How to Make Sure You Leave on a High Note!


Recently, I interviewed my friend Dan Levitan, venture capitalist and managing partner of Maveron. I’ve enjoyed working with Dan over the last few years not just because Dan is a great person and leader, but also because, Dan is very different than most of my other clients.

Most of my clients are in big corporations or large non-profits so what I learn from them is based on their perspectives as leaders of large organizations. Dan’s approach to life and leadership, coming at them from a venture capitalist’s point of view, is very different. 

I’ve learned a lot from Dan about his unique approach, and am excited to share it with you. Following is an excerpt from our interview in which I explain what I’ve learned from Dan about a concept that he taught me called the “exit strategy”. It’s a great lesson that applies to both life and leadership! 

Marshall: One of the really important things I’ve learned from you, Dan, that is critical in venture capital, is the concept of “exit strategy”. It’s especially important to you as a venture capitalist, because if you don’t ever sell (exit) the company, you won’t make any money back! 

Dan: Exactly!

Marshall: You’ve got to sell it! And, while it’s nice to build the company, someday you have got to sell it or you won’t see a return.

How do you leave on a high note? You have to have a plan! And, this may sound obvious, but planning isn’t something you do on the spur of the moment, it’s something you do before the moment.

You’ve taught me a lot about this concept – it’s called developing an “exit strategy”, and I think it applies to life. Since realizing this concept, I’ve thought about it as it relates to my own life. I’m 68 now and I’m thinking about my own exit strategy. When I leave this earth, what do I want to leave behind?

I think it’s very healthy for all of us to look at the concept of an exit strategy at various phases of life, not just when we’re older, but all throughout our lives. Some of us don’t ever do this and we get stuck right where we are dreading change. Without an exit strategy, we can very easily develop an overwhelming fear of what comes next and thus do nothing at all!

It seems to me that you don’t have to stay in any job, even a corporate job, forever. That being the case, you need to think about your exit strategy even before you’re even thinking of leaving the company.

When I coach people, one of the first things I tell them is – “If I tell you to leave, leave. Don’t stay too long. It’s better to leave a year too early than stay a day too long…. and get fired. Don’t overstay your welcome.

My suggestion to everyone reading this article is the same. Better to stay a year too short than a day too long…and get fired. Don’t overstay your welcome. It’s very healthy for all of us as we journey through life, to have an exit strategy no matter what phase of life you are in.

  • If you’re a young person, think about this, where do you want end up? Of course, you want to live your life without regrets. Think about it, reflect on it. It’s important!
  • If you’re in the mid-phase of life, think about the next job you might want. What about the next promotion? What are you looking for, what do you want, and how do you move from this position to the next?
  • If you’re in the later phase of life, like I am, it’s really important to ask yourself, “what are you going to do the rest of your life?” I’ve done entire programs with people just about this question and it has been very enlightening for all of us. 

So, a challenge that I would like to give everyone reading this blog now is to ask yourself: What is your exit strategy for the various upcoming phases of life? Don’t look on this planning as a negative, look at it as a positive, because clearly if you have a great exit strategy, the one thing you won’t have is regret!