You've worked countless hours on your product to get it to market. You've sacrificed vacations and friends and sometimes even food. It happens to best of us. And some years down the line, if your "success" is not where you want it to be or have been told to expect it to be, then you'll get a wandering thought about throwing in the towel and maybe starting a quiet life on a farm somewhere.
Hold off on that thought for just a bit and consider the following beforehand. This is the reason that so many startups fail within the first few years. Not because they're idea was poor or their execution was bad, but because they threw in the towel way too early and didn't figure out the last bits of complexity that they needed in order to push it to the top. Because once you figure out how to make a buyable product that people want to use, congratulations, you now have a business.
Take a step back first
It's incredibly hard to see this from the inside, but you've probably done an insane amount of work and probably know more about your business and industry than most people will ever realize. But you're in it, so your knowledge has all but blended in with your day to day activities. To you, that investor meeting is just another Tuesday talking about why real-estate markets are in decline. But to the person who's new to the startup world, that investor meeting is the most daunting moment of their life.
So take a step back and appreciate where you are and remember the early days when you didn't know what a server was. To make this easier, keep a company blog running and update whenever the itch to write arrives. It's both good for acquiring content for your project and for you to keep a journal of your many happenings and it's a great way to gauge how much work you've actually done in that time.
Re-evalute your monetization method
Maybe you've made zero dollars in the past 3 years. That's not only possible, it's also very likely in the startup world. Getting someone to actively pay you consistently for a product is easier said than done. Your product must provide some form of value to your users. And not only that, but it should want them to spend more time on your product and to pay you more in the long run.
If your users sign up for a monthly subscription and then leave forever, that is not a buyable monetization method.
And let's face it, this is the number one reason why you would even consider throwing in the towel on your startup. You saw your bank account, got nervous, got hungry and immediately the biological survival instinct kicked in and everywhere you went your brain started to spot "Help Wanted" signs. A big part of working in the startup world is to get to that moment, feel it out, ignore it, and to keep moving forward. Yes, you will have negative bank balances and bills will be late. Learning to let go of these "perfect credit scores" is one of the hardest things, in the moment, that you can do. But soon after, you'll learn to navigate around these issues with no problem.
So if finance is your issue, then re-evaluate your monetization methods. Take a step away from core work on your company and see where you can make enough to keep going and buy yourself runway. Don't wait too long either. Not that it matters really. The more difficult of a situation you are in, the more creative you tend to be with your solutions. But getting good at spotting these things early on will make it for a smoother road.
Re-evaluate your entire company
When we participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield earlier this year, we were surrounded by startups at all levels. From month 1 to year 4. Doing research on many of those companies now, they would be unrecognizable. Many changed their entire business plans, and some even changed their names and rebranded themselves to something completely different. But they are still going it seems.
Don't force ideas out into creation. Let them sort of lead the way, while you trail along and take it all in and act accordingly. If there's a big demand for your product in "A", then follow "A" for a while. If suddenly "C" makes more sense, then test out "C". Don't feel like you have to be married to "A" but also never go backward. You're much better off continuing on the slower "A" route, then in taking steps back out of fear.
Don’t be scared to test, test, and test again. In some cases, the best ideas don’t really look great on paper. But having an entire prototype created, something physical that you can hold and use can be a game-changer. Not just for you, but your for your potential investors too. Finding the right company to create your prototype, do your electronic design, and even complete some deep research for you can change the way you move forward.
This is a good time to see where your company is and why it isn't moving forward. Maybe you're not getting enough users to sign up, in which case I would spend the rest of my time trying to work on marketing techniques. Or maybe you are getting plenty of users, but you just aren't getting full conversions. See where your users are getting stuck. If your conversion process is 6 steps and most people trail off in step 2, then start there. And never be too stubborn to not change something. You might even have to go from charging fees to a free product, and monetize elsewhere.
Gauge how much enjoyment this brings
Sounds corny, but really at the end of the day, if you didn't have fun or enjoy it in any way, then you wasted an entire day of life. You can't buy it back once your startup takes off. So whatever it is that you find yourself doing, either make sure it's something you enjoy, or try to find a way in which you can enjoy it. This will not only help your company to maintain a stable ground, but it'll keep anyone working with your equally motivated and passionate about the idea.
If, however, you truly don't enjoy what you are doing or where it is going, then maybe it is time to hang up the towel. Not just abandoning the project, but maybe selling off the project as a last recourse. Maybe someone else will do a much more fantastic job growing and scaling your company than you ever could. There are plenty of websites that will help you with this case.
I'd like to think that most people that got involved with a startup did it because they found some passion in an idea they had and wanted to see it come to life. So hopefully not many will take the last step. And hopefully many more will continue to push through the difficult times. Because once you get over the "difficult" part, it becomes easy.