Personally, I prefer an early exit strategy, and within such strategy I believe it's important to tailor your startup to the expectations of a potential acquirer from day one. To achieve this, it's crucial to understand the acquirer's motivations and adjust your strategy accordingly. So here are a few motivations that I know of:
1. "Equi-hire" - buying a startup just for its workforce (the startup itself is typically closed down and its products are discontinued). The appropriate exit strategy would emphasize building the best team with as much relevant talent as possible (which is a good idea in any case, but still).
2. "Mining" - buying a startup to get its non-HR resources: client base, client data, IP, brand, or technology (but not its cash - that would be stupid). The startup is usually gutted and re-sold for scrap (a-la Motorola, even though that wasn't a startup). The exit strategy would emphasize growing patent portfolio, the following, crowd-sourcing, or building a truly innovative technology, even at the expense of profit. In the case of building innovative technology, the strategy may even involve getting a seed investment from a potential acquirer.
3. "Competicide" - buying a startup because it's a potential threat. The strategy would involve positioning yourself right in the path of a potential acquirer and (pretending to) be more successful than the numbers warrant.
4. "Competigeddon" - buying a startup so that no one else would have it (a-la Waze). The strategy would be to position yourself in a market segment with 2 or more big competitors of comparable strength and get them to bid against each other.
5. "Rev-up" - buying a startup for its future revenues. The acquirer would typically be a stagnating company seeking to revitalize itself (without working hard). The exit strategy is to emphasize revenue growth (even at the expense of profit or equity), making it (seem) exponential, or at least create an impression that it might become exponential, especially if utilizing the resources of a big company.
Can you think of anything else?
Which of these, would you say, occur more frequently than others?