How much time should you give your startup space/industry before you move on?

I had an acquaintance who sent me a note a few days ago. He had built a beta product and we were customers along with a 2 others. After 3-4 months of working to get the product ready, and seeing some traction (limited I presume) he decided that the effort was not going to give him the “ROI” he desired and was not pivoting to a few other ideas that he was considering.

The new ideas were totally unrelated to what he was doing before. So an essential restart.

I see a lot more of these “projects” that developer-entrepreneurs take on, which they term as their idea / space, only to find that either the market they chose is not big enough or the traction they got was limited or they did not really care about the market or the product in the first place. Brings into question the entire passion and desire for the space and area they wanted to spend solving problems.

Side note: First thing that I would highly recommend is to find out why you want to be an entrepreneur and also what you want to do. Just saying I want be an entrepreneur because its fun (its actually not fun most of the time) or because I want to be my own boss does not suffice.

The rest of this post is mostly for those entrepreneurs who dont know a space fairly well or have worked in any industry for a long time. This is for those who decided to build a mobile app because its cool and the new thing to do after working at a medical equipment company (IT organization as a developer) for 5 years. Or the fresh out of college grad who wants to build an eCommerce company as an example.

I dont have a scientific reason to give you a number, just some experience from having done a few startups.

It takes 2 years for you to understand a space well.

That’s the minimum time you have to give it before you can make an impact.

For the first 3 months you are mostly trying to learn the landscape, understand which events to attend, who the key people are in the industry, and what are the white spaces or “major problem areas”. You may have some ideas, but validating them with these and other people takes time. Especially if they are at a big company, since they are mostly travelling and cant give you appointments for 2-3 weeks out.

The next 3-6 months pass by amazingly quickly. You are either building your product, talking to a lot of customers, or meeting suppliers (eCommerce needs a ton of patience BTW with vendors) or showing demos to potential prospects.This is also the time you are trying out how to position the product, trying out your elevator pitch, etc.

The next 3 months all you are doing is trying to make your alpha product a real beta or your beta product a version 1. Getting feedback from customers, acting on them, etc.

Real productivity hits you in year 2. And traction, momentum and impact only hit a year later.

So choose the space and industry carefully before you decided to jump into building a company, because if you decide to change the idea or space, the clock starts again. It will take you two years from that point to understand that new space and make an impact.

This however drops to a year if you already have worked for a company in that space before. E.g. You were at an eCommerce company selling toys online and you decide to start an eCommerce company after 2 years being at that company. Your new company will benefit from that experience, but I would now put the time required for you to get productive as 1 year. After all, it takes a long time to be an overnight success.

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3 thoughts on “How much time should you give your startup space/industry before you move on?”

  1. I have seen many people recommend 3 years for an entrepreneur.
    – lose money in year 1
    – break even in year 2
    – profiability kicks in year 3

    But the business in year 3 looks very different, after pivots and resets

  2. A 3 year plan looks good on paper, but you cant be sure if it would work for all kinds of Start-up companies. Twitter is a great example. Its still a long way from making any real profit, but the kind of user base it has, it could generate more profit than any of the short term Start-up companies combined.

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