Making sacrifices is a requirement for startup success. Yet, it’s vital to make sure you’re not … [+]
One of the biggest discoveries in early human history, arguably equal in importance to the taming of fire or the invention of the first tools, was the discovery that you could negotiate with reality: you could sacrifice something of value now so that you can get something even better in the future.
Instead of eating the seeds that you have now, you can plant them, water them, and reap a rich harvest in a season or two. Or in other words—if you can bear going hungry now, you might never have to be hungry again.
This is not much different from the fundamental promise of entrepreneurship, especially in the realm of startups. Live on ramen now, and you might eat only rib eye in the future. Work eighty-hour weeks now, and you might not need to work at all in the future.
Mastery of delayed gratification is admirable, yet this mindset, although correct, could lead to a trap when combined with the risky nature of startups. The 80-hour workweek and the ramen lifestyle are, unfortunately, not a guarantee for future success. And being stuck perpetually in this lifestyle is, unsurprisingly, a very bad idea. A business is not a good cause for martyrdom.
Too many startups don’t fail, they enter what the startup circles call “the land of the living dead.” The startup isn’t successful enough to support a normal lifestyle for its founder(s), but at the same time, it shows signs of life that convince the founders to keep grinding.
When you are in such a situation, should you persevere, or should you abandon your idea?
This is one of the hardest questions for an entrepreneur. Quitting too early might prevent you from finding a lucky break behind the corner. Quitting too late means too much time and effort has gone to waste.
There are very, very few people that have been successful with their first idea. And in order to develop your next startup idea, you need to be comfortable abandoning your last one. The faster you are at empirically testing ideas, the greater your chances of success.
Two tools could help you measure the success of your idea and realize when it’s time to abandon it or not:
The first one is a key performance indicator (KPI). Usually, this is a usage metric that indicates that people are deriving real value from your product—a leading indicator of product-market fit. Are you able to attract new users, and are those users actively using your product or service? Focusing almost exclusively on this KPI will guarantee that you are not wasting your time in the early startup stages.
The second one is an idea validation deadline. Give yourself enough time to properly empirically test your startup idea, and once the time is up, evaluate where you stand in relation to your KPI.
If the results are good—great, keep working on the idea.
If you are nowhere near your expectations (i.e. you are not getting any traction at all), it’s very likely the market simply doesn’t want what you’re building. It’s time to abandon your idea and try something new.
If you are lagging behind your expectations but at the same time you’ve found some traction, you’re in dangerous territory. This is where getting stuck in the land of the living dead becomes a possibility, and this is the fate you are trying to avoid at all costs. So, you need to be decisive. Get feedback from your customers, then iterate on your idea (or if needed pivot) and set a new validation deadline, by which you’ll hopefully see better results. If the changes don’t lead to significant improvements, it’s time to move on.
In summary, remember that making sacrifices is usually a requirement for success in the early startup stages. You’ll have to work hard, you’ll have to do various things way out of your comfort zone, and you’ll likely have to do this for no immediate reward. Yet, it’s vital to make sure you’re not making sacrifices to a lost cause. Validate your ideas quickly and kill the unsuccessful ones decisively to free up resources for new, better ideas.
Abdo Riani is the founder and CEO of VisionX Partners, a startup development company that works with entrepreneurs to start, build, market and run their startup from the