Books

Cashing out of a business, smartly

Chandu Nair | Updated on May 09, 2021

Title: The Art of a Happy Exit: How Smart Entrepreneurs Sell Their Businesses Author: K Srikrishna Publisher: Harper Business Price: ₹499

The book draws upon diverse experiences of entrepreneurs to highlight the need for an exit strategy

In these heady days of Unicorns, Decacorns and more, many people forget one thing — that such stories are the exception, not the norm in entrepreneurship and business. The other thing they forget is valuation is only one part of the game; the key is to actually be able to realise the gains and monetise it successfully. Very few are able to manage this aspect.

Most entrepreneurs fall into what I call the “Abhimanyu Trap” — they know how to enter business, they may figure out how to stay there, but they sure as hell don’t know how the heck to get out. Which is why Srikrishna’s book is useful and timely at a time when India is in the grip of a start-up wave, with everyone and his uncle believing he has the next best thing to idli with podi!

As Ashok Soota remarked about this book, “The Art of a Happy Exit by Srikrishna, teaches you everything you needed to know about selling your business but were afraid to ask.”

Lack of awareness

An exit strategy is not something that most entrepreneurs consciously think of while starting and running a business. The ‘busy-ness’ of keeping it going occupies their minds to the exclusion of the singularly important question: What exactly am I doing all this for? And for whom?

Despite this lack of awareness, knowledge and preparedness, thousands of companies are bought and sold every year.

Srikrishna’s book draws upon the diverse experiences of several entrepreneurs in the US and India to help entrepreneurs understand why an exit strategy is important, how to get prepared and what all it entails. It is also structured in a practical way — it takes a close look at the ‘Inside Game’ and the ‘Outside Game’ with a bunch of how-to lists, tools to help you navigate this tough path.

The ‘Outside Game’ refers to positioning, prospecting, finding professional partners, negotiating, structuring and executing while the ‘Inside Game’ points to “the mental and emotional preparation needed even while retaining customers, employees and the business.”

The lived experiences and stories of entrepreneurs help illustrate the practical dimensions of exit — the agony, the ecstasy and many things in between.

Right from the story of Barry Chandler in Chapter I, who found the issue of cultural mismatch between his fourth company and the acquiring company too much to handle, to Jane Grote Abell, who bought back the pizza business that McDonald’s acquired from her father, to Phanindra Sama, who revolutionised online bus ticketing in India before moving on to non-entrepreneurial endeavours, Srikrishna gives a flavour of the issues and challenges confronting different entrepreneurs in different industries and geographies to draw connections and lessons.

Srikrishna has neatly structured his book, too, with sections whose titles are self-explanatory:

A framework to sell: Where he introduces the concept of the Inside Game and Outside Game, then juxtaposes that with Your Needs and Others Needs and divides into three phases — Before, During and After

Before you sell: Figuring out why you want to sell, what your monthly nut (effective income needed to maintain a certain lifestyle), understanding your entrepreneurial motivations and purpose

Know what others want: Understanding your team’s aspirations, role of family (emotionally and monetarily, especially if they also have a stake in the business), and investors needs

During the sale: Determining whether to use professional advisors, lawyers and accountants and their roles

The Game is afoot: Understanding the sale process and bringing key people into confidence

After the sale: Realising that life is not the same and accepting certain things, figuring out integration uses and when/how to stay away

Happily ever after: Where he neatly summarises key facets of this tome

There’s a useful appendix on the Nuts and Bolts of Deal Making.

Missing elements

What’s missing? As Srikrishna himself acknowledges in his dedication (My wife and daughters). “wish there were more women entrepreneurs featured in this book”. The experiences and perspectives of women entrepreneurs, in my view, are quite different and that would have added greatly to the utility and value of this endeavour.

Two, some may have wanted the current flavours of the day — the fintech, edtech, food delivery businesses covered too. In his defence, it can be said that the issues and approach that Srikrishna has outlined are industry, and I daresay, geography agnostic as well.

Third, the stories of the entrepreneurs are informative and have interesting lessons. It might have helped if Srikrishna used some elements of his framework to analyse each story to educate the reader on what could have been done better or differently.

Overall, these are minor issues in what is a useful addition to the armoury of resources that today’s entrepreneurs have at their disposal to navigate the challenging journey of entrepreneurship

The reviewer is an entrepreneur advisor-investor. Disclosure: The reviewer was one of 20 entrepreneurs interviewed by the author for this book

Published on May 09, 2021

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