Is your startup achieving its most ambitious goals for growth?
If not, you might consider acquiring companies that can help you get there.
The challenge is that most acquisitions fail. But if you can do them well, your startup can get closer to the revenue target it needs to go public.
My research reveals that mergers fail at least half the time for four reasons. They target unattractive markets, the combined companies are worse off, the acquirers overpay, and the acquirer and target are poorly integrated.
To combat merger failure, startups ought to focus most intensely on two of these: thinking ahead of time about why the combined company will be better off than each was before the deal and integrating the acquirer and target well.
It is too early to tell whether it will succeed, but earlier this month I spoke with Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Boston-based app marketer, Localytics. Aggarwal was a Bain consultant before he started Localytics--which raised $35 million in March 2015 and its clients include ESPN, eBay, Hulu, and Rue La La.
In March Localytics acquired Splitforce--which is billed as "an automated A/B testing and predictive analytics tool for mobile."
Aggarwal--who in 2013 told me a fascinating story of how he worked directly with Steve Jobs on crafting the iPhone partnership between AT&T and Apple--did not disclose the terms of the deal. But he gave Splitforce's key people Localytics stock.
Here are six tips he provided on how to use acquisitions to boost a startup's growth.
1. Get to know the people well
If you are buying a startup, there is a good chance that much of its value is due to the talent of its people. If the target does not even have revenues--but has a product with a fast-growing user base--then the key to making that acquisition pay off will be getting to know its key people.
Aggarwal explained how he got to know Splitforce's key people. "We worked together as partners since we had common customers. We were amazed that they shared our vision of using data for predictive purposes."
2. Make sure you have the same values
It is important to get to know the key people in a target company--but if that leads to the conclusion that you don't like each other much, an acquisition is likely to fail.
Aggarwal believes that it is important to get to know people in a less formal setting. "It is helpful if you can go out to dinner and have some drinks to get to know people better. We like to make fun of each other and if they were easily offended by our joking, we probably would have concluded that it would not have worked," he said.
There is more than just getting along well to making a merger succeed. Both companies share a view of applying data science to solve business problems. Said Aggarwal, "We both agreed that data science is not just something in your head--it has to be useful to solve real world issues."
3. Know why the combined companies will be better off
If you like the people and share values and a vision for the future, you still have to overcome the reluctance of a target company to give up its independence.
But you can accomplish that if your products fit together well for your customers and you each have different strengths that when combined will help you gain more market share.
Localytics was good at app marketing but it needed the ability to figure out which marketing techniques would work best for its customers. "20% of app customers never come back. By combining Splitforce's predictive intelligence horsepower with Localytics' suite of mobile app marketing and analytics tools we will be better able to spot when someone's about to quit using the app or identify new ways to reach them," explained Aggarwal.
And Localytics also brought another skill--the ability to get and keep customers. "Splitforce's development people combined with our sales, marketing, and customer success organizations would help them to realize their vision for the future and boost the value of the combined company," said Aggarwal.
4. Set clear milestones for success
If you are approaching agreement on a deal, it can still fall apart unless you agree on how much equity the key people in the target company will get.
For that, it helps to define easily understood milestones for success. Conversely, it is a mistake for those goals to be too complicated or vague.
As Aggarwal said, "We did not want to overcomplicate it. We had a timeline for when the beta version of the product would be ready to go and when we could ship the combined product. If we don't meet the goals, we will have to decide what to do next."
5. Create a vesting schedule tied to achieving those goals
It's also critical that you don't just give out all the equity to key people up front. Aggarwal pointed out that in the deal with Splitforce, the vesting schedule for stock is tied to achieving the milestones.
I believe that this approach is great--even if you are just talking with a cofounder or a newly hired executive.
It gives you a chance to see how well new people will function in your organization and lets you part ways if they can't do what they agreed to.
6. Build up your acquisition capability
Finally, many companies with strong go-to-market skills find it faster sometimes to acquire companies with needed technical skills instead of doing all the development in-house.
So they need to get good at making acquisitions that pay off. "We want to do lots of small acquisitions so we can strengthen our acquisition capability," concluded Aggarwal.