Lessons Learned: From Start-up to IPO

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.
C. S. Lewis

The journey from being a start-up business to going public with $200m in revenues is long and filled with lots of minefields.  For me, the trip started in 1995 when I joined TPI, a small management advisory firm with 5 employees.  Serving as CFO, I was fortunate to see TPI expand internationally, grow its revenues (on average) 30% per year, get bought by a private equity firm, and eventually offer shares in an initial public offering.

This process took twelve years, years filled with lots of mistakes and lots of learning.  I’d like to share the results of that journey with you, in hopes that you can avoid some of the same minefields.

Lesson Learned #1:  It takes longer than you think!

In common with most business owners, the principals of TPI had almost all their wealth (and potential wealth) tied up in the company. Twelve years is a long time to wait to “liquify” an investment, so the passage of time actually felt like it was a lot longer.  We had to “kiss a lot of frogs before we found the prince”…just finding the best private equity partner took two years.

During that time, we wound up turning down several (potentially attractive) offers from potential buyers.  This story leads to the second Lesson Learned that we’ll discuss in my next blog.

photo credit: 2007 Libya – mines via photopin (license)


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