Octopus Ventures outline some of the issues an entrepreneur is likely to face when looking to sell a start-up to a tech giant.
As an entrepreneur, you must be driven, passionate, believe in your product and your people – even when nobody else does. But what if you find yourself fielding an acquisition offer from a larger competitor? How would you cope if that competitor was a global giant, a Microsoft or a Google, for example?
Catching the eye of a tech titan should feel like universal validation and negotiating, with a view to selling your business for a huge sum, should be the pinnacle for any entrepreneur. But the sale process itself is likely to generate a mixed bag of emotions.
Expect to be outnumbered
Whoever you sell your start-up to, will inevitably send large teams to pick over the details of your enterprise. After getting a thorough understanding of the technology of the business, discussions will then move on to an assessment of your accounts, legal structure and paperwork.
As painful as the due diligence will feel, it’s a necessary course of action. Potential buyers need to know that any investment they make will be worth it. With that in mind, defensiveness isn’t the best plan of attack – rise above it, grab the opportunity for insight and use it to your advantage.
Know your value
Gathering and gaining external insight is one of the positives to come out of the due diligence process – to view your business as others see it. It’s also key in getting to the crux of what your potential suitor wants – tech, talent, or platform.
Manoeuvring yourself into a strong position means getting your business in order. You might not be afraid of taking entrepreneurial risk, but the danger of capping the value of your start-up is one risk you really don’t want to take. Tricky questions, obstacles you didn’t see coming, and a lack of contingency planning can all throw you off balance and weaken your hand.
Keeping things confidential means being considerate to the needs of your team and balancing this with the necessity to keep things under wraps. When it becomes essential to introduce key players to your potential buyer’s team – trust and transparency should be your new mantra.
It’s all about trust
Being an entrepreneur means you already know that trust can be a hard commodity to come by. The most practical approach is to maintain a ‘business as usual’ mindset. Your start-up still needs to function from the top down. There will inevitably be a time when you need to break the news of the possible buyout to your wider team. You should be as honest and transparent as possible, taking their questions and concerns seriously, acknowledging any worries.
When selling your start-up, the biggest trust exercise comes from having faith in yourself.
Maintain a positive relationship with the acquirer
Conversations with a large acquirer often begin with someone senior telling you what you want to hear. But agreeing to a sale in principle often means them stepping away from the centre of operations. As special as you think your start-up is, corporate development teams have been through the process countless times and to them, you’re just another acquisition. Their job is to get your business for the best possible price; they want a good buy, just as much as you want a worthy sale and a future for your team.
Don’t be railroaded
Scoping out your ideas, illustrating how to get there, along with possible pitfalls and contingency plans, will anchor you in a position of control. If conversations take a difficult turn, it’s easy to get ground down. But while it might be hard, digging deep and reigniting the mantra of business as usual – is the only thing to do.
Negotiations can be costly
It’s always worth remembering that negotiations are pricey, and that good advice doesn’t come for free. The cost of working with legal professionals during a complicated acquisition process can quickly become prohibitively expensive.
Above all – be patient and pragmatic
The overarching theme in any sale is patience. But the process is exhausting, it’s time-consuming and it’s stressful. Patience, pragmatism, alignment, and trust should be your watchwords. A good sale is one where everyone benefits – including your team. Your people have helped get you here and being pragmatic means getting the best for them too.
Once you’ve decided to sell your start-up, the deal you shape is the one you’ll have to live with – consequences and all. And, while as an entrepreneur you’re used to boldly stepping into the unknown, it’s prudent to have an expert on hand to help you through the process.
Finding the right answers can have the biggest impact on the outcome of negotiations and can help prove that when it comes to selling your start-up, with the right support entrepreneurs can indeed have their cake and eat it.
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