“Eric, I heard a rumor. Is this company for sale?” Eric’s smile disappeared for a second. He pursed his lips and laced his fingers, staring at the floor. Then he looked directly at me and said, very slowly: “Dan, we’re a startup. Of course we’re for sale. This fucking plant on my desk here is for sale, if the price is right. What do you think we’re doing here?”
Bingo. Worth correcting Dan's later comment about one of his friends:
He was extremely clear that anything less than a multibillion dollar IPO was a pathetic failure, and he’d resign before he’d let such an abomination happen. So his startup is not actually for sale.
An IPO is essentially selling the company - to the whole world at once. It's a different kind of sale, but it's still a sale. In fact, taking external investment by itself already propels you on the "my company is for sale" path quasi-permanently.