Ever wondered what life might be like after selling your business? In this episode, serial entrepreneur Chris Mentzel walks us through his own experience after selling his first startup. He offers some valuable insights on what business owners ought to expect after closing the deal.
- Prepare a post-sale wealth management plan
- The emotional process of stepping out
- Life after selling the business
- Starting new businesses again
Joanna: Hi, it’s Joanna Oakey here and welcome back to The Deal Room Podcast, a podcast proudly brought to you by our commercial legal practice, Aspect Legal.
Today we continue our conversation with Chris Mentzel, a serial entrepreneur who built a vision for a creating a business with a life changing exit, and then went along to build and sell it. Five years later, Chris then sold the business for double his dream amount of money and moved to a beautiful beach location in Maui to live the good life.
If you’re interested in hearing about his story of building and selling the business, head over to our previous episode, episode 74. But in this episode, Chris offers some valuable insights on what business owners ought to expect after closing the deal by walking us through his own experience post-sale.
We know that after years of intense focus on building your business, it can be hard to imagine life without it. But rather than fighting this, it might be easier to accept the idea of selling if you purposely prepare yourself for what life is like after sale. So today’s episode serves as a helpful guide to figuring out what you ought to consider now and what you can look forward to.
Joanna: And today we have back again Chris Mentzel talking about where he went to after the sale of his business. So Chris, we left off the last episode with you firstly having had this great goal of building a business to sell and then to use it to fund a lifestyle for you moving forward. Then you built that business and then you got there and sold that business for even more money than you’d originally planned.
So maybe if you can take us on to that next phase of your life about what decisions you made after the sale of your business and how you set up your life on your terms I guess.
Prepare a post-sale wealth management plan
Chris: At this point, and we’re talking 1989, we found ourselves in a whole new world. Suddenly we had a lot of money on the account. And that really made me nervous because it was sitting on a checking account and it was easy to figure out how much money you are losing in interest if you’re not investing it properly.
Joanna: Right. So you had all of this money, the proceeds, just sitting in cash basically in your bank account. Was that right?
Chris: Yeah. I still remember the day that I went to my bank and pulled out a hundred mark bill. I looked at it, and there were nine hundred eighty five thousand sitting in there.
Chris: That was an awesome feeling, but very strange too. I had no idea what to do with it. So if I would do it again, I would prepare a few months earlier and look around with friends and acquaintances to see what’s a good strategy to do with the money the moment it arrives.
Joanna: The wealth management. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. Once you have money like that sitting in your checking account, it suddenly becomes urgent to make sure that you properly invest it.
Joanna: I think that’s a really good tip.
The big tip from our last episode was get yourself structured right from a tax perspective in your business first. Then second tip is understand your wealth management plan for when you achieve as we call it this liquidity event.
Chris: Yes. So I didn’t prepare well for that and I was struggling a lot with that in the beginning.
Joanna: As in it made me nervous that you had this money and no plan with it?
Chris: It made me nervous that this money was sitting in an account where it wasn’t earning much interest.
The emotional process of stepping out
Joanna: Right. Interesting. Okay. And so then, at this time you were still living in Germany?
Chris: I was living in Germany. We had two small children. They were two and five years old. I became really aware of how burnt out I was, and my company too. So one time my company, my employees.
Joanna: Oh so sorry, you stayed with the company. So you stayed employed by the company?
Chris: Yes. I still stayed there to guide the company. And originally, the plan was to stay a couple years (or longer) and run the company because as the founder a lot of the direction and knowledge was with me. But then my guys said you, you’re really exhausted. We don’t like you. You’ve got to go and take a break.
Joanna: You’re grumpy. You’re grumpy, Chris.
Chris: And I said, I can’t leave. You will ruin everything when I’m gone.
I believe that’s so common to entrepreneurs. So much will rest with you in terms of decisions and knowledge that you think that you’re totally indispensable. And I meant that. I really said it’s something that I cannot do, to go away for more than a week. Because only I can guide it correctly.
Well they kind of kicked me out and said, five weeks. Go away. And so, I did a lot of research. I said well what’s the best place in the world. Money no option, no problem. It just so happened that Maui was mentioned again and again. I had no idea between Hawaii and Tahiti and where everything was. But I listened and we decided okay we’ll try it out. That’s where we’ll go.
Off we went for five weeks of vacation. We took the kids to Disneyland. Stopped over in Santa Barbara. Stopped over in Honolulu and was like, step up and up and up.
We left in the winter, so being in the L.A. area was already phenomenal, warm and glorious. Then coming to Honolulu was another step. But the moment we came out in Maui and stepped out of the plane, I was like in love. There was like an immediate recognition this was my home. This really was where I wanted to be.
Chris: We had a wonderful time and great experiences. When I came back, I was like a totally different person. I was like pretty much and able to work.
Every day I was sitting in there and if you’re looking at it this is now 1990. So the wall came down in the end of ’89. So I was like totally unwilling to work. I was so amazed that the wall had fallen and I went out every day on the bike and explored what was happening. It was an amazing time then.
I was thinking gosh I have all that money sitting in the bank. The kids are young. I’m missing them when I’m working, and my wife said the same. And so after a year, I said well it’s not going anywhere. Plus I still have this feeling of having been overstressed so I decided to throw in the towel and say I got leave. I’m not good for the company.
They were really trying to hold me. But they could see that I really had made up my mind.
And so a year later we went back to Maui and pure magic happened. We found the perfect house. We found wonderful friends. Within three months, we were like really at the center of life in Maui, with wonderful parties. It was like the island really rolled out the red carpet for us.
Joanna: I guess the progress for you had been going from this really highly stressed person running this business. That was your baby that you felt, and then you sold it. Then you had this difficulty stepping away because you felt that no one else could fill in any of the elements that you were doing. Then you found a way to step away and you couldn’t step back once you’ve done that.
It sounds like, which is I guess you know it’s the dream for people before they start business and even while they’re running a business. But so many people I think get caught in that element where you were, before you went to Maui for the five weeks, which is the inability to let go and the inability to see the bigger picture.
Chris: Yeah. The thing is that when you’ve run a business for five years, you’ve really become an expert in it. My thoughts in the day, out the day, when I was lying in bed was about writing software. For two years after I left, that was what was going on in my mind.
So your whole identity is really enmeshed in the business. I think for many people it’s also enmeshed in really being needed and being important and making important decisions.
Pretty much all of my friends said you’ll be bored. You will be back within three months because what can you do lying on the beach.
Joanna: Yeah, and you’re still there now!
Chris: I think for many people, that’s really what’s happening for them. They start the next company. They get involved again. They create the same thing again or something different, and so it’s a circle on and on.
But what kept me from that was that I had those two wonderful little children and I was very clear about that. They would get older and it wouldn’t be like that. I really wanted to live a life where I knew my children.
Joanna: You know what, I think it’s just so fundamentally important the things you’re talking about now. I guess really what we’ve ended up talking about here is the importance of preparing yourself. Maybe not before the sale, but after the sale really doing some important work in really thinking about what your purpose is and what’s next for you. So that you don’t just blindly roll on to the next thing because that’s all you know how to think about at the moment.
Chris: Yeah. Many people will just turn around. Start the next business. And they’re back in stress and back in the same thing. Maybe that new business doesn’t even work out and the money goes away and the stress continues.
I was very happy that I had my children and the new home of Maui that brought me on a new track.
Life after selling the business
Joanna: And so talk to us a bit about what that lifestyle looked like. So you’ve finally made this breakaway. You’ve had this sort of mental change. You’ve now moved to beautiful Maui. You have time, and you’ve got the benefit of having some money in the bank. What did life look like then? What did you do with yourself?
Chris: Suddenly everything you know and you’ve been doing is totally worthless. You have to re-learn for what your life is about now.
I re-learned parenting. I re-learned sitting down and reading. I re-learned being with my wife in new ways. And I didn’t feel as confident as in running a company with all that.
I gained a whole new spiritual life. I discovered the Sufis and Sufi dancing and a lot of quite a variety of spiritual things that are happening here on Maui.
Joanna: Wow. And so it sounds like you have sort of a family-filled, relaxed sort of lifestyle.
Chris: Yeah. It’s very family-oriented. Then we had the great opportunity to rent a 10-acre estate on the water, which was the only one in Maui like that, and we threw fantastic parties. So right away we were known and we had hundreds of friends and everybody knew us and that really cemented this new way of life.
Joanna: Yeah. Wow! I love it. I absolutely love it. And so there you said over time you then did start to dabble in businesses again. Maybe if you can talk about a few of those experiences and a few of the things that you learnt over time about what works well in a business and what were lessons or warnings for people for things that didn’t work so well for you.
Starting new businesses again
Chris: Yeah. So the first one was a month after we arrived. Maui decided they needed new high tech entrepreneurs. They opened up an incubator and my business was started in the first incubator that Berlin had back in 84′ or ’85. So I rented a place and the incubator. All the big politicians came and congratulated. I made up a business plan. I had of course all the money to do it myself, no problem. I didn’t have employees yet.
Then I think a couple of weeks later, I was sitting in that white walled office and I was looking out. I was seeing the ocean and the nature and I was saying, am I crazy? Am I totally crazy? This is what I ran away from so I don’t want to duplicate myself.
Joanna: So are you saying, like are you crazy as in are you about to repeat getting yourself into another business when actually all you really want is the relaxed lifestyle you’d suddenly discovered?
Chris: Yeah. I was like god I moved to Maui to have a new lifestyle, not to do the same game again. So I just shelved that. That was it. That was a great learning experience.
A few years later in ’97, there was this happening in Silicon Valley. Netscape had gone public. Other companies where there. There was a billion dollar company run by 24 year olds. I was like woah, I might be missing something.
And my kids were getting older and they weren’t like the center of my life. So I went and kept my place in Maui. But I started a company in Palo Alto right in the center of Silicon Valley and went back and forth.
I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle but I also wanted to be where the entrepreneurial fires were burning. Because certainly Maui didn’t have anything like that to offer, and ran that company for about three years.
As you know in April 2000 everything just burned up. The Nasdaq crashed, investments dried up, and most Internet companies went under and so did mine. At that point, I was like “Oh, cute.”
From running that, I was ready to involve myself in something else. I studied up a little bit about real estate and was looking for what am I really interested in. What do I really want to do?
Then, this was actually a few years later, I got really clear about it, that global warming was really what was calling me. I could see that would be affecting my life and my children’s life and certainly my grandchildren’s life. I wanted to make a difference in that, and I really strongly decided to do that.
From then on, I worked pro bono in writing articles. I went to the Public Utility Commission (the state institution that controls renewable energy), went to conferences, spoke to a lot of people, do up a lot of plans. Not to make money, but to drive forward the idea that we can be 100% renewally powered.
Many other people in Maui seemed to have heard the same call in Hawaii. Maui is now actually the place in the world that has the highest concentration of wind and solar on the grid.
Joanna: Wow, is that right? I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.
Chris: Yeah. We’re also, at least last year, we had the most electric cars per person here in Maui. Obviously because you can’t drive far so it’s relatively easy to live with an electric car that only does 80 miles.
Joanna: Yeah, a bit harder here in Australia. We’ve got lots of road to cover, lots of road to cover.
So it sounds like you had a few businesses over time. But really, your biggest success was the first business and the other businesses sort of almost reaffirmed your view of the need to get out of business and do something that had a greater purpose for you. Is that right?
Chris: Well, the one in Silicon Valley I should mention we actually took it public in a reverse merger in February of 2000. I was still in that lock up period of two years so I couldn’t sell any stock. But we did sell some stock and we had a valuation of this little company, with 18 employees at that time, of 500 million dollars.
Joanna: Wow! That’s amazing!
Chris: That’s how crazy valuations were running then.
Chris: Totally crazy. I laughed about it. But we all said wow, we’re onto something here. Something big would have come out of it had the Nasdaq not crashed at that point.
Joanna: Yeah. I think one of the things in hearing everything that you’re talking about here, you’re clearly a serial entrepreneur at heart and you find it hard to keep yourself away from starting businesses.
I remember when we met, we had lots of discussions about ideas you had. I could see you’re really creative and you’ve got loads of ideas about how to make things better and how to introduce new and novel ways of doing things for business. So obviously that was a driver for you.
At points, are you still coming up with new businesses? Like how does that manifest itself these days in your life?
Chris: These days it’s not as active as it was. But my brain brings about a good new business idea about once a week. It used to be like almost every day. So I’m writing them up and I don’t really have the time to go through all of them.
Chris: But what we’re building now between me and my new partner is an online university specifically for entrepreneurs making available important know-how to entrepreneurs wherever they are in the world.
Part of this wherever they are is we’re really very much at work in Asia, particularly in China, Taiwan, Malaysia. When I go there, I see what an incredible entrepreneurial dynamic there is. But also how people become entrepreneurs that have not had a history of learning about it or going to a university.
Often in China somebody comes all the way from the farm, winds up in Shanghai, gets an idea, puts it together and suddenly has a company, suddenly has a million dollars. But he really doesn’t know much about running a company.
So that’s when they come to the live business school that my partner has been teaching for 40 years. You can actually look up. I’ll give you two websites. One is moneyandyou.com.
Chris: And the other one is globalacceleratedbusinessschool.com.
Joanna: Great. And look, we’ll put those in our show notes, a link to both of those in case you’re moving along at the moment and can’t write those down. Just go to our show notes and we’ll put a link through to both of those. What sort of information do these courses pass on to them?
Chris: My partner has been teaching these schools for 40 years, very much experiential so the knowledge that comes in really sinks deep. People remember these schools even after 30 years. They say that’s the most important experience I had in my life. As part of doing this for all these years, there is now a lot of fantastic teachers associated with the school.
I just did the business school as a participant. It was in Phuket, in a five star resort. We had 25 world class teachers that you often wouldn’t have access to otherwise. So I learned exactly how to do planning with computer tools.
As a part of creating this business schools over 40 years, we have now access to incredible teachers. For example the last business school in Phuket, in a five star resort, in eight days we had 25 teachers that taught us everything from planning to marketing.
We, in particular, had one teacher who when he was I think 25 years old, bought a million dollar business. He had no money at all. He figured out how to get the bank loans, how to structure of the business purchase, and owned that business for many years and grew it and then decided I really want to teach how I did this and help other people do it.
We want to take advantage of knowing all these teachers and recording them and bringing them online in our accelerated online business school so that entrepreneurs all over the world don’t have to necessarily come for the experience but get the trainings online, thinking truly all over the world. There could be somebody in a hut in Africa that participates, somebody in Europe where we don’t have courses.
Joanna: Or our business owners here in Australia.
Chris: And business owners in Australia. We’re actually very active in Australia. You’ll see that if you go to Money And You.
Chris: I think the Australian side is moneyandyou.com.au. You can see what’s happening in Australia.
Joanna: Fabulous! All right. Well look, Chris I just want to say thank you so much for taking us through such an interesting story there. I think there’s so many things that are really useful for business owners to bear in mind.
In part one, you talked about business owners or yourself starting with this sort of strong goal and this vision and clearly that helped you in terms of identifying opportunities, being brash enough to put yourself out there before you even had a product, and then finding the need and building the product around that.
Then selling the business and getting to this ultimate goal, but dealing with the new challenge of how to deal with wealth and how to change your mindset from a business owner that’s only able to think about business and being in the business to be able to think of a broader life purpose and being able to get out of the business and into your family or other things that might bring you joy. Then the interesting stories I think that you have taken us through along the way after the sale of your business and moving to Maui, about trying new things and how some of them worked and some of them didn’t.
I think for me the biggest lesson that I think I can take personally and maybe our listeners can take is about the idea of getting close to what it is that makes you happy in life and finding a way to use your business to achieve that. But then to be able to step out of it at the end of the day, to realize that life isn’t about your business at the end of the day necessarily. But that it can be a good vehicle to get you to where you want in life and to create the lifestyle that you want.
So after all of that, do you have any remaining thoughts or tips or lessons or anything that you want to leave with our audience from that vast array of knowledge that you’ve clearly built up over the years and perspective. I think that’s a big thing that you’ve probably built up, the perspective and anything to leave our listeners with.
Chris: Well, it’s really good to know where you’re going, to make a plan. Because if you if you don’t have a plan, that’s exactly where you’ll wind up. And to realise that even if you’re young and the world is your oyster, life after all is quite short. And how important family, how important your children are.
I have three grandchildren now and our family has always been sweet even while living apart. We’re really loving and friendly with each other. In the end, that’s what really is important. The love that you share with others and the love you have for your own life.
Joanna: Chris, I just want to say a massive thank you. This has been absolutely fabulous talking to you. I hope our listeners get a lot out of it because I personally did. So thank you.
And if we want to find you obviously we’ve talked about some of those websites there, the moneyandyou.com and the moneyandyou.com.au and globalacceleratedbusinessschool.com.
If people want to make contact with you at all Chris, where are you? Are you around in the social world anywhere? Are you on LinkedIn? How do people find you?
Chris: Well, my email is very simple. It is [email protected] and you’re absolutely welcome to write to me and find me on Facebook although there’s a whole lot of Chris Mentzels, so e-mail is probably the best to find me.
Joanna: And so that’s Chris at Mentzel dot com.
Joanna: Great. Okay, wonderful. As always, we’ll put a link through to it in our show notes. You have a fabulous day or rest of your day there in Maui, and thanks once again for joining us on The Deal Room podcast.
Joanna: That concludes our two-part series with serial entrepreneur, Chris Mentzel. Today Chris walked us through his own experience after selling his first startup and offered some valuable insights on what business owners ought to expect after closing the deal.
We discussed the importance of having a wealth management plan to optimise the value that you get out of the proceeds from the sale. Chris also talked about the emotional tug-of-war that he dealt with during this process of letting go and stepping away, and how he found himself dabbling into business again many years later.
There’s remarkably very few resources out there that talk about the post-exit experiences of entrepreneurs. Thankfully, here on The Deal Room, you get the benefit of listening to people like Chris who have the benefit of hindsight so that we can learn from their experiences.
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode and this two-part series with Chris. If you did, please subscribe to The Deal Room on Apple Podcast or your other favorite podcast player.
Thanks again for listening in! This has been Joanna Oakey and The Deal Room Podcast, a podcast proudly brought to you by our commercial legal practice, Aspect Legal. See you next time!
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