Situation: A family-owned company has built a sustainable and modestly profitable business. They have built high quality, referenceable collaborations. The CEO is ambitious and wants to become a world-class company. They now seek limited partners as investors to grow the company. Which is more important – cash flow or value creation?
from the CEOs:
Both cash flow and value creation are important. There are several sub-questions to the question:
First, what is the fundamental business model?
Second, the CEO is the company’s charismatic leader. How best to follow his energy?
Finally, and most fundamentally, does the current business model make sense? Can it be simplified it to improve its scalability?
Currently there are three divisions, each with a different objective.
Operations – to be sustainable.
Services – low profit and low percentage of company revenue but also low overhead.
Investment – to achieve an acceptable rate of return.
How does the company get the best valuation?
Currently, the company is organized as a conglomerate.
Conglomerates are too diffuse and difficult to optimize to attract investors. Pure plays do better. Consider refocusing the company around its key strengths.
The family business model is fine. The question for the family – how does the CEO keep and attract the key staff like that makes this business work? Salary alone doesn’t do it. What are the future rewards for key personnel? Consider deal participation to incentivize key employees.
The investment and operations divisions are different companies – this is fine. Optimize both.
To attract the best LPs, the business model should evolve from a family to corporate model. This will make more sense to investors and improve their ability to participate in future growth and profits.
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.
Situation: A company survived the recession by cutting back and using cash reserves. Business is now on the upswing with significant new opportunities. However, the company has limited resources to invest landing new opportunities. How do you ramp up sales and business development on a constrained budget?
Advice from the CEOs:
Identify and focus on your niche market, and invest your limited resources closing qualified clients. This is a rifle shot approach, not shotgun. While seeing new business, make sure that you have sufficient production capacity to handle new business. You want your clients to be satisfied so that they will refer others to you
Cash is the most critical resource. Spend carefully and get the most from your investment in business development.
While marketing materials are important, they may not be essential if you have and can leverage excellent referral sources. Word of mouth and referrals from trusted clients are your top assets.
Leverage Linkedin as a free or low cost resource to identify key contacts in your top 100 customer prospects.
You can also use Linked-in.com to recruit additional sales resources who may be amenable to a pure commission sale. This can help you to augment your efforts so that you only pay for success.
Your most important current unused resource is leads and referrals from existing satisfied customers. Let them know that you are looking to grow and ask whether they know of contacts in other companies who could use your product. It is surprising how frequently they will share their contacts with you. Ask whether they would call the contact and provide a personal introduction.
Interview with Trevor Shanski, Founder, eWORDofMOUTH, Inc.
Situation: A company with a new lead generation solution is ahead of the curve for their market segment, and ready to transition from a product development focus to a full-scale business development focus. This means developing new capabilities on a limited budget. How have you made the transition from product development to business development?
Advice from Trevor Shanski:
The reality of early stage companies is that they live on scarce resources. Founders and early executives have to be able to work for lean base salaries during the learning curve. They will be individuals who have selective characteristics.
They will be able to accept conservative salaries near-term, as well as during financial bumps in the road. Their focus will be growing the company’s value and their incentive will be having a material stake in the company.
They will have limited outside demands on their time and attention so that they can work long hours.
They will appreciate the challenge of heavily performance-based compensation, with the potential to win big if they can deliver.
They will have a network of connections and relationships upon whom they can call to gain early business traction.
Characteristics for successful early stage executives include the ability to work intimately with the founding team. Early stage companies are idea and capability incubators where things change quickly. Players must be able to get the job done with little support.
It is critical to have a clearly defined set of expectations for the first few months as you bring on new executives. Early foci will include:
Immersion in understanding the product capability and possibilities.
Sitting down with a white board and openly looking at fresh thoughts for how the market should be approached. Founders frequently suffer from tunnel vision after a long period of development and need a fresh outside perspective on the market and messaging. What partnerships could accelerate market development? What knowledgeable experts should be leveraged to build awareness? What potential is out there that the founders are not seeing?
After these factors are defined, the next step is to develop an action plan and milestones to guide plan execution, plus a budget and alternatives under different resource scenarios.
Once the plan is in place, the focus will be to gain early feedback on the company’s product and capabilities, and then iterate quickly to find the right message to target significant segments of the market.
The focus of early stage companies has to be on quickly developing plans, and then executing.