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I Decided To Sell My Business

This feels strange to say, but here goes…

I decided to sell my software business, WishList Products and Rhino Support.

What makes this even more strange is that…

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the business or the people I was in business with.  In fact, I love my business partners, I love our team and I love our customers.  Plus, I’m ridiculously proud of what we have created with WishList Member.  Our membership plugin now powers over  54,000+ online communities and membership sites.

So if everything is going well, why would I sell it?

There are four reasons and I detail each of them in this post.

Why Would I Want To Sell My Business?

It was 2am on a rainy Sunday morning.  I was staying in a one-room cabin with my wife and 3yr old daughter in the beautiful Algonquin Park.  We were there for “family camp” – a fun filled weekend of outdoor adventure.  Unfortunately though, I couldn’t sleep.  As I laid there in the pitch black, unable to turn on a light and read and unable to go outside for a walk (because of the rain), I began asking myself some very pointed questions.

Many of the questions were influenced by two books that I had read shortly before (both of which immediately made it into my “Top 5”).  Essentialism by Greg McKeown and The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.  Both books challenged me to eliminate everything that isn’t absolutely necessary in my life so that I could make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.

Two books that immediately made it into my "Top 5" all time favorites.
Two books that immediately made it into my “Top 5” all time favorites.

In fact, I vividly remember one part of Essentialism where Greg offered a simple but powerful process for making decisions.  He called it the “90 Percent Rule”.  Here is his explanation straight from the book:

As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give each option a score between 0 and 100.  If you rate it lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it.  This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.  Think about how you’d feel if you scored 65 on some test.  Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life?

So with eyes wide open, laying in the darkness, I started asking myself questions like…

  • Of all the things I’m working on right now, what are my 9’s and 10’s?
  • What projects make you feel good?
  • What projects cause stress and what projects feel natural and easy?
  • What do I want to work on but somehow never find the time?
  • What are my priorities right now?  Are they what I want them to be?
  • What do I want to be known for 3, 5, 10 yrs from now?
  • Will my current projects give me the platform I need to have the impact I want to have?

The incredible part of this exercise is that when you are in complete darkness and there is nothing to distract you, the environment forces you to answer each question.

In my case, I began coming to conclusions that I couldn’t have imagined.  One of them was to sell my company.  I knew in my heart of hearts (even if it was really tough for me to admit), that WishList Products for me was an 8.  And that’s one of the most dangerous numbers on that decision scale because it’s so close to being a 9.  But I knew (because I had read the book multiple times), if it wasn’t a 9 or 10, it had to go.

At first I questioned myself.  In all transparency, there was a lot of emotion and ego pushing back on this conclusion.

Counter questions kept popping up…

  • What would my wife think?  This company has been the primary source of income for our family… giving it up creates a lot of uncertainty… do you want to do that?  Especially now that you have kids?
  • How will this impact my friendship with my business partners and team?  (relationships that span years of friendship… one that even dates back to when we were 7 years old)
  • What will I say when people ask “what do you do?”.  As silly as this question us, I only just felt like I had an easy answer to that question… something even my parents could use when they were asked 😛
  • Do you really want to let go of something that has been so successful?  What if this is “it”… your only big entrepreneurial success?

I could feel the fear and anxiety begin to creep in.

Then, before I knew it, the sun began to rise and my family began to wake up.  The first words I said to my wife were “I’ve made a big decision… I’m going to sell WishList”.

She calmly looked at me and said “tell me why”.  Right away, I could sense that she knew this was coming… even before I did.

So I shared my reasons with her and without hesitation she said “ok, let’s do it.  I believe in you”.

And that was that.  The wheels were in motion.

I’ve said it before, but my wife is the most incredible woman in the world.  Her love and belief in me is something I cherish SO much.

So What Were My Reasons For Wanting To Sell My Company?

There were four primary reasons that led to this conclusion.

  1. I Wanted to Pursue Other Projects – For longer than I would like to admit, I have had an urge to pursue projects that were completely unrelated to the work I was doing with WishList.  These projects have been on my mind for quite a long time and mean a lot to me.  Unfortunately, they always kept getting pushed to the backburner.  The “urgent” was keeping me from the “important”.   “How long will you keep doing this?” I asked myself.  Deep down, I knew I couldn’t keep putting these off.
  2. I Felt I Needed Space To Think – I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty creative guy.  The problem is, leading up to this decision I felt like I was always being rushed when it came to generating ideas.  I can’t think of a time in the last few years when I had plenty of time to sit down and brainstorm on a new project where the project wasn’t due next week… or in a few days.  I always felt rushed.  Because of this, I was never truly satisfied with the output of my ideas.  I was desperately seeking room to exercise those creative muscles to their fullest.  I realized that it was important for me to get so far in front of future deadlines that I would have TONS of time to be creative in every capacity to make whatever project it was, truly world class.
  3. I Needed To Focus My Efforts – During the last 18 months, I ran a side “experiment”.  I partnered with NYT best-selling author Michael Hyatt to design, launch and grow a membership site for his audience called Platform University.

    It was an immediate success, with the membership site quickly growing into a 7-figure per year business.  More importantly though, the membership site completely transformed his overall business.  It gave him the stability and flexibility to begin designing his business how he truly wanted it to be.  For Michael, that meant a LOT less travel (which is what he wanted), his revenue more than doubled during the first year of us working together (and has since doubled again) and he was able to leverage his time in ways that allowed him to go deeper with the people he wanted to serve.

    After the first year we decided to extend our partnership beyond just the membership site and it proved to be the right decision as our other projects like Best Year Ever were a huge success.  This project and others gave Michael the opportunity to serve his audience in a completely different way – something he really does cherish.

    I loved playing a role in the transformation of Michael’s business.  Plus, during this time, Michael, Megan (his oldest daughter), Gail (his wife) and his entire team (including some of his other daughters) became REALLY great friends – so much so, they feel like my second family.  Plus, it became clear to me that we were only scratching the surface in regards to the impact we were having with the information Michael was delivering.  It feels good knowing that you’re playing a part in changing the lives of so many.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive to the fact that we changed lives with the products we had created with WishList Products.  But this just felt different and I found myself wanting to contribute more in that way.

    Michael and Megan HyattThe byproduct of this “experiment” was that I realized I have an incredible gift for helping entrepreneurs (specifically authors, speakers and niche celebrities) make more money – and in a far less stressful way.  By helping them monetize, maximize and optimize their business, I’m able to help them create tremendous impact with their audience – and that’s something that really gets me excited.  And this didn’t go unnoticed by others either.

    Soon, I had other VERY big authors seeking consulting and even partnerships to provide similar strategy and insight to their business.  The opportunities that have been coming my way have been incredible – which made me realize, I really do need to focus my efforts and get clear on the direction I would like to go.
  4. I Wanted To Simplify My Life – If there is one thing I hate, it’s stress.  I’ve always designed my business and my life to reduce or eliminate stress.  For me, stress is the #1 criteria that influences my decision making – and if I have the choice between two options, I will almost always select the one that is less stressful.

    So when I began thinking about WishList, I realized that for various reasons, it didn’t completely fit the mold for the type of business I wanted to create long-term.  For example, the fact that it was built on top of WordPress was stressful to me.  There were always so many variables that could cause things to go wrong.  Theme conflicts, plugin conflicts, different server configurations, WordPress updates and the list goes on and on.

    WordPress is an amazing platform but it’s a nightmare to build a business around because the potential for these types of conflicts continues to grow each and every day.  Therefore, it felt like we were always “reacting”.  We always had to be on “alert”.

    Some people thrive in that type of environment.  I on the other hand, don’t.  I like the opposite.  I like to keep whatever business I’m involved in as simple as possible.  A simple business means a simple life.  A simple life means less stress.  That’s ultimately what I am after – a stress-free life.

The Unexpected

The good news is that by having uninterrupted time to just think, the answers to those questions I mentioned earlier became crystal clear.  I knew what I needed to do.

The bad news is that I would need to share this decision with my business partners and team – and I wasn’t sure how they would react.

The process of sharing the news ended up being far more emotional than I had anticipated.  I definitely underestimated the pride that I felt (and continue to feel) regarding the impact we’ve had with WishList Member.  A day doesn’t pass without someone reaching out to me on Facebook, Twitter or even in person at a conference or seminar to share how WishList Member has transformed their business.  I get great satisfaction from that.  Even still, right now, I can feel the emotions bubbling up wondering if I will be able to have that same effect with the projects I pursue in the future.

Hanging with my two WishList Products business partners Tracy Childers (far right), his 3 kids, Mike Lopez (middle) and John Morris (one of our WishList developers, tall guy :P)
Hanging with my two WishList Products business partners Tracy Childers (far right), his 3 kids, Mike Lopez (middle) and John Morris (one of our WishList developers, tall guy :P)

As I explained to my business partners, WishList for me was like dating a really hot girl who you know just isn’t “the one” you want to marry.  Sure, dating is fun for a while, but eventually you have to face the hard truth that in order to find the love of your life, you have to let go of the hot girl and move on.

Negotiating my buyout didn’t prove to be that difficult.  I think a large reason was the fact that both sides valued our relationship over money – something I really appreciated.  It is rare in a situation like this where both sides are so concerned about the well being of the person they are negotiating with.  In my past experience, these situations can get ugly because people get greedy.

That wasn’t the case with Tracy and Mike.  Sure we had some back and forth regarding timelines for the buyout and some other terms.  But there wasn’t any drama at all.  It just demonstrated to me what a class act both my business partners are.  Tracy Childers and Mike Lopez really are incredible friends and amazing individuals who I am so grateful to have been in business with.

By far the most difficult part of this whole experience was sharing the news with the whole WishList team.  It was honestly like attending my own funeral.  After sharing the news that I was going to be leaving, each member of our 22-person team, one-by-one told me what I meant to them.

I was a mess.  I’m a mess now writing this and thinking back to that moment.  It was really touching on a deep level and I will never forget the kind words that everyone shared.

It also made me realize that our everyday actions are impacting those around us whether we know it or not.  The way we talk to others.  The way we treat them day in and day out.  The way we support them through challenging times.  The way we teach them or guide them.  All these little interactions have a cumultive effect.  Those everyday moments are an opportunity to positively (or negatively) impact someone’s life.  Never take those moments for granted.

It also taught me the value of just openly sharing.  Actually telling someone what they really mean to you.  Too often we wait until it’s too late.  Why?  Challenge yourself to tell one person you interact with on a regular basis, what they really mean to you.  When you do, I guarantee that you’ll feel amazing – and so will they.

Moving Forward

I’m excited about the future.  I can’t wait to start exploring some of the ideas that I’ve put on the backburner over the last few years.

One of the first things I will be doing starting this upcoming year will be more content creation.  Sharing my strategies for Working Less, Making More and Loving Life.

I’m also excited to begin serving a small group of clients and helping them transform their business much like I have done for Michael Hyatt.  Right now I’m scheduling one client per month for a full day consultation and will also be organizing a small workshop in the Spring – specifically helping authors, speakers or niche celebrities who want to monetize their following in the form of a membership site.

I also can’t wait until we release Michael’s completely revised Best Year Ever course (which is coming up soon).  If you’re wanting to transform 2015, make sure you visit and take advantage of the super high quality free videos that will be released absolutely free during the beginning of December.

Lastly, I’m excited about the future of WishList Member and WishList Products.  The company is in good hands with Tracy and Mike.  They genuinely care about the WishList community and I can tell you without any hesitation, they really are two of the “good guys” in the online space.  In addition, I can’t say enough about the WishList team.  They are a world class group and I will definitely miss each and every one of them.  From support to development, they work so hard to serve and support the WishList community and I know for a fact that they have some VERY exciting things coming up.

It’s going to be fun to see how everyone continues to grow and thrive.

Your Turn

What difficult decision have you been delaying?

Let me know in the comments and don’t be afraid to share what you think about my decision to leave WishList.

  • Amazing story, Stu. You have no idea how much I can relate to the decisions you have made. I love the book, Essentialism. It really opened my eyes. My goal is to put aside the good and go for the great. As a long time Toastmaster (20 years), I’ve heard thousands of passionate speeches over the years on all sorts of subjects. Some of the speeches has been life changers, yet for most speakers, the idea or plan the espouse usually ends with the speech. Most people (myself included) have had trouble gaining traction. The great ideas and passions die a slow and lonely death.
    The really interesting thing I’ve discovered is the outline to a passionate speech, is exactly the same as a powerful blog post and also exactly the same as a powerful content marketing page. It’s also the same as a powerful chapter in a Kindle bestseller, and also the script of a powerful YouTube video. It also forms the slides of a powerful business Powerpoint given to a board of directors as well as a podcast you listen to while driving in traffic. This one idea (usually in the form of an outline), combined with a compelling title, powerful hook, three or four main points and a straight-forward call to action, is the key to changing the lives of others. My idea is simple. Create this outline once, and have a software tool create the components of all the media (social included) in the push of one button. I’ve got a working concept using third party software, but I hate to be dependent on software and products that constantly change (love your example of working with ever changing WordPress). My difficult decision is to take this to the next level. To spend the time and money to help thousands of speakers, authors and business professionals take their ideas to the next level. Your post above just made that decision a little easier. . .

  • Michelle Barnum Smith

    Thanks for sharing your story Stu. Mine feels similar in a lot of ways. At my core I value freedom to focus. I walked away from a very high paying job / career of 10 years a few years back to pursue a life that could let me raise my babies. I had no idea at the time what that path would lead me down (heck I still don’t know!) but I’m grateful for the journey. One of the biggest decisions I’ve been delaying is growing my agency beyond my own time / abilities. My current workload keep me comfortable but it doesn’t stretch me. My clients want more and so I’ve finally decided to leap into providing full Launch services. Admittedly it’s scary to do things that are new, but I’m not content with just existing… so here we are. Gosh, this is the sickness of entrepreneurship, isn’t it? There’s always some new area to grow into, some new call to answer within ourselves. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

  • caroldunlop

    Hi Stu, I can totally relate to what you are talking about and where you are going. My husband and I did something similar when we decided that we were going for it, no matter what. After his stroke and my breast cancer diagnosis, you just look at life differently and, like you say, you want to get rid of the stress and welcome in the joy. I TOTALLY love WLM and all that it has done for me as an entrepreneur. I didn’t even realize you had sold it until Tribe started and you were talking about your “former” company…I was shocked. I am glad that you explained it here. You will be fine though and love what you are doing now, keep it rolling!

  • Rita Stewart

    Thank you for sharing.
    What I’ve found is when you continue to delay making a decision, the recovery period or moving forward seems take longer.

    I recently made a transition and after a little over a year the fog is finally beginning to lift and I’m taking action to move forward. No regrets!

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