Knowing when to let go

Last night, I got a last minute invite to the New Entrepreneurs Foundation talk with Henry Lane-Fox of Founders Factory, Damian Kimmelman of Duedil and Tamara Herber-Percy of Mr and Mrs Smith. Unlike many of the talks, this was a real warts and all session on their journey so far. I mean who knew Henry had run a business for 8 years that he simply couldn’t make work after his success at lastminute.com or that Tamara worked in an energy drink startup where she got the opportunity to launch in Sao Paulo alongside the CEO and just when they managed to sign a distribution deal with Pepsi, the money dried up. $20m of funding blown.

The one point that has resulted in much reflection was the question around when do you as a Founder  know/admit that it’s time for you to walk away from your successful baby. It’s tough enough to know when to stop a business that is failing but when it’s succeeding that’s definitely going to be one hell of a wrench. The blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices are only worth it when you’ve succeeded, right! Hold on to that thought.

Damian made a good point that it’s time to leave when you become a blocker but this relies on you admitting that your actions and decision are doing more harm than good to the company. Ego will get in the way of this admission and if it does come, the damage will already have been done so the hard task of resurrection by someone else begins if the board haven’t intervened already.

About a year after I had my oldest, her dad and I were amidst one of our conversations about our expectations for her future. He made a poignant yet uncomfortable statement. He said that our children do not belong to us, we are merely preparing them for someone else. Our job is to do the best we can in rearing them so they become their own person, eventually meeting their life companion. As much as my heart battled with this, this statement has defined how I’ve raised my children. My job is to enable them, arm them with tools to deal with whatever life throws at them, instilling certain ideas and beliefs, developing certain characteristics, trusting that I have done enough by giving them their independence and allowing them to make their own choices (good or bad) then eventually letting go. It takes blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices to make this happen.

The approach to building a startup should be exactly the same. As a Founder or Co-Founder you’re in it for the long haul, shaping the vision, culture, strategy and product but if you’ve done your job right, a time will come when you can cut the final cord and the business will continue to be successful despite rather than because of you.