Situation: A company was created from IP originally developed by the founder at a large corporation that was not interested in commercializing it. The new company has now become successful and visible, with the large corporation as an important partner. The CEO wants to make sure that she has all bases covered to secure the future of the new company. How do you manage a key partner relationship?
Advice from the CEOs:
There must be clear agreement between the company and partner on ownership of the original IP – a legal document signed by both parties. You can bet that should a conflict arise, the lawyers representing the larger company will argue that their client owns the IP. Once this is secured, focus on developing and licensing software that you clearly own.
Develop contingency plans should the key partner decide to exit the business on which your relationship is based. Identify what other companies could replace lost revenue. Start to build these relationships.
If the partner helps to fund current development, take the money that you save and develop your own IP, independent of the partner relationship. As an alternative, at least develop critical components of the software as your own IP, without using the partner’s funding.
This will free you to develop other customer segments to broaden your business base.
What concerns does the partner have? Strategically, large corporations can be uncomfortable if they feel dependent upon a much smaller company. There are two things that you do:
Makes a concerted effort to assure that you are essential to the large corporation’s overall business.
Make change as painful as possible.
How would you get paid if the large partner exited the relationship?
Negotiate a contract with a 2-year window to any change that partner wants to make. This will provide you with the room to develop new clientele should the partner exit.
Have contingency plans to rebuild capabilities that might be lost and sell it to other clients.
Customize your software by client. In the process, you will develop new methods to keep your edge over competitors.
Keep critical parts of your processes “manual” so that they are essentially trade secrets and not easily replicable if the partner were to try to take over the IP.
Situation: A CEO has hired a banker to advise on the potential sale of a privately-held company. What else should she be doing in advance of the sale? How do you prepare to sell a company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Prior to moving forward with a banker, it is necessary to prepare a privately-held company for sale. Get an advisor – not a banker – to assist you. Search online for a good mergers and acquisitions advisor. If you know CEOs from other local companies, network with them to discover high quality advisors.
In selling a company, the final deal must provide for the survival and continuing effective operation of the company. A buyer may want assurances from you, or assistance in the transition. This can have a significant impact on your final payout.
Be prepared for the reality that you or someone else within the company will have to remain with the company post-sale. If this is to be another person, this individual will be very important to you during the negotiation process with potential buyers. Keep this individual up-to-date with your intentions and plans.
A company is more than numbers – it is a story. The story must be very crisp and compelling.
The buyer will want to perform due diligence before offering you a price and setting conditions on a purchase. This may involve more than you and your top managers. Communications within the company will be critical to keeping managers and employees informed and on-board.
You will want to have two or three potential buyers, both in case a top prospect fails, and to assure competition and a higher sale price.
Think carefully about your next move from a personal standpoint. Being at leisure may not fulfill you. What do you really want to do for the next segment of your life? This is far more important for you, personally, than you may estimate.
Situation: A company has been approached by a larger company that may be interested in acquiring them. The prospective acquirer is a current customer. Absent an extraordinary offer, the company isn’t interested in selling. Nevertheless, a conversation could be valuable. How much information about the company should the CEO share now? How much do you share with a potential acquirer?
Advice from the CEOs:
The key term here is potential. At this point, there is no commitment, and you really don’t know the other company’s motivation. As you start this process, don’t share confidential details about your plans or prospects, or your pipeline. Just broad information. If things get serious, slowly open the kimono.
Make sure that you have an NDA in place covering anything that they ask you to disclose for this possible transaction.
Given your current situation, a standard offer probably won’t be appealing, so be open to a creative option.
Decide ahead of time what your price is. If they are in the ball park, keep talking.
For example, Say you want $XX. Would you be attracted to 50% of that now, 50% later? Under what terms?
Put a low valve on future payouts, particularly if you are not in a position to call the shots.
Be open and creative. You never know what can happen. You could sell to them now at the right price. Then, if the acquisition doesn’t work out, buy the company back in 2-3 years at a discount!
If you get into higher level negotiations, employee retention will be critical. Make provision for this as part of the deal.
Hire a disinterested professional negotiator you who you can trust.
If things get serious, bring in an investment broker to assist. It will cost you 5% but they are helpful in the negotiation and could bring in competing suitors to up the ante.
Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.
Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.
Situation: A founder CEO, after many years building a business, has lost the passion that he had early on. He needs to hire someone to succeed him, assuring the ongoing growth and value of the company while minimizing ongoing personal involvement. How does a founder hire his (or her) replacement?
Advice from the CEOs:
When a founder has lost the passion to continue running a business it is time to move on. Passion is critical to meet the day-to-day demands of a business.
Before you start looking, decide whether you will continue to have a role in the business, and what that role will be. Will you remain Chairman of the Board and give up the CEO role? If so, are you ready to let go of the CEO role so that the right person can take it on? Typical company structures for Chairman/Top Manager roles are:
Chairman focuses on growth strategy, select PR and critical relationships.
CEO/COO/GM handles operational planning and day-to-day management.
The candidate that you seek will have the following profile:
Good energy, loves the business, but not ready for the risk of building a company.
When the right person has run the business for you for a few years that person may become your exit strategy.
Go to your next trade show with the mindset to find the right person. Many of the best candidates will be on the trade show floor – now working for someone else, but inwardly looking for their next opportunity.
Spread the news ahead of time that you’re looking. See who seeks you out.
Situation: Few economists predict a robust recovery. We know from past recessions that in a slow recovery some companies will fail while others rise to the top. What are the three qualities of the companies that will thrive and become the companies of the future?
Advice from Philippe Courtot:
Companies of the future will have three qualities. The first is a keen sense of who your customers are – what characterizes them and their buying and use decisions. You need to see yourself through their eyes. This will give you the ability to shift more easily as their needs shift. Making this shift is easier for a service company than for a manufacturing company because the infrastructure of a service company is more flexible.
Second is an intense focus on operational excellence. Everything is measured with the objective of obtaining the highest levels of productivity as well as the opportunity for ongoing learning and improvement. The companies of the future will have superior systems for gathering and tracking performance data, as well as cultures which allow them to learn from what they track.
Third is a culture of continuous innovation. The company of the future will be the company disrupting itself. Germany provides a wonderful example because of its culture of excellence in small, family owned companies. You may be surprised to learn that it is these small companies who are the true drivers of German innovation, not the big companies like Daimler or BMW. The small companies follow the three rules outlined here. Their success has been aided by the emphasis in German education on math and engineering which means that there is an ongoing supply of domestic talent to feed these jobs.
Interview with Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO, Silicon Valley Education Foundation
Situation: A critical component for the future of technology in the US is a workforce trained in math and the sciences. In Santa Clara County, California – the heart of Silicon Valley – only 49% of high school students complete University of California/CSU qualifying courses, and only 26% of Hispanic students. How can private industry contribute to the improvement of education and the training of future workers?
Advice from Muhammed Chaudhry:
Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s objective is to make Silicon Valley the number one region in California in student readiness for college and careers. It has been shown that the top predictor of college success is the completion of Algebra II in high school. Our primary program – Stepping Up to Algebra – focuses on students and teachers to increase the number of students who are ready for Algebra I in 8th Grade. To date 2,500 kids have gone through our program.
We actively encourage private industry to get involved in our programs and to invest in solutions that work. We call this involvement Work, Wealth and Wisdom.
Let’s talk about Work:
Our aim is for every business person to make it a priority to invest time in public education. This takes an investment – we ask for a consistent investment of 4-5 days a year.
Next is Wealth:
We encourage every business person to sign up to our Sustainer Program. The commitment is modest – only $5 per month to support our activities.
We encourage corporations to Adopt a Classroom for $10,000.
Finally we have Wisdom:
We encourage business people to get involved. We need help designing technology products that enhance learning and in formulating a blended learning approach.
We need to improve the enabling of technology in our schools to improve individualized learning to maximize the potential of each student.
We need support and involvement in policy work by contributing business thinking. Education has lessons to learn from business.
There is room for innovators who are interested in social benefit and long-term investment with profit as a secondary consideration.