Startups must learn to identify the time to move on, as the old saying goes “never beat a dead horse."
Last week, Roger Federer announced his retirement from tennis. In the letter he wrote, and also read aloud for the video version, Federer mentioned that after numerous surgeries his body’s message was clear. After more than 23 years it was time to end his competitive career.
It probably wasn’t an easy decision, considering how much the Swiss master loves the sport and that he is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in the history of the sport. Federer fans, including myself, wanted him to continue, we knew he still had the game to compete well at a couple of grand slams. Nonetheless, he had already been out of the tour for a year, and he realized that no matter what he did, competitive tennis was not the best for his body
You might wonder, why is HelloGuru, a tech startup, talking about tennis and Roger Federer?
Well, the truth is Federer gives us a perfect segway to talk about something startups face all the time, the distinction between stubbornness and commitment. We all have heard the stories of successful entrepreneurs. who didn’t give up on an idea. They worked hard for it to become true, and not let the “haters” get the pleasure of laughing in their faces
Not giving up is a fantastic quality, as it certainly pushes people to build great things and reach their full potential. That said, working hard, being committed, and not giving up is not the same as being stubborn. Moreover, giving up is not the same as moving on to the next big thing.
Startups change extremely fast, one day you can be doing one thing, and the next you could be shifting your focus to something else. But when should your focus change and decide it’s time to move over to another idea? When is it okay to move on? If I move on, am I showing a lack of commitment?
These are not easy questions to answer. One definitely does not one to seem uncommitted, but also you don’t want to harm yourself and your team by following something that is not worth it. This is where the importance of having well-designed goals comes into play, as well as having extreme accountability.
When you have well-designed goals for your startup, whether it’s in the form of OKRs or another method, you know where you’re going, and what you’re working towards. There might be a hundred different ways of getting to those goals, but if these are clear, achievable, and have a time-frame, it’s a lot easier to know what is working and what is not. If you’re a small team, you have the ability to execute quickly. Play that to your advantage and use different strategies to achieve your goals.
As you execute these strategies, look at your goals and at the numbers. Are you achieving progress at the rate you were expecting? Is the traction significant enough? How are your customers/users responding to your product or service on a qualitative basis? Once you’ve looked at this, reflect on the results. If progress is good, and the traction is what you were expecting, please keep on the hard work. Your idea is definitely off to a good start, and even though there will be speed bumps on the way, you have something.
On the other hand, if you’re not achieving the right results, think about what other things you could be doing to achieve them. If you feel that you’ve done everything humanly possible to get there, but it simply doesn’t happen, it’s possible you might want to start thinking about a different path. The absolute worst scenario here is you continue doing exactly the same stuff, hoping for different results. To put it bluntly, this is what Einstein would classify as madness.
The world is filled with examples of how stubborn people led to their own destruction, and worse, harming their peers. They confused commitment with stubbornness, and ended up hurting themselves along the way. It’s a thin and hard to identify line, the one between stubbornness and commitment, but one we all need to be able to see. That said, if King Roger did it, and stepped away from Pro tennis, I’m sure we can all do it when time calls for it.