One of the things that really floats my boat is the mentoring I’ve done with hundreds of start-ups over the years. The most common question I get is “How do I FLIP my business?” In their eyes, the gleam of the overnight success & exit is sparkling — talk usually drifts to “The Instagram $1B Acquisition.” I’m quick to dash their hopes. Lottery-ticket type business success stories that have no revenue (like Instagram) happen about as often as, well, winning the lottery. For the rest of us, it’s a bit more of a grind. I wanted to start off my 2014 thinking about what it is that is a more guaranteed route to a good exit.

You want to FLIP your business? Create one that offers good value to your customers and generates profitable revenue — once you do that, buyers will be crawling out of the woodwork.

At AcceleratorYYC (a Calgary startup incubator), during my most recent A100 Office Hours, I was more or less giving the same advice to every single one of the entrepreneurs I talked to that afternoon, all of whom had vastly different businesses. With my first session of 6 that afternoon, I had drawn a series of charts on the meeting room wall and the only thing that changed in the drawings between companies was the #’s and scale. I’ll cover the drawings in other blog posts, but we’ll look at it from a macro viewpoint here.

Whether you are an Idea, a Startup, a Small business or a Big Deal, here’s four things for you to consider if you want to FLIP your business:

F: Focus

Know your customers, your market, your competitors, your value proposition, your brand, and your business model (# of transactions X Avg $$$ per transaction). Measure your success with KPI’s (key performance indicators) and a business dashboard.

L: Luck

I believe in luck and the smarter I work, the more of it I have. (a updated quote from Thomas Jefferson).  That being said, however, everyone that has ever experienced an exit will tell you that there is absolutely a 100% element of sheer-blind-dumb luck — most companies have a story about that “one thing” that really made a difference that came out of nowhere (with a subsequent story of how they took advantage of it).  Timing is everything, but if you want to put the odds in your favour, re-read F:Focus again.

I: Initiative

Nothing ever happens without doing. Don’t just think about doing stuff. Do it! Have energy and passion (otherwise, what’s the point?) Stay positive, even when things get shaky: “Failure” = “Learning.” A life of learning is a happy life. The best entrepreneurs I know are ones who have tasted failure. Celebrate Successes. Celebrate learnings. Iterate your product quickly. You are the Bringer of Rain. Always Be Closing. Sell. Sell. Sell!

P: Persistence

This digital world in which we live sometimes feels likes it’s a sprint, but it’s really a marathon. It takes twice as long to make half as much money.

Months and years are needed to build and nurture a good network — your customers, your staff, your partners, your investors, and, at some point, potential acquirers. How will you finance operations AND salaries long enough until the business is paying it’s own way with revenue from customers? Don’t forget to pay yourself; don’t work for free.

Be healthy in both mind and body. To become a lean-mean-fighting machine, it’s super simple: Burn more calories than you eat each day. Pursue hobbies and external interests; balance time with your family and friends.

Ultimately, the trick is to stay in the game long enough to either get the win or know when to fold ‘em (otherwise known as a FLIP FLOP. ha!)

I love mentoring and especially so through the lens of the A100 — I learn so much from all the startups I talk to. I hope I inspire them and if so, it’s only a small payment for the amount I get invigorated to pursue my own passions!

Be careful out there.