Q: My business partner is trying to screw me out of my business. I approached him a month ago to say I wanted to chase a different path, and sell my minority stake. It’s worth R1 million, but the shareholder agreement says that if I resign he has a call option to buy the shares for nil. His response to my request to exit was that he would exercise his option and pay me nil. What should I do? Should I stay? Should I walk away from the shares with no money? Should I fight for what he owes me? I’m not happy in the company, but I can’t bring myself to write-off the value of my shareholding. — Anonymous
Know who you’re partnering with
I have bad news for you. You’ve lost your money. Kaput. Gone. Minority shareholdings in unlisted companies are worthless, unless you’re in bed with honourable people.
If your majority shareholder is a crook, you’re screwed. You can’t sell to someone else, and a crook won’t do a fair deal to buy you out. If you stay, you’re delaying the inevitable.
You will be screwed. Rather leave now than later. Rather be happy than hang onto the promise of a pot of gold that never materialises.
Focus on creating new wealth
You’re an entrepreneur, so you have the instinct to fight. To never give up. To persevere. This is one of those times where your instinct is wrong. If you fight, you’ll end up in the mud with a pig. Pigs love the mud. He’ll enjoy it, you won’t. Worst of all, you’ll invest energy in trying to regain what you had rather than creating new wealth.
It’s a bit like trying to win back the girlfriend who cheated on you, rather than going out and finding a new girl. Rather find a new girl.
Don’t seek revenge or short term satisfaction
Once you’ve accepted that staying is not an option, and nor is fighting, the next reaction is revenge. “Damn it, I’m going to punch him in the head!” Short-term satisfaction. Long-term, it makes you look bad. And maybe you go to jail.
The best outcome you can hope for is that your story gets traction in your industry/circle of friends/town before his story. Believe me, he has already told everyone he knows that you’re unethical and screwed him. That’s what crooks do.
Good luck fighting the war of whispers. Rather don’t. It’s bad energy. Who cares what people think. The people who care don’t matter, the people who matter don’t care.
Let your reputation define your achievements
In the end your reputation will be defined by your life’s achievements, not by the words of a crook. If you are a nothing, no one will care about his words. If you make it big, no one will care about his words.
If you want revenge, be successful. Success is the ultimate revenge. The rule for partners is this: Make it easy for them to screw you early. That way you don’t waste a whole lot of time with the wrong partners.
Whatever happens, remember this: Life is an adventure. It’s your choice how you describe your story. Is it a sad drama (‘Oh woe is me’), or is it a funny story with some speed-bumps and a happy ending? Frame your story as the latter. You hit a speed-bump, not fun. But not the end. The truth is that business is rough and tumble. So toughen up.
Don’t lose faith in your abilities
This is where it’s useful to have a loving spouse. With him or her at your back you can withstand anything. Whatever happens, don’t lose your self-belief. You have the magic.
You’ve had a bad experience in business. So what? You trusted someone. That’s not such a bad thing. You just got a bit unlucky that he was a crook. Next time lucky. But there is no next time if you lose your self-belief.
Winston Churchill lost all his savings to financial con-men in 1929. He said he was faced with two choices: Fight to get back what he lost, or make more money. He decided to make more money. Keep moving forward. Don’t look backwards.
PS: The best way to deal with a crook is to play dead. Cut him loose. Don’t engage at all. Just play dead.
Listen to this
Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com
Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure but also changing your mind-set and tackling adversity.
Do you have a burning start-up question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org