As some of our readers may know, we recently successfully exited our first entrepreneurial venture VEEV Spirits. The last inch was definitely the hardest mile of the marathon but we plan to write more on that later. In the meantime, we've been getting a lot of the "so when should I start thinking about selling my business and what's the right time?" So here are a few thoughts that hopefully have some take-home value:
1) Get your house in order--this goes without saying but I see a lot of people who want to sell their company but wouldn't be able to sell tomorrow even if they wanted to. Hard to be specific here because it depends on your industry but get that IP in order, international issues, any litigation, etc. There are sites dedicated to generic due diligence requests that should help with this.
2) Pre-Court the Buyers--I never understood this one until I experienced it. Unless you're our friend Brian Lee and people are falling all over you to buy whatever company you start next, most of us have to do the behind the scenes work.
I thought that because we had had some success "breaking through" within the industry that buyers would just approach us. As it turns out, most people we "courted" were interested, but they just needed a little engagement. More interestingly, although everyone in the industry knew our brands, it was an eye-opener to see the misperceptions (both good and bad). Being proactive gave us an opportunity to tell "our story" straight from the horse's mouth and get them excited about the brand before telling them we were looking for a sale.
3) Success does NOT = Sale/Exit - Just because you have success and have revenue of tens of millions doesn't mean somebody will buy your company. So start thinking strategically sooner than later in terms of an exit. Be aware of timing, competition, product mix gaps, synergies and think strategically from the ACQUIRER's point of view. The battlefield is littered with "successful" companies that couldn't find a strategic exit for one reason or another so don't confuse "success" with being a strong "acquisition target".
4) Why would somebody acquire you? A new channel (direct to consumer for example), distribution runway, key demographic, strategic portfolio reason, technology advantage, branding/brand strength. Almost every acquisition that occurs you can point to one main reason from the list of the above as the key driver for the acquisition. Determine what you think that key driver for an acquirer will be and exploit it, exaggerate it and put a shiny red bow on it for potential acquirers.
In closing, we wanted to emphasize the time/effort/distraction continuum of a sale. It's like building a house: it takes twice as long as you think and costs twice as much (both in terms of hard costs and the time/resource cost, which is the real killer). There is a lot that is out of your control but what is in your control is how far in advance and how well you plan so don't make that your downfall: "Chance favors the prepared" - Louis Pasteur