It’s the ultimate goal of an entrepreneurial venture – a good exit. Yet the odds are against the entrepreneur – most ventures fail. It often is a harder journey than expected. Getting to a good exit typically requires a bold vision, the right team, persistence, many pivots, hard work, some luck, and much more. For those on the right track, however, it’s never too early to prepare for an exit. At the recent Colorado Capital Conference sponsored by Rockies Venture Club (RVC), an all-star cast of successful entrepreneurs shared their stories and lessons learned. See “Seeking More Exits – Part I” for the first three Practical Pointers.
Here are three more Practical Pointers from recent Colorado entrepreneurial stars that may help you attract good exits:
4. Discern and live by CORE VALUES. For Rally Software, 2013 has held unprecedented recognition and success. Following its successful April 2013 public offering, Rally delivered on its founding promise to give back to the community and donated more than $1.3 million to the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado and the Rally for Impact Foundation. It was just ranked No. 182 on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500™, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and clean technology companies in North America. WOW! CEO and co-founder Tim Miller said, “The success we’ve experienced and the awards we’ve received this year are tremendous validation of all our core values and a reflection of our employees’ dedication and hard work.” Ryan Martens, co-founder and CTO, shared at #2013CCC, “Our unique culture is based on five core values: trust & respect, collaboration, create your own reality, living agile, and balance work & life. We state those values, make them visible, hire/fire around these, and live them. It’s not about the money. I wasn’t afraid to be diluted. We didn’t plan for an IPO but it became a reality that this was a nice path. Our team executed flawlessly and the JOBS Act helped.”
5. Get CUSTOMER Validation. John Spiers, CEO and Founder of NexGen Storage, also has a story of entrepreneurial lightning striking twice, first with his sale of LeftHand Networks to HP and this year’s sales of NexGen to Fusion-io for $119M. “Don’t be afraid to follow your passion. Remember that ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself.’ Don’t get discouraged. Be able to pivot. Listen to the advice from others. The CEO must never stop raising money – spend 50% of the time fundraising even after you just close a round. Keep talking and building relationships. A good CFO is very important and worth the weight of gold. Build a great product and company, the rest will come. Having customer validation is the most important thing.”
6. Build relationship with possible ACQUIRERS. Steve Georgis, CEO of LineRate, learned many hard lessons as a CEO. “It is possible to raise too much money. At Network Photonics, we raised $120M. What kind of exit do you need to be a success? There exist uncontrollable market factors – we did our company launch in NYC on 9-11. Sometimes emerging markets do not emerge. After the bubble burst, our two biggest customers were gone. We gave a lot of that money back. Now with LineRate we deliberately asked, who are possible acquirers? They were possible competitors. With board approval, we decided to engage and tell them what we were doing. It is never too early to think of exit strategy and to determine who are possible acquirers, what would be their reasons for acquiring us, and how we would validate the market for them. We only told half the story – we told them what we did, we did not tell them we had a different way.”
Have hope. Consider Meg Hansson, Lifetime Esprit Entrepreneur Award winner in Boulder County and inventor of the baby carrier, who has 8 start-ups behind her including the successful acquisition of her company Gerry Baby Products to Evenflo. There are many stories of good exits.
As Peter Adams, Executive Director, RVC said, “Promote exits.” Let others know that good things are happening. Entrepreneurs, start with the end in mind!