Exit Strategy for Investors: Definition and Examples

By Rebecca Lake · September 01, 2023 · 10 minute read

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Exit Strategy for Investors: Definition and Examples

An exit strategy is a plan to leave an investment, ideally by selling it for more than the price at which it was purchased.

Individual investors, venture capitalists, stock traders, and business owners all use exit strategies that set specific criteria to dictate when they’ll get out of an investment. Every exit strategy plan is unique to its situation, in terms of timing and under which conditions an exit may occur.

What Is an Exit Strategy?

Broadly speaking, the exit strategy definition is a plan for leaving a specific situation. For instance, an employee who’s interested in changing jobs may form an exit strategy for leaving their current employer and moving on to their next one.

What is an exit strategy in a financial setting? In this case, the exit strategy definition is a plan crafted by business owners or investors that cover when they choose to liquidate their position in an investment. To liquidate means to convert securities or other assets to cash. Once this liquidation occurs, the individual or entity that executed the exit strategy no longer has a stake in the investment.

Creating an exit strategy prior to making an investment can be advantageous for managing and minimizing risk. It can also help with defining specific objectives for making an investment in the first place. In other words, formulating your exit strategy beforehand can give you clarity about what you hope to achieve.

Exit strategies often go overlooked, however, as investors, venture capitalists, and business owners may move ahead with an investment with no clear plan for leaving it.

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How Exit Strategies Work

Investors use exit strategies to realize their profit or to mitigate potential losses from an investment or business. When creating an exit strategy, investors will typically define the conditions under which they’ll make their exit.

For instance, an exit strategy plan for investors may be contingent on achieving a certain level of returns when starting to invest in stocks, or reaching a maximum threshold of allowable losses. Once the contingency point is reached, the investor may choose to sell off their shares as dictated by their exit strategy.

A venture capital exit strategy, on the other hand, may have a predetermined time element. Venture capitalists invest money in startups and early stage companies. The exit point for a venture capitalist may be a startup’s IPO or initial public offering.

Again, all exit strategies revolve around a plan. The mechanism by which an individual or entity makes their exit can vary, but the end result is the same: to leave an investment or business.

When Should an Exit Strategy Be Used?

There are different scenarios when an exit strategy may come into play. For example, exit strategies can be useful in these types of situations:

•   Creating a succession plan to transfer ownership of a profitable business to someone else.

•   Shutting down a business and liquidating its assets.

•   Withdrawing from a venture capital investment or angel investment.

•   Selling stocks or other securities to minimize losses.

•   Giving up control of a company or merging it with another company.

Generally speaking, an exit strategy makes sense for any situation where you need or want to have a plan for getting out.

Exit Strategy Examples

Here are some different exit strategy examples that explain how exit strategies can be useful to investors, business owners, and venture capitalists.

Exit Strategy for Investors

When creating an exit strategy for stocks and investing, including how to buy stocks, there are different metrics you can use to determine when to get out. For example, say you buy 100 shares of XYZ stock. You could plan your exit strategy based on:

•   Earning target return from the investment

•   Realizing a maximum loss on the investment

•   How long you want to stay invested

Say your goal is to earn a 10% return on the 100 shares you purchased. Once you reach that 10% threshold you may decide to exit while the market is up and sell your shares at a profit. Or, you may set your maximum loss threshold at 5%. If the stock dips and hits that 5% mark, you could sell to head off further losses.

You may also use time as your guide for making an exit strategy for stocks. For instance, if you’re 30 years old now and favor a buy-and-hold strategy, you may plan to make your exit years down the line. On the other hand, if you’re interested in short-term gains, you may have a much shorter window in which to complete your exit strategy.

Exit strategies can work for more than just stock investments. For instance, you may have invested in crowdfunding investments, such as real estate crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending. Both types of investments typically have a set holding period that you can build into your exit plan.

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Exit Strategy for Business Owners

An exit strategy for business owners can take different forms, depending on the nature of the business. For instance, if you run a family-owned business then your exit strategy plan might revolve around your eventual retirement. If you have a fixed retirement date in mind your exit plan could specify that you will transfer ownership of the business to your children or sell it to another person or company.

Another possibility for an exit strategy may involve selling off assets and closing the business altogether. This is something a business owner may consider if the business is not turning a profit, and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will. Liquidation can allow a business owner to repay their creditors and walk away from a failed business without having to file bankruptcy.

Exit Strategy for Startups

With startups and larger companies, exit strategies can be more complex. Examples of exit strategy plans may include:

•   Launching an IPO to allow one or more founders to make an exit

•   A merger or acquisition that allows for a transfer of ownership

•   Selling the company

•   Liquidating assets and shutting the company down

If a founder is ready to move on to their next project, they can use an IPO to leave the company intact while extricating themselves from it. And angel investors or venture capitalists who invested in the company early on also have an opportunity to sell their shares.

Startup exit strategies can also create possible opportunities for some investors. IPO investing allows investors to buy shares of companies when they go public.

The mechanics of using an IPO as an exit strategy can be complicated, however. There are IPO valuations and regulatory requirements to consider.

It’s important for startup founders to know how to value a business before taking it public to ensure that an IPO is successful. And early-stage investors may have to observe IPO lock-up period restrictions before they can sell their shares.

💡 Quick Tip: IPO stocks can get a lot of media hype. But savvy investors know that where there’s buzz there can also be higher-than-warranted valuations. IPO shares might spike or plunge (or both), so investing in IPOs may not be suitable for investors with short time horizons.

5 Types of Exit Strategies

There are different types of exit strategies depending on whether you’re an investor, a business owner, or a venture capitalist. Some common exit strategies include:

1. Selling Shares of Stock

Investors can use an exit strategy to set a specific goal with their investment (say, 12%), reach a certain level of profit, or determine a point at which they’ll minimize their loss if the investment loses value. Once they reach the target they’ve set, the investor can execute the exit strategy and sell their shares.

2. Mergers and Acquisitions

With this business exit strategy, another business, often a rival, buys out a business and the founder can exit and shareholders may profit. However, there are many regulatory factors to consider, such as antitrust laws.

3. Selling Assets and Closing a Business

If a business is failing, the owner may choose to liquidate all the assets, pay off debts as well as any shareholders, if possible, and then close down the business. A failing business might also declare bankruptcy, but that’s typically a last resort.

4. Transferring Ownership of a Business

This exit strategy may be used with a family-run business. The owner may formulate an exit plan that allows him to transfer the business to a relative or sell it at a particular time so that he or she can retire or do something else.

5. Launching an IPO

By going public with an IPO, the founder of a startup or other company can leave the company if they choose to, while leaving the business intact. As noted, using an IPO as an exit strategy can be quite complicated for business founders and investors because of regulatory requirements, IPO valuations, and lock-up period restrictions.

Why Exit Strategies Are Important

Exit strategies matter because they offer a measure of predictability in a business or investment setting. If you own a business, for example, having an exit strategy in place that allows you to retire on schedule means you’re not having to work longer than you planned or want to.

An exit strategy for investors can help with staying focused on an end goal, rather than following the crowd, succumbing to emotions, or attempting to time the market. For example, if you go into an investment knowing that your exit plan is designed to limit your losses to 5%, you’ll know ahead of time when you should sell.

Using an exit strategy can prevent doubling or tripling losses that could occur when staying in an investment in the hopes that it will eventually turn around. Exit strategies can also keep you from staying invested too long in an investment that’s doing well. The market moves in cycles and what goes up eventually comes down.

If you’re on a winning streak with a particular stock, you may be tempted to stay invested indefinitely. But having an exit strategy and a set end date for cashing out could help you avoid losses if volatility sends the stock’s price spiraling.

How To Develop an Exit Strategy Plan

Developing an exit strategy may look different, depending on whether it involves an investment or business situation. But the fundamentals are the same, in that it’s important to consider:

•   What form an exit will take (i.e. liquidation, IPO, selling shares, etc.)

•   Whether an exit is results-based or time-based (i.e. realizing a 10% return, reaching your target retirement date, etc.)

•   Key risk factors that may influence outcomes

•   Reasons and goals for pursuing an exit strategy

If you’re an individual investor, you may need to formulate an exit plan for each investment you own. For instance, how you exit from a stock investment may be different from how you sell off bonds. And if you’re taking on riskier investments, such as cryptocurrency, your exit strategy may need to account for the additional volatility involved.

For business owners and founders, exit strategy planning may be a group discussion that involves partners, members of the board, or other individuals who may have an interest in the sale, transfer, or IPO of a company. In either situation, developing an exit strategy is something that’s best done sooner, rather than later.

SoFi Investing

Investing can help you build wealth for the long-term and an exit strategy is an important part of the plan. It allows you to decide ahead of time how and when you’ll get out of an exit, and could help you lock in returns or minimize losses.

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What are different exit strategies?

Examples of some different exit strategies include selling shares of a stock once an investor realizes a certain return or profit, transferring ownership of a family business so an owner can retire, or selling all the assets and closing down a failing business.

What are the most common exit strategies?

The most common exit strategies depend on whether you’re an investor, the owner of an established business, or the founder of a startup. For investors, the most common exit strategy is to sell shares of stock once they reach a certain target or profit level. For owners of an established business, the most common exit strategy is mergers and acquisitions, because doing so is often favorable to shareholders. For founders of startups, a common exit strategy is an initial public offering (IPO).

What is the simplest exit strategy?

For an investor, the simplest exit strategy is to sell shares of stock once they reach a certain profit or target level of return. At that point they can sell their shares for more money than they paid for them.

Photo credit: iStock/Christian Guiton

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