Addicted to Startups
I sold my company and happily walked away. So how did I end up right back in the game?
Gladwyne, PA. (FSB Magazine) -- When I told my accountant that I wanted to sell my business, he was not surprised. Burnout is difficult to hide.
I'd spent 20 years building a small brand of housewares called Cedar Fresh Home Products. It made aromatic cedar closet accessories such as cedar blocks, balls and hangers. I had 55 employees, a 43,000-square-foot factory and all the headaches that go with the territory.
Our products were sold at more than 10,000 retailers, including Wal-Mart (Charts) and Bed Bath & Beyond (Charts). Building it from its start in a two-car garage had been a long journey. I felt old at 45, aged by sleepless nights thinking about work and the exhausting hills and valleys of cash flow. I needed a rest.
"You can sell," my accountant told me, "but I doubt you can walk away for long. Guys like you can't stop. You sell everything, lie on the beach for a year, then get so bored you jump right back in with another business. I see it all the time."
I didn't believe a word of it. I was different. Boredom a problem? Boredom sounded wonderful! "Trust me," I told him. "I can quit anytime."
"Spoken like a true addict," he said.
Selling out of round one
In the summer of 2003, I sold the company to a group of individual investors and signed papers that would, I thought, change my life. At the last minute I kept one product out of the deal, a jar opener invented by a Danish friend. It never fit the core business, so the buyers let me keep it. The proceeds from the Cedar Fresh sale probably wouldn't support my family forever, but I could now afford to be happily jobless for a long time. I had no regrets when I walked away. For the first time in decades I felt peace.
Just to be certain that I was really free, after the deal closed I drove 100 miles to the beach, walked to the end of the jetty, and hurled my cellphone into the Atlantic Ocean with a vengeance that twisted my shoulder. It was glorious. I made plans to stay at the shore and do absolutely nothing.
Peace, however, proved fleeting. "Is this all we're doing today?" I began to think. Envy followed, as I thought about new owners running my company. Would they do it better than I had? All this after just a few days in the sand.
Ready for round two
Now here's the really sick part: A week later, on a beautiful morning with my wife and kids on the beach, I slipped away, found an Internet café, jumped online for a few hours, and started a new company.
The business plan flowed way too easily, as if my subconscious mind had been developing it all along. Dr. Jekyll was kicking back, but Mr. Hyde was planning the next product launch. I couldn't bring myself to tell my wife what I'd done, but that night she remarked that I looked happier.
The plan was to market the jar opener, but I told myself it wouldn't really be a business, more like a small, simple hobby. Yet I rarely did anything small and simple. I swore I'd market just that one product - but a year later I had eight more kitchen items.
I promised no schlepping to trade shows, but Spring Mill Home Products has now done eight of them. At least I won't be doing it for the money, I said. Yet I now need to make money because I sank so much cash into the new venture.
So here I stand, at the beginning of the entrepreneurial circle, starting my second lap. I am loving it and cursing it daily. I guess it's just what I do. You can't change who you are just by signing a few documents. And, yes, I did buy another cellphone.
Owner's Manual is written by entrepreneurs about lessons they have learned. Butera can be reached at email@example.com. Please send feedback or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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