May 14, 201910:44 AMExit Stage Right
with Martha Sullivan
Most powerful secret every entrepreneur should know
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Have you ever heard of ACT-W or Chick Tech? ACT-W stands for Advancing the Careers of Technical Women, which, in concert with Chick Tech, gives women and girls an inclusive platform to pursue careers in all forms of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Last week, I spoke at the ACT-W conference in Chicago. The conference supports women throughout the cycle of their careers in technology — from startup to retirement.
It’s inspiring to see all the women and men — yes, there were a few brave male souls — pursuing interesting work in STEM. Many of the attendees were starting, or dreaming of starting, their own business.
It’s a rare startup bird that thinks about how to land just as they take off. When you start a business, your exit from it seems inconceivable. You must get the sale, do the work, collect the cash, and make a profit. It’s intoxicating. As one attendee posed, “Why would I want to think about giving that away?” Point taken. It’s hard to think about “giving it away.” Yet, it’s crucial to do so.
These women and men are creative, energetic, and bold. They are eager to apply their intelligence to make a better mousetrap. They won’t let themselves get bored — they achieve.
Being in STEM, the chances are that if they start one company, they’ll start a second. Like Inc. magazine’s America's coolest young entrepreneurs, these folks know they’re going to push the envelope in their current gig while already dreaming about the next. They know this about themselves. They often plan their exit from the company right from the start. When the next opportunity comes along that brings them energy and meaning, they’re ready. They build the current company to thrive without them. They seize their opportunities. That’s a powerful mindset, and it’s their secret sauce.
Put yourself in their shoes. If you knew that you were going to “flip” the company some time in the future — be that three years, five years, or maybe longer — what would you do differently? What decisions would you change?
Be honest with yourself. The answer is probably “plenty,” for the simple reason that you’re building something that someone else will see value in. You’re driving forward confident that you will attract someone else to put their money where their mouth is and invest in your company and its lucky charm.
You’ll be aware, every day, that your systems, procedures, relationships, products, etc. must be transferable. No matter how awesome you are, you recognize it’s not about you. It’s about the company delivering its magic to your customers, employees, and communities for years to come — with or without you.
Craig, a former colleague and now serial entrepreneur, expressed this well when we met awhile back. He and his co-founders were building their technology around their customers and supplier network. They were assembling a team and staff able to thrive without its founders. Tribal knowledge was shared, institutionalized, and documented. Decisions were made with an eye on what would create, drive, and grow value for the next owner.