Selling your business is just like a sub3 marathon


Over the years I have seen many companies aiming to grow rapidly and sell at a high valuation, but only a small number succeed. Some entrepreneurs start their company with the main goal to sell it within 18 months of incorporation. Most entrepreneurs however, spend years growing their business, enduring ups and downs along the way and organically reaching the point where they consider selling. So, what does success look like if you’re considering selling your business? Not surprisingly, there’s no ‘silver bullet’ – as is the case with running a sub3 marathon, it’s rarely down to talent, rather a heady mix of preparation and perseverance.

“Stop chasing the money and start chasing the passion.” – Tony Hsieh

No-one who prepares for and tackles a marathon, lacks passion or perseverance. Initially, running was a way of keeping myself fit and in good health, but what made me jump the distance to enter long-distance racing and eventually become a marathon runner, was the love for running combined with the desire to challenge my resilience.

My first Marathon was Berlin 2013. I started training with a plan from a running website and achieved my goal to run in less than 4 hours. After crossing the finish line, one thought didn’t leave me. What does it take to get faster? Focusing on the goal, training hard, maybe adopting an athlete’s meal plan, possibly working with a coach?

Building a business and achieving a growth story, is very similar to the marathon training journey. What many entrepreneurs don’t see at first, is that it is indeed a journey. Finishing and enjoying the race are not the primary focus. A clearly defined goal, the right mindset, and the ability to fine tune the smaller skills, better than the runner next to you, is what makes a successful runner. Similar to growing and ultimately selling your business, to become a sub 3hour Marathon runner takes time. For some, the process might be at the shorter end of the scale – a one to two year period. Others take substantially longer and there are some who will never make it.

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs

Both internal and external factors influence successful growth. Success of a product or services and the right team, drive growth internally. The macroeconomic environment and the appetite of investors in the space, drive growth externally. Finding the right type of capital at the right time of a company’s growth determines its future, be it a loan from the bank, family office funds, a fundraise or private equity investment. Above all, the most important asset in a company’s growth toolkit, is the vision of the founders, their trust in the process and their determination to never give up.

Running ‘sub3’ took me six years of training and five marathons in preparation. Whilst keeping to a running schedule and running a couple of races from 5 km to 42.2 km, there was no five-year plan in place. Sub3 was a vision. I worked month to month on getting stronger, mentally and physically. In the words of Eliud Kipchoge “No human is limited” – I believed in my capabilities.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston S. Churchill

As with most things, it wasn’t straightforward. Some months I was injured, some years there was no progress. Overall, I focused on the journey more than the goal. Before the 2019 London Marathon I knew I had the potential to achieve a sub3, but it takes just the right conditions to perform well, and I had self-doubts. In the end, my personal history was written when I crossed the finish line at 2:59:36.

Selling your business is a process. What unites founders managing a profitable exit is that they built their company with a vision. Founders love their product or service, they have trust in its success but also a strong belief in their own strength as leaders of the company. Throughout the years of growing their company they have overcome obstacles and many self-doubts. Whilst aiming for a comfortable retirement package in the long run, they started their journey without knowing the chances of receiving it. But did it anyway.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

My journey to sub3 marathon completion, really only started when I met my coach Ben. Over the course of a year and a half, we shaved off a significant 21 minutes from my time. In my case, Ben’s experience was a major asset. He had the toolkit to get me the best results – he knew where my strengths and weaknesses were, what the courses were like, and what goals to aim for. Likewise, when selling your business, a trusted partner is essential to get you the best valuation and together you can achieve so much more. Your path to success will be filled with many ups and downs and the road is never straight – so it’s imperative to have faith in yourself and trust your capabilities. Remember it’s a marathon not a sprint…