We love a good exit story on ArcticStartup. Applifier's acquisition by Unity got the Helsinki entrepreneurs excited, and quick and eventually lackluster build-up to the Swedish-founded King IPO was fun to speculate on. For us in the media business, an exit puts a big fat dollar sign next to a company name, which drives traffic and likes.
Looking at a picture bigger than our Facebook page, exits are also the lifeblood of the startup ecosystem; they re-finance investors and keep this party going. But there's a knowledge gap. What does the average entrepreneur know about selling their company, other than a general hope that Google will approach them about it someday?
Exits are happening faster than you would think. Looking at CB insights’ worldwide data, 2013 saw 67% of startup exits in the seed or series A. While some of this could be attributed to acquihires in the so-called Series A crunch, it means that entrepreneurs should have some plans about their exit sooner than the B or D rounds most entrepreneurs imagine their exits happening in.
These days, no one is building a digital startup to become a revenue stream they hope to pass onto their children (Rovio seems to be the exception), and IPOs are hard road to travel down. What's left is the acquisition, which is likely the least-understood business process to any entrepreneur or investor.
Despite our conference in Helsinki, Arctic15: Exit Path, having "exit" right there in the name, we're talking about plenty of other topics than just the exit. That being said, we've invited the guy who wrote the (a) book on exits, Dr. Basil Peters, startup M&A advisor and author of Early Exits.
Peters will also be hosting a half-day long workshop on the afternoon of May 26th, the day before the Arctic15 starts, where angels and entrepreneurs will get the opportunity to dig deep into preparing and timing their company for an exit. In workshops around the U.S., Peters has been selling out workshops priced around $200-400, but we're hosting the workshop for just €150. Tickets can be found here.
We reached out to him with a few questions.
ArcticStartup: A lot of the received wisdom I've heard is "Don't worry about the exit too early, just focus on building up your company." Should entrepreneurs just focus on growth, or should they have some sort of exit strategy in place?
Basil Peters: It is true that people often say entrepreneurs should just focus on the company. That’s especially a thing for venture capital investors to say. But for 99% of companies thats bad advice for a few reasons. One of these reasons is that every company should have a clear exit strategy before they contact the first investors, and the reason is that different investors are compatible with different exit strategies. Some people that have built valuable companies have lost companies by adding in the wrong investors that weren’t compatible with the exit vision.
The question of the optimum exit strategy depends on sevelar different things. One factor is the type of company (different companies have different optimum exit strategies, which is something I talk about in the workshop). And second is the goals of the entrepreneurs - which is not what entrepreneurs often stop to ask themselves. And third is the point in the economic cycle.
Another way to say this is that with any business process, if you don't have a clear visualization of what your goal is, its hard to get there.
ArcticStartup: What's the difference you see when it comes to experienced angels and rookie angels when it comes to exits?
Peters:Experienced angels have seen several exits and that gives them a perspective about what works around the exit strategy. Thats tremendously helpful. It varies in different regions of the globe, but even in the most developed areas angels are still learning about exits. This is an exit environment that we haven’t seen before similar to the late 90's so there's still a learning curve we're adapting to.
ArcticStartup: Can you give us a hint what you'll speak about in your workshop or talk?
Peters: What I try to do is give both entrepreneurs and investors a half a day summary of all the things they can be doing to improve the chances they can have for a successful exit in their companies. I wish it was a week long workshop, but what I try to do is give people a good overview and the most important tools and to know how to find deeper material when its time to start.
Vector emergency exit signs set by Shutterstock