Tag Archives: Risk

How Do You Change Suppliers for a Key Product? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company buys several important components from a single US supplier. They are considering an offshore source for one of these components which makes up a large portion of what they purchase from the supplier. Does off-shoring make sense in this case, and how do they mitigate the risk? How do you change suppliers for a key product?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key consideration is the off-shore partner’s ability to reliably make the component at the price promised. If they can, why not outsource offshore?
  • The decision depends upon two additional factors: the amount that you stand to save by off-shoring your source, and the potential cost to you of inconsistent or unreliable components from the off-shore supplier.
    • If the cost of failure is high, a modest savings is less valuable. You may want to wait until you have higher volume and higher potential savings before looking at off-shore sources.
    • In the US, we assume – with some security – that a pilot run predicts a large run. Historically this has not been shown to consistently apply to offshore suppliers.
  • Can you afford to invest and potentially lose the amount that it would cost you to secure your first production order from the off-shore source?
    • If the answer is yes, invest the time and effort to visit the supplier, and secure resources to monitor their production – your own or a trusted partner’s. Your presence and interest are very important.
    • The principal challenge will be quality and consistency of raw materials, and varying age of production equipment used to produce your components.
  • Are you concerned that your current supplier might cut you off?
    • The CEO is not sure, but has identified this as a risk.
    • If this is the case, start now identifying second sources for other components made by this supplier – if only to keep them honest in price, quality and delivery.

How Do You Evaluate Distribution Alternatives? Four Thoughts

Situation: A software company is evaluating its distribution network. Historically they have worked with resellers who aggregate software services into packages for larger customers. Recently they were approached by a reputable distributor seeking a master distribution agreement with favorable payment terms. Is this an option that they should pursue? How do you evaluate distribution alternatives?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are at least three objectives to consider: market coverage, margin to the producer, and market risk.
  • For market coverage, evaluate the alternatives in terms of their ability and commitment not only to serve your current market but to expand into adjacent markets.
  • Regarding price and margin, there are two alternatives:
    • Decide what price you want, and don’t worry about the reseller or distributor’s final price to the customer, or
    • Establish a floor price for your product and ask for a percentage commission on sales.
    • Run models on each and decide which will provide the best return on sales.
  • Market risk is more complex. These are different approaches to the market.
    • In evaluating the reseller option, insist on terms in reseller agreements that the reseller disclose the terms of their sales.
    • Sharing of customer databases is another factor. Siemens, for example, considers their customer database as IP and only releases portions of their customer database selectively to resellers.
    • A master distribution agreement has different risks. It puts all of your eggs in one basket. If the distributor adjusts focus away from your software during the term of the agreement your sales and revenue will suffer.
  • Are there conditions where a master distribution agreement may make sense?
    • If the distributor is willing to sign a multi-year agreement with sales guarantees at favorable pricing this mitigates the risk.
    • The central issue is risk and guarantees. If you see the option as a low risk – high return proposition, it may be worth considering.

When Does It Make Sense to Buy a Company? Three Guidelines

Situation: A Company has a key customer that wants to upgrade the Company’s status as an approved supplier. This comes with a catch – the customer demands that the Company reduce the amount of its total revenue represented by its business with the customer. The customer doesn’t want the Company to be overly dependent upon them or their business. One option that the Company may explore is purchasing another business. When does it make sense to buy a company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Company may be working under a false premise.
    • If the Company is truly a critical supplier, the customer is not likely to go away just because they don’t like a single ratio on how the Company runs its business.
    • The risk that the Company takes on buying another business is that this distracts the Company and ends up jeopardizing current business both from thus customer and others.
    • It makes more sense to explore acquiring another company if the Company’s broader goal is to become more diversified, or if new business commitments are forthcoming from this or other current customers.
  • What about this strategy makes sense?
    • Provided that the purchase of another company makes strategic sense, it may be feasible to finance the purchase of that company through a leveraged buy-out.
    • Be sure to build an earn-out with incentives contingent upon the seller staying on and helping to maximize long-term value of business.
  • As an alternative to buying another business, it may be possible to build a new lower cost/price version of the Company’s current product or service and build a new customer base for the lower cost version. This is how automobile companies use the same or similar frames, engines and many of the same components to create different cars for different markets.

How Do You Raise Capital for an Expansion? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company needs to expand to meet growing demand and has opportunities to expand in several locales. They can finance this expansion through bank loans, or by selling either a minority or majority interest in the company. How do you raise capital for an expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Minority shareholders have appeal. Just be aware that they have rights. If they own interest above a certain percentage, they gain legal rights such as the ability to force liquidation. Research this percentage, and figure out a percentage of minority ownership that will work for you. Based on this, look for a minority partner who will give you the capital to expand for ownership below this threshold.
  • Consider a hybrid solution combining a smaller loan with sale of a limited percent of the company.
  • This is a risk equation.
    • The loan option is risk / reward for long term profit. You may have to secure the loan with personal assets.
    • On the other hand, selling a minority interest could set you up for life.
    • Look at both options, plus your personal goals and decide which combination of risk, reward and personal security fits you best.
  • One sale option is a phased buy out.
    • Example: sell 30% now, with options under conditions that you accept, to buy a larger share of your company later.
    • Continue to involve the key stakeholders in these discussions.
  • Assure that you secure your own future, and then secure the future of other family members.

How Do You Maintain Company Culture as You Expand? Six Ideas

Situation: A company wants to open a satellite office in a lower cost geography where they can provide current services at a reduced cost to improve margins. In doing this, the company wants to maintain the same culture and controls on quality of work that they enjoy in their home office. They also need to accurately forecast revenue for the new office. How do you maintain company culture as you expand, and how would you forecast revenue for the new office?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintaining company culture is tricky as a company expands geographically. Assign one of your current managers, someone who buys into the company culture, to head the new office. Also maintain the same hiring and personnel management policies that you have at the home office.
  • As the biggest concern is cost efficiency, make sure that the office manager has clear objectives to realize anticipated savings.
  • Look for an incubator that can handle all the peripheral office details so your staff can focus on their work instead of managing facilities.
  • When it comes to revenue forecasting:
    • Given the lower costs associated with the new geography, look for opportunities to trade margin for longer contract commitment windows to improve revenue forecasting.
    • Both margin and delivery can be lumpy when opening a new location. Obtain a credit line to help you smooth the rough spots in your revenue stream.
    • Investigate deferred revenue options to spread revenue risk – right of first refusal on next generation projects in exchange for a lower cost per project to the customer.

How Do You Optimize Supply Agreements? Seven Guidelines

Situation: A company wants to add off-shore manufactures to its supply chain. This is a new experience and the CEO seeks guidance on how to negotiate supply agreements. They want win-win agreements with their new suppliers. How do you optimize supply agreements?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • No supplier relationship is risk-free, especially if you are a small company. Be sure to cover ownership of new IP developed during the relationship. For example, assure that the supplier adds no new developments without communicating these to you in writing. You may want to fund new developments selectively to assure protection of your IP. This is essential if you need to switch or add suppliers rapidly to maintain adequate supply.
  • A service agreement is not always about cost. It’s about deliverables, and quid pro quo is important.
  • Manage your key supplier relationships as diligently as you manage your key client relationships. They are equally critical.
  • In a contract negotiation between supplier and OEM or customer, both sides need to clarify customer needs and supplier capabilities. The greater the transparency on expectations, deliverables, and contingencies, the better the agreement and contract.
  • In negotiating an agreement with a Chinese company, make the enforcement jurisdiction either Hong Kong or Macao. Why? So that courts can enforce terms of the agreement on the Chinese party in the case of a dispute.
  • Post-termination obligations are a key to any negotiation – you want this clarified in advance.
  • Contracts serve two purposes: a legal tool, and a way to drive behavior. They provide an opportunity to assure that both parties are on the same page and, under the best circumstances, serve as process documents.

Special thanks to Bijan Dastmalchi of Symphony Consulting for his contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Reduce Risk in OEM Agreements? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is introducing a new technology. They are evaluating an OEM licensing model. They have been advised that if they go forward independently they will be perceived as a threat by OEMs, and this may inhibit their ability to form key OEM partnerships. How do you reduce risk in OEM agreements?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consider moving forward with a mixed model – both seeking OEM relationships and also selling direct to the market. Because you will be actively entertaining OEM relationships the risk of threatening them will be reduced. In addition, this will help you convince OEMs that your market opportunity is real.
  • A purchaser of intellectual property (IP) will always try to go around your only offer is an IP license. They would rather own the IP than pay licensing fees. Therefore pursuing your own product applications makes sense to convince the market that you are more than just IP.
  • There is a risk to this strategy – being caught in the middle. You can end up seeking two clients, your own end users and the OEMs. They aren’t the same and don’t necessarily share common interests. Just be aware of this.
  • You must be able to succinctly explain your value proposition to client audiences, whether these are OEMS, end users or potential funding sources. In the case of the latter two, they also need to easily understand the critical value proposition to the end user, as well. This value proposition will be your 30 second elevator speech.

Better to Focus on Cash or IP Protection? Three Suggestions

Situation: A company is resource constrained and faced with a serious trade-off: do they focus on short term cash needs – immediate product improvements that will speed new product iterations to boost sales; or longer term strategic concerns – assuring that they have good IP protection on their technology before they launch new versions? When you are resource constrained, does it make more sense to focus on initiatives that will quickly produce cash or strategic concerns that will protect your future?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build two timelines – one for shoring up the patent portfolio so that you can safely build and launch new IP-protected versions of your technology and one for quickly completing product improvements to speed development of new product iterations which will generate cash. Assess both the energy requirements and the dollar risks and implications of each timeline. If you do not have the resources to do both in parallel, this analysis will help you to determine your best course of action. The risk analysis of each timeline should take into account what would happen if another company were to duplicate your technology and get to market with improvements before you do.
  • As a compliment to the above exercise, ask what happens if I don’t do either A or B? Do a SWOT and investment analysis on both. Which is the greater risk – launching with insufficiently protected IP or risking not being first to market?
  • These analyses will help you assess whether it may be feasible to accomplish part or all of either task with dollars in lieu of your own resources.

How Do You Bridge a Short-Term Cash Crunch? Three Options

Situation: A technology company has grown rapidly over the last year. Two customers representing a significant share of business have temporarily reduced orders for one quarter, resulting in a cash crunch until these orders resume. How do you bridge a short-term cash crunch?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do you feel relatively secure that once the quarter is over these orders will resume and your cash crunch will be resolved? If so, ask your bank to increase your cash line. Explain the situation, the companies involved, their order history and the expected timing until you get your next payments. A letter from each company saying that they plan to resume orders will help your case. Be aware that the bank may request a personal guarantee to substantially increase your credit line.
    • If you have to personally guarantee a line of credit extension, make sure that you see this as an acceptable risk, and that you can trust the customers to come through with their orders as promised.
  • If you produce products or subcomponents critical to these customers, ask whether they will extend a bridge loan or make a payment against future orders to assure their place in your production queue once their orders resume. You may have to escalate this request within the customer companies if you are currently dealing with purchasing personnel or lower level management.
  • Can you redeploy excess labor to other projects during the cash crunch? You will have to do this carefully so that you can rapidly redeploy these resources to priority projects once a large order comes in from one of these customers.

When Do You Decide to Expand Your Office? Three Options

Situation:  A company signed a 3-year lease a year ago, assuming that this would accommodate their needs. Growth has been much more rapid than anticipated, and they’ve outgrown the space. Should the company expand or move now and run the risk of over-purchasing new space, or should they wait until actual growth requirements are more apparent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The answer depends on the risk that you are willing to take as a company. When you signed your lease you took a risk based on your expected 3 year needs. The current situation is no different. Analyze your current growth trajectory and take a comfortable level of risk.
  • Options will vary depending on whether the move is relatively high or low cost, and what space configuration you need.
    • Determine whether you have a high or low cost to expand or move – equipment, communications, wiring, etc.
    • If your costs to reconfigure space and move equipment are low, then the risk is relatively low beyond your new lease obligations.
  • Talk to your landlord.
    • With the amount of space currently available in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula, your landlord may have alternatives that are attractive to you.
    • Look for a solution that allows you the space you need under a comfortable risk scenario, but which also gives you options to expand into adjoining space as need arises.
  • Also talk to a broker about what kinds of space are available at what rates, and what incentives may also be available.
  • Short-term, consider leasing excess space from your neighbors as you consider alternatives.

Key Words: Office, Space, Lease, Growth, Risk, Cost, Landlord, Broker