Episode 171 | Top 12 Signs You Should Walk Away From a Project

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00] Mike: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about the top 12 signs you should walk away from a project. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 171.

[00:08] Music

[00:16] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

[00:25] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[00:26] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Rob?

[00:29] Rob: Feeling good. I just walked in the door from a two day retreat. I went to the central coast of California. I barely checked email. I admit I cheated a little bit but I didn’t take a laptop really just hunkered down and focused on evaluating last year, evaluating things that basically gave me life and the things that kind of sucked it out of me. And then I looked at the goals that I laid out. I looked at those goals, asked myself are those still in line with what I want to do? How do I accomplish them? I asked myself a lot of questions about what the end of the year looks like and even into 2015 and thinking about bigger picture stuff like where am I aiming now?

[01:07] I actually looked back at all my retreat notes from the past 3 years. I started noticing some trends of interests and things that I did well, that I implement and it was crazy to look back 3 years and be like wow, I haven’t even done yet. Like I haven’t even bought HitTail at that point. I mean there were just so many things that I’ve learned in this past few years. So I’m feeling good. I’m feeling very focused.

[01:31] I also got to try a new work style. I used the approach that impossiblehq had laid out last week where he says go to three different locations during the day and so I went to literally to the beach because I was doing just pen and paper and so I would sat on the cliff and over the waves and the surfers for about an hour and then I went to a couple different coffee shops and at the end of the day at a bru pub, doing a little happy hour there. But the whole time, basically the continuity was me thinking through all of this stuff and making notes in my notebook. So it was life giving and I’m pretty stoked to get back to work and really crank on some things and as well as to make some changes with several little things in my business.

[02:09] Mike: So I’ve been working on a new desktop edition of Audit Shark…

[02:13] Rob: Desktop? Nobody releases desktop software anymore.

[02:15] Mike: There’s a very specific strategy that I’m implementing for it. And it does tie back into the cloud version. Remember I talked before about the policy builder and how I ran into a bunch of problems with it. Essentially what we did was we took the entire code base for that and we copied it and then we made it more standalone than anything else so we still have that other code base that we’re still developing on kind of side by side. But this is essentially going to be the cleaner version of it. So it will still tie back into the cloud version and like I said there a strategy for this moving forward in actually two different directions. One is more towards the enterprise market and the other one is more towards people who are using the cloud version.

[02:55] Rob: Yeah, obviously I was joking. You’re not building a desktop app. You’re just building a desktop add on to your Saas app. It’s just like building a mobile app that interfaces with your Saas app. You giveaway the desktop edition for free I would imagine but it doesn’t do anything unless you have this monthly Audit Shark account.

[03:12] Mike: Yeah and that’s exactly. It’s more of an extension of it than anything else.

[03:16] Rob: Right. And the reason you went desktop is because the policy builder was such a nightmare in the web right? Or try to building a browser because there’s a bunch of complex stuff.

[03:24] Mike: Yeah. And we started going down that road and it realized that it’s not just about building that in the cloud because there’s lots of things that you can do these days that you couldn’t do 5 or 10 years ago and I don’t think it was s much about building it in the cloud. It was about – part of it was maintaining it but the other part of it was the fact that in order to test something, you need a machine out there that can test against.

[03:49] Right now, the way things work that’s not easy to do and it has a lot of latency and in order to use the policy builder, you really want to develop things and test them very quickly because these things are very quick. I mean you’re basically just slapping a bunch of function parameters together and you hit the button and say does this bring me what I want to see? And the problem is that if you are doing that in the web, there’s just so much latency involved in the time that task is created and sent out and picked up because of all the queuing and everything else, it was just wasn’t going to work. The experience was going to be awful. So at that point it was just like okay, well I can take this and move it in a slightly different direction.

[04:26] It actually ties in really well with a bunch of other people that I’ve talked to who want to use it for going into new environments where they want to take a look at that environment and get some information about it so there’s services providers. There are auditors who want to be able to take it on their laptop going into an environment and then just scan the environment and pull back the information without deploying agents and they don’t want to do this more than once. They just want to do it more as of a onetime scan and that’s a different market segment that I’m also trying to go after.

[04:55] Rob: Right. I mean I think that’s the question probably on everyone’s mind who’s listening to this is did a paying customer request this or is there a customer who is willing to pay you money only if you build this?

[05:08] Mike: There are customers who’ve told me in the past that they’re willing to pay money for this and there are very slight tweaks that need to be done to make it work in that fashion versus more of the enterprise market which I’m also talking to and this what the enterprise market is saying that they want.

[05:22] Rob: Got it. So I have a recommendation. One is a podcast episode, if you are thinking about canceling cable, the best discussion of this, kind of from soup to nuts services and tools and hardware and all that stuff is cordkillers.com and its episode 5 of that podcast. I’m a fan of that podcast anyway. It’s Tom Merritt and Brian Brushwood. In episode 5 they did a better job of describing it and how you can actually do it better than anyone else I’ve heard. We’ll link that up in the show notes.

[05:51] Music

[05:54] Mike: In today’s episode we’re going to talk about the top 12 signs that you should walk away from a project. In this episode, I’ve talked to a lot of different people who they’re trying to figure out whether or not they should keep going with something or whether they’re just trying to overcome a momentary hurdle in the development or they’re also just trying to figure out is this project going to go anywhere? Can I see myself working on this for the next 8-12 months? And there’s a lot of questions about what sorts of things you should be looking at? How should you approach that? I think in this episode we’re going to be answering some of those things.

[06:28] So the first sign that you should move on from a project is that you’ve lost motivation to move forward. If you’re spending too much time talking to people about the product but not actually trying to move things forward in terms of customer development and let me differentiate that a little bit. If you’re telling people what it is that you’re building versus soliciting information from prospective customers, those are two different things.

[06:52] If you’re just telling people all about what you’re building, if you’re talking about the developers and saying this is how I’m going to do to this and this is what I’m going to build and this how it’s going to work, that is more explaining what it is that you’re doing but you’re not doing customer development yet. You’re not learning from other people whether it is that they’re going to pay for it, whether it is that they use it unless developers are your target market.

[07:11] Rob: I think the question to ask with motivation is this temporary loss of motivation? Is this just a little bump that you’ve hit? For a few weeks you’re not motivated to work on this particular project or is it something that drags on for months and you just can’t get back at it. You aren’t interested in writing any code. You aren’t interested in writing copy and you kind of feel like maybe you don’t know what to do next or you know what to do next, you don’t feel like doing it. The biggest signs of that are I keep planning other things or making excuses why you can’t sit down and just crank into it and get it done. Or when you do sit down to dive in that you find yourself wondering and checking email and getting on the social network instead of actually getting things done.

[07:52] I think another element to this is people tend to be really good at either starting things or finishing them. People who are good at starting things tend to have a bunch of unfinished projects and they really don’t finish any of them. People that tend to finish, they have a real tough time either starting up a new project or getting back into a project they’ve kind of let go. Knowing that about yourself and looking at your history will also help you realize if you’re following your own natural inertia or if you really need to fight against that natural inertia and get back and try to get some of that motivation back. And we frankly talked about that in episode 170. It was about avoiding shiny object syndrome but part of shiny object syndrome is being distracted and maybe not having motivation.

[08:39] Mike: The second sign you should walkway from a project is that you’re not making any forward progress. And this is a little bit different than just losing motivation because you can still have motivation but you don’t necessarily know what to do. And you’re still doing things but nothing seems to be working. And a lot of times, that can boil down to the products is just not going to work out or you just have so many things that you have to do that you’re not sure what to work on so you don’t do anything and I think that’s extremely common amongst entrepreneurs as well.

[09:09] Rob: Yeah and we should probably take a step back here and say not any one of these 12 signs is an absolute red flag yes you should walk away from it but these are kind of – they add up. And so maybe having a lack of motivation is one thing but also a lack of word progress and then a couple of these others, they really start to stack up and point you towards walking away from a project.

[09:32] I think in terms of this sign, of not making forward progress, this will eventually lead for anyone. It will eventually lead to number 1, the lack of motivation. And for some of us, lack of word progress for two weeks leads to lack of motivation. For other people it may take six months of lack of work progress but eventually you will get to the point where you lose motivation so forward progress is definitely a sign that something is not going in the right direction and at this point, if I have like extended periods of not making forward progress or I see entrepreneurs who aren’t, I typically ask them to get a sanity check and to go outside of kind of their own head and talk to people either in their mastermind group, knowledgeable people, just someone that they trust that might have insight, not your friends and not your family who don’t understand what you’re doing but someone else in this world whom you’ve met hopefully at a conference or you have some relationship with that you can explain the situation to and get some kind of realistic viewpoint from the outside because I think good suggestions can come out of that.

[10:30] Mike: The third sign is that you’ve spent a lot of time working on the project and you still haven’t talked to customers. It could just be time to reevaluate what it is that you’re doing and where in the projects you should be focusing because if you’ve gone for too long without talking to any of your customers even if you talk to them upfront, their needs may have changed or you may have misunderstood things and then when you come back and you revisited, you may get a slightly different story or may get a completely different story based on the things that you have implemented so far.

[11:00] So make sure that you’re keeping in touch with people not just throughout the course of development but also making sure that you talked to them upfront to begin with and I’ve talked to a lot of people who have said while I’ve been building this for six months or eight months, I should’ve been building a mailing list and I should’ve been doing marketing but I haven’t done any of that yet so how do I go about selling this product? And we get a lot of comments from people listening to this podcast who email us in with questions like that and there’s really only so much you can do but at the end of the day you have to go talk to those customers. You have to find out if what you’re building is really what it is that they need.

[11:34] Rob: That might be the number one email that I receive asking for advice is hey, love the podcast. Enjoy the book. Unfortunately I didn’t read it and I went off and built, spent a year to building an app and now I’m here, how do I market it? And that probably is the biggest mistake that I see people making when they’re trying to get into this space. So yeah, I can’t agree with you more. Talking to potential customers. Every 6 to 8 weeks actually is there rule that I set for myself when I was working on Drip. I didn’t quite live up to that. I think I had a 3 month period where I didn’t email my list and didn’t keep them kind of apprised of the status of the project.

[12:15] But this goes all the way to landing page, collecting email addresses, that list I ideally would be emailed every 6 to 8 weeks with just a quick update, maybe a screen shot, something to build excitement. Then if you have early access customers aside from that list, that handful that agreed upfront to pay money for what you’re building then those I was sending personal emails to all 11 of them every few months and saying hey, still working on. I just want to give you an update. Those were almost – I didn’t even send screen shots. I just said I want to give you an idea that I’m still working on it. Just so people know that you’re alive and there’s some type of interest being maintained because when it takes you six months to build and launch and app, it’s a really long time and people tend to forget about what you’re doing.

[12:57] Mike: The fourth sine is that you’ve had new competitors move into the space who are funded and you aren’t. This could turn out to be a death blow for you but if you’re losing motivation or you’re not making a lot of work progress and then something like this happens then you could have serious problems. I mean you may as well throw in the towel at that point. Just because competitor moves into your space who is funded and you’re not funded doesn’t mean that you can’t proceed to move forward. You may very well be doing things that they’re not. Or they may burn through all of their funding very, very quickly trying to solve the wrong problem.

[13:26] But it’s something to definitely pay attention to because when funded people who are coming into your space have all this money to burn, they have the ability to run a lot of different experiments very, very quickly whereas you probably don’t especially if you’re running things on the side. On the other hand, this in some ways could be a good sign because it means that somebody out there with a lot of money decided that the niche that you’re going after is valuable enough to go after with some sort of funded company. So there’s two ways to look at that but again, if you’re having other problems, then it could be a sign that you should walkway.

[14:02] Rob: Yeah but this one depends on your situation. Obviously if you are an experienced founder and you have some marketing skill under your belt, you’re a decent developer, you have at least a little bit of money, I think you can outmaneuver even some funded competitors. But if you’re doing it right and you are maybe a first time entrepreneur and you’re just trying to get out of the day job, you should have picked a niche that really isn’t interesting to funded competition. We talked about it in our very early episodes probably in the first 5 or 10 about how to pick a niche where there really isn’t going to be a ton of competition to go pretty vertical with it just to cut your teeth out.

[14:39] So if you listen to that and you build a niche website or a WordPress plug-in or some folks who’ve built mobile apps and had success or you just go vertical with a smaller low maintenance Saas app, those are going to be so uninteresting to VC back companies that the likelihood of this one happening is very low. But if you made the mistake and you chased the Inc magazine dream and you build something, let’s say today you’re building something involving Google glass or bit coin or it was Twitter clients and Facebook apps a few years ago, Facebook games. It was so obvious that the venture funded companies were just going to flood into their spaces, that’s just not something I would do as a bootstrapper right now unless you really have the wind at your back and you have several of the items from our founder test at your back to kind of push you forward and give you a competitive advance.

[15:24] Mike: The fifth side is that you have no idea how to reach your market and this can just be a lack of marketing experience but it could also be that you haven’t talked enough to your customers to really understand where it is that they would potentially find out about your products. So if you’re pretty seriously into your development cycle and you still don’t have any idea how to reach your market, it could be a time to re evaluate things and stop the development and focus more on the marketing side of things because if you’re not marketing a product, it doesn’t matter how good it is if nobody hears about it.

[15:55] Rob: Yeah you don’t have to know for sure how you’re going to reach them at a cost that is going to be profitable for your startup but you do have to have some ideas and you do have to have those sketched out I would say in a Google doc even if they’re just a bunch of bullet points but its simple tactical approaches. It’s blocking and tackling of online marketing and software marketing. These are things like SEO content marketing, paid acquisition, joint venture partnerships, email marketing. There are several main stays that everybody talks about but you need to look into specifics and learn how to do these things well before you launch a product.

[16:33] Because if you build this product and you launch it to crickets and then you’re sitting there scrambling, trying to get these things together, it really isn’t that helpful. There’s too much pressure on you to learn these things in real time. You want to absorb them over time and that’s why we talk about getting those early wins with maybe a smaller product to learn enough that you can then parlay that into a larger product.

[16:53] Mike: The sixth sign is that a lot of your initial assumptions are no longer correct or were never correct and you’re having trouble compensating. In some ways, this is good to have because it means that you’re actually learning about your target market and you’re understanding what it is that they need because there’s a difference between learning about it and truly understanding what their needs are for the product. But if you’re going back to your initial assumptions and let’s say that you laid out a bunch of things in terms of how many customers you were going to get and you estimated you’d get 100 new customers a month and it turns out that realistically you’re only going to get 5 or 10 then that’s something that you need to look at and say is this business sustainable?

[17:31] Am I going to be able to continue this business or is it something that you’re still going to be able to work on even if it’s only for 5 or 10 customers a month? Is it still worth it for you to continue? Because at some point, there’s going to be a time where it is not worth it to continue but you have to understand based on which assumptions were faulty as to whether or not it’s worth continuing.

[17:54] Rob: What are some examples of initial assumptions being incorrect that you can think of?

[17:59] Mike: I’ve talked about this little in the past but one of the ones that I ran into with Audit Shark was that my initial target market was going to be banks because I did all the research and I figured out how many banks there were and what the approximate branch sizes were and everything. And I went and started talking to them and initially everything looked like it was good but then later on as I started building things and started talking to them a little bit more, I came to realize that what happened was I didn’t ask enough of about their accusation process so what turned out to be a situation where I thought I was going to be able to go to these banks directly and sell them the software turns out that was not going to be the case.

[18:34] What I would need to do is I would essentially need to go to consulting companies who then resold to the banks and I would essentially have to have some sort of reseller network and I’d have to sell through the consultants and I would have to sell it to the consultants who would then sell to the banks. And they may not even want to do that. Eventually I ended up coming to the point where I just said this is not the direction I want to go. Let me find a new direction. So in that case I didn’t completely walkway. I just said let me pivot. Pivoting is perfectly acceptable but that was one of the faulty assumptions was that I thought I’d be able to go direct to the banks and sell them the software. The other assumption that I had was that the banks actually cared about security. That turned out to be false as well.

[19:13] Rob: Apparently they don’t.

[19:14] Mike: No they don’t.

[19:15] Rob: There’s like a market pivot where you keep basically the same product and you just find a new market for it. I never called that pivot. I just called that learning like learning my marketing, honing my marketing. But yeah, I would agree with you. I don’t think a market pivot is that big of a deal. I probably done it with most of my apps.

[19:30] Mike: The seventh sine is that your beta uses aren’t using the products and if you have invited a bunch of people and they’re just not taking you up on the offer, then you need to find out what the fundamental problem is. Is it because they weren’t qualified well enough out-front? Is it not something that they’re actually having a problem with? Is it something that they can’t justify the time to spend on? Is it too complicated? Do they not just understand what it is that they’re supposed to be doing or what your expectations are for them?

[19:58] So there’s a lot of things that could be going wrong but at the end of the day you have to figure out what those things are and truly understand why it is that they’re not using the product. Because if nobody’s using the product and presumably in a beta, they’re probably using it for free. But if they’re not using it when it’s free, they’re definitely not going to use it when it’s paid so you have to find out what the problem is.

[20:17] Rob: I typically see this as being one of two things. Either you are not solving your user’s problems or you are not convincing them that you will solve their problem well enough for them to go through the effort of getting setup. And that’s two very different issues of whether you need to focus on building out more features or focusing on specific part of your product. The first one is pretty easy to figure out right? Because you just ask everybody is this solving a problem and then they’ll tell you why it’s not and you can build more features.

[20:48] The second one’s a little harder because if you’re not able to convince them that you are solving their problem so they can get over that setup hump, that initial on boarding experience is just too painful, then you need to think about alright, so do I need to make my marketing better? Do I need to convey the value proposition differently or convey it better? I’m not a good enough marketer to do this right now? Do I need to pivot it? do I need to not pivot the whole thing but just pivot the message to a different message or do you need to sit down and spend a lot of time on your on boarding process and try to either automate that or try to do a concierge on boarding to reduce the friction of folks getting value out of your product.

[21:25] Needless to say I have recent experience doing the latter, a lot of the latter, improving the on boarding process with Drip. We spent a lot of time on it both clarifying the value, I’m still in the process of that and then making the on boarding process both a simple wizard in the app itself and offering the concierge service. I know all of those things have contributed towards a pretty high number of our folks getting fully activated as we call meaning that they’re actually at a point where they should be receiving value from the app.

[21:59] And if they aren’t, then there’s something else of play either once they’re on board, if they aren’t getting value then it typically means that your app isn’t giving them all they need and that’s when you again go back to number 1 and you start looking at which features or what elements do I need to add in order to really solve the users problem?

[22:17] Mike: A somewhat related sign is number eight in which your beta users are saying that they would pay for it if the price were X and X is probably a lot less than what it is that you’re asking for the product. So at that point, it kind of ties back into one of your initial assumptions which was people will pay X dollars for it and they say well, I wouldn’t pay $50 a month for this but I might pay 10. If that number starts to dip too low then you have to evaluate whether the person who’s saying that is even a good fit for the product or whether they are a good fit and as Rob just said, if you’re not solving their problem in a way that they need or you’re not solving the problem the way that they need or that it needs to be solved for them so that it actually justifies the value, maybe there’s some extra steps that although you do solve part of the problem, there’s some other things that if you did those as well that it would be exponentially more valuable to them.

[23:0] There’s a lot of different things that go along with that but ultimately if they are coming back to you and saying that there’s a price issue of some kind, you may need to reevaluate what that price issue is and look at whether the price needs to be lower, do you need to modify your pricing tiers a little bit? That’s actually something that I’m looking at and evaluating right now is that the pricing tiers in how I offer Audit Shark. It’s a process you have to talk to the customers to find out and you have to talk to enough of them. You can’t just to talk to 1, 2, 3, you got to talk to a lot of people to figure out whether or not you actually have a pricing problem that is just too related versus the amount that you’re asking is not justifiable in their minds.

[23:49] Rob: Yeah. That’s where pricing is a tough one because you can either be priced too high or you are going after the wrong market because if you go after bloggers as an example, they don’t want to pay very much. They expect everything to be free. Whereas if you go after small businesses or enterprises, they tend to be willing to pay more and say you can have a higher price, you need to provide more value to them. So it could just be a market thing. You’re always going to have some people telling you that you’re priced too high but it should be a minority as soon as you get a lot of your beta users telling you that you know you have either a market problem or potentially a pricing issue. I think both of these last two signs that we’ve mentioned, the fact that your beta users aren’t using the product or that they’re all saying it would be too expensive.

[24:31] Neither of these is a reason to walk away from a product. I think only if these become unsolvable. Only if you iterate on them multiple times. They aren’t using the products so you redo your on boarding event features, still not using the products so you take another attack, you add concierge, still not using the product. I mean this takes some iteration. It’s not a first time it happens you turn your hands up and walk away. Same thing with pricing. It’s really about moving quickly and making changes and testing and figuring out what you can find that works but only after numerous tries and still nothing’s working then this does become a red flag.

[25:03] Mike: The ninth sign is that your life goals have changed and by life goals, I really mean if you decide at some point that you don’t necessarily want to own your own business anymore, if you’ve been building a product because you felt it was the direction for you to go and then you wake up one day and say well, you know what? There’s other things that I want to do in my life and I’m perfectly content having a full time job. Then bravo. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly okay and acceptable to say you know what, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to do that anymore or whether it’s living a location independent lifestyle or getting married and settling down at a given location something along those lines or if you decide that you hate computers because they change every two minutes.

[25:47] There’s plenty of reasons to decide that you don’t want to go in that particular direction and it could be that product just doesn’t fit in with your life goals anymore and that’s definitely one of the better reasons is think to walk away from product development than anything else.

[26:02] Rob: Yeah. I would agree. I think if this were to happen that you wouldn’t want it to happen just one day. You’d want it to be this feeling that comes at you overtime and that you probably have a realization one day and like wow that’s why I’ve been feeling this way about the product. I would then, if it were happening to me, I would then try to take a step back and get some time alone even if it was just for a four block one day but ideally be for a day or two to really clear your head and try to take a look at what it is that you want to do instead if you just want to simplify your life and if you can figure out ways to be basically be happy without a product that’s kind of what you’re feeling.

[26:43] There are a lot of ways to go about it and there’s a lot of stress trying to get a product launched and I think that could make you feel like perhaps it’s not in your life goal but I think it takes really some hardcore soul searching and some evaluation of which direction you want to go. And I think realizing that the decision is not permanent as well is probably a good thing. But putting a time frame on it, I would say hey, I can be happy without a product or one year or two years not a bad thing for a lot of people especially if you’re just at a point where it’s causing more trouble than your life is able to handle at that point.

[27:17] I think that leads us well into the tenth sign you should walk away from a project and that’s that your life situation has changed. I think this is a pretty common one that causes people to either want to start a product or want to close down a product is to get married or to have a child or to move or to sell a house, by a house, have a death in the family, there’s all these things that can happen to you and it changes your situation so dramatically that it’s time to almost reevaluate most of your major life choices and frankly launching a product can be one of those things that you need to reevaluate. So I can see this being a very solid reason for walking away from a project that you’re in the middle of.

[27:59] Mike: Yeah. All the things that you just listed, getting married or moving or getting a new job, all those things, they’re very stressful things and when you throw in launching a product on top of it or something eventually’s got to give. And if it’s the product, so be it. I don’t think There’s anything wrong with walking away from those things and I think that Rob made a very, very good point which is it doesn’t have to be permanent and that’s something you have to recognize. You can walk away from development of a product for a while and then once you cleared your head, once your life has kind of calm down a little bit, you can reevaluate that and say is that something that I still really want to do and come back to it in the future.

[28:38] Because if you’ve been working on code and the sales and marketing and stuff, it’s not like that stuff just magically goes away overnight when it comes to your mailing list and stuff, it might be a little bit hard to restart those things especially if you’ve grown one very, very large but presumably if you’ve been doing that, then the products is well on its way to success but if you’re struggling with the product in any way, shape or form and then you have these life situations that drastically alters where you are, you may want to walkway and at least for a little while and then clear your head and then come back to in the future.

[29:11] That takes us into number 11 which is fear of judgment from your friends or family or peers if you quit. If the only reason that you’re still working on that product is because your friends or family may think poorly of you because you quit something, it’s definitely something to take into mind when you are deciding whether or not to quit but it could be affecting your motivation as well because if that’s always in the back of your mind you’re going to have those thoughts, you’re going to have a lot of doubts about whether or not you should be continuing or whether like I said, the only reason you could be continuing is because you’re afraid of what your friends and family are going to think if you do quit.

[29:47] Rob: Yeah, the emotional parts of any decision are always the hardest. They complain to you, I mean this is like when you’re in high school and you’re considering whether to breakup with someone, it’s like you can write a pro-cons list but there’s always that relationship that really ties you to it and makes you struggle internally if you know it’s the right decision. It’s hard. Fair judgment is something that I think we all live with. What I found is the less that I judge other people in my head, the less I fear others judgment because I just forget that people do that. It’s always going to be an issue of course but I think it’s a good point that if the only reason that you’re sticking around that you can’t write any other pros down for continuing the app is that you’re scared that people will judge you then that’s probably a bad sign.

[30:28] And actually I think that leads us into number 12, our final point. And it’s that if you don’t have a good reason to continue working on your product other than sunk cost, other than the fact that oh I’ve spent six months working and I’ve spent two years working on it, if that’s it, if that’s the only reason you can think of, then you kind of have a problem. Right? There needs to be some other pretty prominent positive reasons for continuing to do this, some positive prospects for it other than just avoiding sunk cost.

[30:57] Mike: I feel like sunk cost get a lot of people because seems like it goes against human nature to put a lot of effort or time or money into something and then just walkway from it. It’s incredibly hard to do I think. I think that’s why you end up with these people who have gambling addictions for example. It’s like if I just do a little bit more, I’ll get out of this hole. It doesn’t necessarily workout that way. Similarly when you’re putting all this time and effort into something and you’ve gotten several thousand or tens of thousands of lines of code written and you look at it and you really don’t necessarily have anything to show for it except for all this code that you’ve written that either half works or the product mostly works and you still don’t have a market for it, it can be difficult to justify why you spent all that time and energy trying to build a product and ultimately it’s just not going to work out.

[31:47] And no matter how hard you try it could be that it’s just not going to work out and at those times, it’s better to cut your losses and walkway and either try something new or just kind of go down a different path than it is to continue sinking good time and energy after that.

[32:01] Rob: Yeah and this is hard to do. I’ve had to do it myself with multiple products I think 3 or 4 different ones come to mind. One of them was an eBook I wrote myself and tried to sell probably in 2006-2007 from my blog. It was about how to become a programmer and tried all types of crazy things and really it just wasn’t a good market. But I kept going after that and pivoting and iterating and doing all this stuff and just nothing really ever came of it and I eventually had dumped it and I certainly felt bad about the time I invested. And then I have a couple others, they were a couple two software products. One was a niche website, one was a software product and then eBook and those I acquired and so there was a real sunk cost of actual money. Luckily none of them was substantial. It was in the few thousand dollar range but eventually I wound up closing all of them.

[32:49] I’ve chalked it up to learning since then. Those were in the midst of I’ve had some success. Everything’s not a success and I’m still figuring things out in retrospect. I don’t think any of them would’ve ever been a real earner and really worth pursuing. So I know that this is a hard decision to make especially in the moment. If it’s the only reason you can think of to continue with your product then that’s not really a very good reason to do so.

[33:13] Music

[33:15] If you have question for us call our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

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2 Responses to “Episode 171 | Top 12 Signs You Should Walk Away From a Project”

  1. And the Number 1 reason….. If your project is called AuditShark.

  2. I saw the title and had to listen as TruBid has been quite the grind the past 3 months since launching.

    Having clear guidelines to validate how my gut has felt is super helpful to get this resolved.

    The four points that have caused us to get to this point are:
    #2: Little (nearly zero) forward progress. 4 users after 3 months, when we need 50 to justify continuing is worse than zero because it gives just a glimmer of hope.

    #6: Bad assumptions. This is all my fault and not sure how it happened, but it did. No way around it.

    #7B: Of the four users we have, they all said they wished they had started using it sooner, but didn’t know where they’d find the time to get up to speed. We’ve since offered a 1-on-1 getting started call for free to new paid members, with 1 person taking us up on it. Not a needle mover.

    #12: Sunk costs. We’re about $10k into this, which feels like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, and when compared to the opportunity costs of not going after more viable ventures, it’s pretty minor.

    Thanks again for covering this as it’s going to save me from struggling over this the few extra weeks it would have taken me to finally pull the trigger. Plus, by doing it now, I’m not as frustrated as I would have been if I stewed on it and waited longer, so that’s always a plus.