When I started Return Path in the froth of the Internet boom in 1999, someone told me I should hire a writer to follow me around and record everything that happened in the formative weeks and months of the business. The person actually said to me, “You can publish a book about how quickly you built and sold the business—it will be called Ready, Set, Exit.”
One of the most unfortunate stereotypes about startup CEOs is that we’re only in it for the exit: the business equivalent of real estate investors who flip a dozen properties a year. That may describe some startup CEOs but it shouldn't describe you.
There is no such thing as an exit strategy for a great company. There are only growth strategies, customer development strategies and global expansion strategies. Great companies might be bought but they're rarely sold. Work hard to build a great company and you might get bought—at an amazing price. Work hard at selling your company and somebody might pick up the scraps.
Exits and Liquidity
Tim Miller is the chairman and CEO of Rally Software (which completed a successful initial public offering while I was writing this book) since 2003 and is singularly focused on making Rally Software a great company. Rally and Return Path are companies that have been leading parallel lives in the Boulder, Colorado, area for years and Tim and I frequently compare notes. Like all great entrepreneurs, Tim's focus has been on growth rather than exits—but that doesn't mean he hasn't ...