Why I’m not an exit type of entrepreneur

Let me preface this post by saying that I absolutely respect the decision to exit and find nothing wrong with it.

As a co-founder, I’ve done it a couple of times in my career, until I realized there’s something I’m missing out on:

the value of the lasting journey.

Call me a sentimentalist or a sappy idealist but I see founding a startup as my life’s work, something that is incredibly hard to let go of from an emotional standpoint.

These days, it seems most founders and entrepreneurs write their big exit into their business plans and personal finances. The grass may be greener (quite literally in $$ terms) but they don’t recognize there’s more to it than generating a capital return. They fail to see that there’s something else to lose – an entire lifetime of life-affirming experiences.

Playing the long term game and being the master or your domain

What I mean by those experiences is that you can never entirely know how you’re going to evolve and what you’re going to become. That in itself is a big deal because I think that’s the fun part. Success doesn’t come quick nor easy so if you learn to embrace the experiences and have fun along the way, it helps a lot – especially for your mental wellbeing.

The journey I’m talking about is the path we take to growing personally and professionally. It includes all the people we work with, all the failures we had and the money we lost, all the trials and tribulations that once stood in our way. It’s what makes entrepreneurship appealing and, ultimately, worthwhile.

Despite all the uncertainty that comes with the territory, there’s another major thing I love: you get to keep control. You can continue to strive toward what your company wants to stand for. By being in the driver’s seat, you get to be whatever ideal you want to represent.

Sure enough, carrying out your exit strategy and selling the company gets you over the finish line. That’s how the game is set: you’re supposed to generate investment returns for your investors and shareholders, in most cases.

But for me, it’s ultimately a loss because it’s your baby, one you raised and nurtured. It’s a win to grow it, be globally big, and most importantly – live out your dream. Companies like SodaStream and Check Point are great examples of multinational companies that, through focused leadership and technological innovation, became Israel’s global ambassadors with massive reach and game-changing impact.

The “rules” dictate the game

One day, I’d love to see a ‘zero exits’ movement gain serious momentum in Israel. I’m a massive believer in empowering Israeli entrepreneurs to believe and succeed in building self-reliant companies, regardless of whether they’re private or public, and not selling them. 

Whether this ever catches on is another matter because of the way the “game” is set.

If you’re eyeing a VC (which most founders are), an exit strategy will be a must-have point in your business plan. Almost every investor needs to see an attainable way toward an exit and a return on their capital to even consider you. 

There are two major problems that happen as a result, the first one being numerous entrepreneurs I know and admire rushing to their exit endgame.

I was always under the impression that the faster you aim to do something, the less satisfactory it becomes, especially in this line of work where there are no shortcuts. Of course, personal considerations and investors often dictate what, where, when, and how, but there is far more to what makes success than the endgame. 

When you receive a certain amount of money to step aside, it’s game over. Then what? Do the same thing again, this time for maybe more money?

I don’t see the thrill of it. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you never really arrive at the end, you just keep going. There’s that cliche of enjoying what you’re doing while you’re doing it because it’s true. You really do if your goal is beyond money.

Yet, once the exit does happen, something peculiar happens: founders get stuck after they sell their companies because they don’t know what to do next. 

I see it all the time, and I believe it’s because many entrepreneurs don’t realize that everything you go through is a huge part of the exit. Companies don’t buy businesses just because of their bottom line (although that’s a big, often deciding factor), they buy people as well.

They buy the way you handle things, how you lead people, the camaraderie within, the way you project your company’s brand, and a dozen other interlocking details. 

Your name is your brand, one that is a result of people frequently correlating your journey and the person you are. 

In some cases, founders stay along for the ride, either of their own volition or stipulated by an exit agreement to maintain consistency and value for a certain period. I know a few entrepreneurs who embrace the idea of a strategic acquisition, where they are relieved of all responsibilities and control in the founding company. Sometimes, I envy them for how they can let go so easily. I can’t. For me, there’s more to it than celebrating the amounts of investment raised, peak valuations, and getting closer to that inevitable exit.

Final thoughts

I want to challenge the assumption that an acquisition or exit is always good; the ultimate successful outcome that startups aspire to. That big payday you work for as you sacrifice the fundamentals now for untold rewards in the future… Doesn’t seem worth it.

All I can say is – have a long, hard think about what you and your team would like to get and what you’ll actually get out of an exit. Whether it will make sense or not is up to you.

About the Author
Ronen Menipaz is an Israeli investor, entrepreneur, tech advisor, and founder of numerous business ventures in the entertainment, adtech, and fintech space, as well as the co-host of the Real Life Superpowers podcast. During his 25 years of entrepreneurial experience, Ronen has been involved with over 100 startups in Israel, 30 of which he founded or co-founded. Two of those startups went public, while five were sold and four more are currently privately profitable companies.
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