Curtain Call

You've laughed, you've cried, you've moved on after selling your business. Or have you? If you're wondering what's next, take a look at what these entrepreneurs are doing now--and get read for your own encore performance.

Selling your business can be a difficult and upsetting process. But it's nothing like the emotional train wreck waiting for you on the day after the sale, when you suddenly discover that you don't know what to do with yourself. You can't go into the office; you can't visit customers or send e-mails to vendors. The life you spent years building is suddenly gone.

Gone but not forgotten. Without the usual frenetic demands on your time and attention, your life seems to come to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, your mind continues to race to find the answer to one haunting question: What's next?

Chuck Hawks, an executive coach with DreamsFulfilled in Charlotte, North Carolina, helps executives and entrepreneurs answer that very question. "Selling out can create a sense of loss, or a sense of relief," says Hawks. Either way, it's a chance to find something that fulfills you in new ways. "It may not be a business thing. It may be moving to Tahiti or working for a charity. It's a chance to [ask], What really lights me up?"

Maybe you already know what lights you up and have a plan to pursue it. If you don't have such a plan, take a cue from the entrepreneurs below who have found rewarding ways to sell their businesses but keep their sanity.

Passion Play

In the 1980s, before Petco and Petsmart became household names, there was Animal Kingdom, a large Dallas pet store modeled on the dreams (and the MBA project) of its co-founder, Carol Frank. Within three years, the store was approaching the million-dollar sales mark. At the same time, however, Frank was feeling the urge to do something else.

The energy that drives entrepreneurs into a business is often the same energy that drives them out of it. For Frank, now 45, the prospect of new challenges moved her quickly out of the retail business and into distribution-and then out of distribution and into manufacturing. In the space of 10 short years, retailer Animal Kingdom begat wholesaler Avian Kingdom Supply, which begat manufacturer Avian Adventures (both of which Frank founded on her own).

"Entrepreneurs are often people [who] need kinetic energy to feel satisfied," says Hawks. This may explain why so many entrepreneurs, like Frank, are repeat performers. "They can't sit still for 30 seconds."

There are various names given to people who channel their energy into new businesses. Whether you call them "serial entrepreneurs" or "second-stage entrepreneurs," it's clear that the thrill of creating something from nothing is what really keeps them going. For Frank, each business she sold helped fund the growth of the next. Interestingly, each time she started a new venture, it was within the same core industry.

"The pet industry is addictive," Frank says. "I don't remember thinking,'I want to sell this company, and I need something to do next.' I saw a new opportunity to stay in the industry."

Frank's self-described addiction is another name for the passion that motivates entrepreneurs. "Many entrepreneurs are just never truly satisfied," says Hawks. "They see these businesses as a vehicle-a way to support their passion for an industry."

There may be at least one more transition ahead for Frank. "The plan is to sell Avian Adventures in five years when we get to $10 million," she says (projected sales for 2004 are $2 million). "At that point, we'll sell for enough money for me to retire." Of course, her definition of retirement includes speaking engagements, writing books, and educating people about how to care for exotic birds-just another way to express her passion for the business.

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This article was originally published in the October 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Curtain Call.

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