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Author Tells How to Exit Your Company Without Regrets


Many business owners he interviewed were "full of regrets" and "acutely unhappy" after the sale of their companies, said Bo Burlingham at the RFDC today.

Joe Veen

Inc. magazine’s Bo Burlingham interviewed between 100 and 150 business owners when researching his book about company exits, and what he found was surprising, he told the audience at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference today.

“One of the first things I noticed, and it frankly shocked me, was how many of them were actually acutely unhappy at the end of the process. They were full of regrets. I thought, what’s the difference between those that were happy or unhappy with the process?” and thus an idea for his book was born.

The book is called “Finish Big—How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top,” and it explores: “What did the people with good exits do that the people with bad exits didn’t do? I came up with 8 factors (actually 7 ½),” he said. Here are excerpts from his engaging and anecdote-filled talk:

  1. You know who you are, what you want and why. You’ll make much better decisions as a business owner and your chances of having a good exit are much higher.
  2. You build a business that can be sold when and to whom you want to sell it, for an amount you consider fair. “Frankly, most people don’t find buyers. The percentage is something like 10 or 20 percent of people who put their business up for sale find a buyer, and the rest don’t,” he said.
  3. You give yourself enough time to prepare, measured in years not months.  

3 ½: That’s particularly true if you’re going to find a successor. You have to give yourself enough time to fail. “Of all the people I interviewed I found one business owner who got it right the first time. Everybody else who tried to bring in a successor had to go back and do it again,” he said. 

  1. You get help and advice from people who’ve been through it themselves. “You need the professionals’ help, but I feel it’s critical to get advice from your peers, namely people who’ve gone through it before,” he said.
  2. You do right by the people who’ve been on the journey with you. That means different things for different people.
  3. You have to do the same due diligence on potential buyers and potential investors that they do on you. 
  4.  You figure out and become fully engaged in whatever comes next. “Some people do go out the door feet first. There’s nothing wrong with dying at your desk if you love your company so much. But you even have to prepare for that, because if you don’t you will make a big mess for the people you care about. It’s something you have to prepare for,” he said.

The Restaurant Finance & Development Conference continues through Wednesday noon at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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