How do you know when it’s time to quit?

After over 15 months of full time effort I am seeing zero traction.  I can drive traffic to the site but it just won’t convert.  I’ve tried testing headlines, copy, layout, done user testing and calls, phone numbers on the site, live chat, personal outreach to potential customers in multiple markets.  Nothing. Zip, zilch.  not even demos or follow up inquiries.

I know there is a huge market and a problem that needs solving.  I’ve talked to hundreds of people about it.  The problem is that I’ve run out of the money required to look for the solution.  Seed stage investors don’t really want to gamble or look for new things, they want you to prove the market first and remove the risk.   I’m an experienced tech person, not a 25 year old kid and I know that I can run a company.  But it’s not fun to do so when the market isn’t buying.  And I’d rather not spend myself into poverty (about 3-6 months of personal cash flow left before I will be in just that situation). 

So, given all that, am I wrong in saying it’s time to close up shop? Or am I just having a bad day? For context: I’ve had a lot of bad days before and something has always happened to save it.  But this time it feels different.  If it were just a question of my personal runway I could work on this problem forever.  It’s endlessly fascinating, it’s complex, it’s hard and it needs to be solved. But I gotta eat.

Thoughts, ideas, suggestions?

Oh in case anyone is worried, I’m psychologically fine, if a bit bruised and tired.  More sort of feeling really stuck and a little sad.  But I’m surrounded by friends and loved ones and in no danger of self harm.  (and if you are someone really in trouble psychologically, please please seek help.  I will if I feel I need it!)

  • This seems like a dry well. Time to move on. I’ve been there, I quit after 5 months, then came back to it a year later. Spent another 12 months, then quit again, for good. We had a few sales, totaling a few hundred a month, paid the server costs but that’s it. I finally just quit it completely and haven’t looked back.

    The sooner you quit this loser, the sooner you can try again.

    Best of luck.

  • I had a similar experience. Shut this down while you don’t have any customers to annoy then bring it back in a year or two if the market improves

  • You’re not as bad as me. I spent 3 years with zero traction (but lots of positive feedback) – I managed to continue for so long because I was consulting on the side. I finally shelved the idea and went back to work full time. 2 years later I look back and its still a great problem/market…. but I now can see why there was no effin way in hell it would’ve taken off.

  • I’m having the same problem. I recently quit on a startup that I’ve been working on. I also have previously started other companies that went nowhere. Before I used to be full of hope and optimism that I would one day be successful, but now I’ve pretty much given up hope. I’ve fallen into a deep depression.

  • We are in the same situation. I’m a solo founder in a 16 month old startup. I’m also not making real money yet, so I understand your fear.

    But I guess the difference from my startup is… mine now gaining traction. I get a lot people using my product. I just need to implement a proper business model since everything is still free right now.

    Success is base on your belief. If you believe on what you do, you will succeed. But it’s NOT easy. You are in the phase where most losers starts to quit. And to tell you the truth, I’ve been in this phase so many times. There are times I would cry in my shower. Seriously. But I didn’t quit. Because I believe I will succeed.

    Unless you did something that people doesn’t really want, then that’s a different story. But you said people wanted it, you just got to figure out why they are not buying.

    I wonder what is your product though.

  • You’ve built something nobody wants. I’m getting tired of all this “problem solving” gibberish …..Did Flappy Bird -solve a problem ? Farmville ?Angry Birds ?

    Facebook ? They built something people wanted to “use”. You can –want to use –Dropbox. It doesn’t really solve a problem,when you can back up data at home.

    Get my point.? You’re building stuff nobody cares if it exist or not.Please–I know I sound cold.But get this through your heads and save yourself time, money, embarrassment and heartache.

    • Op here. I love this advice. It’s a subtle distinction. But it’s true. Solving a problem only works as a thesis if it’s truly a problem–painkiller vs vitamin. But want to use–well that’s the seductiveness of great design and product. That said those things are more lightning in a bottle–how do you go about finding that as a bus

      • You have to be creative.That’s why most startups are failing.

        Why didn’t you come up with Snapchat ? Observe life. Observe people and their behaviors. Observe the core of a human.

        Google = speed =less wasted time =convenient

        Facebook= social=bragging=eves dropping

        Flappy Bird = Quick -Easy-aggravating – going to win this game somehow product.

        Signed: The Jerk.

        • I don’t disagree with your advice, but just want to point out that the first two were already things known to attract users. Google and Facebook just out-executed the incumbents (and that’s really fucking hard). The third example is of a popular game, but that’s survivorship bias. Most games fail. Angry Birds was something like the 50th game created by that studio.

          Which is fine, but you have to have the stomach and cash flow while you create the first 49 so-so games.

          • I think the discussion has boiled down to building a successful product without having to solve a problem.It’s possible to have success without out solving a problem.

            Go get em’ -put your thinking caps on.

  • Clueless is you, with your pretensions to “problem-solving”. You’re trying to move a product to make money. If it “solves a problem”, great. There are plenty of products that didn’t solve a single problem and probably introduced more–and they do fantastic. There’s other things that are successful that just reinvent the wheel, or do things that the target market already has “solved” but work by segmenting existing markets.

    Glorifying “problem solving” is just another bit of the startup mythos bullshit. You “solved a problem”–or are you trying to launch a successful product?

    • Problem solving is pretentious? Of course your solution needs to make money, but identifying a real problem is the first step.

      Consumer products are a whole different ball game. Yeah, most of them don’t solve problems, but it’s like Hollywood. There are a lot of actors, but only a few on the level of Tom Cruise or George Clooney (who by the way, has said he got better roles once he started focusing on solving the director’s problem rather than just trying to get a gig). The big stars are the 1%; everyone else is in the 99% of actors trying to scratch out a living.

  • I work for a “startup” that won’t pull the plug or shut its doors, and it’s been burning through cash for years now with no success after at least two pivots and lots of re-re-re-vised products. We’ve never managed to cover operating expenses, even with cost-cutting measures everywhere and below-industry pay.

    Which is to say: we’re chumps. It’s incredibly draining emotionally to know that the “Mission Impossible” project you’ve been on for years has turned into a suicide project. It intensifies office politics in an ugly way, and does a lot of things that can be difficult to deal with that you haven’t expected.

    When they say “Fail fast,” that don’t like to say “hey maybe your company sucks so you should give up”, but that’s implicit in the message.

    To respond to OP: that’s a tangential way of saying, you don’t go broke cutting your losses. You go broke by doubling down and attempting to count sunk costs. You go broke by getting emotionally committed to an already-expensive dead end. You go broke by not walking away from a losing proposition.

    When you play poker, in most games, your chances of winning any given hand are low–there’s five other people, and luck evens out skill more than people, especially amatuer psychologists trying to read tells, like to admit. You should fold regularly and often. Chances are, your company isn’t Next Facebook Whatsapp.

  • Every rejection is feedback. What are the reasons you’re getting when people decline your offering? Can you address at least the common ones? Quite often people give you 3 or 4 reasons but not the real one – have you asked them what really concerns them about your offering.

    My suggestion? Go back to the people who have rejected your product and ask what it would take to make your offer compelling. If you can make the common things happen, ask for a commitment from them and make them happen.

    It may not end up being the idea you initially had, but that’s OK. What is better – your idea or an idea that makes money?

    If not, turn it in. Good luck either way.

  • -Set an absolute pull the plug if not ____ date.

    – Seek partnership with a hitter who has been there done that.

    – Don’t talk to 100 people / Take 100 more NEW action steps

    – I guarantee you there are methods you have not considered

    – maybe your product is the “free” add on from bigger ticket item / partnership

    – maybe it’s bolted on to a subscription offer/ partnership

    – maybe it’s unique financing via allotment process if applicable to military personal

    – maybe – well no maybe about it / I’m sure that my advise is meaningless seeing as I have no idea what this is

    – offer split to a rock star , if no interest / pull the plug because your service does not have a true advantage.

    Good luck

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