Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans." The lyrics from a John Lennon song are true for life and exits. Just a decade ago, the word “exit" did not seem to exist in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. You built a business with a vision and a set of values, and you worked hard to grow it, never really planning to leave it behind and move on. But the new, energetic entrepreneur of today is on the other end of the spectrum, building a business with a four-year exit plan and a strategy to match. But is this realistic, smart or doable? Absolutely not.

I have exited many businesses, but not one of those decisions were expected, much less planned or timed. I entered businesses that excited me, I stayed with them, built on the vision my co-founder and I had, and did what was best for the business at the time. Exit has never been the ultimate goal for me and neither do I perceive it as abandonment of the business. In fact, I can say that one of the reasons I feel good about writing this piece is because I stuck it out in the businesses I built.

Ask any successful entrepreneur about her exit strategy and she will tell you there was none. When you build a business for the sake of creating a sound business, multiple exit opportunities will present themselves at the right time. But when the focus remains on exit as opposed to creating real customer value, one cannot function with the intuition, spontaneity and agility that are crucial to success.

As Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal says, “When you build to sell, you cannot build at all. Building something is not a linear, well-planned activity with well-demarcated milestones. When deciding to build something, it is rare that one would not be surprised by the gap between business case assumptions and the first set of live results."

Think about it, if you are planning to build a business to exit it, on whose vision are you building the business—yours or what you think a potential buyer would like to see? The other issue is when an exit opportunity does present itself, are you open-minded enough to know it is an opportunity? I have seen 9 in 10 entrepreneurs believing it is not the right time or their company is undervalued. All flawed and emotional rhetoric that will make the moment pass.

Of course, there are aberrations as Yashish Dahiya of Policybazaar points out: “Entrepreneurs get exits in loss-making companies too. I have seen enough to believe that if you’re lucky, you can swing an exit."

Let’s take a look at India’s model exit case study: the Flipkart buy by Walmart. For me, such an event happens once in 20 years. A global major at stress in its home market and looking to innovate makes a pricey acquisition in an emerging market. There is no question that Walmart will take a write-down on the price it paid by $5-7 billion in the next few years. But for the Flipkart founders, this was an opportunity and they moved, encashing everything knowing full well that just a year earlier most of their investors had written down the value of the company, and also that if a true valuation was done, it would have been an internal rate of return of no more than 20-25%, given the billions of dollars already deployed in the company. But because an exit opportunity presented itself and they grabbed it without any false bravado about it being too early or that they were undervalued, it is now the model exit for an entrepreneur in the Indian ecosystem.

So what should one focus on? I’d say focus on building a sustainable business because that will leave room for nothing else. You’ll go through highs and lows. You’ll learn and adapt, maybe have a few hits and misses, but eventually when you build a solid business, deep-pocketed investors are bound to court you, at which time you can decide what you’d like to do.

Vishal Gondal of GoQii sums it up: “If your goal is to exit. You will never successfully build a business to be in a leadership position."

To every aspiring entrepreneur who is working on the “Exit Strategy" slide of their pitch deck, I’d say don’t. Focus instead on your consumer needs and strategize for sustainability and value creation.

That’s your best move, exit or not.

Entrepreneur 4.0 is a column where successful Indian founders discuss various aspects of startups.

Ronnie Screwvala is a first-generation entrepreneur, and chairman and co-founder of upGrad, an online educational platform.

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