Entrepreneurship: Know when to pull the plug

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in Copenhagen for entrepreneurship called Iværk og Vækst. While there, I stopped through to see a panel discussion called From Big Business to Bankruptcy where our own author, Martin Bjergegaard, was one of the four speakers. The panel was made up of serial entrepreneurs who have all kickstarted multiple successful companies. Even with all of their success, they were all very open about discussing one thing that many people fear: Failure.

Failure is natural, especially when you work on so many projects. The only thing to fear is mishandling failure. Of course, this is easier said than done. An interesting moment during the aforementioned panel was when Brian Sandholm, co-founder of Sekoia, spoke about the time he experienced failure. To paraphrase, the host asked him, As your company was going under, did you feel as if you were one of the violinists on the Titanic, going down with the ship? To this Brian profoundly answered, No, by this time I had become the ship.

It’s these scenarios, when we become so devoted to a project, that it becomes the most difficult to admit defeat. This goes beyond entrepreneurship. Everyone experiences the love for an idea or concept, and we will for it to work. We persevere through the tough times so much so that we can become consumed by the project—and if things begin to go south, we as individuals go down with it.

As tough as it may be, there are times when we have to take a step back and know when to quit, in order to preserve ourselves and move on to greater things.

Winning-Without-Losing-quote

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In Martin’s book Winning Without Losing, Martin and his co-author Jordan Milne discuss the concept of “Know when to pull the plug”.  Below are a couple of suggestions to let you know when it might be time to consider cutting your losses, and pulling the plug:

Zig Zagging

With some new businesses, you may find that you are drastically changing your business concept to suit the market. Although adapting to the situation is a positive act, if your business needs to change its concept repeatedly, limitations arise. It’s this Zig Zagging through the market, the constant change of course, can be a sign that this particular project doesn’t have what it takes.

Misplaced Passion

It’s very common for entrepreneurs to feel inspired to start other businesses while working on a project that isn’t really taking hold. If you begin to spend most of your time dwelling on the other project, then you may have lost the passion for the current endeavor. When this passion is completely gone, a project has the chance of failing.

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity

This is what Brian Sandholm warned us about—don’t become the ship. When we are close to a project, we tend to overlook its flaws. In the end, pulling the plug should be an objective decision. Every once in awhile, remember to take a step back. See how the market is reacting to your project, and how it’s functioning in the long term. If things are looking bleak, it may be time to think about cutting your losses.

It’s very common for entrepreneurs to become completely absorbed by their projects and ideas. However, it’s important to remember that, in the end, we are all just people and work is only work. That’s the overarching message that Martin Bjergegaard shares with us through his book Winning Without Losing. We as people should never have to sacrifice ourselves and the things we care about in order to strive towards success. Realising this will not only help us achieve work-life balance, but also reduce our fears of failure.

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Philip Trampe
19 Sep 2014

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