A few weeks ago I gave some suggestions on how to build a company for exit, but today I wanted to write a more personal entry about the emotions tied to being part of an exit. My post today is not meant to apply to everyone; as I wrote previously some will find creating a long-term profitable business very satisfying. But for me—and many of you that I know—there is no better feeling in business than the day you are part of big M&A transaction.
It is like winning the World Cup or Super Bowl or NCAA Championship (though obviously I have never been part of any of these): A combination of pure joy, relief, camaraderie and satisfaction.
- Joy. From the time we are young, there is a thrill when we win. It starts the first time you kick a soccer ball into the goal or beat your parent at checkers. The more important the “game,” the bigger the thrill. When you win the World Cup, it is the biggest win a soccer player can have. When you sell your company or go public, it is the biggest professional win you can have.
- Relief. Given the importance of winning at this level, the risk of failing is the elephant in the room until that win is in the books. In sports, one Hail Mary pass (ask the Denver Broncos) or a 30-second meltdown (ask the San Antonio Spurs) can take away this achievement in the blink of an eye. In business, every week deals fall through at the last minute. The relief that you did not blow the lead or that your deal did not fall through adds a major layer to the enjoyment of the moment.
- Camaraderie. Very few exits are attributable to one person. A great company (and who would buy a not great company?) almost always has a great management team. The thrill and joy when the deal closes is magnified by the ability to share it with colleagues who were also contributors to the win. Just as Mariano Rivera jumps into Jorge Posada’s arms after winning the World Series because it is a team victory, you feel a heightened thrill sharing the exit with the colleagues who got you there. That is also why I liken the exit to winning the World Cup or Super Bowl and not to an individual championship like Wimbledon or The Masters.
- Satisfaction. Although athletes, entrepreneurs and other professionals often strive for a balanced life, in reality to reach the top level you put almost everything into your sport or business. Winning the penultimate event in a way is recognition that those efforts were effective, you achieved what you set out to achieve. Very, very few people actually are an integral part of an exit (given the relative amount of professional football players and entrepreneurs, a much smaller percentage of entrepreneurs ever sell their company), and joining that elite group adds to the thrill.
As I said at the beginning of this post, it is an incredible feeling to be part of a big exit. There is nothing else quite like it (except maybe winning the World Cup). So although this post is a little more personal than most without the actionable point I normally try to include, I will end with one piece of advice. Savor the moment around the exit. As Dan Marino famously told Ben Roethlisberger when Ben got to the Super Bowl as a rookie, “Although it may feel easy, you never know when or if you will get there again … so enjoy it.”