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Thoughts from the UKIF Membership

Richard Atkinson - Beyond the Point of Rational Quitting

Richard is Chief Executive of Second Mile Ltd and is an experienced technology entrepreneur who has led start-ups in the cleantech, automotive, communications, defence and software sectors. This week he writes.


It was about four years ago that I said quietly to Reg, “I think… you might want to think carefully… about whether it’s time to get a job.”

Reg’s business was out of cash.  Reg himself was out of cash.  Indeed, Reg’s family’s nest egg had been converted from cash first to hope, and thence to gloom.  I myself had agreed to work at risk to try to pull it out of the impasse.  And now the last of the realistic sales prospects had gone cold on us.  Things looked approximately as bleak as they can get before the  bailiffs start carrying your furniture away.

With the last sales prospect evaporating we stood at the point of rational quitting.  I mentally wrote off my pay, and did so.  Reg hung on in there.  I’d hear from him every few months or so, scratching a living from small teaching gigs while pushing on with his dream.  He was indisputably determined, but I couldn’t help wondering whether he’d ever break the surface from his long deep dive.

What makes entrepreneurs put themselves through it?  Three main types I think:

  1. The Visionary:  A few really can see further than the rest of us and know their idea will be vindicated if they can hang in there.  Often paradoxically open to input and doubt.
  2. The Deluded:  Externally similar to (1), internally the opposite.
  3. The Gambler:  Can only now recover if he wins big, so risk calculus distorted.

It’s a question most entrepreneurs face at some point.  Persevere, pivot, quit? When does tenacity become obstinacy, vision hallucination?

Clearly many entrepreneurial wins happen beyond the point of rational quitting.  But it’s equally clear that the life-wrecking train smashes happen out there too.  You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, but knowing how to know seems still to be a game of guesswork.


I’m not sure Reg ever really knew himself.  But he did send me a cheque last week.

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