If you build to flip, you build to flop

The question I just hate the most, especially when I’m interviewing, as I was with some senior execs this week is this: “what’s your exit strategy”. I’m sat there thinking: you haven’t yet established what our entry strategy is, you haven’t the faintest clue what we are about and you’re already asking about exit. You have no idea why we exist and why we matter, yet you want to know how we’ll flip this thing.

I’m a big believer that those who build to flip are the worst kind of entrepreneurs. They are interested only in building something that someone else wants to buy rather than building long term sustainable value and products and services that people love. Things that drive change, make a dent in the universe. There is no purpose to what they do. You ask them what’s your mission and its “oh well.. sell to Google in 3 years” . I want to throw up when I hear it.

And it’s not only from an idealistic point of  view that this sucks. It also dictates bad business practice. Those who build to flip make decisions along the way which are aimed at maximizing their chances of flipping which often compromise the best interest of the business and its customers. You end up building what Google wants not what your customers want. Then you end up with no customers, but if you’re a crafty flipper you may flip the damn thing before it flops. The only certainty is this: it will eventually flop. Look at what happened to Bebo!

I was interviewing a senior exec the other day and he asked me what “my game plan to exit” was. I paused, took a sip of water and said “long term sustainable value creation”. He thought it was a buzz phrase or something. I continued to say that yes, sure, along the way we may have a liquidity event like an IPO or a management buy-out or whatever, but that’s not the ‘game plan’. The game plan is: fulfilling our purpose and mission. Whish is helping people build their business from the ground up. Today that means driving the change from the traditional ‘9 to 5’ job to the ‘5 to 9’. It means creating the moonlighters economy. Tomorrow it may be something else. Working on mobile or some other device not invented yet. The means to the end may change. The purpose and mission doesn’t.

So to me the challenge is how do we fulfill that mission sustainably in a fast changing environment? How do we keep innovating to do it better every single day? How do we align ourselves more to it? How do we build a culture where our missions becomes so deeply engrained that its second nature and, how do we attract the best people who believe in our cause and mission and will fight for it come what may? Those are the questions I ask myself every day. Not: ”what do I do next to flip this sucker”

And solving these questions does in the end build an engine and a team that’s best poised to maximize long term value creation. I keep reminding my team and myself how lucky we are to be serving a market that’s here to stay. The jobs market. Fads and fashions, cool apps built on latest technology may get a lot buzz but a lot of them have the shelf life of a yoghurt. Even social may not be around in 10 years (I happen to believe it will but only because it became the catalyst for creating a new fabric for the web, not because of social itself). But people will always need jobs. They may be changing in nature (as they are now) but they will need jobs. PPH happens to be in the driving seat of that at the apex of a paradigm shift right now, going from traditional jobs to working remotely in the ‘cloud’. We are in the driving seat of that change. Our goal is to be in that same seat when the next step change happens, and the one after, and the one after etc.  I very much see my role as a leader to form PPH into a global powerhouse that’s best poised to do that.

The build to flip mentality is a reminder that greed has surpassed purpose. The journey to many is just a necessary evil to the glory of exit. For me, the journey is as (if not more) important; its exciting, its fun and I learn a tonne every single day. I become a better leader, a better person, and I realize that I do good things, helping people fulfil their dreams of working for themselves.

Recently we created this LinkedIn discussion group and one of our avid uses – whom admittedly I hadn’t encountered before posted this:


It made my day.  This – in a nutshell – IS the game plan. To have more people like Pepeh, now, tomorrow and in years to come. Whatever products we may happen to be serving then.

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