Don't "don't quit"
Seeing “Don’t quit” advice on Twitter always made me feel squeamish and uneasy.
It’s easy, feel-good advice for anyone to give you when they have no skin in the game for your success or failure, no context of your market, no understanding of the challenges of making your product nor the struggles you have in your role as an founder.
Even in seemingly harmless, commodified advice like not quitting there’s landmines!
If you’re working on the wrong thing, “don’t quit” is probably the worst advice to follow. Especially when you’re say, a first time founder and just starting out – more often than not, you’ll be working on the wrong thing because the skills to tell good from bad ain’t there yet.
This hits hard because that’s what happened to me. I didn’t quit marketing and growing Lifelog for two years because “don’t quit”. But I was doing it all wrong. I wasn’t pivoting. I didn’t have the skill to market well. I couldn’t tell this was a hard business to be in.
I don’t blame anyone for it though. I believed in “don’t quit” myself. Almost to cult-like levels. Being a sportsperson all the way from school, not quitting, working hard than your competitors, pushing yourself to your limit was my way of succeeding in sports. And hell, it was so effective. Because when you’re in school you’re competing with amateurs… or at most serious amateurs. No one works that hard. So not quitting becomes an easy differentiator.
But entrepreneurship isn’t the school track. The cause and effect isn’t so clear. The incentives and rewards are often lagging. It’s chaos. And hard work alone ain’t the differentiator no more.
Even though people love to parrot that commodified advice to death. Even if that was their own experience on hindsight.
I’ve learned to not trust such advice or tips, because everything’s peachy on hindsight. It’s easy to say it was hard work because it’s nice to feel you had an active influence in how things had panned out. But luck, and serendipitious events and factors leading to success are often undetected. So despite advice like “don’t quit” being given in good faith and based on personal experience, it’s at best anecdotal, not evidence.
There’s also a big difference between quitting because you gave up, versus walking away from a bad business. By now, I can see that nuance. Give up the means, not the goal. Others said:
“Kill your darlings, don’t quit the dream.”
“Lose the boat not the destination.”
“Don’t quit entrepreneurship. Quit shitty ideas if you must.”
The problem is it’s blindingly easy to think I just got to work harder. Especially when as a noob, when you have no idea what bad looks like, how to tell it’s a bad business or you just need more time. It’s all too easy to default to “don’t quit”.
I’ve been there, done that.
That’s why advice like “don’t quit” makes me squeamish. You can say let the person decide. He’s got individual autonomy. It’s none of your business whether he follows or not. To say that ignores the memetic behaviour of humans as social creatures. We’re hardwired to emulate, especially from folks who have seemingly more authority. What you say has a lot more influence on someone than you realise. Words have power, and we should be mindful.
This line from a dialogue between Frodo and an Elf in the Lord Of The Rings best sums up how I feel about it:
“Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?”
Maybe instead of a negative framing (which according to sports psychology isn’t helpful for setting goals), how about we phrase it to be more about the pivoting and iteration? Instead of “don’t quit”, say “keep pivoting till you find traction”. Clearer, more actionable, shows an outcome. I think that’s actually a better way to say it!
@yongfook also commented this helpful nugget:
If the idea is proven and you just haven’t carved your slice of the pie yet, don’t quit.
If you’re grinding on some unique idea that hasn’t found a market after 6-12 months, park it and move on.
100% agree about this approach. It’s probably safer to go for tried tested ideas with existing competitors when just starting out! You know there’s a market, you just need to build on your distribution, SEO presence and street cred to carve out a small slice of the pie. I should have done that first!
So, don’t “don’t quit”.
This is one of the reasons why I dialed back significantly from paying attention to advice from others.