A very wise man once cautioned me not to spend $100k building something that would only ever generate $2k/month. So, me being me, I promptly spent 3 years and $300k building things, and only ever generated $2k, total.
Ooops. I guess I screwed that up, huh?
I’m not going to get into my long, twisty-and-turny product-flailing history in detail here. Here’s the TL;DR version:
- Had an idea for a web app in 2012 & started dev
- Produced a pretty good podcast as I taught myself to become a product guy
- Scuttled my web app;
- Wrote & shipped a book instead, which tanked
- Started writing another book & launched an e-mail course to drum up interest in it
- Finally got a clue & quit
Another very wise man told me that deciding you aren’t going to do something is a discipline that few master. So, I want to talk about that last “finally got a clue & quit” bit. And the reason why I want to talk about that is for anyone who may find themselves now where I was a short time ago.
So there I was. My podcasting book had failed, I had just launched an e-mail course to drum up interest in my next book, and I was gearing up to do a podcast tour to drum up further interest in this new book. I was depressed, feeling like a failure, and slogging forward on autopilot.
All of a sudden, I had a thought - “To get to this point, I’ve been passing up about $100k in consulting work each year. If I had just skipped all of this and stuck to consulting, I’d have an extra $300,000 in my pocket right now. I’m passing up more consulting income with every second that goes by, just on the off chance that this next book will be profitable. I have no way to predict if it will be profitable or not, and - real talk - no real way to exert any control over that, anyway. Why am I still doing this?”.
I realized, with a knot in my gut, that it was time. Time to acknowledge my own failure. Time to stop living out the Sunk Costs Fallacy. Time to stop investing in something with no indication of return. Time to take the old advice of “dance with who brung ya”.
It was time, in short, to return to the ONLY thing that EVER earned me significant sums of money - consulting. But if I were going to make that move, I wanted to make it a strong move.
So, I started shutting product-related things down.
- My podcast of three years? Done. I announced & recorded the final episode within a week of my realization. This one hurt. I loved that show.
- My podcasting book? Done. I quit promoting it; it had stalled months prior, anyway.
- My relatively new e-mail course? Done. I quit promoting that, too.
- My new book? Cancelled. I refunded the two pre-orders I’d received, deleted the manuscript (so as not to be tempted to “just finish it”), and that was the end of it.
Now, this all freaked some people out. Suffice to say there was no shortage of opinions on what I was doing, and most of them were convinced that what I was doing was wrong.
- A few friends and colleagues were pissed at me for “throwing it all away” (all what?).
- A few others said they couldn’t believe I was giving up when I was “so close” (close to what?).
- One person said that if they had become as internet famous as I had become via my podcast, there’s no WAY they’d give that up (internet famous, my ass).
Then there were the people who had known me during the dark years, the years of massive turmoil within my family, the years that culminated in me losing my way in every sense of the word, and scuttling my SmallSpec prototype out of sheer desperation. Those people were not annoyed at me for giving up on product, no - those people saw what appeared to be me putting my affairs in order, assumed that I intended to commit suicide, and promptly freaked out. That yielded some really interesting conversations.
But no, all I was doing was setting the stage for my return to full-time, full-focus, no-distractions consulting. If I was going to be done with product, I wanted to be done. No dabbling, No lingering “what ifs”. No having one foot on the brakes, just in case a good product opportunity came along. Nothing. Just consulting.
That was about 6 weeks ago. Since I officially quit product, I’ve:
- Re-activated several old clients
- Billed out 20x what I made from products in 3 years
- Completely revamped my website
- Written 5 new articles
- Made better than a dozen new, in-person contacts locally
- Been offered a chance to buy out another consulting firm
And that’s just off the top of my head!
I feel alive again. I feel like there’s hope for my career again. I feel like I’m actually capable of making positive things happen again. I felt none of that during the product days. Virtually every moment I spent trying to be Mr, Marketing Guy, trying to create and sell product, was sheer misery.
Real talk - I’m sure that if significant money had come rolling in, I wouldn’t think of my product days as being quite so miserable, but it didn’t, so I do.
Acknowledging my own failure and putting it behind me feels great, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harboring any resentments about how my time as a product guy turned out. But that’s OK. It’s a process.
Man, I’ve written way more than I had planned to. What was my point, again? Ah, yes - people who also find themselves where I was not too long ago.
If you have followed all the advice “they” gave you, and still aren’t seeing any results…
If you have invested, invested, invested your time & energy to no returns…
If you have been called a “complainer” for observing that the advice you were given isn’t working…
If your finance are threadbare, and you have a way to make money other than product…
If you are starting to doubt your own abilities, despite a track record of success prior to product…
If your life is worse than it was before you told yourself you had to do product…
If your sense of optimism and confidence has turned to pessimism and self-doubt…
…give yourself permission to quit. Especially if you have a viable money-making alternative.
That’s crazy, right? Bear with me for a minute, here.
We chase product (see what I did there?) in order to have better lives, not worse. If things are getting worse and worse and worse with no indicators of any kind of impending upswing, give yourself permission to quit.
Don’t quit, necessarily. Just give yourself permission. And think - really think - about what you’re doing, and why, and what direction it’s really headed in. Be honest with yourself in ways that you aren’t (or don’t think you can be) when people you know are around. You don’t have to follow any script, not even one you wrote for yourself. You have permission to take it in any direction you want, and that’s the important thing here - realizing that you have choices.
If you’re out there chasing product and you’re making it work, and you’re seeing either returns or indicators of impending returns, good for you. Keep on banging. I’m never going to say that just because I couldn’t make it happen, you should quit, too. But I will say that if “the writing is on the wall” as clearly for you as it was for me, take a minute to read that writing and really think about what it means.
The rest of your life might thank you. Mine already is.