How do you know when it's time to give up on your SaaS?
November 10, 2023
Navigating our bootstrapper journey
As a solo bootstrapped founder, there are so many decisions to make, and so many reasons to question ourselves and what we’re doing along the way.
It’s a long road that we are constantly in charge of navigating, and navigating this journey is a real art.
One of the most difficult decisions we face in the early stages of any project is continually assessing our best course of action because at any point, we could:
Keep going on the same path
Find a different target audience
Move on altogether
How do you know what to do?
I view each project as a car on a road, where the desired destination is the same, but the steepness and conditions of the road are determined by many variables including:
Our strengths and weaknesses
Our ability to reach our target audience
How well we know our audience
The usability and effectiveness of our product
How quickly we find product/market fit
Our offering (price, features, support, etc.)
The friction spectrum
Each project we take on has some level of friction - the less the better, of course, but ultimately the critical piece is that it’s an amount of friction that we are able to overcome.
Certainly a lot of projects have very low chances of success, but I believe many could get to $10k MRR if the founder is willing to grind on it long and hard enough.
But it’s the difference between rolling smoothly down a flat road with few barriers versus trudging up a steep gravel road with flat tires.
The difference is one that makes you wake up excited to get going, versus one where you hit the snooze button and go back to bed because it’s exhausting even thinking about what you need to do.
It may be such a tough road that you won’t be able to sustain the energy needed to keep it going, or it’ll take too long and you’ll give up.
At least I know for myself, that with any new project, I start off driven by hope. And before long, I need some sense of momentum, or else I start to lose hope, at which point the road gets rough.
Having built dozens of apps, and trying to get most of them out into the world, I’ve experienced the stark difference between a project that the world wants and accepts with open arms - and therefore grows quickly and relatively easily - versus one that takes a tremendous amount of work to move forward every inch of the way.
We need to find a way to be in the former camp.
How do we do that?
Step 1: Being honest with ourselves
The most common trap bootstrappers fall into is to abandon a project when the thing they really should be doing is out of their comfort zone.
Developers for example, have a tendency to get stuck in coding land, tricking themselves into thinking that more features are going to move the needle, when they haven’t even been getting in front of customers.
It’s easy to make excuses and move on to the next shiny object because it’s more comfortable. That’s fine if we are weekend tinkerers just having fun. But if we are truly trying to get our creation into the world, excuses aren’t gonna fly.
Talking to customers is scary to those of us that haven’t done it before. Creating cold email campaigns is scary if you haven’t done it before. But if you’re not doing the things you should be doing, you have no excuse to start over, aside from wanting to remain comfortable.
So before moving on, it’s critical that we’re honest with ourselves about the effort we’ve put into it. If we’ve only coded, and haven’t done any marketing or talked to customers, we don’t yet have enough information to make an educated decision about the viability of our business.
Remember this: you need more customers, not features.
Step 2: Don’t be swayed; be open to change.
Now that we’ve ensured we are doing the right things, that means we’re now getting in front of customers.
One of the most important and valuable things we can do from the start is to believe in our idea, but not be married to it.
By this I mean we want to stand by it, and not be swayed by someone else’s opinion of it.
Opinions don’t mean shit here. Everyone has their opinion and countless people will love to tell you your idea won’t work. Ignore them.
But we also need to be open to adapting as we learn more about our customers’ needs, and we need to be open to accepting the realization that our solution is not considered valuable by our target audience.
If we are stubborn and rigid throughout this process, we’re destined to have a tough go of it. This isn’t something we can brute-force our way through.
Trust your gut here. And beware of confirmation bias.
Similarly, if you find yourself trying to convince people into seeing the value of your solution, you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Step 3: Feeling the friction
Up to now, we’ve ensured we’re doing the right things, and not just making up excuses to jump ship out due to fear of discomfort.
And we can visualize this spectrum of friction, where in one scenario, things are fairly smooth and frictionless, and we remain hopeful, engaged, inspired, and are gaining momentum, and in another scenario we are just grinding painfully, hardly seeing progress, losing hope, and dreading every day.
Don’t get me wrong, the path is never easy, and we will almost always question ourselves. But the more projects you create, the more sensitive you’ll be to the difference.
Step 4: Making a decision
At this point, we let ourselves sense the friction as openly and honestly as possible, removing all our biases as much as possible. I like to try to extract myself and look at the situation from the outside, and give myself the advice I’d give someone else if I were able to see the situation more objectively.
Often-times we can get swayed by the sunk-cost fallacy and stick with something longer than we should just because we’ve already put time into it, when in reality, we’re better off channeling our time elsewhere going forward.
Other times we move on too soon because we’re trying to (consciously or unconsciously) stay in our comfort zone.
The power you have as a founder is also that which makes this work hard as hell.
You crave the ability to have control - not be controlled.
The consequence of this is that the weight of all decisions falls on you.
Through honesty and a developed-intuition, you’ll get better and quicker at making these judgment calls.
When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do early on is to make a quick-assessment, and commit until your next assessment. Spinning your wheels on this is going to get you nowhere.