Saying goodbye to my startup: sometimes you have to know when to give up


Sometimes you just have to know when to give up

Last month I said goodbye to my business.  The official announcement that it is closing went up on Instagram and Facebook.

It had taken some time for me to make this decision.  

In many ways the business was doing really well, the products were award-winning, they’d been stocked in some amazing places, been in the Evening Standard, the Independent, lots of other press.  Blah blah blah.  In other ways it - or rather I - was struggling.  I was making the sweets at home, and keeping up with demand (whilst juggling the demands of children and so on) was really tough.  After a particularly horrendous November and December, I made the decision that I couldn’t make it myself anymore and needed to find a factory to make it.  Unfortunately finding someone to do this for the right price and to the right recipe proved impossible and, well that was that.  

And now the end is near...

This makes it sound all very rational and logical.  Whereas in fact it was very much an emotional process.  Having created this business from nothing, saying goodbye to it - and admitting that it hadn’t been the runaway success I’d hoped it would be - has been tough.  I’ve talked about it incessantly at home, to friends, to fellow entrepreneurs.  Almost fishing for compliments as I delayed making the decision I knew I needed to make.  I needed to give up.

There are so many stories out there of start-ups that go all the way.  “I just made one batch and then the next week we started selling to Waitrose”.  In many ways the difference between glossy Instagram reality vs actual reality for start-ups is equally as extreme as any theme on social media.  We’re all putting out the good news.  People were always saying to me “Oh it’s going so well”.  Because all they saw about the business were the social media posts.  

And in some ways it was going well.  There was good news.  But there was also not so good news.  No one tweets about the time they got conned by a scam artist, or when customers pay what they owe you more than two months late leaving you stressed about cashflow but unable to say anything other than just suck it up.  There aren’t many Instagram posts of skip-loads of redundant food labels and third-degree caramel burns.  We don’t often post on Facebook about tearful long nights wrapping sweets and repetitive strain injuries.  Not to mention the bank balance...

No matter how well it’s going it’s also bloody hard.  For all those out there giving it a go - you are amazing.

And I guess there must be many more of us just making a mild success of things.  For me, that just wasn’t going to be enough to justify the sacrifices I’d have to have made at home.  

Giving up, to be honest, feels like failure.  I haven’t been able to make the business the success I wanted it to be - there is no sailing away on the new yacht bought from the private equity buyout.  But it is the right thing - for me, for my family - and for the business.  

What has been amazing has been the support from so many people - family, close friends, new friends, former work colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs, people I barely know - I’ve been completely blown away.  Emails, messages... The children asking me "Why don't you make sweets any more Mummy?" Over the obligatory farewell G&T, I have welled up several times with the emotion of the whole thing.

As the great philosopher (*ahem* Denzel Washington) once said “You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself.  You will suck at something … Sometimes it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going.” 

So here I am.

And now I’m starting something else: this blog.  Not on my own this time, but with a great friend.   This new project, this blog, may succeed but it could very easily fail.  And I think I’m ready for both.