It’s often said that tech companies are bought — not sold. There is something to this. After all, you won’t be driving a “For Sale” sign into your front lawn for customers, suppliers and competitors to see.
But while this is a time for discretion, that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and passively wait for offers to roll in.
The road to acquisition is different for every company, but the smoothest ones come from blazing a trail that kindles interest along the way.
Over the past decade-plus, at least once per year, a company I am very close with — either as an investor, advisor or partner — has gotten acquired. And while there is no foolproof recipe, there are certain key things company leaders need to do and invest in to ready themselves for a successful exit.
Know what (and who) you want
There are plenty of early-stage tech companies that have an ultimate goal of being acquired, but before you can prime your company for a deal, you need to identify your acquisition targets.
Is it your dream for the Googles, Apples or Oracles of the world to absorb you? Do you know a competitor who may be interested in a strategic buy? Or maybe your product has an application that would make it appealing to someone outside the industry. For example, today, it’s not unheard of for retailers or insurance giants to exercise their entrepreneurial spirits and snatch a hot tech company from the market.
Survey all of your options with a realistic lens and define your ultimate goal.
Look the part
Many years ago, I knew the owner of a systems integration company who managed ERPs and CRMs for financial services, life sciences, municipalities — really every industry under the sun. Eventually, she realized that if her company was going to get the attention of the buyers they wanted, she needed to focus on one niche and re-brand her company around that market.
Because my friend’s most lucrative accounts were in the life sciences, she refocused her company’s sales efforts and was able to successfully redefine the company as a life sciences systems integration leader — and a business primed for acquisition.
It’s important that in building your brand you think about not only what your acquisition targets want but also what your actual strengths are. Then, showcase that expertise on your website through case studies and testimonials. Audit your leadership team’s LinkedIn profiles. Develop a suite of concise and definitive marketing collateral. Ensure that across all channels your marketing is saying, “We know who we are and what we do — and we are damn good at it.”
Raise your visibility
Young companies sometimes make the mistake of investing all their money in their technologies. But there is no place for a “build it and they will come” mentality. While having a solid product is a non-negotiable, it is not the only thing required to attract your ideal buyer. In fact, lesser products and solutions have been acquired because they generated good buzz in the marketplace.
Investments need to be made in order to get your company in front of the right audience. This could mean expanding your social media and PR operations, getting on the floor of more trade shows or a pay-for-play option, where your leadership team can get in a room with some big-name CTOs.
Depending on your ideal buyer, this might also mean expanding your marketing footprint. According to Mooreland Partners, a global technology-focused M&A advisory firm, 2014 saw a 25 percent increase in transatlantic deal activity among tech companies. Remember, your ideal buyer may be down the road – or across the pond.
Ride the wave
I can’t tell you how many tech companies have told me, “We want to get acquired in three years.” While it’s great to have a timeline in mind, you want to make sure that you are selling at your peak. So if your valuation is high, but your pipeline is bursting and you have a 5-year forecast that triples your value, don’t be afraid to hold off on the exit.
That said, do your due diligence on the first offer that comes your way, no matter the timing. Spend those agonizing hours tightening up the balance sheet, codifying your processes, cleaning up the sales forecast and poring over the term sheets. There is much to be learned in the process, and if you believe that you have the upside potential and intestinal fortitude to ride it out a little bit longer, then that knowledge will be more valuable to you when the time is right.