Some days it seems unbelievable but it has been a full decade since sellingKariera.gr, the company we founded in 1997 along with Fanis Rigas, to CareerBuilder.com, in what was the first major exit for a startup made in Greece.
Since then, both myself and Fanis had a wonderful journey throughout different geographies, industries and roles and now, 10 years older (and hopefully wiser), I try to summarize the main lessons of this amazing experience in 10 bullet points.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so while these 10 points make a lot of sense for me today, I have to admit that not all of them guided me from the beginning, so I am using what I found out during these 10+10 years of my professional journey as a guide for my next endeavors and I do suggest to take it at face value. Advice is a difficult sport, in any case, and these are my personal views and only.
So here we go:
- The best way to sell your company is not thinking about selling your company: grow your startup to gain market share, but always shoot for a healthy and profitable business, not just a fancy “toy” for the startup community to talk about. Clean up your house: proper book-keeping, accounting and legal documentation, unsexy as they may sound, should be priority zero from the first day.
- Clean up your house: proper book-keeping, accounting and legal documentation, unsexy as they may sound, should be priority zero from the first day.
- Reward your people but be careful on equity distribution: You should always be generous with the best people of your team. But be very careful on equity, as with investments coming in, you don’t want to end with a super-diluted stake.
- Get paid when the company can afford it (and only then): This has a dual meaning, both that you need to get paid, as you do work for the company, but also don’t exaggerate on it. Your real value on this process is created by growing the value of your equity, not from a 6 figure pay check.
- Expose your company in the international scene: Especially if you are based in a small market like we did with Kariera.gr, you need to be bold and break the geographical boundaries. Even if it is only to get to know people and trends from your industry.
The best way to sell your company is not thinking about selling your company.
6. Be bold but not arrogant: Yes, you managed to survive the first 12-18 months and raise the first serious round. This is an amazing achievement and places you in the top 5% of startups. Now plan carefully the next steps and act as a CEO, balancing investment with ROI. Its not about the MVPs or the news stories anymore, its about building a solid business that makes money for its investors.
7. Negotiate when you don’t have to sell: Unless you have a crazy offer in front of you (where my advice is just take it and move on), wait until you can afford not to sell, before you enter in a negotiation for an exit.
8. Be ready to say no (or yes for that matter): Set a target price for your company before an exit negotiation starts and withdraw from the deal if it doesn’t cover it. But also sell if the deal is fitting your criteria. Being greedy rarely pays off. Know what you want in advance and move according to plan.
9. Don’t spend your exit money before the exit: Both on a personal level or on a company one, make sure that you only start spending investment rounds or exit money once they are cleared in your bank account. Deals fall off everyday literally at the last minute. Better be safe than broke.
10. Wait some years before you invest: In case you do achieve an exit, then have a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant with your team, get a nice weekend with your significant other, family or friends and then just forget about having these money for a couple of years. Explore opportunities and make baby steps as an investor. You may have proved to be an excellent entrepreneur, but you are most certainly a below average investor (at least I was).
Don’t spend your exit money before the exit.
But most of all, enjoy the journey and appreciate that you have the chance to get to create amazing products, make an impact and cooperate with the best people out there. And most probably this is going to be just the beginning: once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur!