Choosing to sell your startup is one of the biggest decisions co-founders make together. Yet strangely, it’s rarely discussed.
Following the acquisition of their company Lumi, co-founders Stephan Ango and Jesse Genet came to Baukunst for an open and candid discussion about the roller coaster journey of getting acquired. And what it feels like when the ride stops.
Quick takes from their talk:
THE PANINI PRESS
Jesse Genet: I really drank the Kool Aid that when you start a company, you should persevere through literally anything. You should always be the person who's thinking the biggest, has the most confidence in what you're doing, and that in every circumstance, there's just no excuse for not being that, for not waking up being that, for not going to sleep being that, for not being that for the team. And that you have to fully believe in every fiber and every cell of your body that you can build a multibillion dollar company that goes public.
So how do you reconcile that perspective with then making the decision to sell? That was a really weird sandwich for me. It became a panini press. I had to squish these disparate ideas together, which was a bigger identity problem for me than anything relating to title.
I was asking, Am I selling anything short? Did I hire someone within the last six months and look them in the white of the eyes and say, 'we're doing XYZ’. And then am I changing that now in this moment? Those were tough things that got to me emotionally.
Stephan Ango: When you're a smaller startup, you're putting all of your wood behind one arrow. That's the right thing to do. You have to have all your eggs in one basket, to some extent, until maybe Series C or D. The most attractive thing about being part of a bigger company was having more than one leg to stand on, but you're also giving something away. You’re releasing some of the control over where it’s all going.
LIBERATION & TERROR
Jesse Genet: It's been extremely liberating and also, terrifying. The liberating part – I went to an All Hands meeting and was like, I don't have to run this! When there was a hard hitting Q&A, it wasn’t directed at me.
What was terrifying was how I had started to attach my identity to these different aspects of running a company. I had been a CEO for 13 years. Then one day, I just wasn’t. It was a reckoning. A true chapter change.
THE BUS FACTOR
Stephan Ango: Everyone's familiar with the bus factor – if someone gets hit by a bus in your organization, how much knowledge goes away?
That's still my biggest fear with Lumi. I am the only person who has the knowledge of how to run certain parts of the code base, and different things like that. I want to make sure that knowledge gets handed over.
Jesse Genet: The emotional part is wondering – Did I truly leave everything out on the field?
That sensation can actually cloud your vision when considering the rational path forward for a product. What helped clarify things for me was thinking about the manufacturers and the brands. I realized this path forward was actually great for our customers. In a way, it was an ego drop.
We didn’t start Lumi so that Jesse could feel she left it all on the field, right? That’s not the WHY of Lumi. The WHY of Lumi is deeper relating to the manufacturers and brands. It is rational to make a decision for your customers and the mission that you started with.
(Edited & condensed for clarity)