I’m Rick Williams. I sit on the boards of directors of technology companies and advise their leaders as they go on the path to growth and success. Let’s say that you founded a company, brought it to its full potential, and are ready to retire and move on. Or you were brought in to run a company, perhaps to turn it around, and the owners and founders of the company are now ready to sell and move on.
It’s important to recognize that without added capital and access to customers, you can’t grow the company to its full potential. To sell the company at a high valuation is going to take significant time and a significant effort on the part of you and your team members.
Ask Yourself Why You Want to Sell
Start by asking yourself why you want to sell the company. Be realistic about the reasons you want to sell, the motivations for your team members, and what you and the team want to get out of selling the company. As a second step, describe, and if possible, identify – who the likely buyers are for your company. They could be a competitor, a strategic investor, perhaps a CEO looking for a new gig. You could be in a fragmented industry and a competitor may want to come into your industry where you already have success. Be creative and be very open-minded about who the likely buyers are for your company.
What Is Your Compelling Value?
For the likely buyers, describe and be very specific about why they should be willing to buy your company. What’s the compelling value in your company for that buyer to take the risk of going through the acquisition process, taking on a new company, and integrating it with theirs? For example, your customers may be able to buy their products. Or you may have intellectual property that’s valuable to them, but you don’t have the funding to fully exploit it. Or maybe you’re a successful regional firm and a buyer may want to come into your territory where you’ve already had success.
You may be a CEO who’s looking for a company to lead and grow, and you’re ready to retire. Or your company may have great growth prospects, but you don’t have the funding and access to customers that are necessary to fully explore the opportunities. Selling the company to someone who is in the position to exploit it may be a very good match for that acquiring company.
Related: How to Create Your Vision Statement
Develop a Value Proposition
With the type of buyer clearly in mind, develop a value proposition for that buyer that explains why they can be successful with your company if they acquire it. With that likely buyer in mind, develop a short description of the company, including your vision of the company and its potential value in the future for that buyer. This then becomes your elevator pitch.
Develop a High-Value Profile
With the elevator pitch in mind, develop what I call a high-value profile of your company – what the company would have to look like to get the highest valuation for the most likely buyers for your company. That could be a revenue pattern over time, or even growth over a certain number of years.
Different buyers are going to attach different value to the key characteristics of companies they are interested in. Buyers who are only looking at your patents and intellectual property may have no interest whatsoever in whether you are successful in generating profits and EBITA. Financial buyers will want a leadership team and key staff in place that will stay in place after the acquisition because they don’t want to come in and take over running the company.
Some companies will look very carefully at who your customers are. They don’t want most of the sales or profits coming from just one or two customers. Other buyers, on the other hand, may look at your company and the real estate it owns and will say they want the company and the real estate. Other buyers will say they’re interested in the business but they don’t want the real estate and you’re going to have to separate the real estate from the business before the acquisition can take place.
Align Your Company with the High-Value Profile
With a high-value profile in mind, your next step will be to develop a plan for getting your company to be as close to that profile as possible within the time frame that you’re thinking of for selling the company. This may be six months, a year, two years, even three years. This is why you have to think early about what the company has to look like in order to actually maximize the value of the company for a potential buyer. Be realistic about what you, your team, and your investors are willing to do to get the company as close to this high-value profile as you can in the time frame that you’re thinking about for selling the company.
If the likely buyer wants to see that the company can succeed without you as its major salesperson, then you’re going to have to bring in somebody who can be in that role without relying on you, again, before the company can be sold successfully. That is one of the steps that you’ll have to take to prepare the company to be sold at a higher valuation.
Related: Fast and Simple Valuation
Have a Positive Attitude
Having a positive attitude will make it much easier for you and all those involved to get through this process in a constructive way that will be beneficial to all parties. Be realistic about the feedback you’re getting from people you trust about what they see in the company and its potential to help you set your plans, goals, and expectations.
Assemble a Team for Support During the Transfer
Get a great team together to support you as you go through this process. You’re probably going to need help creating the high-value profile for the company, stating what its goals are, and defining your plan for getting your company to the point where it’s ready to be sold. You’re certainly going to need a high-quality investment banker on board when you actually go through the sale process.
You should, for your own benefit, get a high-quality financial planner on board to help you understand your own personal financial goals and how they can be achieved through the sale of the company. You certainly want to get quality legal and accounting support on board early in the process.
Be Reasonable and Be Ready
Be reasonable about the valuation of the company. Often this is the biggest hurdle that buyers and sellers have to deal with. If you set the value of your company at an unrealistically high number, you risk sinking the deal after an enormous amount of effort has been put into getting the company to the point where it can be sold. In the end, be ready to say yes. Be ready to move on to the next phase of your life.
About Rick Williams
Corporate leader and advisor at the CEO & board level with broad experience as an executive, board member and management consultant. Industry experience includes med tech, financial services, real estate and high tech. From executive and board positions, has successfully lead strategic repositioning work in response to the evolving technology, financial and political/regulatory environment. Effective team builder and communicator with a record of bringing boards and senior leaders together.
Founding Partner of Newport Board Group – New England. National CEO & Board advisory firm. CEO/Founder of The Equity Company – award winning real estate development company. Spent ten years with Arthur D. Little, Inc., global management consulting firm, helping companies deal with the strategic impact of government regulation in the areas of chemicals, oil and gas, innovation, and process industries. Began career as a Senior Physicist with an expertise in photo/electro optical systems for space & defense applications.
Former Chairman of the Board of the Community Development Finance Corporation. CDFC (now Growth Capital Corp) is a quasi-public corporation that gives businesses access to capital in markets under served by traditional lenders. Chairman of the Board of Point Care Technology, Inc., leading provider of medical instruments for HIV-AIDS measurements in the developing world. President and Member of the Board of Governors of the Harvard Business School Association of Boston until 2013. Board Member of Amorphex Therapeutics – innovative drug delivery company. Board Member of Fairway Financial US – on line auction platform for 1st issue bonds & other commodities. Chair of Executive Committee for Directors Roundtable.
Harvard Business School and University of Pennsylvania (BA, Physics).