Q: Should I Persevere With My Product Or Get A Job?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage

One question entrepreneurs ask themselves is whether to persevere or get a job. What follows is an email exchange that has been edited into a Q&A.

Should I Persevere With My Product Or Get A Job?

Q:  I can’t get people to use my service. For the last 9 months or so I been trying to get it going, trying to validate the idea, but I can’t get people to use it, and I’ve iterated and improved the product multiple times. I can get people to click on ads and visit the service but no one will even sign up much less use the service.

A:  Whom have you talked to about the service? Have you talked to potential customers?

Q:  Up until now, I’ve only really gotten feedback from my family and friends. I thought that marketing would be enough to explain the idea and convert visitors into customers, but it’s not working, and I’ve tried different methods and messages.

A: How did you come up with the idea for the service?

Q: I got the idea from my Dad almost two years ago and developed the idea into what it is now. I have been into technology for as long as I can remember and I am constantly dreaming of tons of amazing ideas, but most of them are too complicated to create myself. When my Dad came along with the idea I saw it as a chance to start fulfilling my dreams. At the time I thought that idea was simple enough to develop into a product. But I was wrong; it was much much harder than I had anticipated.  

A: As Paul Saffo advises, “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” I can sympathize with the challenges of having too many ideas and ideas that are too complex to make viable. It doesn’t hurt to write them down and in the case of the more complex ones also try to break them into phases or steps and see if you can create a building block that might then enable a second step etc..  How long have you been working on this particular idea?

Q: I took me about a year to develop a minimum viable product. About halfway through I dropped out of college to focus on it full time. It has been rough but I have finished developing it. I don’t know what to do and I can’t keep wasting my time and money on something that’s not working. My parents were supportive at first, but now they are saying I need to get a job. What should I do?

A:  A year ago if your parents had said we will support you for a year but if you have no customers then you have to go back to college or get a job would you have agreed? If not, how much time would you have asked for?

You have to treat the friends and family who are supporting you just as you would an investor and give them visibility into your plans and results. It’s also not fair to ask for a blank check: you have to have a stopping rule.

Experienced investors, whether Angel or VC, will impose one on you. But friends and family may find it harder. That’s why you have to agree up front on the limit of investment you are asking for.

You don’t have to give up on your vision, but you need to either earn enough to become self-sufficient to pursue it on your own, or go back to college to finish your education. Here are a few questions you can use to measure your progress and navigate your way forward:

  • What have you learned in the last six months that’s made you more effective as an entrepreneur?
  • In the last three months?
  • What do you hope to learn in another three that will allow you to gain customers?
  • Before you start a new project you need to define your stopping rule or you risk going bankrupt or you force the people who are supporting you to define it for you–or you bankrupt them as well.

Here are “Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting” from pages 66-71 of Seth Godin’s “The Dip

  1. Am I Panicking? Decide in advance when you are going to quit.
  2. Who Am I Trying to Influence? A person or a market? Markets value persistence far more than an individual.
  3. What Sort of Measurable Progress am I Making?

Q: What do you think of the advice a friend gave me: “You’ll never fail if you don’t give up.”

Be very careful of this advice:  if you keep doing the same thing expecting different results you won’t succeed either. Take a long-term view for a moment. Looking back from 30 or 35 or 40 it’s unlikely you would regret finishing college and perhaps even working for five or ten years to get some real world experience before starting a company.

If your goal is to be an effective entrepreneur then you may learn faster in other situations than by continuing full time on your startup today. Despite what you read on TechCrunch and similar sites very little success is overnight.

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