I’ve enjoyed writing this weekly column for three years, and I love when I hear back from founders with an update. One of the most-read questions this year came from a founder who was anxious about the company’s upcoming IPO.
Here’s the original question and response, published on June 16, 2021:
I am dealing with some anxiety as we approach our IPO. What should I do?
Congrats on being on the path to going public! That’s a huge accomplishment and very exciting. Of course, it is also very stressful.
I applaud you for sharing this question. It’s very self-aware of you to be willing to ask for help, and I’m certain that having some more support will serve you well. I recommend you work with a professional therapist or executive coach.
Right now, there is a fear of the unknown. You will find that everything will be okay, it’s just new and uncertain. Your situation will become normalized once you are living it. Like we’ve seen with the pandemic—though what you’re facing is positive—there will be a “new normal.” You will find that there will be good things and some things that are less fun, but you will still be in control of your company and you will dramatically benefit from having a whole new level of cash to achieve your vision.
I mention “control” above and that’s a big issue for founders. As you probably know, there are some things you can do to help maintain the control you have, such as going out with dual classes of stock. Work with your advisers to ensure you are doing everything so that the people who built this company get to benefit the most from it.
It is so rare to go public: Out of all the companies that are launched, there are only a few hundred IPOs in any given year—and generally that’s 8 to 10 years after they were started. You are one of a very select few and should feel great about this accomplishment as well as what you are doing to improve as a leader and as a human.
It’s important to get some support from someone who understands what you are going through and who can counsel you through this time and prepare you to navigate all that’s ahead. As we all know, there’s more coming! Even when you win the Super Bowl, you have to get ready for the next season. As you get help and garner new experiences, you will build new competencies to face the next challenges that come your way. It’s super normal to be nervous going into the unknown, but it’s how you keep learning and growing.
I enjoyed responding to this question and followed up with the founder to hear how it turned out.
The company did go public as expected, though that’s not to say it went perfectly. The stock traded down when it opened. Though the founder told me that was “depressing as all hell,” he took it in stride and even saw the bright side, as it taught the team an important lesson: The stock price is out of their control and all they can do is work hard.
The stock went up the following quarters and is now at an all-time high, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or the founder’s problems are solved. Life is different as a public-company CEO. The founder is getting used to being more of a public person, which is challenging, since he’s inherently introverted and private. Furthermore, he’s feeling the pressure of performing. Different from when they were private, the company needs good numbers every quarter and even better numbers the next quarter. “It snowballs,” he says.
The IPO has generated significant wealth—his family is financially set for generations. But he feels responsibility to his employees and their families. Then there are the investors. “It all falls on my shoulders,” he said. His solve has been to work around the clock, putting in 18 hours a day sacrificing time with his family and time sleeping. While he enjoys work, he’s not sure how long he can handle it. He is looking forward to getting some much need family time over the holidays.
I was happy to hear how he responded with courage to the pressure to adapt to the public market investors. In an effort to prioritize the long term over the short term—and in what I think is a brave and unorthodox move—he pulled providing quarterly guidance. “I’m shocked others have not revolted,” he told me. “We are human beings, not robots.”
Very few people have the chance to take a company public and lead it to greatness. But it is fraught with challenges for all who do. I hope this founder continues to seek out support and lean into doing what is right for his company and also takes care of his health and personal life.