When news of Mielle Organics’s partnership with Proctor & Gamble broke, Necole Kane felt compelled to share her thoughts about it. I’d personally seen lots of opinions floating around, but unlike the scores of others who either congratulated founders Monique and Melvin Rodriguez’s major business move or implied that the acquisition was a sign of selling out, I noticed that Kane offered a completely different perspective.
In a series of thoughtful tweets, Kane explained that “no one ever talks about the grief you experience as a founder when you sell a business” especially when they are “in the trenches” for many years getting to know their consumer base on an intimate level.
Kane knows about this first-hand.
After being at the helm of the wildly popular media brand XONecole as CEO for a decade, she sold the platform to Will Packer in 2018, then officially stepped away from her advisory role with the company in 2022. Kane said the sale evoked incredibly complicated emotions.
“I can tell I’m going to tear up right now because these emotions are still fresh,” she said after taking a deep shaky breath while on a call with me. “I did leave XONecole in September, so it’s just very fresh. And then I recently started therapy and it’s helping me through this intense grief I’m feeling in my life, but more so because I’ve lost my parents, my grandparents…but she doesn’t even know I’m dealing with the grief of also leaving a business.”
She explained that she hadn’t yet told her therapist about the latter because she’d just only realized that her sadness about the acquisition went much deeper than she could’ve ever imagined. Kane was grieving a part of her identity she’d held for nearly 1/3 of her life.
Although she launched a new FemCare brand in 2022, Happy Flo, Kane said she still felt tethered to her oldest baby, XONecole.
“It’s really like being a parent facing empty nest syndrome,” She said. “I think I was a little triggered by all the talk around Mielle Organics because there were two conversations happening at the same,” she told me. “I was standing with the founders, you know, the people who get it, who struggle, who build businesses and were like, ‘oh, girl, you got to the bag.’ But then you have the other conversation, from the consumers’ perspective which I really understood too. Those who were scared the product formulas for a brand they know, love, and support are going to change. That fear is justified.”
She continued: “But then you have the rest of the internet that doesn’t know the inner workings of running a business, and they’re the loudest voices out there. It definitely made me reflect on my own acquisition.”
Kane explained that unlike Mielle, or similar hair product companies like Shea Moisture or Carol’s Daughter who have all been acquired by white-owned companies, she’d sold to a Black man.
“It was very isolating because I wasn’t prepared for the feelings that crept up,” Kane said. “I didn’t have to deal with the ‘sell-out’ conversations but I was still deeply affected by the sale and I wasn’t quite sure why. The last five years have been just plagued by depression.”
She’s not alone.
Statistics from The Exit Planning Company state that 75% of former business owners regret selling their businesses.
According to Dr. Patrick Downing, a psychologist who’s consulted with business owners going through acquisitions, said “Grieving the loss of a business is not a seamless process, and there will be flip flops back and forth between the emotional stages— it is not a linear progression. It is all about finding cognitive strategies to help guide you through the emotions that hit you. It helps steer the emotions in a way to help process a sale of the business.”
Experts state there’s an emotional exit plan needed when an acquisition is on the horizon. Here a few tips to keep in mind:
Be okay grieving.
Loss of any kind is incredibly impactful. Acknowledge your feelings and sit with them. They’re valid.
Take time to connect with your new identity.
Being an entrepreneur is incredibly defining, and your business(es) can serve as markers of how you perceive yourself. If you no longer have that business, it’s easy to lose yourself. Take time to ask yourself questions on who you really are outside of what you do, and figure out how to amplify that.
Realize that you’re not alone in this.
As Kane acknowledged, she’s working with a therapist to help define and deal with her grief. It’s ok to do the same.
Tap into a network that understands your situation.
Entrepreneurship, even at its most successful points, can be incredibly isolating.
“Only people who run and scale businesses really understand what you’re going through, especially when you let it go,” Kane explained. “I had to make sure that I connected with people who had experience with what I was going through.”
Checking out online forums like some professional groups targeting entrepreneurs on LinkedIn can be helpful in gauging your emotions, and reminding yourself that you’re not alone.