It's never too early to start thinking about an exit and life after selling a company, according to Speedeon Data CEO Gerard Daher. When he spoke at the 2023 Cleveland Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, Daher said every year he takes a step closer to that goal by reviewing his personal plan for himself, going over a variety of things as it relates to what happens when that day comes. Something that's been core to that process is having the right advisers in place.

"I have a variety of mentors and outside advisers," Daher says. "Great lawyers, great money managers, great accountants; people that you would trust your life with because that's exactly what you're doing."

Daher started Speedeon essentially as a project, and has moved the goalposts a lot over the years because it's fun and has become his calling in life.  

"I was building Speedeon to sell," he says. "Fifteen years ago, we started the business. And today, we're still building Speedeon to sell, 15 years later. But I am certain I won't wake up the age of 72 — I'm only 55 — still hoping to achieve this dream. I think this dream is probably happening sometime in the next couple of years; and I mean it this time. So, getting ready, really, is you got to know yourself. You got to do a lot of introspection about what do you want to do next. And I know one thing for sure: I'm pretty bored at the beach after maybe hour 36. So then I got to figure out something else to do."

Given that he's certain that he will do another business venture once he exits Speedeon, he's preparing for that by continuing to build his network, in part through peer groups, to get ready for the moment. He's also working on other aspects such as estate planning to minimize his taxes. Again, key to that process has been people offering him guidance and advice.

"I feel like my outside advisors care about my life more than I do," he says.

It's also important to have friends that will offer unfiltered advice, as is having people around who have been there and done that.

"I think there's a decent chance that Speedeon sells for a fair amount of money someday," he says. "So, having advisors that aren't the starter group — these are the people that you could go to when you finally have that pot of gold that'll give you good advice, that know where to put it and how to manage it, because someday my life could be a lot different than it is today just in regards to the assets I might have available."

He says a key part of his day-to-day life is an advisory board — they've all seen it and lived it. They're smart people, he says, helping him get where he wants to go.

Something else guiding how he'll approach an exit is the fact that not only is Speedeon his legacy, but he says it's impossible to differentiate between personal and business because he's its founder and face. That means he expects it will be very hard to let go.

"I had an experience when I was much younger. I worked for a big medical device company," he says. "I was a salesperson elevated to a management role. Just to let go of my sales territory was hard because I always had an opinion. I had old customers still call me — 'You know, Mary Louise said that ...' and you're like, it's not my not my problem anymore. I'm not sure what direction we'll go when we eventually sell it — will it be private equity or will it be a strategic? I haven't figured that out quite yet; certainly exploring that. But I think that you have to be very careful when you go through that process because my name actually does mean a lot to me. I will be very careful who we do a deal with. They have to reflect my core values, which are really the core values of the business. So, I want to make sure all of my people are taken care of when it finally happens because that means that I did good when I finally wrap it all up. And it's not all about me, it's about everyone."