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Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top Hardcover – November 28, 2014
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“I love Burlingham’s quest to understand why some entrepreneurs create a meaningful life after exiting their businesses while others suffer and wander without purpose. Practical and profound, fast-moving and thought-provoking, masterful in its clear prose and compelling stories—Bo Burlingham has once again done a tremendous service in deploying his craft.”
—Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and coauthor of Built to Last and Great by Choice
“Finish Big is for all those founder/leaders who want to do more than take. . . . It is for the ones who want to leave something behind.”
—Simon Sinek, optimist and author of Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last
“Bo Burlingham is a liar. He advertises this as a book about entrepreneurs exiting their companies. Instead it is a book about doing business well and living a life of value. Remarkable research, remarkable prose, remarkable book. Bravo!”
—Tom Peters, coauthor of In Search of Excellence
“This book is a gift, a must read for anyone who has even an inkling that it might be helpful. It will reward you with both peace of mind and a significant ROI.”
—Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author
About the Author
Bo Burlingham is the author of Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, a finalist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year in 2006. An editor at large at Inc., he has reported on the entrepreneurial revolution in America since the early 1980s and has witnessed up close the birth and development of the companies that have reshaped our world.
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Finish Big focuses on a different theme - how do you, as an entrepreneur exit your company?
You WILL exit even if it is because you are carried out feet first. The question is whether you will do it on your terms or by happenstance.
Most of what is available on this subject deals with how to obtain the 'maximum' amount of cash for your company. But there are a host of other issues: Do you want to be involved after the transition? How concerned are you about the culture of the company and what happens to it? What about the employees - do you feel you 'owe' them anything? And customers/clients?
Most important, What do YOU want to do next? Do you know and are you at peace with it?
Burlingham points out that - regardless of whether or not you plan to leave your company in the forseeable future - you should start thinking about that exit NOW. The reason is simple - looking at your company the way a potential purchaser would gives you innumerable ways to improve its operation right away.
He discusses a 'Sellability Score' that has eight factors:
1) Financial performance
2) Growth potential
3) Overdependence - on a customer or vendor or employee or whatever
5) Recurring revenue - anything, such as contracts with customers, that provides some stability of revenue
6) Unique Value Proposition - What do you offer that competitors cannot easily match?
7) Customer satisfaction - if they love you they will be loyal and your business will be worth more
8) Strength of management team - will management fall apart if you leave?
Ultimately Burlingham is a tale spinner and the lessons emerge organically from the stories. For example, Martin Babinec ran a company callee TriNet - a professional employer organization. This means that TriNet served as the employer of record and saved its clients the burden of maintaining a personnel department. Which meant that TriNet had to grow to reap the benefits of scale in matters like buying health insurance or upgrading its technology.
Babinec accepted funding from a publicly traded company and this came with the caveat that milestones had to be met before each tranche of the funds were delivered. What happened when he missed a commitment makes gripping reading and the lesson he learnt is valuable to all entrepreneurs.
The book is peppered with many such stories and anecdotes and most are of real companies with real names of the persons involved.
I would particularly like to note that there are many valuable resources in the book but you have to keep your eyes open to recognize that these are valuable resources. These include names of consultants, sources of information and so on. Even the nature of business of some of the companies profiled is a great resource - you may well be able to use the services of some of them to your benefit.
Would have been nice if this had been explicitly recognized and each chapter had a section listing these resources and others for further exploration.
But this is a minor quibble. The book is both informative and easy to read so go, get it.
As someone new to the startup game, it's easy to overlook the importance of the later stages of a company. Finish Big paints a clear picture of the pitfalls of this ignorance, namely:
- Failing to prepare a company for exit and not being able to when you want to
- Exiting on unfavorable terms that mitigate years of hard work
- Not actually knowing your own endgame and taking a deal that leaves you unhappy
In particular I think VC-style tech entrepreneurs should give this book a look because our niche over-hypes the fast exit and doesn't shed enough light on why you may want to bootstrap so as to maintain control or build and run a company longer than 5 years.
Hundreds of books have been published for the aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start a business. At the same time, very few books pay attention to where the startup company wants to eventually be, or having an exit strategy that is literal, graceful, and planned out well in advance.
Beginning with the end in mind is the emphasis of author and small business expert Bo Burlingham, in his latest book, “Finish Big”. Several years ago, Burlingham wrote the indispensable business bible, “Small Giants” that chronicled successful companies that chose to make their business great instead of big.
In “Finish Big”, Burlingham points out that the very few business owners hand off their companies successfully. These owners have not positioned their companies well financially, failed to offer any future value or growth to potential buyers, rely heavily on one major customer, or operate with a top-down management style that fails to delegate important tasks to employees.
Burlingham blends his past management experience with dozens of interviews with business owners that have gone through the succession process. He asked each what made leaving their company either a positive or negative experience.
The exiting owners that felt positive had the satisfaction of believing that their employees would be treated fairly by their successors and that their established company culture would be preserved. Owners satisfied handing off the reins also felt they were well compensated for their investment and left with a genuine sense of personal accomplishment. The owners that had negative experiences more often than not were forced to sell and had given little prior thought to getting out or planning any kind of exit.
For some owners, leaving the business means carrying them out on a stretcher. For others, the day-to-day excitement of managing a thriving enterprise makes it difficult to ever think of leaving. In other words, they want to work in their business as long as they possibly can.
This was true for Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, co-founders of Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor. Both owners thoroughly enjoyed running the deli and the companies that grew out of it (bakery, restaurant, creamery, coffee roastery, and hospitality training). Saginaw and Weinzweig wanted to protect the company against anything that could possibly happen to either one of them, in the short and long term. After Saginaw suffered a heart attack in 2009, the partners and employees went through the process of developing a company governance policy, detailing the way the business would be owned, managed, and valued without a key partner.
Burlingham breaks the succession process into four stages: exploration, strategy, execution, and transition. “Finish Big” also introduces a system devised by Burlingham’s cohort, and exit strategy expert John Warrillow, called the Sensibility Scale, which helps business owners look at their companies objectively, by stepping outside and looking at it from the perspective of an employee, customer, investor, or purchaser.
“Finish Big” also recommends working with experts who have been through the process along with the assistance of an experienced accountant and business broker. Again, selling a company is only part of a succession plan. It’s stressed that when starting a business, the emphasis should be placed on how long the founder wants to own the business and how the founder’s life cycle fits into the company’s long term plans. In other words, too many people begin a business without a strong vision of what the end game is.
At first glance, “Finish Big” appears to be a book relevant just to those handing off their business. Burlingham breathes life into a topic that for years has been relegated to the back burner of important business issues. Although medium to large sized companies are featured, “Finish Big” is strongly recommended for those just beginning the business planning process.