Always plan an exit path to mitigate against existential risks and maximise your upside potential
When we work with start-ups and SMEs, we always ask the exit questions. Have you planned one? Should you? When? Whom? Etc. That is why I picked up “Exit Path: How to Win the Start-up End Game”. A business plan without an exit strategy is only half complete as it leaves unanswered many important strategic questions about the ultimate fate of your start-up — the “who,” “why,” “when,” and “how” of an eventual exit.
Let’s start with the reality; you might have no choice.
- Only one-third of small businesses survive beyond 10 years.
- 75% of start-ups that raise more than $1 million do not manage to return the money invested in them
Exit as an option
Most entrepreneurs and their stakeholders are unwilling to sell until they are desperate to sell, waiting until they have exhausted all viable alternatives to a sale, which is pretty much the lowest selling position they can find themselves in. Exit should always be one of the options. Selling your start-up at the right time, to the right strategic buyer, on the best possible terms is what you should consider as one version of success.
This means it should be part of your information dashboard, your scenario planning and your strategic thinking. You need to keep an eye out on the acquisition landscape and develop relationships with strategic partners.
It takes time
Acquisitions are not created overnight, so this needs to be cultivated, just like any other network connection. So if you have or want to sell, you have done the groundwork. The author calls it courtship, which is not different from account management with clients.
Do not waste time
While you don’t want to wait too long before you start testing the appetite of potential suitors, you don’t want to engage in these discussions prematurely, either. You should open up acquisition discussions with current or potential strategic partners only when you see a clear path to a reasonably successful outcome.