When Should You Give Up On Your Startup Idea?

When to quit, when to pivot, when to stay the course.

Joe Procopio


image by diana grytsku

It’s one of my least favorite emails to get.

The email came to me from an experienced serial founder. She had started several companies over her career. A couple of them took off quickly and she eventually exited. A few of them failed quickly, and so she learned a few lessons and moved on to the next one.

The startup she was writing to me about now was one of those tricky ones in the middle.

Her latest company, now three years old, was born in the middle of the pandemic, like a million other startups that have come and gone since 2020. That fact alone has been weighing on her. As the macro-economy continues to struggle to find a new normal, her navigational charts are off, so to speak, because she has no guiding data she can trust.

Add in a smattering of personal crises, professional disappointments, and a whole lot of inflation, and she feels like she’s at the end of her startup’s rope.

I’m not going to tell her whether or not she should shut down her startup. But what I did do is tell her what I’ve done. Because I’ve been there at least a dozen times.

When To Quit

Ugh. There’s no right answer here. Every founder situation is different, and time has a way of forcing ebb and flow into a business, regardless of how brilliant the idea is or how well that idea is being executed.

Just as important, however, is the frustration tolerance of the founder themselves.

Some folks give up quickly, and this founder has shown to do that in her past. It could be because she has a low frustration tolerance, but I doubt it, because she’s got a couple of successful exits in her portfolio, and those don’t come without a shedload of frustration along the way.

It’s likely because she has a quick sense of when a failure starts to look like a failure. On the other end of that spectrum, some folks — and this is probably me — tend to never let go of an idea until the last ember of the dumpster fire has burned itself out. Like in Inception. I’d be so susceptible to someone planting an idea in my dreams.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com