Never fixate on looking up at signs with four red letters

It may give you a stiff neck and impede your company’s success

Today, too many companies — startups and those in growth mode — lose their way because they’re obsessed with the EXIT sign. In other words, they’re too focused on hopes of cashing out by selling their business. This is much akin to wishing so hard for something, it’s almost guaranteed never to happen. 

It’s said that “good things come to those who wait.” And while waiting can be measured in days, weeks or months, it’s often done in years. The reality is that when starting a company or entering a high-growth stage, the best way to succeed is not to build it to sell but, as Ford promotes in its truck commercials, build it tough — to last.

Flash-in-the-pan companies that are built to sell don’t provide the same benefits and payoffs as those based on creating an enduring business that both serves the needs of customers and continually improves. 

A concern today is that too many young graduates and wannabe entrepreneurs, smitten by the success of a few unicorn companies that hit the jackpot in short order, are solely focused on attracting a big player in their startup’s early stage in order to sell out for a boatload of money. 

Occasionally that happens, but by far and away it’s the exception rather than the rule. 

Companies of all sizes and shapes do hear the thrill of that big cash register’s cha-ching, but more frequently, it happens when they’re not fixating solely on that symbolic four-letter EXIT placard. Remember in many instances, exits are used for emergency purposes only.

Having been involved with numerous organizations, I am keenly aware that many entrepreneurs dream of their company being acquired rather than the more laborious goal of building a solid foundation that will support sustained growth. In part, this is a result of the environment in which we do business, including being inundated with instant news stories — many too good to be true — flashed to millions of people every day via the internet about sudden successes that bestowed fame and fortune on all involved.

Some of the companies that I have been associated with were fortunate to make it big, some were even acquired for a king’s ransom. This scenario, however, occurred while these same companies kept their institutional and collective heads down, focused on investing and executing to make every day better than the previous one, including innovating in uncharted waters. 

Sometimes it’s not very glamorous and can even be painful, but the long-term payoffs are more apt to occur than a huge buyout coming out of the blue. The odds of the latter are similar to the odds of buying a winning lottery ticket at a convenience store. It’s fine to fantasize to provide relief from the drudgery of getting things done. But, it’s important to guard against your dreams turning into nightmares when you wake up and come back to reality. 

The good news is that you’re less likely to get a stiff neck looking ahead toward the future as opposed to hopelessly staring at the closest EXIT sign.

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”