Employees in a busy startup office
Dennis Hansmann No Comments

For many entrepreneurs, the notion of selling their startup can be riddled with misconceptions. Some still believe that selling implies failure, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Take, for instance, Trello, which was acquired for a staggering $425 million after raising just $10 million in funding. Such cases debunk the myth that selling equates to failure.

In reality, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are a healthy and integral part of the business lifecycle, particularly for small businesses and early-stage startups. 

Some entrepreneurs even establish startups with the sole purpose of making them attractive for acquisition by larger conglomerates. Receiving an offer to have your company absorbed or acquired by a bigger player can be an immensely gratifying moment, even if it wasn’t your original business plan.

But selling a startup is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires careful planning and preparation to ensure a smooth and profitable transition. Here, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to sell your startup effectively.

Section 1: Understanding the Need to Sell

Business partners smiling happy and confident after selling their startup

Before delving into the intricacies of selling your startup, it’s crucial to understand why you might consider this option. Selling isn’t a sign of failure; it’s a strategic move. Reasons to sell can include capitalizing on growth potential, realizing a return on investment, or aligning with a larger corporation’s goals.

Section 2: Preparing for the Sale

Preparation is key to a successful startup sale. Give yourself at least 18 months to prepare. During this time, build relationships with potential buyers and fortify your business. With unique products or technologies, companies on the rise are most attractive to buyers. Make sure your business falls into this category.

Section 3: Cleaning Up Your Business

Most startups are chaotic, which can raise doubts in buyers’ minds. Organize your financial statements, contracts, intellectual property, and cap table. 

Consider getting your financial statements audited if your revenue exceeds $5 million. Smaller startups should have their financials reviewed by a reputable accounting firm. Setting up a data room for due diligence can also streamline the process.

Inside a trendy startup office with open floor plan

Section 4: The 20:6:3:1 Rule

When it’s time to entertain offers, follow the 20:6:3:1 rule. Start by reaching out to around 20 potential buyers. From there, expect about six follow-up meetings, leading to 3 serious discussions and, ideally, at least one solid offer. Casting a wide net increases your chances of finding genuinely interested buyers.

Section 5: Wooing Potential Buyers

Negotiations involve more than numbers. Court potential buyers as you would initial investors. Building a personal connection can sway decisions in your favor. Make them see you as a smart, capable, and likable business person.

Section 6: Thinking Ahead

Consider the post-acquisition scenario. Showcase your innovative foresight and explain how your company can seamlessly integrate with the buyer’s operations. Buyers often acquire startups as much as their products or services for their talented teams.

Section 7: Don’t Stop Innovating

While selling your startup demands significant time and effort, don’t forget to keep your business growing. Prospective buyers assess growth potential. Invest in sales efforts and maintain innovation to avoid any slowdown that could deter potential buyers.

Section 8: Consider Alternatives to M&A

Remember that selling isn’t the only path to a liquid event. Explore alternatives like venture capital, partial liquidation, or mezzanine financing. If you’re not ready to lead your company to the next level, consider hiring an alternative CEO and taking on an advisory role.

Section 9: Ecommerce Startups and Marketplaces

Ecommerce startups have specific avenues for sale. Platforms like Flippa and Shopify Exchange offer opportunities for buying and selling web businesses. Ensure your business is ready for sale on these platforms.


Selling a startup is a strategic decision that demands careful planning and execution. It’s crucial to understand that selling isn’t a failure; it’s an opportunity for growth and new beginnings. Businesses may be bought in a moment, but they are sold over time.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, adaptability and innovation are key. Your startup can be a valuable asset for a larger company, and demonstrating how it can contribute to its success is essential. Always keep an eye on market trends and be prepared to seize opportunities as they arise.

Remember, selling your startup is a testament to your entrepreneurial journey, and it can open new doors to exciting possibilities in the ever-evolving world of business.