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On exiting my start-up

'With great pain' that's how I exited both of my start-ups.


Talking to a team of founders last week they asked me how I exited the agency that I co-founded and built for over 10 years. They asked what advice would I give to my thirtysomething self when launching a start-up?


Hindsight is like the passing lights at the rear of a ship, you don't see them until they have gone by.


My honest answer to their question was painfully.


The cocktail of financial valuations between partners and sunk cost both tug in opposite directions between founders. We all invested a lot of time, sweat, pivots, productisation, did jobs we barely could spell the name of let alone have the knowledge to competently deliver.


Every day was a school day.


When it came to exit time you can't underestimate the personal emotions around the 'right decision' and 'next step'. You can screw both yourself and your co-founders over.


Now, more than 3 years ago I can, at last, reflect and marvel at the wonderful challenges, the wins, the brothers-in-arms comradery, the personal growth, the support, and the opportunity and freedom a start-up provides.


So, what was the piece of advice I would give my thirty-something self around the exit?


Plan for it at the beginning. Discuss the terms at the outset when there is no skin in the game. It's just admin at that point. Store it in your company cloud until the day. Like a start-up pre-nup. Instead of hanging over you, it's security that you build on.


And let's be honest all start-ups have 4 fates: sale, split, fail, or lifestyle. All conclusions fit into one of those buckets, more or less. Even though I truly believe that we smashed it, all roads lead to one of those 4 outcomes.


Was it the right decision, hell yeh. Do I respect my co-founder hell yeh. Would I do it again ... my older and wise self has learned when to say no.




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