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We need to talk

We need to talk

When you should just give up

When you should just give up

MAKING IT WORK PODCAST

Season 1 | Episode 10

90% of startups fail, so why do we only hear from the 10%? Let’s tackle the topic of failure in business.

From “lucking out” and making it big to learning when to call it quits, we ask all of our entrepreneurs what success means to them and whether they’ve found it yet.

So, should you hang on and go for broke or cut your losses and call it a day?

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SHOW NOTES

Maybe it’s time to call it a day – how do you know when to just give up?

“Don’t give up the day job!” It’s a cliché long past its use-by date. But what do you do if your dream is your day job? It’s a conundrum that’s been pondered by a great many entrepreneurs. But even with the best will in the world, support from all quarters and that rarest of all commodities – luck – the harsh algebra of necessity results in 90% of startups shutting up shop for good.

How do you know when it’s time just to throw in the towel? How can you avoid it? These are just some of the questions that we put to a selection of small business owners.

 

Defining success

What does success even look like? There are as many different answers to that as there are businesses. “Success for me is not making millions of dollars,” says Danny Catullo, the owner of Catullo Prime Meats. Although by his own admission that he’d be happy to do just that – who wouldn’t, after all? – Danny continued, “What defines success for me is: did I accomplish something in my life that helped change the way that people did something. Did it change the world?”

Tivan Amour, CEO and co-founder of SaveMySales (now Attentive) has a similar view. “I feel successful when I wake up every day and I'm excited about doing all the things that are on my list. I try to orient myself around things and projects that I can get excited about.”

These are worthy stances to take, but on a practical level it can be harder to actually define success, according to Rahim Diallo, co-founder of soft drinks business Ginjan Bros. “When you're building a business, it's mostly not working until it works.” Rahim compares it to going to the gym and being self-conscious about people watching you lift. However: “No-one's looking at you. You feel like it's not working… you stop, especially when you stop having fun.”

 

Riding the rollercoaster

Having fun is mostly a nice-to-have, though. Managing a startup is a constantly changing mixture of highs and lows, and if your motivation dips too low, calling time on the business can seem like an attractive (or indeed the only) option. Liz Powers, co-founder and Chief Happiness Spreader of art business ArtLifting offers words of caution. “I think it's really common for startup founders to completely define themselves by their job, and their work, and I think that's really dangerous.”

Brian Munoz, founder and designer of Penny Luck Shoes, focuses heavily on the creative aspects of his role. “The innovative part, the desire to create new stuff… that's the awesome part. It keeps me going. The problems are what exhausts you. The problems are what generate the fatigue. The lack of capital. The lack of resources.”


“No matter what, I’ve always gotten me and I am freaking awesome. I’m the funniest guy I know.”


And David Patrick, founder of skateboard wheel business Shark Wheel has also had a few bumps on the road to success. “Sometimes you miss a marketplace. Sometimes you've got a fire for something that nobody else sees and you got to let it go.” Even during the difficult times, David simply fights gravity with levity. “I've always got me. No matter what, I've always gotten me and I am freaking awesome. I'm the funniest guy I know.

 

Do you feel lucky?

Funny David may be, but he’s deadly serious when it comes to the topic of luck. “I don’t believe in luck at all,” he emphasizes. “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you're preparing for it all the time to happen, when it happens, you'll be ready for it.”

It’s not a viewpoint shared by Rahim. “I worked hard, but I know for sure I didn't work harder than all of those people my whole life. I know this for a fact. There are so many euphemisms around success and being lucky. And I think you just get lucky, honestly.”

But the flipside of the coin is that the smallest bit of bad luck can also sink you instantly. And as bad luck goes, contracting cancer must be near the top of the list. But conquering that particularly grim curveball was the starting point for Dana Donofree’s AnaOno business, which makes lingerie for breast cancer patients. “The fact that I got diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age – I was also a fashion designer, and I identified this problem…the universe collided together in that moment for me. And I would take back breast cancer no matter what, if I had the opportunity to do so. But we also know that that's not the way the world works.”

 

Lonely at the top (and the bottom)

Even if you can maintain your motivation and bag some of that good luck it can be, as Brian says, “the loneliest journey you'll ever take.” “It's a lonely place,” agrees Diana Ganz, co-founder of wedding apparel business SuitShop (formerly The Groomsman Suit). “You really have to be the one that believes in this concept. There's going to be a lot of people that question your ideas, and what you're doing. But it is absolutely essential that you are aware of pain points and failures.”

Diana feels that the relationships that you build with others are where you can share those moments and learn about both success and failure. Jeweler Heidi J. Hale also stresses the importance of learning along the way. “After you get the ball rolling, you still have to educate yourself, keep learning, keep reading, keep finding out what you need to do next.” This extends beyond researching new products. “I'm talking about finances. As your finances grow, can you afford your bills? Can you take on more?”

This necessitates having a support network – not just friends and family, but professionals who can offer expertise and advice. Although, as Aquila Augusta, founder of hair product company Edge Entity reminds, “...all of the people giving advice to entrepreneurs are not always successful. Now, whether you want to choose to take that advice – it's up to you as an upcoming entrepreneur and a lot of times people are just giving advice on things that they don't know anything about.”

Dana knows this all too well, following advice that she was given – advice that turned out to be completely wrong. “And he said to me, I like your idea. I like what you're doing. Your brand name sucks. Nobody's gonna remember it. And your logo? Your logo's not great either…"

The entrepreneurs

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Dana Donofree

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Rahim Diallo

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Jeanne Foley & Diana Ganz

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Aqila Augusta

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David Patrick

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Liz Powers

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Brian Munoz

It isn’t worth it…

Stress, loneliness, bad advice, and the knowledge that, even with (good) advice and lucky breaks, you’ve still only got a 1-in-10 chance of making it. With the odds stacked like that, isn’t just giving up the smart move?

“I think it’s also good advice to think about giving up,” says Danny. “I think it’s important to understand what the bad is: what can really happen if you go bankrupt, what can really happen if the business folds? I think understanding and recognizing your fears only helps you as you're trying to grow.” David is on the same page. “I gave up many times on many things. There's a time to quit. There's a time to hang it up and say it's a loser. I think being able to do that is a key to success as well.”

Liz also agrees, but she recognizes how hard it can be to let go. “For many people, you should just give up at some point. It's a really tough decision of course. You don't want to abandon your baby.” She points out that it’s far from unusual for someone to target a market that they assumed existed only to find that it doesn’t. “If you know in your gut that there isn't a market there, and you're just dragging your baby along on a dirt path and making it suffer, then maybe it is better to pull the plug sooner.”

 

…or is it?

But there’s a lot of truth in the old adage about winners never quitting. “I was able to jump without the safety net,” says Dana, “because I live in a life with no safety net. So I know me taking the leap and starting my own business and resigning from my full-time job and doing all these things that people really see as risky behavior in their life was nothing shy of just another day in the life of a cancer patient.

“And the fear factor has dissipated from my thought process because I fear one thing, and that's dying. And it's not to be scary or to be dark, but because that is the world that I live in. So, if I take a few risks along the way, I can say I lived the best life I could possibly live, and that means something to me.”

Listen to the episode

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