Post-Liquidity-Event Blues

A lot of merger and acquisition activity has occurred during this last year. It’s often involved life-changing liquidity events for founders and team members. These events frequently come with conditions. If a fund invests a material amount of capital, they may well create a board of directors and usually want at least one board seat. The board members are the CEO’s bosses. Some boards are great and support founders; others don’t. The ones that don’t support are a challenge to deal with. If the company is acquired by a larger company, the team (including the CEO) usually become employees of the larger company. Finding the right role for each team member is a process, and no one is guaranteed to get the role they want.

I’ve chatted with a few founders in these situations, and they’ve shared that life post-transaction can be difficult. I spent time thinking about why these founders struggled after events that changed their lives for the better. Then it hit me. Founders have key characteristics in common. One has to do with the locus of control—the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcomes of events in their lives.

Founders like to be in the driver’s seat. This desire is what allowed them to become a founder in the first place. When it’s taken away or severely limited, it can feel unnatural for founders and emotionally diminish what should feel like a milestone win.

A strong internal locus of control is something that’s core to founders, and they should think hard about situations that could curtail it. What can they do to maintain it?