If you are one of the lucky 24 percent of startups to survive you are faced with the task of continuing your success till the day you exit. But now that your business has been a success the energy required to think about or learn an exit strategy may be a large part of ignoring the subject through procrastination. And like many owners before you, thinking about exiting the business comes with a series of tough questions such as, "Where, when, why and how do I leave what I've created." Answering these questions may make you feel very uncomfortable, because the questions may bring to the surface thoughts of your mortality or you partner(s) mortality. And frankly I do not find that anybody really wants to focus on that for very long time. Or it maybe that you're still having the time of your life running your company and the thought of quitting is just unthinkable. .
Last March, here in Colorado, I went skiing with a friend of mine at Copper Mountain. Mind you, I'm an average skier and very aware of this fact. My friend is a much better skier. Since it had been sometime since I had last skied we started on the greens (for those of you who do not ski, greens are the easy slopes) and quickly progressed to the blues (medium skill slopes). At first I felt a little uncomfortable but knew this would pass with more practice and it sort of did. Toward the end of the day I was coming to the realization that I was not in the shape I should be to continue, but I felt I still had enough for a couple more runs. It was during this next run that I soon realized that I could no longer take the falls as gracefully as I had done when I was in my 20's or 30's.
Seeing my friend waiting for me on the slop I went to stop and my tired arms let my pole plant in front of my skies creating a perfect pendulum for my upper body weight to slam into the ground and break four ribs. Then I learned the following lessons. First, being shuttled down the mountain by the ski patrol meant feeling every bump like knifes being thrust into my chest and wishing to God that runs were shorter. Second, that spending the next two and a half weeks sleeping upright in bed meant thanking God for two hours of sleep a night. Thirdly, inconveniencing my wife and kids with lack of mobility and every groan possible was extremely humbling. Fourthly, learning that sneezing with broken ribs means that you experience the feeling of your whole body exploding and then knowing when I was about to sneeze what was to follow.
Even though I thought I was being cautious with my skiing, something still happened that cost me quite a bit of discomfort immediately and for months after. It's how we deal with those uncomfortable thoughts while answering tough questions that may give us either a good result (tough because often we don't always see what could have happened) or a negative result (from where we clearly see a better result that could have happened).
Whatever the reason is, not answering the questions and/or writing them down often is a missed opportunity to further shape how your life will play out or, in the case of the unthinkable, the ability provide more certainty for those you care about.
Hopefully the future of this blog will not only provide you with helpful guidance but also with tough questions that stimulate you past the discomfort and allow you to provide your own answers and an exit strategy.
John Hamel is the Managing Member of Austec Business Transitions, LLC. helping businesses optimize value relative to exiting their company.