I've sold my start-up and work for the new boss under the earn-out terms. I hate it, what should I do?

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Focus on the company's performance to make sure you get your earn-out cheque, says Jeremy Bullmore.

by Jeremy Bulmore
Last Updated: 01 Apr 2016

Q: I sold my start-up to an established rival, I'm six months into a two-year earn-out and I'm hating it. After all those years running the show I can't work with a boss again, especially when she and I never agree on the big calls. I can't afford to bail out early, but it's spoiling the memory of the business I nurtured, and all the good things I have achieved there in the past. How can I make the best of the time that's left?

Jeremy says: The terms of your earn-out are presumably dependent on the company meeting certain quite demanding performance targets? And presumably your role, despite having to work with an uncongenial boss, is crucial enough for you to have an appreciable effect on those targets, one way or another?

So at its worst, what you face over the next 18 months is this: being locked into a job for which you no longer have any enthusiasm and so failing to meet the targets that tempted you to go for this earn-out in the first place.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for your predicament - but only a certain amount. You, alone, got yourself into this mess and you alone can make the best of it. So the first thing you've got to do is stop feeling so mawkishly sorry for yourself. Face up to the fact that if you fail to meet those targets, you'll not only have wasted two years of your life but will have forfeited much of the satisfaction of having launched and built a successful company. Stop being resentful that you no longer own the company: you chose to sell it, remember? Grit your teeth and make yourself work with this boss. Concentrate obsessively on the company's performance: excellent results and a healthy end-of earn-out cheque are the only things that, retrospectively, will make the whole adventure seem worthwhile. And it's only 18 months.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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