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In startups, what are the advantages of an early exit (say 8 figures) vs. a long term hold and exit (9 figures or more)?

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JASON LEMKIN

Generally speaking, there is no sane reason not to take the first, good exit. You have $0 now. Making $2m, $5m, $10m vs. $0 is so insanely significant. And those extra few millions? Not that important.

Unless you count the size of your house at the Yellowstone Club as personally meaningful, there is no difference between making $5m-$10m and $50m-$500m. Not really. You can take care of your family. Do what you want in this world. Live your life on your own terms. Put the kids through college. Buy a house. You don’t need to roll the dice any further and risk losing it all.

In the first start-up I joined, we sold for $1b quickly thereafter, and I was worth $12m on paper. And then it all evaporated. To $0. It took me years to recover.

So sell. Unless — you can see the future. In a way others can’t. And it says otherwise.

As a first-time founder, your risks are so high. Probably, your bank account is $0 or negative. You’ve put years of your life into this. You have no back-up plan.

And then, after years of hard work, and finally dragging this to million of revenue … you get an offer to sell for $10m. Or $20m. Or $50m. Or whatever.

You have to take it. There are less than a hundreds of this exits a year. And as the price goes up, the buyers get even fewer and farther between.

Anyone logically would tell you to take it. Spock would tell you to take it.

And yet … here’s the thing. Usually … that first pretty good offer comes in just when it is getting good. That’s why and when the first decent offer finally comes in.

You are a founder. You know. You know if you are going to get crushed, or if you’re just getting this darn thing finally off the ground. Finally getting to escape velocity.

If it feels right to push on, don’t sell. If it feels like you are just rounding second, don’t sell.

That feeling distills why we do it all. This crazy thing of starting companies. It is crazy.

If you don’t feel it, though. Take the money and run. Odds are, risk and time adjusted, you’ll never get a better offer again. Or maybe even never another offer at all.

A recent great story on this with Datto’s $1b exit here: A startup founder who let his employees drive his Tesla just sold his billion dollar company — and he credits these 5 ‘mistakes’

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Published on October 28, 2017
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