Starting a new company is challenging. An oft-quoted truism states that 90% of new startups fail. Even those that are blessed with an early sign of promise – the venture capital fundraise – fail more than 75% of the time. Building a startup (successful or not) requires a very particular set of skills and interests, too. Even the founders of wildly successful companies – AirBnB, Uber, Facebook, Google – tell tales of months and years spent struggling, searching, and barely getting by. Startup founders must truly be in it for the journey, and not the result, to have a chance of seeing success.
What if you’re an operator, not a visionary? What if you prefer building up, rather than laying the foundation? Traditional advice guides you towards joining a startup that’s already seeing some success: a means to become part of the journey, though as second fiddle to the visionary founder. And, in this world, you’re significantly limited in your upside: very few founders become wealthy, and even fewer startup employees do.
There is, however, a third door. A method of reducing much of the risk and struggle that comes with starting a new business, while retaining the ability to work as an operator in the truest sense of the word. An approach that empowers you to be in charge of growing and scaling a business whose fundamentals are already proven sound. That third door is acquisition entrepreneurship.
What is acquisition entrepreneurship?
Acquisition entrepreneurship is exactly as the name implies: becoming an entrepreneur by way of acquiring and building existing businesses, rather than by starting businesses from scratch. It’s an acknowledgement that the skills and passions required to grow a business are very different than those that are needed to start one.
Though uncommonly practiced, acquisition entrepreneurship is timeless. Warren Buffet grew his wealth primarily through acquisitions by Berkshire Hathaway, a struggling textiles company he acquired as a young investor.
Why entrepreneurs should love it
If your heart isn’t in starting from zero, acquisition entrepreneurship may be the right vehicle for you. By acquiring a business that’s already generating revenue, you’ve weeded out a significant portion of the 90% of startups that fail. And with creative financing approaches, you can make your startup capital go significantly farther–effectively starting with a multiplier on day one.
It’s also a great way to build your existing business. By acquiring complementary products, services businesses, and community platforms, you earn new ways to reach your customers, service them, and provide them with more value – and skip the hard work of doing it yourself.
Why founders should love it
When you start a company, you know you’re in it for the long haul. Though Silicon Valley regularly discusses exit strategies – how you eventually reap the rewards for your hard work – the reality is that most businesses will never meet the very high bar for many traditional exit paths. Acquisition by a giant like Facebook or Google is reserved for the most promising of startups, many of whom would have found success in the first place. IPOs and direct stock market listings are only viable for companies that are able to justify massive (9 and 10 figure) valuations. Private equity companies’ ears don’t perk up until your valuation hits 8 figures. And symbiotic acquisitions by a competitor or complement in the marketplace are rare – largely, ironically, because many founders aren’t aware of the power of acquisition entrepreneurship to grow their businesses.
This leaves many companies high and dry. If you’re a founder who wishes to move on to another project, find some liquidity, or remove the stress of managing a company from your day-to-day, you’re often stuck. In many cases, this means a once-promising growing organization slowly dies off due to lack of interest and neglect: turning something into nothing.
Acquisition entrepreneurs are, for many founders, the most promising option to advance your company into the Second Act of its young life. A new fresh set of eyes, coupled with differing philosophies and world-views, can inject new energy into your company – helping it reach new heights, while getting you paid for the time and effort you’ve invested thus far.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a deep dive into acquisition entrepreneurship – how it works and how it's done. I’m deeply excited by this less common take on entrepreneurship, especially because of a few tricks that make it accessible for everyone: even those without wealthy backgrounds or significant connections.
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