key

Now, the trick is knowing when to push on. Any experienced entrepreneur will tell you stories about being persistent and how that’s one of the major factors to their success. You’re bound to fail in this line of work, make mistakes both big and small. To err is human, after all, but we learn, adapt, and improve from failures. When you give up too early, you lose the chance to learn the lesson at hand and get better in the long run. 

Persistence is a virtue because it brings out the best in you – the ability to push forward, even if the proverbial finish line seems out of reach. It makes you tenacious and stubborn in the best sense. 

But even the most persistent entrepreneurs need something to go on, and that’s traction

If you see some traction and get feedback, even the negative one as it can help you improve your solution – push on. In this day and age, you don’t need to deliver a perfect product. You can fail fast and get a reading on the market. The way it reacts can help you adjust your product or service. As long as there is traction, there is a reason to continue trudging forward because if people like the idea of a solution, not even the solution itself, they will help it succeed.

Final thoughts

Entrepreneurs are a tough bunch, capable of hard work, and willing to make a lot of sacrifices. Those who find themselves somewhere in between should know it’s never going to be easy. It may feel like you’ve been pushing and pushing for years. That’s just the way it goes in entrepreneurship, and you should be ready for all the trials and tribulations. 

Ultimately, when to quit or to push on will depend on your circumstances. Try to envision how much time, energy, and resources it will take to launch a business or a product/service before you dive in. If you find yourself in a constant struggle to stay afloat or are burning through your funds to do so, it may be time to take a step back and reassess what you’re doing. 

Sometimes, the universe will align itself but those moments are rare. With experience, things get easier as you go the distance with various projects. Along the way, you’ll learn where to draw the line and when to go beyond it.

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