Small Business and Startups: Things to do Before I Die (Entrepreneur’s version)

I write often about setting goals and defining strategy, but I rarely think about those things in a personal context. What should my own goals be for the next 10 years and beyond? What strategies can I use to accomplish those goals?

As startup founders go, I am a pretty old guy. When we started working on the earliest iterations of crowdSPRING I was already well into my 40’s and, well, time marches on. Today I find myself thinking more and more about retirement and less and less about the next career move. Not that I don’t work hard everyday, both in and on the business. It’s just that there comes a point that all of us start to think about the end game, and the associated questions: What have I accomplished thus far? and, What can I accomplish before I give it up?

Lots of people write about this in the context of succession. Sure, a clear plan and understanding for what happens to your business after you are gone is really important, but what about while you are still here?  Every one of us, whether 40 years from retirement or 4, can be thinking about making an impact or leaving a mark, however modest. A good idea about who will take over and how that transition should work is something every business owner should have in mind, but there are lots of other things to think about as you develop that plan. I have pondered this quite a bit recently, and here are 5 of the things I have been thinking about:

1. Assure the future. Retirement is about security, right? Well security for business owners (read: me) can’t be just about a post-working income of 70% percent of your pre-retirement income. It has top be about making sure your company is well positioned to continue operating, that your employees have security and stability, and that your customers will be able to continue relying on the goods or services your provide them. Check with your team, check with your accountant, check with your investors and plan for their future as well as your own.

2. Build something tangible. After almost 10 years in the digital realm, I have a strong hankering to do something real and solid. A product. A building. Maybe a bridge? Many of you reading this already own businesses that create actual products, or build actual structures, but those of you who work in 1s and 0s might be able to relate. In the next 10 years I am very much hoping that I can leave behind something useful and real, that people will be able to hold in their hands, or walk through its doors, or ride a bike across its span.

3. Get acquired(?). I put a question mark here, because I am not 100% convinced that this is the best and only goal for a business like mine. Sure, it would be nice to find a great acquisition partner for this business (or yours), but I have always said that the most important thing we can do is to build a sustainable, profitable business that can survive the decades. Many entrepreneurs focus solely on an exit strategy, and while this is natural impulse, I think the healthy approach is to keep the question mark in place.

4. Be altruistic. While I write the occasional check to a charity, or donate a little time to do the Walk to End Alzheimer’s I have never had he opportunity to focus my full professional energy and ability on doing something selfless. I’d really like to do some work for a great cause, or build a philanthropic organization, or even get a job in the arts and do something just because it will help people. Building a business is all well and good, but there are people in the world who need help, or need food, or need enrichment and I’d like to be a part of providing some of those things.

5. Craft a retirement. Finally, I want to retire and I want to do it soon enough that I can really enjoy it while I have energy and passion to focus on the things I want to do. Travel, reading, cooking, learning. I dream of a peripatetic existence for a few years, just wandering from place to place and lingering as pleases me. I have lists and stacks of books that I want to read and not nearly enough hours in the day to get to them. I have subjects I am dying to learn more about: history, music, mechanics. I want to continue growing as a cook and learn to make great meals from the ingredients in my pantry (or I could run out to the market). I hope to spend the last 20-30 years on this earth becoming smarter, more capable, more knowledgable, and more experienced at all of the things I want to do. Period.

Photo, Wikipedia: The Basilewsky Situla

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