Five Questions for Bo Burlingham

Inc. Magazine’s Bo Burlingham at the ZingTrain Speaker Series

Finish Big is for all those founders/leaders who want to do more than take …. It is for the ones who want to leave something behind.

– Simon Sinek

We recently caught up with Bo to ask him five questions:

Why focus on the exit? How did you get there?Bo Burlingham
I had written a series of articles in Inc. magazine with Norm Brodsky about his experience in negotiating the possible sale of his business. The overwhelming response from readers made me realize that there was a hunger to know more. When I began to research what was available, I discovered a huge gap in the business resources. If you Google “starting a business,” you get over 1 billion hits. If you Google “exiting a business,” you get 27 million hits–or a little more than 2%. But leaving a business is much more difficult and much more important than starting one. If you start a business and it fails, you learn the lessons and move on to start another. If you spend 20 or 30 years building a business and you screw up your exit, it can be a personal tragedy from which you may never fully recover.

How many business owners did you speak to while researching this idea of exiting a business well?
I interviewed somewhere between 100 and 150 business owners, most of whom had sold their businesses, although some were just preparing to sell.

How early in your interviews and research did the pattern start emerging?
Actually, quite early. I found that about half of the former business owners I spoke to were reasonably happy with their exits, and about half were utterly miserable, filled with regrets, wishing they had never sold. So I began investigating what the happy ones had done that the unhappy ones hadn’t done, and vice versa. I came up with seven critical factors.

What surprised you about the pattern that you were starting to see?
I was surprised at how little money had to do with whether the people were happy or unhappy with the experience. Almost everything else that is written about exiting focuses on getting as much money as possible from the sale of your business, but if you ask what makes for a happy experience, the deal itself is only about 20% or 30% of it. The rest is all the emotional challenge of the transition from business owner to former business owner.

Is your book only for businesses who want to be Small Giants or are the lessons applicable to anyone?
This is definitely a book for every business owner. There is much in it that will be relevant to Small small-giants-bookGiants. Three of the companies I write about (Zingerman’s, CitiStorage, and ECCO) were in Small Giants, and at least four others could have been in it if I’d known about them when I was writing Small Giants. But the challenges of exiting are faced by every business owner, and I wrote Finish Big  to be as broadly relevant as possible. After all, every owner exits sooner or later. You may exit feet first, but you will exit. And every company is eventually sold, given away, or liquidated. I am not aware of any book other than Finish Big that you can read and get a wide range of examples of owners making that transition, including both those who’ve had a happy experience and those who haven’t.


We’re tremendously pleased to offer a session with Bo Burlingham on Wednesday, May 6th, 8am, in this season of ZingTrain’s Speaker Series. Knowing that all entrepreneurs leave their businesses and all businesses get sold, given away, or liquidated – Bo Burlingham decided to write a book about how to exit your company well!

Bo believes that whatever your preferred outcome, you need to start planning for it nowwhile you still have time and options. The beautiful part is that if you start early enough, the process will lead you to build a better, stronger, more resilient company, as well as one with a higher market value. Unfortunately, most owners don’t start early enough—and pay a steep price for their procrastination.

Reserve your seat here