Why Companies are Adopting Subscription Billing Models

Volvo recently announced they will make their cars available on a subscription model where consumers will pay one fixed fee per month for access to a car which includes insurance and maintenance.

Everything from tooth brushes to flowers are now available with subscription billing.

Could you offer some sort of recurring plan to your customers? Here are six reasons to consider offering your customers a subscription:

1.     Predictability: When you have subscribers, you can plan what your business needs in the future. For example, the average flower store in America throws out more than half of its inventory each month because it’s too rotten to sell. At H.Bloom, a subscription-based flower company that sells flowers to hotels and spas, say they throw out less than 2% of their flowers because they can perfectly predict how many flowers are needed to fulfill their orders.

 2.    Eliminate Seasonality:  Many businesses suffer through seasonal highs and lows. In fact, a whopping thirty percent of a typical flower store’s revenue comes on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day – ultimately leaving them to scramble and make a sale in November. By contrast, H.Bloom has a steady stream of subscribers that pay each month. At Mister Car Wash – where they offer a subscription for unlimited car washes – they receive revenue from customers in November and April even though very few people in the Northern east wash their cars in rainy months.

3.    Improved Valuation:  Recurring revenue boosts the value of your business. Whereas most small companies trade on a multiple of profit, subscription-based businesses often trade on a similar multiple of revenue.

4.    The Trojan Horse Effect:  Once you subscribe to a service, you become much more likely to buy other things from the same company. That’s one reason Amazon is so keen to get you to buy subscriptions to things like Prime or Subscribe & Save. Amazon knows that once you become a subscriber, you are much more likely to buy additional products.

5.    The Sale That Keeps On Giving:  Unlike the transaction business model where you have to stimulate demand through advertising to get customers to buy, with a subscription based model, you sell one subscription and it keeps giving month after month.

6. Data & Market Research:  When you get a customer to subscribe, you can start to see their spending and consumption habits. This data is the ultimate in market research. It’s how Netflix knows which new shows to produce and which to kibosh.

Recurring Revenue will be a Value Driver discussed at our ExitReadiness® BASECAMP. Register Today.

Why Bother Doing It The Hard Way?

Whether you want to sell your business next year or a decade from now, you will have two basic options for an external sale: the financial or the strategic buyer.

The Financial Buyer

The financial buyer is buying the rights to your future profit stream, so the more profitable your business is expected to be, the more your company will be worth to them. Strategies that are key to driving up the value of your business in the eyes of this buyer include de-risking it as much as possible, creating recurring revenue, reducing reliance on one or two big customers, cultivating a team of leaders, etc.

The Strategic Buyer

The alternative is to sell to a strategic buyer. They will care less about your future profit stream and more about what your business is worth in their hands, typically calculating how much more of their product they can sell by owning your business. Strategic buyers are usually big companies, so the value of being able to sell more of their product or service because they own you can be substantial. This often leads strategic buyers to pay more for your business than a financial buyer ever would.

For example, Nick Kellet’s Next Action Technologies created a software application that takes a set of numbers and visually expresses them in a Venn diagram. Next Action Technologies was generating approximately $1.5 million in revenue when they received their first acquisition offer; Kellet’s first valuation was for $1 million, a little less than revenue, which is a pretty typical from a financial buyer.

Kellet knew the business could be worth more to a strategic buyer, so he searched for a company that could profit by embedding his Venn diagram software into their product. Kellet found Business Objects, a business intelligence software company looking to express their data more visually. Business Objects could see how owning Next Action Technologies would enable them to sell a whole lot more of their software, and they went on to acquire Kellet’s business for $8 million, more than five times revenue – an astronomical multiple.

Preparing For Every Eventuality

The question is: why bother making your business attractive to a financial buyer when the strategic buyer typically pays so much more?

The answer is that strategic acquisitions are very rare. Each industry usually only has a handful of strategic acquirers, so your buyer pool is small and subject to a number of variables out of your control; the economy, interest rates, the competitive landscape and a whole raft of other variables can all impact a strategic acquirer’s appetite to buy your business.

Think of it this way: imagine your child is a promising young athlete who’s intent on going pro. You know that becoming a professional athlete is a long shot, fraught with unknown hurdles: injury, the wrong coach, or just not having what it takes to compete at the highest levels. Do you squash her dream? No, but you do make sure she does her homework, so if her dream fades she has her education; you make sure she has a back-up plan.

The same is true of positioning your company for an exit. Sure, you may want to sell your business to a strategic buyer in a spectacular exit, but a financial acquisition is much more likely, and financial buyers are looking for companies that have done their homework – companies that have worked to become reliable cash machines.

Start today in planning your exit and register for our upcoming ExitReadiness® BASECAMP.

A Surprising Secret for a Big Exit

The vast majority of situations where a founder is getting a seven-or eight-figure offer, it is not their first rodeo. In fact, most owners have had multiple failures and modest successes before their first big exit.

One of the most compelling reasons to consider selling your business is to give yourself a clean canvass for designing your next business. You can take all of the lessons you’ve learned building your current company and apply them to a new idea.

What would you do with a clean slate?

Michelle Romanow partnered with two friends from her engineering class and together they founded Evandale Caviar in their early 20s. The trio’s idea was to sell caviar to high-end restaurants around the world.

The partners built a fishery and had just started to get the business off the ground by the summer of 2008 when the luxury restaurant industry started to wobble. By fall of that year, high-end restaurants around the world were suffering, and by the end of 2008, the industry was on its knees.

Evandale Caviar failed.

The partners licked their wounds and came together to start a new business, a deal-of-the-day website called Buytopia. They had learned from their Evandale experience and were building a good little business—call it a single, to use a baseball analogy—when the partners started to tinker with a third idea.

From nothing to $25 million in 12 months

Romanow saw big companies wasting millions of dollars printing paper coupons and reasoned that there must be a more efficient way to distribute them. They dreamt up a mobile app that would notify the shoppers in a grocery store of special offers and let them snap a picture of their grocery receipt and receive money back on the products being promoted. The SnapSaves business model was to charge the company advertising its offers through the app.

Romanow and her partners poured more than $100,000 a month of Buytopia cash into SnapSaves, and within six months they had a product they could take to market. They launched SnapSaves in August 2013 and the company was a quick hit with consumers and advertisers. Within a year, the founders were entertaining venture capital investment offers with an implied valuation of around $25 million for their young company.

That’s when Groupon called and said they wanted to buy SnapSaves outright. The partners haggled with Groupon and got them to double their offer in the process. Less than a year after launching SnapSaves, they agreed to be acquired by Groupon.

Third time’s a charm

A casual observer of the SnapSaves story would likely chalk it up to luck: a couple of friends leave school, start a business and become an overnight success. That’s a convenient story, but it’s not true.

SnapSaves would never have happened without the lessons the partners learned from Evandale. And therein lies the secret to many successful entrepreneurs: they got their first few businesses out of the way early in their working lives to make the time, room and capital for a true success.

What Your Birth Certificate Says About Your Exit Plan.

In our experience, your age has a big effect on your attitude towards your business and how you feel about one day getting out. Here's what we have found: 

Business owners between 25 and 46 years old 

Twenty- and thirty-something business owners grew up in an age where job security did not exist. They watched as their parents got downsized or packaged off into early retirement, and that caused a somewhat jaded attitude towards the role of a business in society. Business owners in their 20’s and 30’s generally see their companies as means to an end and most expect to sell in the next five to ten years. Similar to their employed classmates who have a new job every three to five years; business owners in this age group often expect to start a few companies in their lifetime. 

Business owners between 47 and 65 years old 

Baby Boomers came of age in a time where the social contract between company and employee was sacrosanct. An employee agreed to be loyal to the company, and in return, the company agreed to provide a decent living and a pension for a few golden years. 

Many of the business owners we speak with in this generation think of their company as more than a profit center. They see their business as part of a community and, by extension, themselves as a community leader. To many boomers, the idea of selling their company feels like selling out their employees and their community, which is why so many CEO’s in their fifties and sixties are torn. They know they need to sell to fund their retirement, but they agonize over where that will leave their loyal employees. 

Business owners who are 65+ 

Older business owners grew up in a time when hobbies were impractical or discouraged. You went to work while your wife tended to the kids (today, more than half of businesses are started by women, but those were different times), you ate dinner, you watched the news and you went to bed. 

With few hobbies and nothing other than work to define them, business owners in their late sixties, seventies and eighties feel lost without their business, which is why so many refuse to sell or experience depression after they do. 

Of course, there will always be exceptions to general rules of thumb but we have found that – more than your industry, nationality, marital status or educational background – your birth certificate defines your exit plan. 

Find out how ready you are with our FREE ExitMap Assessment.

How Much Goodwill Do You Have In Your Business?

The term “goodwill” is often thrown around in conversation as though it is a subjective description of how much your customers like your business.

In fact, when it comes to valuing your business, there is nothing subjective about the definition of goodwill. It is defined as the difference between what someone is willing to pay for your company minus the value of your hard assets.

Let’s imagine you own a plumbing company and the main physical assets in your company are the five vans you own and some tools with a total value of around $100,000. If you sold your plumbing company for $1,000,000, the acquirer would have paid $900,000 in goodwill ($1,000,000 - $100,000).

When a company sells for the value of its fixed assets, it is often a distressed business one step away from closing down. One way to think about your job description as an owner is to maximize the difference between what your business is worth to a buyer and the value of your fixed assets.

Marriott buys more than bricks and mortar

For an example of the difference between valuing a business for its hard assets vs. its goodwill, take a look at the acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide by Marriott. Neither Starwood nor Marriott own many of the hotels that bear their name. Instead, they license the name to operators, franchisees and the owners of the bricks and mortar.

So why would Marriott cough up $13 billion for Starwood if they don’t even own the hotels they run? In part, Marriott wanted to get its hands on the Starwood Preferred Guest program, a loyalty scheme which has proven more popular than Marriott’s program for frequent travelers.

Similarly, Uber is worth something north of $50 billion because more than one million people per day hail a ride using Uber, not because they own a whole bunch of cars. 

Chasing hard assets at the expense of goodwill

Many owners focus on building their stockpile of hard assets, not understanding the concept of goodwill. Accumulating hard assets like land and machines and equipment is fine, but the savvy owner, looking to maximize value, focuses less on the tangible assets and more on what those assets allow her to create for customers. There is nothing wrong with owning hard assets unless they take away from capital you could be investing in creating goodwill. Then the opportunity cost may exceed the value of owning the stuff.

Arguably both Uber and Starwood would be a shadow of the companies they are today had they pursued a strategy of accumulating hard assets. Would Uber ever have made it out of San Francisco if they had to buy a Lincoln Town Car every time they wanted to add a driver to their network?

In your case, focus on what creates value for customers and you will maximize the value of your business far beyond the value of your hard assets.

Find out how sellable your business is today with our FREE The Value Builder Score Assessment.