Selling my business was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But when I found myself doubting, I realised there were some things I wanted to tell my younger self (my founder thoughts)
Selling my business was possibly one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make - and the one that brought me the most satisfaction when it finally did happen. But the path was far from straightforward. So, I thought I would share how I decided to sell, then didn’t sell, then sold - and what I would tell myself if I could go back in time to when I was working in my pyjamas trying to launch the business.
That Time I Didn’t Sell My Company
I recently shared the story of how I thought I had sold my business. In particular, how I met with buyers and their advisors during two days of back-to-back meetings and how BeSlick allowed us to show exactly how we had embedded our processes in the company.
One day into these meetings, as the team was sitting around the table, we decided to go out in the evening. London has plenty of nice restaurants, so we picked one and headed off to it. Now, I had been sitting there the whole day, watching these meetings develop. During this meal, I realised I was actually having second thoughts. I found myself suddenly thinking: Why am I doing this? Do I really want to sell this business?
So, I looked around the table and I thought: Everybody here is going to be making money out of this. But what I am doing is exchanging something that is worth a lot for some cash.
When you sell a car, for example, you don’t actually make money. You exchange something that is worth a certain amount for the equivalent in cash. And in this case, I was selling my business and everyone was getting a pay-out, advisors were getting huge commissions, purchasers were getting big bonuses and my team were getting to sell their shares. All of that only happens if I sell the business. Even though the decision had felt set in stone before, I couldn’t stop thinking: Do I really want to do this?
So as we are walking down the road I tell my wife I’m having second thoughts. To which she replies:
Well, you don’t have to sell it, do you? I thought: Perhaps I don’t. I sat through the next day of meetings and then spent the next days, staying up most of the night, taking notes, writing pros and cons and trying to decide whether I should sell or not.
This went on for a whole week, during which I felt immense pressure from everyone involved to do the deal. I turned to my advisor, who is now a good friend, but I couldn’t help but feel that he was totally conflicted in this deal. Advisors get a big sum of money when these deals are successful; well-deserved, in fact, because that’s his business and he puts a lot of effort in it. If I pull out, he doesn't get that, and I was painfully aware of it.
So, he’s explaining how this is a great deal, and trying to sell the positives of it. I was still unsure, so I called up a friend’s partner who is a corporate finance advisor. He had no interest in this deal at all, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with him. I wanted to know, first, if he thought I was getting the right value for it. But I also wondered if there was anything else I should be doing or trying. I guess my mind was sort of made up from that second I started doubting. I just needed to talk about it with someone else (someone not directly involved with any of this) first.
A week later I had to make the difficult call. I reached out to the CEO of the purchasing company and I told him I had changed my mind. I was pulling out. By then, I had already disclosed all my client names to my competitor, but these things happen. I just knew I had to do it, there was no going back (or, in this case, going forward).
This had a big impact on my team, which is something I wasn’t really expecting. I thought everybody in it would be fine with this decision. I confess, I was probably a bit self-centred when going through this process. I didn’t stop to consider things from their point of view. Most were okay, but there were a couple of people who were very annoyed. I had waived the offer a large sum of money in front of them and then taken it away. I can understand why they were a bit miffed.
That Time I Did Sell My Company
When it finally happened, I wasn’t expecting that sale to feel so emotional. It was a very different feeling to what I’d had six months previously. I was actually very happy with my decision. In fact, it was one of the few times I’ve cried in my life - and perhaps the only time I’ve cried in happiness. It wasn’t about the money at all, it was about the validation. The fact that I knew, then, I had actually built something good.
The company was, obviously, a successful business; worth a lot of money. But somehow, selling it was a culmination of all the effort I had put into that idea. As I was driving home that night, I was feeling ecstatic. The image I kept going back to was me in my pyjamas, working from six in the morning till nine at night, always on the phone trying to get those first clients on board. Day after day, with no guarantee the business would make any money. My wife had been there the whole time too, seeing how miserable I looked. She instantly saw this time, it was different too.
All of this got me thinking: How nice would it be to go back to that person and reassure them that it would all work out? And I don’t mean in terms of money. I mean in terms of success and in terms of pride. Or even just to provide the simple reassurance that it would all be worth it.
Imagine Mentoring Your Younger Self…
I always found that concept of meeting your early self quite interesting. A complete impossibility unless we’re talking about a sci-fi film. But still, the idea that you can have a conversation with your younger self can be quite an emotional and powerful thing to think about.
In a way, you would become your own mentor. Of course, if I could have told that younger me that things were going to work out, that would have alleviated so much of that pressure I felt - which is something I imagine most founders go through, too. If only we could go back and tell ourselves all that hard work pays off!