Malcolm De Leo
About Exit Strategies...Do You Even Have One?
When you start an endeavor what do you dream about when you think about it being successful? Most people dream big...sometimes I would argue too big. And no I am not saying follow your dreams or don’t believe you can’t change the world. What I am saying is be practical, be thoughtful, be smart. So what is the second most important question?
What is your exit strategy?
How do I define exit strategy?
All things come to an end at some point. I mean really...we aren’t going to get out of this world alive. Some leaders, founders or rich/famous would say if you don’t dream big you can’t make your dreams come true. Exit strategy is simply answering what line would it take for you to get out and stop whatever you are doing.
Why does it matter?
Without an exit strategy or at least an internal guidepost that might govern this decision, it is very possible to drive yourself to the top of the mountain only to fall down the other side. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean never keep going, growing or reaching for the skies. It means to have the foresight and maturity to know when it’s time to go. It's like an internal metronome that is constantly going back and forth so as you try to reach your True North, you are making sure to think through the downside risk of sprinting forward. It is also about showing the maturity to weight the odds on living to fight another day and go bigger next time rather than keep running faster into the brick wall.
Why do I think having an exit strategy shows maturity?
While I have never started a company (well I guess I am a company) in the startup sense of the word, but I have sat next to and spent time with leaders of all sorts. And I have learned one thing very clearly; when I meet a founder and I ask them what their exit strategy is if they answer to grow a great company with a billion dollar exit, I kind of want to run. Why? Not because that isn’t a noble goal or even the right one, it is because these leaders have ego dreams in their eyes. A mature founder is open to the right exit strategy, not the biggest one. If you told me I had a 40% chance when starting that I could sell this practice for $50MM dollars or a 5% chance to sell it for $300MM, I would think heavily about what my exit strategy is. And frankly, it doesn’t mean that 5% chance is worth going after, it is the wisdom to know that it could be one or the other and that you should simply be open to the first possibility as much if not even more than the second. Selling one thing only to build another is certainly a good way to go too.
Putting it into practice?
After you think about your True North you need your exit strategy. Bringing both concepts together is the simple idea of where am I trying to get there and what am I going to do with myself once I get there? A wise friend taught me to start with the end in mind. What defines the end and what you do at the end are really important things to think through before you take your first step. When you do this and do so wisely...you run the risk of being successful over and over again which is usually the goal at hand!