On December 31, 2016 I closed my company that my two partners and I built over the span of 15 years. It started in 2001 with a bold aspiration: Create an organization that serves clients with great work, and serves employees with a great working experience.
We added iconic Fortune 100s, brilliant entrepreneurs, and lovable nonprofits to our book of business. We amassed a collection of great stories that I'm happy to tell you about over a beverage. But that's not why I'm writing this post.
I'm writing this post to help entrepreneurs out there who are building a business—no matter what kind of business it is—to consider what it would look like to leave your business—or even end it—before you start.
Why? Because there will be an end.
I'm not writing this to depress you, but rather to prepare you. The business you dreamed of will—at some point—show up in your rearview.
A friend told me that all businesses go through a lifecycle: through different stages of development. Based on my business, here's how I experienced those stages:
1. Start the business: The big yes. You get excited about an idea. You have a vision of the future. You see what's possible. You have an urgency to create something that eclipses the fear.
2. In business: You build the operating system. You experience the ebbs and flows of work. You experiment. You generate. You search for both stability and momentum for growth.
3. Out of business: You may have reached your vision and goals as a business owner. Or not. But the time will come where you'll feel compelled to either move away from what you built, or move beyond.
It took us 15 years to complete these stages. And if my partners and I didn't first talk about the end—discussing what would, could, and should signal that it's time to step away—it wouldn't have ended so gracefully.
How did we do it?
From day one, my partners and I employed a "friendship first" policy. We make a promise to each other that we'd end the business if our friendships were ever being compromised in any way. We built the business out of our love for creating together. The minute that we didn't feel that kind of energy and fuel, that was our signal.
The time finally came when we individually and collectively started to question our desire to continue as we were. Do we stay the course? Do we sell? Do we shut it down? With these hard questions, we started to understand that we wanted different life experiences beyond what we built.
There was plenty of opportunity for our individual desires and our attachments to get in our way. But they didn't. And that's because of our friends-first policy from the beginning. The three of us approached those questions with patience and compassion. We listened to each other, comforted each other, and, dare I say, even got closer as friends.
But only because we made it so from the start.