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The pitfalls of success

There comes a time in every successful entrepreneur’s life when he or she has sold his business and celebrates the fruits of their success. This one moment will possibly be the best and worst day of their lives. After the champagne has been popped, and you stare at your bank balance, it is exactly at that juncture that you will stare into the abyss of the future, without potentially knowing what’s next.

Hobbies, golf, sailing, horses, travel and dipping in and out of special projects might take time but they don’t provide the same thrill of being on the edge and creating something from nothing. Your team will be working for someone else, and your friends will be busy. Suddenly you might even find that with all the assets gone, and your name on the building replaced, with only cash in the bank, you lose your identity. This is a lonely place to be for any entrepreneur.

I went through all of this so I know. In 2008 I had successfully sold all my businesses in central and Eastern Europe just before the crises at the top of the market. I gained guru status and felt pretty chuffed with my timing. It was a happy day, and the black and white silver framed photo is still on my desk showing me smiling at a press conference. For the next 8 years I semi-retired; I enjoyed life to the fullest, and spent capital freely as if it were easily replaceable until one day I woke up and discovered three things; 1) I had lost my identity and had forgotten who I was, and that 2) I was getting fat and depressed and felt lost, and 3) the bag of money wasn’t being replaced as fast as I was spending it. I felt I had been forgotten and for an entrepreneur, that is a scary place to be.

The process of getting out of that funk is not easy and might take a lot of effort. At least in my case it did. And the longer you wait the harder it becomes. Also what if you can’t do it again. There is always the fear of failure. When I was first starting out, it didn’t matter; I had nothing to lose so every day was easy and I just kept at it. But after success, and age, suddenly you realise you don’t have that gift of immortality any longer. And you are suddenly looking at the coalface of starting again.

Success can be a curse

Everyone knows Newton’s first law of motion; the law of inertia. The same law says an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

As I sat one day, thinking about a dwindling cash balance and watching my other friends continue to grow their businesses, I realised I had to get going again. I had to do what I was made to do; create and build stuff. Ideas on notepads, articles saved about ideas, half written business plans, and reading inspirational books won’t do the trick. You simply need to just crack on. Easier said than done.

That lesson taught me Newton’s law in a real way.  I learned the painful lesson that you have to keep moving and stay in the game. When I retired I was 49 years old, had a 32 inch waistline, weighed 69 kg, played high goal polo and worked 24/7 and I was in my element. I was fit and charged up. But after 10 years, my waistline had gone to 36 inches, I weighed in at 80 kgs, and found it hard to “roll’ into new ventures. It was damn hard. I had been away too long, and getting started was anything but easy. It was tough. So after ten years, I was about to discover how hard it is to really move an object at rest.

What made it all worse, was remembering that it had taken me 18 years to build a network of connections across six countries and be a player. When I walked away, I walked away from the most valuable assets I had accumulated but never realised. My network. When I moved to London, where absolutely no one knew me I realised how difficult it would be to recreate that network in a meaningful way.  Direct dialling to the chairman of a Pension Fund, a Scandinavian bank, or leaders in the business community was no longer an option for me.

So I learned another lesson; never leave your chair.

Yes, go ahead and sell the business if that’s what you want, go on a long holiday and get it out of your system, but then you must go back and sit in that chair that you invested so much time in. It’s your chair, you paid for it with time and blood and sweat, and believe me, if you leave the chair, someone else will fill it quickly.

Lessons learned

So if you are lucky enough to get what you set out for, and achieve success at an early stage, then I can suggest the following for any self-respecting entrepreneur from what I learned the hard way:

  1. Have the pictured framed so you don’t forget your success and put it on your desk
  2. Go on a super holiday and spend like a sailor to get it out of your system
  3. Go back to the scene of the crime and sit back at your desk
  4. Deals will eventually come to you

Bottom line, you need a post-exit plan.

I know so many people who never consider post-exit because they are too busy building their business and then counting the spoils. It’s amazing how lazy we can get in a hurry and how fast money can fly. Don’t let that happen. It’s too hard to re-boot. To get moving again the second time around can be painful if too much time passes.

By Paul Oberschneider, founder of Hauser-Oberschneider Real Estate and author of Fast Track Entrepreneur