Shifting Perspectives on Founder Significance

by Khaw Veon Szu

Khaw is a trusted startup, business, and intellectual property lawyer with over 20 years of track record helping his clients succeed.
He understands that the modern business world needs practical, common sense and value-for-money solutions. That is why he initiated an innovative legal service brand —- Veon Szu® Law.
Riding on the digital revolution, he built his firm’s own App — Veon Szu® Law App, to serve his valued clients better
The startup landscape is known for its exciting, dynamic, and challenging environment. In the fast and furious startup world, founders are always on the move to secure funding, establish market presence, and respond to market shifts. To them, a business succession plan is something that only established companies need to worry about, and not startups. After all, as founders, their focus is to grow the business and not to plan for its end.

Having said that, common sense dictates that a business succession plan is crucial for any business, regardless of size or stage. For a startup, business succession planning involves preparing for changes in leadership roles within the organisation. This can include identifying and nurturing internal talent, implementing mentoring programmes, and facilitating knowledge transfer.

Here are but some reasons why you, as a founder, should consider creating a business succession plan for your startup:

First, a business succession plan can help you prepare for the unexpected. You never know what might happen to you or your co-founders, such as illness, death, disability, or personal issues. If you don’t have a plan in place, your business could suffer from the loss of key people or even face legal disputes among the remaining partners or heirs.

Secondly, a business succession plan can help you attract and retain talent. Having a clear vision of how your business will continue after you or your co-founders leave can reassure your employees, investors, and customers that your startup has a future. It can also motivate your team members to perform better and stay loyal, knowing they can advance in the company or benefit from its success.

Thirdly, a business succession plan can help you exit gracefully. If you decide to sell your business or retire, having a business succession plan can make the transition smoother and more profitable. You can identify potential buyers or successors, set a fair valuation for your business, and negotiate the best terms for yourself and your stakeholders.

Now that you are convinced, having a business succession plan is not a nice-to-have but a must-have. Naturally, the next question is—- How to create a business succession plan for your startup?

Creating a business succession plan for your startup might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some steps you can follow to get started:

Step 1: Define your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve with your business? How long do you plan to run it? What are your personal and professional aspirations? These questions help you clarify your vision and purpose for your startup.

Step 2: Identify your key people and roles. Who are the essential people in your startup, such as co-founders, managers, employees, advisors, or mentors? What are their roles and responsibilities? How do they contribute to the success of your business?

Step 3: Evaluate your options and scenarios. How could you or your co-founders exit the business, such as selling, transferring, retiring, or passing away? How would each option affect your business and its stakeholders? What are the pros and cons of each scenario?

Step 4: Choose your preferred option and successor. Based on your evaluation, decide which option is best for you and your startup. Who do you want to take over your role or ownership in the business? It could be someone from within the company, such as a co-founder, employee, or family member, or someone from outside, such as a competitor, partner, or investor.

Step 5: Document and communicate your plan. Write down your business succession plan in a clear and detailed manner. Include information such as the valuation of your business, the terms of the transfer or sale, the timeline of the transition, and the roles and responsibilities of the successor and other parties involved. Share your plan with your co-founders, team members, investors, customers, and other stakeholders who need to know about it.

Step 6: Review and update your plan regularly. Your business succession plan is not set in stone. It should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances and needs. Review your plan periodically and make adjustments as necessary. Keep your key people informed of any changes or updates.

Founders in most startups are irreplaceable. Most, if not all, investors simply cannot imagine the startups they have invested in without their founders. If the investors no longer have such fear, then that would be a clear sign that the startup has finally arrived.

In other words, if your startup collapses like a house of cards the moment you walk away, it does not indicate how important and indispensable you are. It’s a sign of how poorly drafted your business succession plan was.

A founder’s legacy is one that makes the startup better, stronger, and ready to continue the mission long after you have gone.

A business succession plan is, therefore, not only a contingency plan for emergencies but is also a critical tool for growth and sustainability. By creating one for your startup, you can ensure your business will thrive beyond your or your co-founders’ tenure.

In short, founders are not indispensable; business succession plans are.