Perhaps one of the least well understood parts of being an entrepreneur is how to incorporate an exit strategy. With all the demands start-ups face, exits often appear low on the “to do” list with the result that CEO’s and their Boards sometimes miss the optimum window. That window often opens before rather than after a company hits its peak because after the peak, the company’s market value may begin to slip. At least that’s the way investors see it.
One pro in the exit arena is Jim Estill, who until 2009 was CEO of Canrock Ventures, a technology investment fund where he remains a partner. Out of 100 angel investments, Jim has been an active participant in about 20 exits. Jim’s advice is to “put exit on the agenda” as soon as you join a board, or start a company. He believes it’s important to start building relationships with potential buyers by courting them at trade shows, for example, and then staying in touch. “Identifying acquirers early,” Jim advises, “provides input for strategic planning to align the company’s activities or descriptive materials with potential buyers’ markets.” He also advises gathering materials to build a selling document periodically by adding anything “helpful to the sale, ” such as financial statements, patent information, legal documents; he also includes links to articles on industry news or sales which provide potentially useful competitive data.