18 months in and still no product on the market. Should I quit?

After a 3-year introduction to the corporate world working for others in Germany I decided to move back to my home country. I’d realised that I lack the motivation and involvement necessary to work for others and that the only solution for me would be to have a venture of my own.

When I came home and told my best friend X about my plan of setting up a business, we ended up ending each other’s sentences as if we had always been destined to do embark on such an adventure together. We thought, “we could never do this without Z”, Z being my other best friend. So that was that. I didn’t think much about it and a couple of months after that conversation we were living together in a small town for the sake of keeping the living costs to a minimum.

For the next 8 months, I drew on some unemployment money that I was entitled to, thinking that it woud be a good idea to fully dedicate my time to finding a business idea that we all liked. The tricky thing was, though, we had agreed that the three of us had other important matters to attend to (X is studying her second BA, Z wants to become a writer, and myself, who was, like X, also focused on getting some further education). Eventually, I realised that I wanted this to be my priority and that everything else would have to wait.

After a year working together, 7 months ago we were still talking about stupid business ideas that I just couldn’t see myself working on. There was just this one idea I loved, but I couldnt’ see myself further working together with these two friends and co-founders. See, the line between the two is a bit blurry now. I almost quit because finding a mutual agreement (regarding not only the business idea but also the way we would like to work) had been an extremely arduous and slow process. But, being so confident about the idea (not so much about my team), I decided to stay.

Today, 7 months in, we still haven’t got a business set up. We have started talking to manufacturers and service providers but the idea keeps iterating all the time. I know setting up a business is rarely a linear process and that it takes time to find the right way of doing business so that is not an issue for me. What is keeping awake at night is the fact that we are very different people and come with very different expectations and ways of understanding how the work should be done.

7 months ago I started working again (25h/week) and have still managed to work on this project for a decent 6 hours Mon-Fri. I have an urgency to set up something but have come to the conclusion that none of my professional experience-lacking co-founders are willing to fully invest themselves on this venture. To be fair, despite our time investment, I think none of us has been able to fully commit on this until now.

We discuss things yet nothing really changes and I do not believe that relationships are to be worked on. Not this hard, at least. I just simply do not believe we’re the right team for this business and that my friendships might be resented if I keep working with them. But then of course there’s the idea, which I love. The process of finding somehting else to work on seems daunting right now.

I wonder if this is frequent when you set up a business with your friends. The journey hasn’t been precisely easy not to mention fun but I fear leaving before it starts getting good. What should I do?

  • I guess that it all depends on whether or not you want to keep your relationship with your friends intact but I think that it’s bound to be affected no matter what you do. Here are some pointers:

    Ideas are worth very little. It’s the execution that matters. If you change your idea and leave the original one to them, they will probably never act on it so you should stick with the one that you have.
    Have a sincere discussion with them that you would like to run with the idea solo because right now you have more talk than action and that this prevent the project from moving on.
    Buy and read the book Slicing Pie. This is about dynamic equity split. That would be perfect with your friends. The more they work, the more they get equity. There are even clauses where when someone stops working, he abandons his share. Put that in place and run with the idea.
    If everything fails, tell them that your friendship is very important to you but so is the project and that you will try it run it solo from now on.

  • Very often we force ourselves to look for cofounders because we lack confidence or because some investor tells you that they only fund teams.

    That’s bullshit. If you don’t feel comfortable with the team leave and go do it yourself. If it’s a viable idea you’ll find people to help you out on the way either as cofounders advisors or employees.

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