Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?
Advice from the CEOs:
The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.
Situation: A CEO is transitioning her role in a company that she founded to new ventures, while maintaining a part-time commitment to the company. The company seeks a proposal as to how she will split her time and what compensation she wants during the transition. The CEO seeks guidance on the focus and content of the proposal. How do you structure a transition proposal?
Advice from the CEOs:
This sounds like a set of half-decisions.
The CEO envisions a transition from the current position to a transition position to a new position. The more likely scenario is that the CEO will go straight to the new position. As soon as one new venture starts to solidify, this will demand 100% of the CEO’s time.
Given that this is most likely the CEO’s priority, the important question is what the company wants and needs from the CEO. Deliverables, time commitment and compensation should follow these needs.
Another approach is to look at an exit package, including a long-term consulting retainer. For example, full salary for 6 months with a retainer for another 6 months. This will allow the CEO more freedom and flexibility to pursue the new ventures.
The current negotiation is just a starting point. Here are the things to consider in the proposal to the company:
Does the CEO need income from the current company during your transition? Will a new venture benefit from financial or professional assistance from the company?
If the CEO is not fully engaged with the company, leadership will likely want the CEO out sooner than later.
The company mostly will want a non-compete and the ability to use the CEO as a resource as needed.
Interview with Norman Boone, CEO, Mosaic Financial Partners
Situation: Many entrepreneurs who started companies in financial services and other industries are now 55+. They may be ready to move on, but not necessarily ready to move out. What questions should they be asking as they plan their exit strategies?
Advice from Norman Boone:
The most critical question is what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most people don’t give this enough thought. It all starts with what is most important to you.
Start with a self-inventory assessment – what are your resources, options, and what do you want to do or accomplish?
Discuss with your significant other or partner what will work for both of you.
Answering these questions helps to lay out the alternatives. Now, thinking about your company, what is important to you? Is it legacy, the future of your employees and business partners, the future of your clients? Does your business continue, or to you see a sunset?
If your business will continue, do you see an internal succession, or sale or merger of the company? If internal succession, here are the issues.
Who will be the new leadership? Do you have good candidates on staff, or do you need to hire someone who will take over?
Be careful not to expect your successor to be a mini-you. They need to be able to bring their own talents and perspectives to the leadership role, not try to duplicate you.
Do you need to beef up the training of current staff to increase their managerial capacities?
Is an employee buy-out an option? There is a variety of choices to investigate.
What will be your role during and after the transition? Will you accept that new leadership may take the company in new directions?
To be most effective, this needs to be a 5 or 10 year process. Ideally you will have two to four successor candidates to evaluate.
Do you sell to the highest bidder? Many of the questions here are like those above.
Will you sell to the highest bidder, or to the bidder who seems the best fit for your stakeholders and clients?
How much voice, if any, will you offer your employees and / or clients in the selection process?
What due diligence will you do on potential buyers?
Do you merge with a similar company?
If you can find a compatible merger partner the combination may be the best of two worlds.
What is the culture? If different, what will be the impact?
A merger of like companies may assume that the other party has a commitment to ongoing operation: but this is not guaranteed.
What will your role be, and what is the transition plan? How will you involve your key people in the transition?
The other option is to sunset the company. Here you must have enough in savings so that you can forgo future income from the business.
What about the other stakeholders and clients who’ve invested their careers and business in you?
Try to time your exit with the expiration of leases and other obligations to minimize exit cost.
How will you assist the transition of stakeholders and clients to new opportunities and providers?
Situation: A company has developed and shipped equipment that puts it into a new market. They can continue to pursue this direction or make a significant shift that will open up a larger opportunity. What are the most important considerations to this decision?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are a number of points that you need to clarify before making this decision:
What is the magnitude of difference between the two opportunities?
How much of a shift in technology is required to make the jump to the larger segment?
How much of the expertise to make this shift do you have in-house, and how much must you bring in, acquire or develop through partnerships?
What is your most likely exit strategy and how will each opportunity impact it?
Are you being realistic in your ability to meet development timelines?
If you don’t have deep expertise in the area that you want to develop, the answer is most likely yes. If you do you can often beat your initial estimates.
If the shift includes both there is risk that you will underestimate the time required to develop both the prototype and to turn the prototype into production quality technology.
If your ultimate objective is to sell the company, be aware that selling any company can be tricky, and you may not be able to sell the company for the value that you need to support yourself after the sale.
Study other companies in your geography and market, and determine both the price that they received for their companies and how they positioned their companies for sale.
As an alternative to selling, consider hiring a general manager to run the company. This can free you to concentrate on your passion and also increase the value of the company if you decide to sell at a future date.
Situation: A company has an opportunity to form a marketing partnership with another firm. The primary potential benefit to the company from this partnership is gaining access to new customers. On the other hand, partnerships may bring complications. What is your experience with marketing partnerships, both positive and negative?
Advice from the CEOs:
Marketing partnerships can certainly work, provided that both parties see benefit to the relationship, and both are committed to make it work.
Be sure to clearly define boundaries with the partner.
If either company can perform a particular service, whose customers are who’s?
Is there alignment throughout the partner’s organization regarding the partnership? Or are their conflicting priorities within different branches of that organization? Test the waters ahead of time and assess how these will potentially impact the partnership.
There are potential pitfalls:
What is the in-house/outsource attitude of the partner? If there are strong voices for in-house production or service provision, these will not be supportive of the partnership.
Watch the quality of the partnership over time.
Successful partnerships are based as much on friendly cordial relations as on business priorities. Are your business cultures and ethics compatible?
Who is the champion for the partnership on the other side? What will happen if the champion leaves? Is there a back up champion?
Build an exit strategy into the partnership that will allow you to leave gracefully and mitigate financial or good will consequences if the partnership sours.
Interview with Chuck Gershman, Founder and Former CEO, Bay Microsystems
Situation: Following a consolidation of equipment suppliers, the broadband network market has matured with a few large players. This potentially reduces diversity and creativity because barriers to entry are now enormous. How do you fund a new venture in a mature market?
Chuck Gershman’s Advice:
If you can get the venture off the ground, the opportunity is tremendous because competition for new approaches in a mature market is limited. Large players don’t move quickly. Their incentive is to change slowly to lengthen product life cycles.
The downside is fewer financiers interested in the space because of the barriers to entry, and because the likely exit is an M&A play at low multiples.
Given this, how do you attract investors?
In the hardware space, you must demonstrate a convincing go-to-market strategy with modest investment and a moderate cost of market penetration. If the cost of success is high, it requires too much investment and risk before you can accurately assess the possibility of success.
You must be able to show a substantial total available market.
You must be able to show that your capability meets the needs of the market.
You must be able to show that the customer base will respond en masse. This is critical!
With fewer investors willing to look at your product and technology, it takes more time and work to find interested investors.
Investors invest on perceived risk, so the task is to show that the risk is manageable.
In the past, investors were convinced by a committed strategic customer that would finance bringing the product to market.
In the current market, an effective strategy is to develop an early customer who is a strategic investor in your company from Day 1. This raises the likelihood of an exit, and appeal to investors, but reduces downstream options and ROI.
Another strategy is to pursue a creative IPO exit. For example, launching the IPO on a smaller foreign exchange. This reduces the long-term payout to founders, but may increase appeal to investors who prefer an IPO to an M&A exit.