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Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top

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“No two exit experiences are exactly alike. Some people wind up happy with the process and satisfied with the way it turned out while others look back on it as a nightmare. The question I hope to answer in this book is why. What did the people with ‘good’ exits do differently from those who’d had ‘bad’ exits?”

When pioneering business journalist and Inc. magazine editor at large Bo Burlingham wrote Small Giants , it became an instant classic for its original take on a common business problem—how to handle the pressure to grow.

Now Burlingham is back to tackle an even more common problem—how to exit your company well. Sooner or later, all entrepreneurs leave their businesses and all businesses get sold, given away, or liquidated. Whatever your preferred outcome, you need to start planning for it while you still have time and options. The beautiful part is that if you start early enough, the process will lead you to build a better, stronger, more resilient company, as well as one with a higher market value. Unfortunately, most owners don’t start early enough—and pay a steep price for their procrastination.

Burlingham interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs across a range of industries and identified eight key factors that determine whether owners are happy after leaving their businesses. His book showcases the insights, exit plans, and cautionary tales of entrepreneurs such as
Through such stories, Burlingham offers an illuminating and inspirational guide to one of the most stressful, and yet potentially rewarding, processes business owners must go through. And he explores the emotional challenges they face at every step of the way.

At the end of the day, owning a business is about more than selling goods and services. It’s about making choices that shape your entire life, both professional and personal. Finish Big helps you figure out how to face your future with confidence and be able to someday look back on your journey with pride.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published August 1, 2013

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Bo Burlingham

25 books44 followers

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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly.
590 reviews3 followers
February 4, 2015
It doesn't get much more relevant to my current work than this. Great perspectives from business sellers.


* Four elements to a good exit/succession:
1. Owners felt they were treated fairly
2. They had a sense of accomplishment
3. They were at piece with what happened to other people who helped build their business
4. They had discovered a new sense of purpose outside of their businesses

* Eight common characteristics of well-prepared sellers:
1. Seller had crystal clear understanding of who they were, what they wanted out of business, and why
2. Owners realized early on that it was not enough to just have a viable business
3. Gave themselves plenty of time
4. Had a vision for succession in their own roles
5. Had the right kind of help through the exit process
6. Thought about their responsibilities to employees and investors
7. understood in advance to whom they were selling their company and what their motivations were
8. Had a vision for what they would do after the sale

* Four stages of an exit (pg 24): Exploratory, Strategic, Execution, Transition
* Sellability Factors: (pg 73)
* Financial performance (small firms carry extra risk simply b/c of their size)
* Growth potential
* Overdependence (customer/supplier/partner concentration)
* Cash flow
* Recurring revenue (5 types: consumables that people have to keep buying, renewable subscriptions (magazines), sunk-money renewable subscriptions (Bloomberg Terminal), automatically renewing subscriptions (document storage), long-term contracts (telephone service)).
* Unique value proposition
* Customer satisfaction
* Strength of management team

* The CEO should never lead the exit
* When people say "everything is for sale" the next question is "how much is enough?"

Profile Image for John Stepper.
516 reviews19 followers
September 12, 2021
The recommendations are all sound, and I’ve seen many of them before. The many stories, both positive and painful, bring the ideas to life. Highly recommended for any business owner.
Profile Image for Cody Faldyn.
43 reviews
April 8, 2015
In his book Burlingham dissects dozens of interviews he made with entrepreneurs that have left their companies and pieces together actionable information that all business owners must know about creating a solid exit plan. The goal of the book is to help you find the right time to exit a business, overcome the stress of leaving a company, and leave your company in better shape.

For your convenience, I had Bo Burlingham on my podcast, The Entrepreneurs Library, to give a deep dive on Finish Big. With Bo’s experience he gives amazing insight on how to master the art of leaving a legacy behind. If you would like to get a more in-depth look from the author himself check out episode 194 on the EL website or you can find the show on iTunes.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book348 followers
November 9, 2022
This is a great book about succession planning for business owners. For those lucky enough to be in this situation, Burlingham explains why it is so important to start asking yourself early what you want to happen with your business after you retire.

By thinking about not just how to grow your business, but how to stabilize it after your departure, a founder ensures the best chance of preserving not just the legacy of the business itself, but also the culture and values of the business and the well being of the team that helped create that success.

While technically a book about succession planning, it is really a book about the importance of self-knowledge for a business owner. Every business is as unique as the founders who started it, but the questions Burlingham asks will help all different kinds of entrepreneurs explore what success means not just in the context of building their business, but also for the next stage of it for both themselves and their company.

I wish someone had given me a copy of this book a decade ago. Back then, I was too busy working to ensure the survivial of our young company to even begin thinking about the kinds of questions Burlingham asks. Still, it would have been very valuable for me had I had the chance, because it would have gotten me thinking strategically in a way that may have provided more options and flexibility for the future. So I would recommend this book not just to business owners thinking about retirment or exiting, but also those who are just starting a business.
Profile Image for Nick Lewis.
182 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2022
You probably need to read this book at the right time for it to be relevant to you. To know the right time you probably need to read this book.
Most examples are of multi- million pound business sales, but the principles remain the same for any business owners. What happens next is one of the biggest questions to answer. I found the book helpful and pointed me in several important directions.
Profile Image for Barbara.
24 reviews3 followers
February 8, 2015
If you’ve ever perused Amazon.com or your local bookstore looking for information on how to exit your business, you’ve probably come up with a short list of resources. While there are countless titles about starting and running a business, there are precious few that tackle the work of how to successfully leave one.

Fortunately, Bo Burlingham — author of Small Giants and editor at large at Inc. magazine — goes a long way towards filling the void with "Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top."

The simple truth is that most people give insufficient attention to this stage of their business-ownership journey, which leads to most of the horror stories you hear about selling your business. "Finish Big" is filled with valuable information about how — and why — to exit your business, most of it conveyed through firsthand accounts from actual business owners who have gone through the process.

No matter what industry you are in, how big your business is or how long you’ve been an owner, "Finish Big" offers much-needed insight into successfully navigating the elusive exit phase of business ownership. To read the book is to live vicariously through the experiences of others who have gone before you. Not only are you sure to learn from their stories, you will likely come away with a better idea of what you'd like your own big finish to look like.
Profile Image for Jason Carter.
283 reviews5 followers
July 26, 2020
There are tons of great books out there shelling out advice on starting a business. Not too many, though, on finishing one. Burlingham, editor at large at Inc, notes that all entrepreneurs are headed for an exit one way or another, and that the best are those who realize that up front and begin with the end in mind.

Full of both practical advice and anecdotal evidence (on both sides of the good/bad exit spectrum), this is a must-read book for any entrepreneur who desires to avoid the pain of an unsuccessful exit.
468 reviews29 followers
April 26, 2015
Good stuff for business owners. Start planning ahead or just be aware of the possibility.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that leaving your company is a simple feat you can accomplish quickly. A good exit strategy requires a great deal of long-term planning. Think about the life you want for yourself after you leave and guide your organization through a predictable transition period. When you plan well, your exit will be a positive and healthy experience for everyone.
Profile Image for Stephen Heiner.
Author 2 books49 followers
January 3, 2020
This is such a rare and important book. There are many "startup" books but there are so few, if any "end up" books, and the stories collected by Bo Burlingham resonate deeply with anyone who has exited a business before and I think would be of great use to those who have never exited. It's the "what if" that Jim Carrey refers to when he said something like, "I wish everyone could have money so that they could see it doesn't solve everything." What happens if and when you do sell your business? What then? This is a great companion book to "Before the Exit" by Dan Andrews.

"Exiting, as I've noted, is not so much an event as a phase of business. It's arguably the most important phase, in that it determines whether or not you get what you want in your journey of building a company." (p. 59-60)

"...a recurring revenue business...needs to be able to document 1) gross margin per customer, 2) length of time a customer remains a customer, 3) cost of customer acquisition." (p. 68)

"...owners should seriously consider selling such a business as soon as the model has been proven." (p. 69)

"People who've sold their businesses say that one of the biggest obstacles to a graceful transition is the change in the nature of the questions they're facing." (p. 147)

"'You tell yourself, I can always start another company and be just as successful. Maybe it's true with some people, but not in my case.'" (p. 263)

"When we sell, we don't realize that we're entering another business -- managing your assets -- and what made us successful at our previous business is not necessarily going to make us successful at the new one." (p. 267)

"...there are so many ways to own a business and not be tethered to a desk or to a specific location, but still be in control in the background." (p. 273)
Profile Image for Aviva Rosman.
170 reviews3 followers
December 13, 2021
I think I am not alone in saying that as an entrepreneur I started a company without knowing anything about exits (at one point I thought we just paid our investors back). Even as a I began to learn more about the general principles of liquidity, the actual process remained shrouded in mystery. It almost seemed taboo - if someone asked you about your exit plans, you were supposed to respond that you were only focused on building a great business.

Bo Burlingham makes the persuasive point that it's worth taking the time to understand how businesses end, even if you have no intention of ending yours anytime soon. Getting clear early on about what you want out of an exit, what success looks like, and what you could imagine doing after your company will ensure better outcomes overall.

Beyond the grapevine of founders, this was the first book I read that concretely laid out what it looks like to sell a business or create a succession plan. Like buying a house, selling a business happens so infrequently that the participants usually don't have any background in what they're doing - but getting it wrong can have disastrous consequences, both financially and for the company that you've built.

I do wish this book included more recent examples, as well as more stories specifically about tech. However, definitely recommend as a great starting point and as a book I wish I'd read long ago.
Profile Image for Marius Ciuzelis.
75 reviews21 followers
May 28, 2023
The book touches some important aspects of post-exit life for the former owners, most of them are very emotional: what's next? how to deal with all that free time you now have more than ever?

However, I've missed the main idea on how to 'finish big' or what exactly is that 'finishing big': is it the amount of money you get? is it the whole sales process from starting to preparation to exiting? is it your emotional wellbeing post-exit? is it how you deal with your team pre-, during and post-sale?The author presents case studies, sometimes in a very details, even chronological set of events (who really cares?) manner mainly for small-mid seized companies and their CEO/Owners and behind those facts was not so much left on that 'how'. Some former owners struggled, some prospered, some did it very openly communicating about the sale well in advance with their teams, some - on a contrary - disclosed the sale as a deal done fact only.

Would I recommend the book if you look for the answer 'how to?'? Not really. You may easily find more insightful ones without such declarative titles.
Profile Image for Tauri Laane.
378 reviews88 followers
December 20, 2021
A definite re-read if I ever plan on exiting my company. And mostly this book is full about BAD examples of exiting, so it’s not a “How TO DO” resource, but “How NOT to do” :) With hundreds of interesting examples. And besides the money, this book is about the entrepreneur losing his sense of identity after selling his “baby” - so the Exit plan mostly shouldn’t be about money, but about keeping the owners purpose in life, to be part of something bigger than himself even after moving on. AND of course the book is full of good principles that should be already implemented in Your business even though You are never going to sell it. Actually the rising value of the company after angel investors come board usually are the higher standards that they enforce while coming on board. With higher standards there will be higher results.
Profile Image for Julio Alonso.
6 reviews5 followers
April 19, 2018
De todas las compañías se sale, aunque sea con los pies por delante. Cómo afrontar, planificar y optimizar el proceso para los distintos tipos de salida que puede haber.

No es un libro sobre m&as o sobre el proceso de venta de tu compañía. Pero sin embargo me ha parecido muy útil para entender el contexto y cómo planificar a medio y largo plazo, y también los aspectos más soft del proceso, como por ejemplo los casos de emprendedores a los que les cuesta encontrar sentido a su vida después de vender su empresa.
Profile Image for Fred Mcbreen.
48 reviews
August 4, 2018
As owner of a UK business I enjoyed this book. The case studies are American but the issues the exiting entrepreneurs face are universal. Bo Burlingham clearly loves the world of small business and small business owners in particular. Some great lessons like starting early and surprisingly for me, thinking about the post exit world before it happens seems to be really important. Well worth a read.
Profile Image for Paul Waring.
148 reviews4 followers
February 23, 2019
Well worth a read if you own a business, because at some point you will have to exit, voluntarily or not. Although all the case studies are from the US, the lessons are generic and could apply to businesses based anywhere. I’ve seen business owners struggle with exiting and it’s generally not pleasant for anyone involved if the moment hasn’t been prepared for.
May 13, 2021
I liked this book. The stories were told well and the book was easy to finish. The only criticism I have, and why I gave it four instead of five stars was I thought the ending was kind of abrupt. I would have liked to have seen a better conclusion. However, if you are thinking about selling your business, the book will help.
Profile Image for Mike Ou.
9 reviews
April 14, 2023
Ch1: Every Journey Ends:
Need to put the "How to end the start up in the mind" even when just starting the business or planning to start. It's better to have happy ending plot in mind for the time when actually need to leave.

Didn't selling the company, can't qualified as "Entrepreneur". Just like only staying on the third base and not come back to the original base.

The Exit has four stage.
1. Investigation stage
2. Strategic stage
3. Reaching out to buyers stage
4. Transition stage
The first 3 stage was mixed together.

Ch3: Deal of not Deal:
Niman Ranch misery: The seduction of scalling but not profitable at all, finally make the shares wortheless/ Dilutions of the shares percentage, and leading to leaving.
10 reviews
December 10, 2019
Fantastic read

Bo pulls together compelling insights and thought provoking questions for entrepreneurs at any stage of their business. Highly recommended read
24 reviews
June 8, 2020
Good book, mostly on the psychology and effects of entrepreneurs selling and settling into a new life.
Profile Image for sadiq.
206 reviews
February 4, 2021
If you are building a company or have built one, this is an awesome resource for preparing for the future of your company and your own future.
Profile Image for Rasa.
24 reviews
May 29, 2022
helps you think. Either you are in a business, or you are considering starting one or work in a startup.
115 reviews6 followers
November 22, 2022
Good concept, didn't like all the small stories.. felt a little all over the place.. maybe it was just me...
April 1, 2023
One of the best written business books I have read. Great stories of successes and failures. Well done Bo!
Profile Image for Effendy Yahaya.
125 reviews2 followers
June 21, 2016
Think big has also to be able to finish big. It takes a real guy to put a step down in making an exit for all the hopes and efforts, to what have done, in this particular case business. It is not just an economic per se, money as a platform, also in considering social efforts that last forever. Love this book, put myself into what is having now and the most important, what am gonna do next??
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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