A late stage private high-tech company wants to know what questions are most critical for managing the next stages of growth. This includes factors that can help differentiate good opportunities from poor ones. What questions would you ask about managing a late stage private high-tech company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Never compromise on your team. Is this a team of individuals who will be effective together, and can you make changes where necessary to build and manage the team that you need?
There is no room for someone who is not a cultural fit – do the team members work well together and does everyone see and support a win?
Who are the key stakeholders, and what drives them? Are these drivers compatible or in conflict? Can you bridge potential conflicts, or will they defocus your efforts?
Market & Strategy
Are your market projections realistic or fluffed?
Will your value proposition appeal to a large enough market to justify the investment of time and resources?
Is there a strong, realistic plan?
If you do a full SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, is the net positive?
Finances & Capital markets
Are the revenue and financial projections done correctly and achievable?
Raise money when you can, not when you need it – will the timing of your deal or opportunity, given existing financial markets, allow you to raise the funds necessary to bring the opportunity to fruition?
Is there openness to all potential capital or financing options? Financing is a personal relationship – how strong is the relationship?
Boards & Governance
Investors are investors; don’t overestimate their industry savvy. Are they aligned or in conflict? Are they fresh or tired? Will they support your efforts, and do they have the ability to generate extra funds as required?
It is impossible for a CEO or deal to be successful without the full support of the board – will you have full board support for your opportunity?
Is there clear differentiation between governance and management?
Looking over these questions, is the balance positive or negative? That balance will help you to accurately assess whether a given strategy or opportunity makes sense for the company.
A company has focused on developing future leaders and managers. They do this both to increase their managerial and leadership bench strength and to boost employee retention. What has worked for you in developing managers and leaders?
Advice from the CEOs:
Trying to make a leader doesn’t work. Leadership is a trait, not a skill. Leaders can arise from anywhere within the organization. An effective CEO recognizes this and works with both the leaders and the managers, whatever their position.
The Gallup Organization found that exceptional managers and exceptional leaders are not often the same people. Usually, the best managers are people who excel at bringing out the best in their employees, but may not be either visionary or strategic thinkers. Leaders, on the other hand are those to whom others look to for guidance and direction. Good leaders know how to identify and delegate to good managers.
Identify and develop strengths within your people; don’t try to fix weaknesses.
Gallup found that talented people have identified and developed their strengths. Instead of fixing weaknesses they find ways to work around weaknesses so that they are not harmed by them.
Use informal mentoring. Assign mentors to employees, and include cross-departmental mentor assignment to extend skills development, as well as managerial and leadership development.
Ask mentors to report progress to the CEO on occasional basis.
As you develop your talent pipeline, track the number of employees added to the pipeline per year as a key company metric. As an additional metric, look at the number of individuals in your pipeline compared with the number that you believe you need to fill future needs.
Situation: A company has experienced low sales early in its peak season due to bad weather. The CEO wants to develop additional leading indicators that will help predict whether sales will recover prior to the end of the peak season. What leading indicators have you found effective in predicting seasonal sales?
Advice from the CEOs:
Access to benchmarked research can be helpful, especially industry reports that cite growth indicators. Some industry report producers can generate drill-down reports of their base data for a fee. This allows you to tailor your own study based on their data.
Depending upon whether you set revenue projections by brand or product line, look for indicators within brands or lines that will provide you with clarity on sales projections. An example is product reviews in relevant newsletters, provided that these have effectively benchmarked to sales results in the past.
In addition to new leading indicators for existing products, there are a number of ways that you can reduce the impact of seasonality on your cash flow. These include: investments that will lead to future income streams; new product placements to compliment or extend current lines; new key customers or outlets through which you can expand your market; and increasing sales calls to create new demand. Also, use the current season to establish additional benchmarks that will be useful in future years.
Other tactics include evaluating in-house versus contract production of your products to improve your margins, and strategies to improve up-sales from medium to premium products where margins are better. You can also focus on smaller independent outlets rather than national chains which are dominated by national brands, and also regional explore private label opportunities.
Situation: A company exchanged a small percent of their stock for a Series A unsecured note 4.5 years ago. The company has not undergone an IPO because of the recession and if the note is not repaid in 5 years, the holder has the right to call the line. If the company can’t repay the line, the holder gains governance rights. Revenue declined during the recession and while it is on the upswing, the company doesn’t have the cash to repay the note. What are the best alternatives for the company to unwind this redemption clause?
Advice from the CEOs:
Raising money to repay the debt will be problematic because of the current liability. Investors want their investment to fund growth and returns, not to simply repay debt.
Assuming that your revenue rebound is sustainable can you prioritize resources to accumulate cash to repay the note? Jack Stack, in The Great Game of Business describes how he was able to rally his company’s employees to pay off a seemingly impossible debt load in one year to save his company,
If raising the cash to pay the note is impossible, you have 5 options:
Convert the note to long-term debt that you can service.
Convert the note to equity at a lower evaluation and take some dilution.
Renew and push out the note, with a sweetener.
A combination of the above.
File Chapter 11 if you can’t produce or raise the funds.
Have your options in place at least 2-3 months before the note is due. This gives you time to talk to and bargain with the note holder.
Start a PR campaign with the note holder.
Look for leading and lagging indicators that show your progress.
Build a story that lends credibility to your forecasts of future success.
Pitch that you are a good long-term investment, and now is the prime time to trade the note for equity.
Prep the holder, and build this story gradually over time.
Situation: A company has a long-standing relationship with key partner which has become strained for the last 9 months due to a combination of conditions. The partner’s Board recently terminated their CEO and their management is now in flux. Is there an opportunity to reestablish the old relationship by approaching the partner’s Board and how would you go about reestablishing this key partner relationship?
Advice from the CEOs:
At this point, the Board of the partner is likely focused on selecting a successor to the CEO, and dealing with internal matters in the interim. It may not be timely to approach them now, as they may dismiss your entreaty as a distraction.
If this tactic is to work, you will need a champion within the partner to promote reestablishment of the relationship. Try to identify such a person and approach them individually instead of approaching the full Board. The champion may be a Board member or someone with whom the Board has a strong relationship. This carries less risk than approaching the full Board. If the champion is not receptive, your likelihood of success with the full Board is slim.
Is there a past President or senior executive of the partner company with whom you have very good relations? An individual like this can act as a quasi-third party to help you to reestablish relationships with the Board or key management of the partner company.
Because of the risk involved, it may be best to do this quietly through a party whom the potential champion will respect and listen to, and take the lead from the champion if this individual is supportive of your cause.