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I recently completed a pitch deck for my newly launched company iazo, and it reminded me about the almost alien concept of an exit strategy. As an entrepreneur and founder of several tech startups, I’ve been hearing about exit strategies for years. I must confess that the first time I heard that term I thought, why would someone want an exit? I mean, if you worked for years to build something from the ground up, why would you ever want to leave? To me, this was indeed an alien concept!
Well, I now know better, and there are of course a myriad of good reasons to build a company and engineer a highly profitable exit. I’m not here today to argue against founders who exit their creations. To each their own! Instead I want to argue for something that I believe in, the “no exit strategy.”
There’s another term that goes hand-in-hand with the concept of an exit, the so-called serial entrepreneur. I’ve been labeled this from time to time, and it never ever sits right with me. Yes, it’s true, I have founded several companies, sold some of them, and rebooted with something brand new. But in my case every venture I have started was with the intention of building something permanent for myself. If I exited a business and started something new, it was because that business wasn’t going to make it, or rather, make it the way I wanted.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. No business is forever, and every business will ultimately perish. But that’s another subject entirely.
What I am questioning is why do us entrepreneurs found businesses in the first place? I imagine the answer to this question is as varied as the number of entrepreneurs on the planet. So I will answer this for myself, and this is key to my argument today.
I’m a person who finds value and purpose in the creation of original things. Years ago I was a full-time musician, and in those days I took great satisfaction in composing original piano music. Years later when I actually had to make money I started to create businesses for myself. And then something both ironic and remarkable happened. I realized that creating a business could also be an expression of my art, or rather, my need to create original things.
For me, being an entrepreneur is the perfect joining of sustainability and creative expression.
Many entrepreneurs seem to be focused on the idea of creating a business, getting funding, growing value in that business, and then taking a strategic and well-timed exit (and maybe repeating this cycle). But I argue why not grow value in a business and allow that value to enrich your life and the lives of others? You may be asking, what exactly do I mean by value? Well, I am not talking about money, or at least, not only about money!
Sure, money is important and most of us need it. The main purpose of a business is to generate profit. However, a successful business can create value in many other ways and forms. When a founder sticks with their business long-term, that business will never lose its original creative vision and it will have a much greater chance of success. Even if the founder pivots the purpose of their business, it is still an expression of who they are. Businesses with their original founders tend to treat employees better, and those employees share in the success of the founder.
I can’t speak for every entrepreneur, but speaking for myself and the company I have spent years to create, I can’t imagine ever taking an exit! I want to create value in a business that improves my life, the life of my family, team members, and customers. This is the kind of value I am really advocating for, and it comes from long-term sustainability and dedication to my creation. A business can indeed serve a greater purpose than an exit. I would also argue that if you exit your business at the peak of its success you are indeed robbing yourself of the long-term benefits I’m advocating for.
Perhaps I am speaking to the heart of more entrepreneurs than I realize. But I’ve been hearing about exit strategies for too much. So, if you’re creating a business, please consider the no exit strategy, and I think you’ll find it far more rewarding, at least in the long run!
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