It’s been over two years since my startup got acquired. People to this day ask me what I felt the moment this deal closed. Was it some feeling of satisfaction after bootstrapping my business for seven years? Was it elation in seeing a large wire transfer come into my bank account? Or maybe, was it validation from proving all my naysayers and competitors wrong?
Nope, I wasn’t thinking about any of that. The only thing I felt was gratitude. Not gratitude about my little startup achievement, but gratitude that my wife was actually alive.
The acquisition process is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my professional career. When you’re going through it, your life is completely consumed by work. I ran on probably four hours of sleep per night for about three months. The days are full of high-stakes meetings, frustrating conversations with lawyers, and paper chasing.
As the CEO leading the process, you can’t actually run your own company because you are too busy trying to close the deal. On top of that, since I was selling the startup I founded, the acquisition became personal: my identity was inextricably tied to the success of my company, and if the deal failed—then I failed; at least that’s how I felt.
In the midst of the acquisition process, my wife and I decided to take a quick weekend camping trip to clear our minds (she was also my business partner and thus equally stressed).
As part of the trip, we joined some friends in central California on a river hike through a beautiful gorge, surrounded by impressive cliffs. It was a hot summer day and we were in bathing suits happily floating down the river for much of our hike. As dusk began to settle in, a few of us—including me and my wife—were starting to feel a bit cold and wanted to find a quick exit to hike our way back to camp.
The problem was that there wasn’t any clear exit. The only way we could reach the road at the top of the gorge was to climb about 70 feet from where we were on the riverbank.
My wife, being the skilled climber she was, volunteered to free climb up a very steep incline from the gorge to show the rest of the group the way out.
She made it about two-thirds of the way up, when suddenly the earth underneath her hands and feet collapsed.
And she started to fall.
As I recall this exact moment, I remember watching her fall in what seemed like slow motion. I only had one thought in my mind: “Eric, prepare yourself. You are about to watch your wife die.”
The fall was bad. But miraculously, she was saved by her foot getting tangled in some brush near the base of the cliff, which saved her.
Even more miraculously, my wife hadn’t hit her head or broken any bones. But the situation was not good: she had severe bruising, road rash, and some pretty deep lacerations on several parts of her body.
The next 12 hours were somewhat of a blur for me. I remember: covering up my wife’s wounds with the clothes my friends and I had; a park ranger picking us up; my friends crying; talking to the ER doctor; watching an orderly clean my wife’s wounds at the hospital; driving her home semi-conscious.
The morning after the accident, I spent two minutes to shoot off an e-mail to the company trying to acquire my startup about my wife’s situation. I told them that we had to hit the pause button on our deal as I had to attend to her.
As I was sending this e-mail, I thought that it would be totally reasonable for the other party to simply call off the acquisition. I didn’t give them any timeline about when I’d be ready to speak again. We definitely were going to breach the closing date in our contract.
But I just didn’t give a shit. My wife needed my help and all the stress and anxiety that was building up the months leading to this acquisition had evaporated. It was all about making my wife healthy again.
To this day, I am so grateful for the response I received from my partners on the other side: We understand. Take as much time as you need and we can continue when you’re ready.
It turns out that I was working with incredibly classy people. I’ll always be grateful.
Real hell: the next two weeks
I would have had a complete emotional breakdown had it not been for the fact that my wife depended on me. On a 24-hour schedule, I would change her bandages, bathe her, change her clothes, change her sheets, feed her, and do laundry. So much fucking laundry.
I was so focused on being her caretaker that I forgot to shower or eat for days.
The stress was punishing. I felt like I was being crushed to death.
But there was a silver lining to this fortnight of hell: I learned who my true friends (and family) really were. I learned that true friends weren’t the ones who passively said “let me know how I can help” over an e-mail. True friends are people of action. They are the ones who show up at the door with a meal, come by to help with laundry, or even film an elaborate music video to encourage my wife in her recovery (yes, that happened). These gestures mattered so much.
My wife and I are blessed to be surrounded by some pretty remarkable people. We would not have been able to get through this ordeal without them.
Very slowly at first and more quickly later, my wife’s condition improved. A big milestone I remember was when she first was able to feed herself. Then she was able to get out of bed by herself. Little mundane accomplishments like this were such satisfying wins.
After a little more than two weeks tending to my wife, she got to a point where her health was stable and we could re-start our acquisition talks. The remaining process was relatively uneventful and we closed the deal swiftly.
What I learned
Yes, I was happy that we got acquired, but witnessing my wife almost die in the middle of this process permanently changed me. This near-death moment is all I’ll likely remember about the acquisition decades from now.
I’ve spoken to my wife a lot about this experience, and we’ve both concluded that it was ultimately a blessing that it happened to us, however painful it was during the actual episode. Before the accident I don’t think I was living with a lot of gratitude, worrying about petty things like what people would think about me if my startup failed. After the accident, none of that really bothered me again.
My wife and I both became a lot more mindful about how awesome our lives are. And two years later, I’m happy to say that I’ve become even more grateful that my wife is alive, healthy, by my side every day, and now incubating my son.
That’s all I could ask for. She and I have much to celebrate during our Thanksgiving meal with family later today.