10 signs you should walk away from a project

Posted on September 12, 2015

This topic hits a sore spot deep in my soul. For over two years I was dragged down by my own startup that was stagnant, the other co-founder was nowhere to be found and I was starting to lose interest. But for some reason I just couldn’t let go.

I was seeing everything through rose colored glasses because I wanted to run my own startup more than anything. I still do. But because of this, I wasn’t able to see the signs that it was time to walk away and move on to other things.

It wasn’t until I listened to Mike Taber and Rob Walling talk on their podcast Startups For the Rest of Us about this very same topic that I realized something was wrong.

As I was listening to the podcast I noticed that I was identifying with most of the warning signs. So I took a few days to take a step back so I could take a hard look at everything. I started asking myself some serious questions to see if this was the right project for me anymore.

grumpy cat nope

Was working on the startup still making me happy? Nope.

Did I still see us being successful? Have we made any progress lately? Nope. Nope.

Could I get the other co-founder to start helping again or sell me his shares? Nope.

Are there better ways I could be spending my time? Yup!

Do I have new projects I’d like to work on? Yup!

Based on those answers, I decided it was time to walk away. I contacted the other co-founder to tell him I was walking away, backed up all of our servers/code and shut everything down. It was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make, but it was instantly like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was now free to work on whatever I wanted!

fuck it im out

If you’re still reading this article, that’s probably the first sign things aren’t going so well on one of your projects. Read through the signs you should walk away below and see how many hit home. If you identify with 1-2, I would keep on keeping on. If you find that you identify with more than half, it might be time to take a hard look at yourself and the project.

1. You’ve lost motivation to work on the project

When is the last time you were motivated to work on your project? Does the thought of working on this project still excite you? If you’re finding yourself struggling to get yourself to work on your project, or if it feels forced, that’s a bad sign. I’m not talking about temporarily losing motivation for a few days because you have other things to do, but a consistent pattern over time.

2. Your goals have changed

Does the project you’re working on still align with your goals? If your goal is to work from home so you can spend more time with your family, you probably shouldn’t be spending all your time, energy and money into starting a business that requires you to be somewhere else most of the day.

If you’re looking to reduce the amount of stress in your life and your project or business is causing a large amount of that stress, deciding to walk away for a less stressful job could be the answer. The projects you work on should align with the life style you want and the goals you have for yourself.

3. There’s no reason to continue besides sunk cost (time & money)

If you stop and ask yourself why you’re working on a project and the only reason you come up with is that you’ve invested a ton of time, energy or money into it, it could be time to walk away. There should be a better reason that you keep going with a project. You have a passion for it. You believe it will succeed. Working on it makes you happy. Anything besides sunk cost.

Jumping ship

4. Team member(s) have abandoned the project

Did you start working on your project with other people? Are those people still around and just as excited as you to keep moving forward? If some of the people you started the project with are starting to jump ship, have moved on to other projects or aren’t interested in the idea, that’s a sign of trouble.

This is especially troublesome if the people you started the project own equity. Now not only are they not contributing, but they’re dead weight in terms of equity. Trying to get their portion of equity back or rights to intellectual property can be a nightmare, especially if there was no partnership agreements in place.

5. People aren’t using your product

You’ve spent months and months developing a product and your users aren’t using the damn thing. This could be for a multitude of reasons and it always necessarily a bad sign. You might have developed a product that’s hard to use or a product your users didn’t want. This could also be a sign that you don’t have a viable product, you need to pivot and take the project in another direction or you need to find the right users.

6. You haven’t made any progress

If you’ve been spinning your wheels for a while now and just aren’t getting anywhere, that’s a sign of trouble. You keep doing things and nothing seems to be working or helping push the project along. Another red flag is that you simply have no idea what to do to make any progress on a project.

7. You haven’t talk to potential customers

Are you deep into product development without having ever reached out to potential customers? If so, you’re basically developing the product for yourself because you have no idea if other people would use a product like this, let alone pay for it. By talking to potential customers, you learn where their pain points are so that you can develop a product they will actually use.

space cat

8. There is no market for your product

You’ve spent months developing a space suit for cats only to realize that there isn’t a market for that type of product because right now we only send monkeys. It could be the case that there just is no market for this product, but some times it could just be bad market timing.

9. Your product has been a prototype for too long

If your product has been in a prototype phase forever and you never start on boarding users, you never will. It’s very common for startups to develop a product and never launch it because it’s not ‘perfect’. The product doesn’t have EVERY feature they want, the design isn’t perfect or any other excuse not to launch. The project then goes into this product purgatory for which it will never escape.

10. Your life situation has changed

This is a pretty common reason people walk away from projects. Life events such as getting married, having children or moving can make it difficult to keep working on a project. These events don’t necessarily mean you have to give up on a project. It could just mean that you have to take on a different roll or dedicate less time to it.

I sincerely hope that none of these warning signs ring true and that you’re loving whatever it is you’re working on. If not, I hope that this list can help you put some perspective on what you’re working on so you can decide if it’s something you want to continue.

Life is short and we only get to do it once, so do things that make you happy!


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