1 Feb

Knowing when to quit

That company or project you started isn’t working out. You were excited, early customers were excited, but once you launched nothing really happened. Even worse, it’s not a total failure. You made some money. Not enough to grow, but at least a few people paid for it.

When do you pull the plug and move on?

That’s hard. The biggest mistake I see authors, bloggers, and entrepreneurs making is they quit too early.

The blogger writes a dozen posts and no one cares. The author tries to get a book deal but can’t even get an agent to sign them.—let alone a publisher. And the entrepreneur throws up a sales page and starts promoting their software, but no one bites.

If this is your full-time thing you need to grind it out. You have to make it work, because you’ve staked everything on this project to provide for you and your family.

It’s the side projects that are easier to let go. In fact, most people let go of them without even realizing it. Once it no longer holds your interest or attention then you spend your late night hours watching Netflix instead of writing or coding. Before you know know it months have gone by without any real work on the project.

Your interest fading away is a sign that it’s time to make a decision. Pull the plug or double down?

But before you decide, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do you still want it as much as you did when you started?
  • Have you given this company or product your best possible effort to make it succeed?

How much do you want it?

Interest and motivation declines with time. That’s natural. So now that the initial excitement is gone, do you still want to run a popular blog? Or be the CEO of a software company?

If you no longer want it as much as when you started, that makes for an easy decision. Just pull the plug and move on. At least you learned something in the process.

But if your desire to publish a book (or whatever else) is just as strong now as it was before all the rejections and failure, then it’s time to ask yourself the next question.

Have you given it your best effort?

You want it badly, but that hasn’t been enough. So ask yourself, have you truly given this company the best possible chance to succeed? Or are you…

  • Just working on it when you feel motivated?
  • Unwilling to invest money until you see progress?
  • Just giving the project a few hours a week as you have time?
  • Quitting too soon?
  • Constantly distracted by other business ideas?

If the answer is no, you haven’t given this business your best effort and every possible chance to succeed, then it might be time to double down. But if you truly have poured all your energy, attention, and focus into this for the last few years and it’s still not working, maybe it’s time to shut it down.

14 months ago I asked myself these questions.

Shut down or double down? What’s the right move? After nearly two years of trying to build ConvertKit (an email marketing platform) revenue hadn’t grown and we were down to about half of our peak revenue. And losing money every month.

A few months earlier Hiten Shah had called me out. He said “Admit that ConvertKit is a failure and shut it down. Move on to something else. You’ll be successful at whatever you do, so start something new.”

Ouch. That hurt. Having something you love described as a failure is hard to take. But then Hiten continued:

“Or take ConvertKit seriously and give it the time, money, and attention it deserves and build it into a real business.”

I finally had a decision to make. So I asked myself those two questions.

Did I still want to build a software company as much as I did before? Absolutely. My drive and desire was still there. I wanted it just as much as ever. So why wasn’t the company working?

So I asked myself, did I give ConvertKit the best possible chance to succeed?

Honestly, no, I didn’t. ConvertKit spent its first two years as a side project. I started it with a limited budget and never invested more money. But more importantly I never gave it that much time. The books and courses were such a lucrative business that they took the majority of my attention. ConvertKit was never the full-time focus.

After asking myself those two questions I chose to double down.

Shut-down-or-double-down

Doubling down was the right move—for me.

Within 15 months we grew from $1,300/month in revenue to $130,000 per month. It took a ton of hard work and an amazing team to get there, but I’m so glad that I decided to double down (you can read more about the last year here and my decision to double down here—before I knew how well it would work).

But some projects need to be killed.

If you aren’t committed anymore—or if despite your best effort you can’t make your product successful—then don’t let it waste away in a slow, painful death. Take it out back and shoot it.

Be intentional. Shut the project down, give it a proper memorial (blog post), and move on. You have many great things in your future.

——

The book will take longer to write than you think. The blog audience will be harder to build. And sales will come in much more slowly for your software company than you think they should.

All those success blog posts—even the ones that I write—make it sound easier than it is. If you haven’t started yet, know that it will be 10x harder than you think.

If you’re in the middle of deciding to quit, ask yourself those two questions. Then make a decision and don’t look back. If you want it badly enough you can make it happen. But don’t force something that isn’t there.

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17 Responses to “Knowing when to quit”

  1. Nathan, the 130k link to baremetrics is wrong. check it out.


  2. Sheila says:

    and spelling boo boo …

    “All those success blog posts—even the ones that I’ve write”

    But well done on your persistence, perseverance, & success, Nathan!


  3. Nathan

    My app OptimizePlayer was at the same point ConvertKit was at. With this advice you have been giving in this exact post and on podcasts I was able to turn my software around as well. Was at 0 MRR and now is at 8K MRR since quadrupling down (time, blood, sweat, tears) 3 months ago.


  4. Insightful post. I announced closure of @ContentHug two weeks back at: https://medium.com/@vingar/contenthug-curtains-813da62e78cf. Good food for thought for founders who struggle for traction or meeting other goals.


  5. Great post Nathan! Your posts and story has been a great source of inspiration. You were the first person that I found when I was thinking of launching a product. And you’ve offered a TON of value and insights. I wanted to say thanks, going from a successful freelancing career making 6 figures to working on launching a product is a whole other ball game. It’s about patience, grinding it out and providing value to readers. Whilst making exactly $0 haha. Thank you for your kindness and transparency. You’ve won me over and I will be jumping on convertkit once I get over my first launch and make a ton mistakes along the way :)


  6. Great post Nathan. It sure can be tempting to quit at those low points. Here’s a success story of how I didn’t keep which lead me to meeting my wife…
    http://blog.touchingbase.io/podcast/001-why-you-need-to-keep-going/


  7. What Hiten said is the tough part of being in business.
    It’s hard to make a decision because we don’t want to be wrong, even worst if you put money into it. Also it’s hard to see our ideas fail especially when you think it has potential.
    Thanks for sharing.


  8. i think there is a logical error, but i am not a natove speaker, so i am not sure. you ask 5 question under the headline “have you given your best effort.” and then, you aks the reader if she answer these with no, there was not enough effort. i think it must read yes, mustn’t it? if i don’t invest money, if imjust give it time, when i am in the mood, then i didn’t put enough effort into the project, right? or did i misunderstand english language. as i said, i am not a natove speaker.


  9. oh, i am sorry, i forgot: this is a GREAT article! a wise recommendation. thank you for,pointing this out.


  10. Hey Nathan,

    When I look into the stats your products grows why do you want to quit? I see that it’s on autopilot. Where’s the failure?

    From baremetrics forecast: “In 12 months with 42.5% exponential growth and 6.3% churn, your MRR will be $4,136,343”

    Thanks!


  11. Timely article for me in deciding to exit a project I no longer have passion for.

    Thnks Nathan


  12. Seth Godin’s The Dip is a useful, short book exploring this further.


  13. Nathan, I really enjoyed this post. It’s good to see you getting back in the saddle. I’ve always enjoyed your work.

    What resonated the most with me here was, “Constantly distracted by other business ideas?”

    For me, it’s not necessarily being distracted by my own ideas (I’m rather good at focusing on just one or two personal ventures). Rather, the real struggle for me is being distracted by other client projects instead of doubling down on my own pursuits.

    It’s difficult to say no to cash – especially when it’s a solid chunk.

    Achieving that balance between having healthy cash flow and working on your own project in an effort to achieve more freedom is a fun, albeit difficult challenge!


  14. Hi Nathan, I got an email from you with the link to this article this morning and let me tell you, it was just the kick in the ass that I needed. I just wanted to say thanks and to keep up the great work! Your posts have had a really positive impact on my business and I’m sure I’m not alone:)


  15. This is exactly what I needed to hear. It’s time to double-down. Thanks for the insight, Nathan.


  16. Will says:

    I think it’s time to shut it down. Lost my drive


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