Enough already? There is an alternative to selling out

Rather than labour on or grasp at an attractive offer for their business, entrepreneurs can choose a middle ground.

There are many things for an entrepreneur to worry about, often dauntingly so. Indeed one of the things that distinguishes entrepreneurs from other mortals going to work each day, is an apparent ability to see past the challenges to ‘what could be’.

So with so many things to worry about, perhaps one that for many falls into the ‘nice problem to have’ is when a business has been successful enough to attract a trade offer; whether or not to sell.

Whilst it may indeed be a nice problem to have, the decision is often far from straightforward and is certainly worth detailed consideration over and above the obvious questions such as whether the price fairly reflects value.

Let’s leave the price and value question for another day as, fundamentally, I believe it should be about state of mind of the entrepreneur. Have they been toiling away for 20 plus years? And well, enough already: ‘let’s just take some money and move on.’

There is no shame in this. People’s lives move on with other desires that creep in, changes of health, family circumstance, freedom to travel, etc…

But if the desire to drive the business really no longer exists, and it is more trial than fulfilment or there are other agendas that have become more important, then clearly if the offer is fair (and maybe even if it isn’t), selling out to trade is very possibly the right answer.  

Conversely, if the desire to drive the business forward is still vibrant and providing the stimulus running a venture should, then unless the offer significantly over values the business (and maybe even then not), it likely does not make sense to sell.  

Whilst the cash might be nice, in most cases the role and feeling of ownership will change absolutely or, at least, very significantly and the fulfilment being gained will be substantially diminished.

The reason the decision will likely be a difficult one is that things in life are rarely as neatly black and white as painted above. There are some things that are going well, but some areas are frustrating and need new impetus.

Having all or a large percentage of net worth tied up in one ‘basket’ is worrying.  The lack of available finance either for the business or for things outside the business is a cause of tension. There are multiple owners and some want to sell out and some don’t and so on.

In the more commonplace ‘grey’ situation, it maybe that there is an interesting ‘middle ground’ – that of taking some money from a development capital firm.

This potentially can solve many of the concerns created by the more black and white decision of sell or not. Certainly, it can address the eggs in one basket position in which many entrepreneurs find themselves.

By selling some part of their holding, the founder can create some liquidity for other agendas, whether school fees, new house, etc – and by doing so release the tension either personally or within a relationship caused by lack of available cash.

There is a widespread belief that capital providers don’t like ‘cash out’ but only investing into the business. Whilst this may be true of some providers, at Smedvig Capital it very much is not. We often feel that far from creating misalignment, freed from the burdens of excessive capital concentration, many entrepreneurs perform even better.

There are many other areas in which it can help such as dealing with different liquidity agendas amongst owners and of course the traditional benefits of a new financial partner if well chosen, including fresh ideas and expertise, connections and additional capital to fund growth.

So if faced with this quality problem of an offer for your business, it may be there is a better solution than the binary alternatives of soldier on or ‘enough already’.

See also: Finding the right private equity partner for your business


Johnny Hewett

Johnny Hewett has been chief executive of private equity firm Smedvig Capital since founding it with Peter Smedvig in 1996. Prior to Smedvig Capital, he spent three years at Bain & Company, working...

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