295: Forever Business or Exit?

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Welcome to the Bootstrap founder. I was talking to Rox Codes earlier this week on my podcast and his very honest and vulnerable account of how he's grieving for the business that he sold made me think about how one-sidedly the exit your SaaS dream factory looks at businesses. And today I want to talk about what happens if the exit is not the goal, or at least not the only one. And somewhat ironically, this episode is sponsored by acquire.com and I'll talk about that later.

a place where you can sell your SaaS business and I would argue maybe you should sell your SaaS business if you want to. So maybe let's take a look at the most commonly sought outcome from a neutral point of view, because of course it's great to sell, but it comes with a couple of drawbacks. Let me start with just open cards here really. I sold a business before and it catapulted me from the paycheck to paycheck life into a life of much stronger financial security. I've benefited massively from looking at my

business like an asset and just like Rox, I was hit very hard with something that I wasn't prepared for when I sold it. That was a sense of loss. It wasn't just that my cool software business was now owned by somebody else. It was more of a visceral feeling of missing a part of myself. The business I had just become entwined with my sense of self, my identity. I wasn't just a developer. I was the operative arm of Feedback Panda. I was doing the work.

And when the passwords were changed and the stripe payment stopped coming in, all of that was kind of whisked away. And obviously it was all intentional on our end. It wasn't stolen. It was handed over. It was given and taken. We sold because we felt it was the right move at the time, but there are other ways of moving forward or making a move. And I want to dive into a few of them now. Let's start with the most fundamental choice that you have as a founder. How do you look at your business?

Are businesses appreciating assets made for some eventual buyer? Are they our own like an extension of ourselves and the impact that we want to create in the world? I think that perspective really matters because if you follow the start, grow, exit kind of logic of the software business world, businesses really are just lifeless mounts of value that can be exchanged for currency. But if you ask most founders who have

exited, it becomes much more complicated. They all felt some connection to their software businesses that goes beyond the code or a number in the bank account. And some founders deeply regretted handing over everything. Fortunately, there are versions of moving on from running and operating your own business that are less extreme. The national progression of every business is to hire specialists to take care of the jobs that you're not very good at or even the jobs that you enjoy but don't have time for.

And this is just the normal way that businesses grow, right? This is the normal way that founders move on. But this often comes as a surprise to solopreneurs. We can hire? Is that allowed? Solopreneurship is often an identity that's really hard to move on from. There's a lot of pride in the accomplishment of building something from nothing all by yourself. And realistically, we're all standing on the shoulders of giant, right? Be it the amazing bootstrapping veterans, the SaaS veterans and experts like Rob Walling, Laura Reuter or Justin Jackson.

Or even the massive services that facilitate our work like GitHub or AWS or OpenAI. But, you know, solopreneurship is more about the idea and making it real and make it happen and making money. Even if there are people who helped and motivated us along the way. As solopreneurs, giving up that control over the business feels particularly hard when you're the sole agent of progress in your business. And I certainly felt hesitant to ever have anyone help me in my endeavors as a solopreneur. Only I knew what to do.

Hiring is always an option. In his latest book, the SaaS playbook, Rob Walling has a section on the order of jobs that a SaaS founder should hire for. It's really insightful. You should read that book. I talked to him on the show and it was really

really cool. That was an interesting topic to just talk to him about. Most first hires for technical founders are customer service or marketing because they're kind of helping the technical founder be better in those parts that they may not be good at. Where for non tech founders, often developers are the first hires because obviously they need help in the technical parts of the business. I remember thinking about this quite a lot when my girlfriend and I started Feedback Panda, the SaaS business that we sold. I had just finished reading the email

and in this book, he suggests an exercise that we went through very early on at the extreme early stages of our business. The exercise goes like this. You create a fake org chart for your business, five years in the future. You envision what the business could grow into and then you look from that perspective and start defining roles. You start with owner at the top, you draw a line beneath it and then you start with the actual org chart. C-level, VPs, lead specialists,

auxiliaries. We just go down that row from CEO. You go to social media account managers are very specific, right? From CTO, you go to junior backend developer and all these other things in the business. Anything that comes to mind gets a slot in that org chart. Any job that you see becoming a full-time thing for someone else down the road gets marked in the chart. We ended up with around 50 positions that we saw just becoming necessary at some point. And we realized that until we would hire someone to do these things,

we would be the ones to fill these roles. It was just Danielle and me, just two people. So we wrote down our names beside each job that we thought would be our priority. I think I had like 24 jobs while Danielle had 25, including CEO. And not only did we now know what jobs we would need to do and what the kind of tasks would be that we would have to drill into over time, we also knew who was ultimately responsible on every single level, right? The CEO had a name next to it, the CTO had my name next to it and all the

tech jobs were kind of mine. Most of them, some were not, some were kind of different. And then they all took over. Her job was design and finances and marketing. And I took over the customer service part. We knew exactly who would be responsible for what. That was extremely helpful. Even if it was just two people, that org chart has stayed with us quite a bit. And over time we crossed out names and put other people in there. We didn't really hire. We had a lot of contractors help us, but we put names to those positions that were not our own. It was extremely helpful.

And I really highly recommend this for your own business. Whatever its size, it trains you to see where you are, where you're going, what you need to do to actually get there and who might eventually take this over for you. Or at least what positions you need to look for people for, right? Many founders want to fill up the whole org chart with other names eventually, saving just the owner on the top and the CEO role for themselves. But I think there's another option here too. You can restrict yourself to owner alone.

We'll be talking to Yong-Soo Chung next week, and he owns several businesses for which he has completely handed over the reins to an operator CEO. Someone else runs the business for him. They draw a salary, but the value of the business, including the dividends that it creates, that still lies with Yong-Soo. And I find this incredibly alluring as a founder because in a way this is the ultimate passive income. You know, passive income does not exist, but it's as passive as it gets. As long as the business is profitable,

and well run by its equally well-salaried CEO, you have to do extremely little to get the benefit from ownership just as if you ran it yourself. Besides, and this is for the technical folks out there, it's likely that a dedicated CEO can run your business significantly better than you ever could, even with everything you learned along the way. Don't want to diminish this. It's crazy what you learn to become a founder if you're not like educated to be one, but just like you thrive on building new and incredible stuff all the time,

someone out there is really good at taking over a project and hitting the proverbial speed boost button because they know where it is. You may not know this. And this is something that I will definitely consider more in the future for my own projects. And you know, in fact, let me just think about this right now with podscan.fm, my current project, the latest bet that has seen some significant traction compared to the other bets that I have, where do I see myself in a few years time? Well, between selling the business, running it,

myself forever and having some help along the way to whatever degree I can immediately discard the full solopreneur experience. I think my sanity was already stretched fairly thin from doing this for two years as one of two founders. I will not make this mistake again. I will get help in many ways, many senses of the word. I will find help with this particular business. So I think this just leaves the acquisition on one side and ownership and having a team on the other. And honestly, I wish I had a clear answer here.

battling with this. Still, I know myself pretty well. And I can tell you that a few years after the sale, I would probably feel the urge to build something again. It's just somewhere in me. And this would likely be very similar if I retracted from this operational side of podscan and handed it off to someone else to operate like an operator CEO would be the same deal. I would still feel like I wanted to do something for this whole thing. My decision will very much hinge on what is too much and what is enough for me, both financially, obviously, and

in terms of having an impact on the world. Because in my writing, in my work as a consultant, as somebody who helps people, as a teacher, I found that having an impact and having that kind of visible is one of the things that really drives me. And I honestly, I believe it's something that drives all of us. Seeing other people use our products, seeing other people read our blog posts and watching them watch our videos, whatever it may be that you were creating. Maybe you write a newsletter and you see people responding to it because they feel something. That is what keeps us going.

That's measurable impact on the reality of others. That's something really intense, something really aspirational for most of us. And once you have it, you want to keep having it. That's something that I don't want to give up. That's what I don't want to, I don't want to retract and just live on a beach and drink the whatever kind of drink or just sit in my basement, do nothing. I don't want that. I want to be part of a world that moves and I need to keep moving for that.

But I will keep revisiting this question regularly here as I keep building this business in public. And by the way, just a little update here. It's growing. We're getting close to a hundred users who are actively searching podcasts and receiving notifications of mentions of their brand on podcasts and much more. It's really, really cool to see. I'm still waiting for my first conversion, but since I gave early users a sizable trial period, this is still in the future. I'll keep you updated about this too, but in the conversations that I've had,

I'm seeing very clearly what the use case of this product is for them already and how it is generating meaningful leads. So I will do my best to make some money with this, you know, to prove that it is an actual business. I'm really, really excited. I'm certainly considering if Podscan or more likely the larger business that this will evolve into, which I don't really know just yet what it is, can be a forever business or my forever business. Honestly,

working and podcasting has been a blast as a creator like this right now. And I see a lot of forward momentum in the software side as well. Like the actual software vendor perspective on podcasting is also very positive. I'd certainly like for this to be a significant part of my future. So let's just get back to work and make it happen. That's it for today. I will just briefly thank my sponsor now, acquire.com. I already mentioned that an acquisition is still an option for me. So maybe let's keep talking about this a little.

comes when I feel that there's so much value in the business that it would feel negligent not to try and see if someone wants to exchange the business for a lot of money. I will be listing on acquire.com for the amount of money that I find reasonable. I don't know what that would be. Honestly, I think about this all the time. If I can grow it to something that is worth like several million dollars, like four or something, I would start listing it at that point because at that point it probably is making a lot of revenue in terms of dividends or in terms of just salary from

myself already, that it's fairly cool to have and to keep running. But if you can inject like a couple of years of the revenue into your day or your reality right now, why not see if somebody else is willing to take it over? That's kind of what it is. It's kind of keep your options open. That is my perspective when it comes to selling a business. And I would very much be listing on acquire.com for that reason, because that is an option and I want to keep that open. They've helped thousands of founders like myself sell their very,

very valuable businesses for a lot of money. And I know they will help me find the right buyer if I ever need or want one. And most importantly, I know that I will be listing the business there, but I will be very discriminating with who I engage with there. I decide when, to whom, and if I sell at all, and acquire will support me in that. So if you're pondering a sale of any size, check them out at try.acquire.com/arvid. I think it's always good to keep your options open. And that's the way to do it. Thank you so much for listening to The Bootstrap Founder today.

find me on Twitter @arvidkahl, A-I-V-I-D K-A-H-L. Find my books and my Twitter queries there too. And if you want to support me in this show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your play of choice, and leave a rating and a review by going to ratethispodcast.com/founder. That makes a massive difference if you show up there, because then the podcast will show up in other people's feeds and any of this will help the show. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day and bye-bye.

Creators and Guests

Arvid Kahl
Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
295: Forever Business or Exit?
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