What Does the Word "Exit" Really Mean?

What's your exit plan? I used to ask that question daily while interviewing technology executives. But once I stepped away from day-to-day news reporting, I began to rethink the question -- and the potential answers.

Too often, entrepreneurs and technology leaders define an "exit" as huge financial event -- perhaps an IPO or a lucrative company sale. As we plug into the mainstream media and social media streams, we become obsessed with big valuations and Billion Dollar Startups -- so-called unicorns

It's time for a reality check. When Amy Katz and I sold our previous company to Penton in 2011, we clearly stated that it wasn't an exit strategy. Instead, the deal was an acceleration strategy -- an effort to gain new IT, marketing, sales and content resources for our brands.

After lots of team building and business building, our personal exits arrived in May 2014. At that point, Amy and I each decided to leave the business to recharge, reconnect with our respective families, and rethink our life-work balance. By September 2014, we reemerged here at After Nines Inc.

Over the past 15 months or, I've spent considerable time at angel investor meetings, listening to entrepreneurs pitch their vision while asking for cash to fuel their businesses. I'll listen to the latest round of pitches tonight at a Launch Pad Long Island gathering hosted by NYIT.

I applaud entrepreneurs who chase the big dollars, the big dreams and the big exit.

Again, What Is An Exit?

But I'm starting to spend far more time thinking about the rest of us -- the lifestyle entrepreneurs who are building healthy, rewarding businesses.

Alas, the vast majority of lifestyle entrepreneurs have no exit plan. And that's a problem. Forget the IPO and big M&A dreams. I'm talking about basic exit plan that describes how company ownership will transition once the founder retires. Or, what's the plan if the business suffers a catastrophic executive loss -- such as the death of the owner?

Some plans -- if they exist -- involve employees acquiring the business. Others involve the business passing from one family generation to the next. But in most cases, there's no plan at all.

That's a grave mistake. We're all going to exit at some point. In the endless war against Father Time, we all ultimately lose. But our businesses can stand the test of time as ownership transitions from one leadership team to the next. We might as well exit on our terms -- with the best valuation possible. 

Got an exit plan? I'd love to hear about it on background. We can keep the conversation confidential. Feel free to email me (Joe@AfterNines.com).

Subscribe: Want to receive our blog headlines in your inbox each business day (except Fridays, when we're off the grid)? Then subscribe to our enewsletter. Thanks to those who already have.