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When Enough Is Enough

Everyone thinks the captain should go down with his or her ship. But is that really the best attitude for someone running a young company?
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I understand that nobody likes a quitter. Everyone believes the captain should go down with his ship.

But is this really a healthy attitude for someone running a new business? Especially when you’re spending other people's money at a ferocious clip? Sometimes you need to be smart enough to figure out how to quit when you're ahead--even if you're actually way behind. How, exactly, do you know when enough is enough?

There really isn’t a simple answer for every situation, but there is a rule that I have found to be useful in almost every case. I call it The Rule of 3 Ds and 3 Fs.

The 3 Ds are pretty simple. There are some things you’ve got to Do, Determine and Discuss. The Fs are Facts, Feelings, and Family. Here’s how they tie together.

Do

The main thing you’ve got to Do is to face the facts. If you can do this, you’ll be well on your way to the right conclusion about your situation. In good times, denial may be one of an entrepreneur’s greatest strengths. No so when things head south. Refusing to look at unpleasant facts doesn’t make them disappear. They don’t vanish. They just wait, and often, they get worse.

Once you do face your particular facts, you’ve got to have the courage and the wisdom to deal with them. In some cases, that means that you need to close the doors. Sometimes, as the leader, you need to help your team and your employees reach these same conclusions. You’ve got to give your people permission to make the hard calls. 

Determine

Next, you need to Determine your feelings about the situation. If any of these ring true about your company, on a consistent basis, it’s time to go.

  • It’s harder to come to the office every day than it is to do any of your work once you get there.
  • You spend more time talking to yourself than to anyone else.
  • You’re constantly trying to do things cheaply. Problem is, you really shouldn’t be doing them at all, because you can’t afford to do them right.
  • You feel under-appreciated, taken advantage of, and let down by everyone else in the company.
  • You spend more time and energy plotting your revenge than doing any constructive work.

Of course, if you’ve ever run a business and you haven’t experienced these feelings at some time, to some degree, then I doubt you were really an entrepreneur.

Discuss

The last task is to Discuss your decision with your family and consider their feelings. Starting and running a business is just as tough - maybe tougher - on your family as it is on you. And because your family isn’t typically active in the business, it’s even harder when things start to go south and they can’t do much--other than watch helplessly while you suffer. Here’s the most important advice I can give you: 

  • There’s always more work and other businesses, but you’ve only got one family
  • Your family is a much more important extension and reflection of yourself than any work you do
  • Your work is just that - it’s your work. It’s not who you are. It doesn’t make or define you; it serves you. When it stops being valuable and additive for you and your family, it’s time to do something else.

When things are really rotten and we have no place else to turn, sadly, we often don’t turn to our families - we turn on them. We take a lot of crap out on them, for no reason other than that they’re there. This is often the most real and devastating damage caused by a failing business. It’s the most critical reason to get out when the time is right and to not prolong the agony.

Sometimes, enough really is enough.

Last updated: Jan 29, 2013

HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist

Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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