Monthly Archives: September 2013

What’s the Best Way to Develop a Partnership? Four Factors

Situation: A company has been approached by another company with complimentary technology concerning a partnership. The other company is young and rapidly growing, though at this time they are much smaller. The two companies are already collaborating on a project. There have been hints that this could develop into a merger. Under these circumstances, what’s the best way to develop a partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It’s always best to date and get to know the other party before exploring a deeper relationship. You are already collaborating with this company, so just continue on this path as you get to know them. See how the relationship and value of the partnership develops before exploring options that could result in loss of ownership and control.
  • Partnerships and moves beyond partnership are really about culture and values. Cultural fit is a huge question that is too often ignored when companies discuss partnerships and mergers. This requires more investigation than you’ve done to date. Wait until real challenges develop, and see how the two companies respond. Do they collaborate effectively to develop a solution or does the relationship become contentious. This will tell you whether a deeper relationship is worth exploring.
  • To be successful, relationships have to offer a win-win value that surpasses the cost of collaboration. There is always a cost to collaborating with another company if only in time and effort put into the relationship. Find a way to measure this cost so that you can compare it to the value received. The other company should be doing the same.
  • If you could buy the other company right now would you?
    • If you can’t tell the value of the company based on the information that you have, why would you consider a deeper relationship at this time?

How Do You Build Market Awareness on a Small Budget? Seven Ideas

Situation: A small technology company has a handful of major customers. They are very good at what they do and want to expand and diversify their customer base. The challenge is that they don’t have the funds for large-scale marketing.  As an additional twist, for now they prefer to stay under the radar of their largest competitors.  How do you build market awareness on a small budget?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with the basics. Define your market niche and build from there.  Create a beachhead in this niche and generate strong testimonials from your current customers.  Segue to tradeshows and broader marketing opportunities as you build marketing strength.
  • You already have several marquis clients. Look for opportunities in other divisions within these client companies. The work that you have done for existing divisions makes you credible.
  • Network with your current clients to develop other opportunities. They won’t want to help their competitors; however, if you can improve what they receive from their other vendors they may provide introductions for you.
  • As a small company, focus on a single market where you have strength and credibility.  You don’t want to spread yourselves too thin.
  • Find a good customer and solve their problem well. Create an evangelist who will tell others about you.
  • Look for speaker opportunities at high visibility events within your market niche.
  • Consider webinars, these are inexpensive and if you promote them to decisions makers in your target niche you can quickly build credibility.

How Can You Best Reduce Costs? Six Points

Situation: A company wants to reduce their cost of engineering. They are considering outsource options, both domestic and overseas, as well as remote offices in lower cost regions domestically. How can you best reduce costs?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • An emphasis on cost may be misplaced. Consider instead of where you can offer the best value to your customers or clients. Focus on and compete in best part of your market – the place where you possess the strongest advantage; then worry about cost.
  • Outsource companies can be dangerous partners. Assume you only profit from the first job that you give them and that they may be your competitor the next time around.
  • We’ve learned from the last decade of experience in Asia that cost advantages are often temporary. Salaries for top talent in India and China now approach those in the US. This experience is likely to be repeated in Southeast Asia.
  • Focus on high dollar services and opportunities.
    • There are limitations to offshore talent – especially in complex, multi-step development projects. Keep high dollar projects in-house because they justify higher prices and margins.
    • When you outsource, negotiate retainer contracts with additional charges for work above and beyond the scope specified in the retainer.
  • What do you want to be? Consider your options:
    • Become a project management company and outsource development.
    • Be a development company and just look for cost effective sources of labor.
    • Start your own outsource company – a split-off staffed by your own employees – and feed them work.
  • Before you invest substantial time or money, do a test.

How Do You Eliminate a Them-Us Cultural Divide? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company acquired an office in a new geography at no cost – just a commitment to keep the office going. The immediate challenge is transferring the previous owner’s client base to the new owner’s service. The people in the distant location are OK, but it will take coaching for them to deliver the new owner’s level of service. However, these people are proud and resistant to change. How do you eliminate a them-us cultural divide?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Involve the person who facilitated the acquisition in the integration process. Get his opinion of what is needed.
  • Your prime commitment is to the client base and past practices that built the client base. Maintain or surpass this level of service.  As long as the team meets this level of performance, they are serving your objectives.
    • You and the key manager of the newly acquired office should meet with their most important clients. Help the manager convert those clients for you.
  • Your other implied commitment is to the manager and employees that you inherited through this deal. Educate them on your approach – “we will do all that we can to create success for our clients.” Connect with the manager, understand how this person serves clients, and coach the individual.
  • Be fair – the fairest method of managing is a meritocracy.
  • Manage by results, not process – if the core values between the two sites are similar, allow for cultural differences in local practice.
  • If all this doesn’t work and you want for “them” to become “us” you will have to have someone from the home office move to the distant office and manage it.

Which is Preferable C or S-Corp Status? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company’s accountant advises them to transition from a C Corporation to an S Corporation. Remaining a C Corp would force them into accrual accounting with significant tax consequences. The accountant also advises that it is easier to sell an S Corp to a buyer, and S Corp status would relieve problems with retained earnings. Which do you think is preferable, C or S Corp status?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Accountants disagree. Get a second opinion. Also consult a tax or corporate lawyer who will provide another perspective.
  • Another company looked at S vs. C status and found two key factors:
    • S Corp status is great if you expect to lose money for a few years because of the benefit that it can offer to personal taxes. Over the long-term you should look at the difference between personal and corporate tax rates and set your strategy so that it makes the most sense.
    • An S Corp cannot have non-U.S. shareholders.
  • There is more flexibility with C Corp status in your ability to grant options, sell shares, etc. For a suitor, purchase of C Corp shares prior to a full acquisition is like a date before deciding on marriage.
  • C Corp status is good if you are building an empire. S Corp status is better if want to have employee ownership under an ESOP as an option for exit.
  • Since taxes are a significant part of this decision, think carefully before you shift from cash accounting.
    • Once you commit to accrual accounting you can’t go back to cash basis.
    • To the extent have an accrued tax liability you can extend payment of this liability over multiple years.
  • You also may want to consider a hybrid accounting method:
    • Accrual for sales
    • Cash for service
    • Look at whether there are tax advantages to a hybrid model.