The Dumbbell Curve Framework: Deciding When to Quit in Business

One of the toughest decisions to make is whether to continue a business idea or quit it in favor of something else.

Knowing when to quit is an essential skill. Quit to early and you miss out on success. Quit to late and you wasted time, money, and energy.

A mental model that might help you make a decision is: The Dumbbell Curve.

Dumbbell Curve: Grit or Pivot?

The Dumbbell Curve is an inverted normal distribution representing two dominant strategies:

  1. Never quitting and
  2. quitting very quickly.

The Dumbbell Curve: Grit or Pivot?

Most of the advice you can read about persisting and quitting revolves about these two extremes. Either push through—no matter what—or give it a shot and quit quickly.

Have grit or pivot.

The Case for Persistence

Entrepreneurs who adhere to the 'never quit' philosophy believe that grit is key. Successful ventures just take time to gain traction.

Slow initial progress, in their view, is often mistaken for failure, when in reality, it could be building towards a long-term success.

One could argue that immediate success isn’t always repeatable or sustainable. True value often comes from steady growth and the lessons learned along the way.


  • Allows for deep market understanding and refinement of product/service.
  • Builds resilience and adaptability.
  • Slow but steady growth can be more sustainable long-term.


  • Risk of holding onto an unviable idea for too long.
  • Can lead to unnecessary financial drain and emotional stress.

The Quick Pivot Approach

On the other end of the dumbbell, some entrepreneurs advocate for the 'quit quickly' approach.

This strategy is about being agile, recognizing early on whether an idea has the potential to succeed or fail. It's about being lean.

It's about failing fast and moving on to the next venture without much delay. The rationale here is that time and resources are limited, and it’s better to invest them in ideas that show immediate promise.


  • Minimizes time and resource waste on unviable ideas.
  • Allows for quick experimentation and learning.
  • Can lead to discovering a successful idea more rapidly.


  • Might abandon ideas prematurely before they have a chance to develop.
  • Any single venture lacks depth, which might be the single cause for failure.

What to Choose?

Before you start a project, ask yourself:

Can I validate this idea easily or quickly?

If you can do that, use the pivot early approach. If you really know that you can validate the idea and you can't gain traction: Why hold on to this idea?

If you have big questions you need to answer, then you should go with a grit approach. Some of those questions are:

  • What is the market, i.e., the ideal customer?
  • What is the pain point / my unique selling proposition?
  • How should I solve the problem of my customers?

There is a variety of questions that I could add here.

The key takeaway is: If you have a big unknown, show perseverance as long as you can or answered the question.

As soon as you answered the question(s) you know if holding on to the idea is worth it. But be brave enough to ditch the idea, even if it hurts.

Lessons for Entrepreneurs

  1. Each project demands its unique approach. One is a pivot early, the other a stick-to-it project.
  2. Decide before you start whether to pivot/quit early or show perseverance.
  3. Set clear milestones. Define what success and what decision moments look like for each project. This helps you make informed decisions about whether to persist or pivot.
  4. Whether you decide to quit or continue, each venture provides valuable insights. Use these learnings to inform your next move.
  5. Be prepared to shift your strategy as needed. Listen to your gut. Even if you said you'd quit early it might be worth holding onto a project, if it feels right.
  6. Don't fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy: Yes, you may have spent time and resources. But it may not be worth spending more.

And yes, I am totally aware that the last to contradict each other. But that's the beauty about deciding whether to quit or continue: You'll never know for sure if you made the right call.

Only one thing is for sure: You gotta make a decision.