Tuesday 3 September 2019 5:50 am

Entrepreneurs, learn to let go of your business

Robin Knox is co-founder and chief executive of Boundary.

For many entrepreneurs, successfully selling their business is validation that their years of hard work have paid off. It should be the happiest time of their lives, but it can actually be one filled with mixed emotions. I know this, because that’s what I experienced myself.

In 2012, I co-founded an electronic point of sale business called Intelligent Point of Sale (IPOS). We grew the company over four years until it was eventually acquired by the fintech firm iZettle in 2016, which itself was acquired by PayPal in 2018 for $2.2bn.

My business partner and I exited the business with a package that we were very happy with. But looking back, I realise that there are things I learned through the sale that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

So, to those entrepreneurs who are considering a sale or are in the throes of the process, here are my most important lessons.

It’s about the journey, not the destination

People imagine that a successful acquisition and securing a good financial exit is the high point of growing a business. It’s the final scene in the movie, the “air punch and rock anthem” moment. But for me, the day we signed the deal didn’t feel like a highlight. In fact, it felt bittersweet.

The true highlights were the “little wins”: the first time our product went live; the first time we could afford to treat our team to a great Christmas party; and each and every record sales month. 

Those memories serve as a reminder to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.

Acquisitions require a bit of secrecy 

When you receive an offer of acquisition, the legalities of the bid demand strict confidentiality. 

For us, this was problematic because of the open, transparent culture within our team. I felt conflicted discussing the future of IPOS without the team’s knowledge.

After all, no one likes to be sneaky, but when it comes to acquisitions, a bit of “cloak and dagger” behaviour goes with the territory. 

Prior to iZettle, we had received other notes of interest, but it would have been disruptive to inform our team every time a potential suitor appeared. 

Thankfully, the decision to go with iZettle was in line with the strategic direction already planned for IPOS and helped to accelerate those plans, so the team got on board quickly with the acquisition.

It’s all about the people

I’ve heard of situations where bosses of a newly acquired-company deliver the news to their team on Monday morning and expect “business as usual” by lunchtime. We didn’t want to do that. 

Instead, we took our team to a nice hotel, gave them a short presentation explaining our reasoning, then had a party with an open bar tab. People were free to ask us any questions and talk through what the deal meant for the company and for them personally. 

It was important to us to make sure that we did our best to settle the team and structure things for continued success and fun.

Parting can be such sweet sorrow

My final piece of advice is that entrepreneurs must prepare themselves emotionally and psychologically for the sale. On the day I left, I felt a bit like I’d lost my left arm. We were a close-knit team and had shared many good times over the years. 

Looking back, it’s clear that the memories I treasure most are the ones involving people: building a team; shared successes (and failures); and trusted relationships. I wasn’t prepared for just how difficult it was to leave them all behind.

Main picture credit: Orlando / Three Lions / Getty Images

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