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OWNER'S MANUAL

The Best Exit? The One You Do On Your Own Terms

In May, Shazi Visram sold her company to Danone--the only acquirer she had ever been willing to consider. Here's how it happened.

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Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of organic food brand Happy Family (a two-time Inc. 500 honoree), has always wanted to go big or go home. In May, she went big and agreed to sell to Danone, the only acquirer she had ever been willing to consider. Visram told Inc.'s Jeff Haden about her very specific exit strategy--and why she thinks taking private equity is a cop-out.

Danone acquired a 92 percent stake in your company; I'm sure that feels awesome but also bittersweet.

It's not bittersweet at all. I haven't lost anything. I'm still in control; I don't feel like I've given away my baby. I've gained great advice and support from a great partner.

Ten years ago, when you wrote your business plan, you said a company like Danone would make an ideal partner.

I didn't say like Danone, I said Danone. They were the only people I thought we would talk to. And then they called. They're an amazing organization; they're socially responsible in everything they do; their mission is to change the world through nutrition; they're entrepreneurial--so they get it. It's truly a match made in heaven.

Why sell now?

We wanted to create a purely organic play that removes pesticides and toxins from children's lives. When your mission is that big and you truly care about what you're doing, you want your company to be as big as possible.

Even so, I'm sure handing over such a large stake wasn't easy.

The first time I had to raise $8 million, it felt like a lot. But I had seen my parents' entrepreneurial journey [her parents were motel owners], and that gave me a humble understanding of what it means to be in control-;and not to give it up lightly.

Did you consider going public?

We were looking for a shepherd and the support and experience from a true strategic partner. Going public could have been a great way to monetize, but in my mind it would still have meant we were on our own.

So private equity was out as an option, too?

I saw private equity as the ultimate cop-out in our space. I care about my business. I care about the culture. I would hate to see all that jeopardized by someone with a totally different agenda.

That happened to one of our competitors. Once private equity took over, the brand was always on sale. Eventually, the company was shopped around because it was time to cash in on the investment. I can't imagine a sadder story: to be forced into a relationship with a company I may not admire, that may not offer the right strategic guidance and help. It would have meant I spent the last 10 years making someone else money.

For more from Shazi Visram, check out her tips for how not to sell your soul to private equity. 

IMAGE: audi_insperation / Flickr.com
From the September 2013 issue of Inc. magazine

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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