The Hidden Downside Of This Common Management Idea

Cross selling new products and services to your existing customers may be a great marketing strategy, but if your goal is to increase the value of your business, the added revenue may do nothing for your company’s value – and may even lower it.

In order to be acquired for a premium, consider committing to a product, service, or a bundle that does one thing well. Your aim should be to make that offering so irresistible, that an acquirer will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. This focus will help you build a team around your product or service and ultimately make your company a whole lot more attractive when it comes time to sell.

However, most companies do the opposite. They take their initial success and water it down by cross-selling additional products, leveraging their relationship with their customers to sell them merely good offerings on the back of their great product or service. The problem with wandering too far a field is that while add on products may increase your revenue, they decrease your attractiveness to a strategic acquirer. Like being asked to buy a cable package of hundreds of channels when all you want is a few, acquirers don’t like buying things they will not use and therefore often walk away from a deal where a great product has been watered down with dozens of less attractive products or service lines.

How Stelligent Lost Its Focus (and found it again)

For example, take a look at Stelligent, a company in the business of helping help large enterprises automate their software delivery process. There was a time when big companies used to install their software deep, deep into operations – but the emergence of ‘The Cloud’ changed that. Employees across the globe now get access to the software they use anywhere they have access to a web browser.

Just as you might rent an apartment in a building, software developers pick one of the big cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Amazon Web Services (AWS) to rent compute, storage, database, and networking resources to run their software systems. Since Azure, Google, and AWS all take a different approach to hosting, an entire industry has been created to help developers configure their software for the cloud service provider they pick.

Paul Duvall, co-founder of Stelligent, is one of the pioneers of this industry called DevOps – which is a set of organizational, culture, process, and tooling practices that accelerate effective feedback between end users to improve the value of the software that's being delivered . Duvall started Stelligent in 2007 with his then silent partner Rob Daly. The goal was to help developers accelerate how quickly they could bring their software to market.

Stelligent was a typical consulting company, selling the time of the engineers Duvall hired on contract as his business required them.

By 2012, Stelligent had a half dozen contract workers and a few employees hovered around one million in annual revenue, as project demand ebbed and flowed. Duvall felt he was running on a treadmill. Each new project Duvall won required him to build a whole new team. Around this time, Rob Daly – who had enjoyed success starting and growing other companies - encouraged Duvall to read the book Built To Sell, where Duvall especially found tips around specialization to be most valuable.

With a focus on shifting toward even more specialization, Duvall decided to go all in on AWS.

About a year later, in 2014, Daly then joined the team as its 5th employee and would transition to CEO throughout the course of the year becoming very influential in building a team of specialists focused on helping enterprise customers.

As time went by, Stelligent began earning a name for itself as the AWS specialists. As Amazon’s cloud provider service grew in popularity, so did demand for Stelligent’s services. Over the next three years, Stelligent blossomed into a multi-million-dollar business with 30 full-time employees.

By early 2017, Denver-based HOSTING Inc. saw how quickly AWS was growing and concluded that by acquiring Stelligent, they could leapfrog their competition and become a market leader in AWS almost overnight. Later that year, HOSTING acquired Stelligent for about double what a typical consulting company would hope to command for a similar-sized business (when comparing multiples around high-growth companies in the technology sector).

The story of Stelligent is a reminder why you should focus your limited resources on becoming so good in your niche that an acquirer reasons it would take too long – or cost too much – to compete.

Most small businesses with limited cash, can only afford to get that good at solving one problem for their customers. That kind of focus is the opposite of what most sales and marketing pundits preach but it may be the one thing that will make your company irresistible to an acquirer.

Run Your Private Company Like It’s Public

Small businesses often operate as if their sole purpose is to fund the owner’s lifestyle, but the most valuable companies are run with financial rigor. You may be years from wanting to sell, but starting to formalize your operations now will help you predict the future of your business. Then, when it does come time to sell, you’ll fetch more for what you’ve built because acquirers pay the most for companies when they are less risky. There’s nothing that gives a buyer more confidence than clean books and proper record keeping. 

Jay Steinfeld is a great example of how to run a business like a public company. Steinfeld studied Accounting at the University of Texas and joined KPMG after college. His wife owned a small retail store selling blinds and window treatments. The store was successful, but by 1994, Steinfeld had noticed a little Seattle-based outfit that was trying to hawk books online.  This company with the peculiar name “Amazon.com” started to succeed in selling books online and Steinfeld wondered if he could get consumers to buy blinds online.

Soon after, Blinds.com was born.

Unlike many of the first-generation online companies that were run with little financial controls, Steinfeld grew Blinds.com like an accountant. He was determined to run his business with the same rigor as a publicly listed company. He built an experienced management team and took the unusual step of assembling an outside board of directors even though Blinds.com was private and Steinfeld owned all of the stock.

The board met quarterly and each of Steinfeld’s senior managers were asked to prepare and deliver formal presentations to his board. Steinfeld hired a big four firm to complete a full audit of his financials each year even though all he needed to satisfy Uncle Sam was a simple tax return.

By 2014, Blinds.com had grown to 175 employees and, at more than $100 million in revenue, was the largest online retailer of blinds in America. Even though Home Depot had close to $90 billion in sales at the time, Blinds.com was outperforming them in its tiny niche, which – coupled with their fastidious bookkeeping -- made Blinds.com absolutely irresistible to Home Depot. On January 23, 2014, Home Depot announced its acquisition of Blinds.com.

Running your business like it’s public will make it more predictable as you grow and ultimately a whole lot more attractive when it comes time to sell.

Register today for our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP and run your company like it’s public.

Expensive Sentences and Exit Planning

The following is a post from over two years ago, and because we continue to hear such things from business owners, and know how damaging these thoughts and positions can be, we’ve decided to repost:

“It’s too late to turn back now.”  “We’re too swamped for that now.”  “We can probably do that ourselves.”  “It’s crazy busy around here.”  These are just a few examples of “Expensive Sentences” mentioned by my friend Jack Quarles in his latest book, Expensive Sentences, Debunking the Common Myths that Derail Decisions and Sabotage Success.

Jack explains in his book how conversations and discussions containing Expensive Sentences lead to decisions that impact the future of businesses, families, individuals and nations.  How the faulty logic and false constraints of Expensive Sentences can lead to derailed and costly decisions.  He describes how conventional wisdom such as “You get what you pay for” or “We can’t change horses in mid-stream” can be a very costly and destructive trap.  Jack paints a picture as to how we can over time drift away from a disciplined analysis of a decision and instead be drawn by a “particular idea, as if pulled by gravity.” 

When it comes to Exit Planning, or designing and implementing a plan to successfully and responsibly exit from a business, there is a seemingly endless supply of “expensive sentences”.

Such as:

“I’m not ready to exit yet…I will begin planning when I’m ready to exit “ 

“I am confident our business would be very attractive to a strategic or financial buyer”

“I know what my business is worth…I don’t need a valuation”

“I can sell my business for enough to live on for the rest of my life” 

“Yeah, I think we arranged it so that my spouse will get the business when I die” 

“I’m not worried about my employees leaving if I die…I have been good to them and they’re very loyal”

“One of my friends, who is in the same business, sold for $$$$...I’m sure I will be able to sell mine for at least that much”

“I don’t need a financial needs analysis.  I know about what we would need.”

“I am confident I can sell my business when I want or need to”

Business Owner Exit Planning employs a process requiring analysis that results in a strategy that will allow you to exit successfully and responsibly.  Avoid the costly and destructive trap of expensive exit planning sentences and begin the exit planning process today.

Register today for our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP and address these “expensive sentences”.

5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Too Dependent On You

If you were to draw a picture that visually represents your role in your business, what would it look like? Are you at the top of an organizational chart, or stuck in the middle of your business like a hub in a bicycle wheel? 

The Hub & Spoke model is a drive that shows how dependent your business is on you for survival. The Hub & Spoke model can only as strong as the hub. The moment the hub is overwhelmed, the entire system fails. Acquirers generally avoid these types of managed businesses because they understand the dangers of buying a company too dependent on the owner.

Here’s a list of the 5 top warning signs that show your business could be too dependent on you.

1. You are the only signing authority

Most business owners give themselves final authority… all the time. But what happens if you’re away for a couple of days and an important supplier needs to be paid? Consider giving an employee signing authority for an amount you’re comfortable with, and then change the mailing address on your bank statements so they are mailed to your home (not the office). That way, you can review everything coming out of your account and make sure the privilege isn’t being abused. 

2. Your revenue is flat when compared to last year’s 

Flat revenue from one year to the next can be a sign you are a hub in a hub-and-spoke model. Like forcing water through a hose, you have only so much capacity. No matter how efficient you are, every business dependent on its owner reaches capacity at some point. Consider narrowing your product and service line by eliminating technically complex offers that require your personal involvement, and instead focus on selling fewer things to more people. 

3. Your vacations… don’t feel like vacations

If you spend your vacations dispatching orders from your mobile, it’s time to cut the tether. Start by taking one day off and seeing how your company does without you. Build systems for failure points. Work up to a point where you can take a few weeks off without affecting your business. 

4. You know all of your customers by first name 

It’s good to have the pulse of your market, but knowing every single customer by first name can be a sign that you’re relying too heavily on your personal relationships being the glue that holds your business together. Consider replacing yourself as a rain maker by hiring a sales team, and as inefficient as it seems, have a trusted employee shadow you when you meet customers so over time your customers get used to dealing with someone else. 

5. You get cc’d on more than five e-mails a day 

Employees, customers and suppliers constantly cc’ing you on e-mails can be a sign that they are looking for your tacit approval or that you have not made clear when you want to be involved in their work. Start by asking your employees to stop using the cc line in an e-mail; ask them to add you to the “to” line if you really must be made aware of something – and only if they need a specific action from you. 

Register today for our next ExitReadiness® BASECAMP

"Why Should A Business Owner Build To Sell?": Interview with Author and Founder of The Value Builder System™ John Warrillow

A new client to our firm will first go through the essential step in our process of clarifying their financial and values-based goals. And while at the same time having an additional goal in mind of identifying their ideal route for exiting the business.

We recently had a client successfully sell their business to a key employee and one of their children, and another client sold to a third-party strategic buyer. A primary reason they were both able to leave successfully was that their businesses were sellable. The businesses had value apart from the owner, they were profitable with strong prospects for growth, and had other drivers of business value that were attractive and strong.

If you want to be in control with a number of options for your eventual exit, then right at the heart of your exit plan will be an emphasis on building the business the right way today. We very much enjoyed a conversation with John Warrillow, the Founder of The Value Builder System™ recently on the ExitReadiness® PODCAST discussing the importance of “building to sell”. You will be well served if you invest 50 minutes to listen in and learn from John’s personal experience as a successful entrepreneur and his analysis of over 40,000 businesses.

Those of you who listen to the podcast with John will also be provided a code for a 25% Discount on our next ExitReadiness® BASECAMP on July 31st at The Lurn Center in Rockville, MD.