Should You Keep Your Startup Or Take The Full-Time Job?

Startup founders can all commiserate that building and growing a startup is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of difficult dips to accompany the highs and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome and complete helplessness atleast once a quarter. While on this rollercoaster, many of us have entertained the idea of quitting our startup and taking on a full time job — the ease and predictability seem lovely juxtaposed to the chaos and emotional anarchy of building a startup.

Deciding whether to keep on with your startup or take on a full time job is a difficult decision to make. The freedom and potential payoff of building a successful startup is luring, but the safety of a full-time job is comfortable and reliable. Risk is a very tangible and sobering reality when you’re a startup founder and dampens the dreams we hold around our startups and its unlimited potential.

So how do you know if your startup is worth fighting for, or if you should quit and take that full-time job?For some people, the answer to this question is obvious — they cannot imagine ever working for someone else and they love the work behind creating something new. They are not willing to compromise this freedom for anything.

For others, this question rides around if the payoff will be worth it. Is their startup destined for success, or is it doomed to fail no matter what they do? Are they doing the hard daily grind towards success, or are they just wasting time by working on something that’s doomed to go nowhere? Although this is a difficult question to answer because every individual circumstance is different, there are 3 questions that every startup founder can ask themselves to determine if they should keep going or throw in the towel.

The importance of these 3 questions are that they are non-negotiables. These are questions that signal a foundational flaw that cannot be built upon if answered against a startup’s favor. Here they are  — 

Did You Bring It? Like Really Bring It?

It’s difficult for someone who has not built a startup before to understand what the expectations are in order to bring 100% to building a successful company.

When you’re networking to find investors for example, how much networking is actually necessary to determine that you gave it your all or not enough? Whatever the biggest challenge for your startup is, it’s difficult to answer the question of did I bring 100% of what was expected of me?

A simple way of figuring out the answer to this question is by asking other people in your industry whose progress you respect or aspire towards. 

If for example, you ask a few colleagues in your industry about their networking schedule with investors and their answers give you FOMO, you are probably networking and schmoozing less than you should. If you feel pretty aligned with their answers, you probably did 100% of what was expected of you, or pretty darn close to it.

I see plenty of startup founders fail pretty quickly not because their startup truly wasn’t attracting investors or “the market didn’t want it”, but because they didn’t give it 100%. They didn’t pound the pavement and follow every investor lead, they didn’t hire the expert help they needed because they wanted to save a few hundred bucks, they didn’t keep at it past 6 months, and the list goes on and on.

No matter how easy the entrepreneurs and unicorns around you make it seem, building a startup is tiring, mentally toiling, and difficult work. 

If you find that you could have done more, it’s time for you to really bring it. If you find that you could have done more, but you really don’t want to, then it’s time to call it quits. Pushing through the difficult times is what will be asked of you continuously throughout your startup career; it never stops. 

“Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. Your work was not wasted; it was just being stored. All the action happens at thirty-two degrees.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits

Are You Solving Your Positioning and Cash Flow Issues?

According to a study by CB Insights, the top 2 reasons why startups fail are due to a lack of market need and running out of cash.

Is your startup struggling because of one or both of these reasons? If so, did you roll out a legitimate plan to remedy these issues?

I’m continuously shocked by the number of startups that I meet who are struggling due to one or both of these issues and continuously try to fix it themselves after months of unsuccessfully fixing it themselves. 

If you have unsuccessfully tried to fix your positioning or cash flow issues without outside help, you already know what you need to do next to take a productive step towards resolution. Regardless of how much of an expert you are on positioning or cash flow issues, many of us have a personal bias towards our own startups which hampers our ability to clearly see what’s wrong and how to fix it when we’re at a crossroads.

If you have tried to fix these issues with expert help to no avail, it’s time to close up shop. Trying to sell a product that consumers don’t want to buy or want to pay for is a losing battle. 

Is Your Timing Off?

A startup’s timing can be incredibly important if done correctly (or incorrectly for that matter) and can result with either a home run or an uneventful launch. In Originals by Adam Grant, Grant argues that Warby Parker’s timing was a key to its success — Amazon and Zappos were rising in popularity and building consumer trust at the time, fostering an e-commerce-friendly environment where shoppers were comfortable buying products that they typically wouldn’t order online. Without this timing, Warby Parker’s e-commerce eyeglasses business would not have ended up with a 20,000 person waitlist upon launch.

If your startup’s product is particularly novel or innovative, this is a serious question to ask yourself — is your timing off or just right? 

Are there consumer behaviors or trends at-large that do not align with the shopping experience or revenue model of your business? If so, it’s time to pause until the timing is right, pivot, or to close out. Trying to sell a product where there’s significant friction in any point of the shopping process is enough to run a startup out of business.

For more startup support, grab my Pitch Deck Checklist or my ‘Find Your Customers’ worksheet to fine-tune your pitch deck or marketing strategy.

Sophia Sunwoo