and (2)

Before hitting the launch button, go through the checklist

 

Preparing a privately held company for sale – exit planning – entails a fairly extensive list of things that need to be done and considered.  The process should start several years in advance of the sale. The goal is to ensure that the Intellectual Capital being needed by the company is owned by (literally and figuratively) and resides in the company.

Among the many issues are:

  • Succession planning, talent acquisition, training and talent retention
  • Process review
  • Diversification of risk

You will appreciate that most companies are purchased by private equity firms. To receive the highest possible price for your company, you need to be viewed as a platform company instead of an add-on. To be an attractive platform company, your company needs to have reached a stage where it sustains itself. It has Human CapitalStructural Capital and Relational Capital.  Put another way, it has good people, depth on the bench, and a process for recruiting, training and retaining them.  It has internal processes that reflect an in depth understanding of the business in all respects including a strategy and a vision that extends out 5-10 years.  And it has good or great customer and vendor relationships.  In the absence of this self-sustainability, the buyer is really just buying your customer relationships, or technology, or some other part of the whole.

You – the current owner/operator – need to be expendable. Who is your replacement? Potential buyers want to know the company will survive once you leave. That requires talent acquisition, training, talent retention and succession planning. One of the challenges entrepreneurs have is letting go of the reins and bringing in someone that is their equal (or more than their equal). You need to have a real management team in place, with cross training of all your staff. There should be two people or more that know every job.

Well ahead of marketing the company for sale, a review of all internal processes needs to be conducted. This is part of the due diligence a buyer will go through. They prospective buyers will ask themselves “Is the company as efficient and effective as it can possibly be using best practices and current technology?. If the company were being designed from the ground up today, is this the way you would put it together?” If not, look into the steps that can be taken in the next year or two and reflected in the financial statements the following year. Have you integrated current technology into your business processes? Software that increases efficiency is generally a good investment, even in the short-run. Related to this is where technology is headed, and whether the company has reviewed its strategic marketing plan to reflect the changing competitive landscape.

Diversification of your customer base is increasingly important given the rate of change in technology. Sales concentrations impair sales price and are an impediment to capital raising, as lenders are concerned about both uncollectable accounts receivable and unabsorbed overhead. One of the things that’s hard to predict is how changing technology will affect your customers. If you were dependent on Borders Book, or currently, Best Buy, anyone would rightfully be concerned about the outlook for your company. The best thing you can do is diversify your customer base, and watch the stock price of your customers. If they are public, watch their public competitors’ stock prices, and make this monitoring an integral part of your CFO’s job. There should be a natural tension between your CFO and Sales. If there isn’t, you don’t have balance.

These are some of the first things to think about before planning the sale of your company.  Exit planning is a job on top of your job, and we assume you are already fully employed.  Talking to us when you being the process achieves two related goals.  First, completing your exit plan.  Second, we increase our knowledge of the company to a level where we can market it with greatest effectiveness.   To learn more, contact us.

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Entrepreneurs and Patents…

Michael D. Moberly   June 21, 2013    

There are and infinite number of interpretation to what is routinely referred to as what ‘the American dream’ and an equal number of paths how to achieve it.  The notion of ‘the American dream’ has certainly embedded in political rhetoric as one need only watch C-SPAN and listen to countless elected politicians consistently apply those three words to produce - elicit a myriad of emotions, imaginations as well as anger and frustration among their so-called target audience at the time.  The lingering effects of the 2008 economic recession are still very much evident in most sectors as many Americans and certainly citizens in numerous other countries struggle to find sustainable paths to surface from their own economic breakdowns.  Collectively, these persistent downturns has made first, retaining, and second, re-achieving ‘the American dream’, however one wishes to personally characterize it, elusive.

But, this piece is not about painting a new or conventional portrait of ‘the American dream’, rather it’s about the one twentieth of one percent of those individuals engaged in entrepreneurism and R&D who are seeking their version of ‘the American dream’ which often commences with making application for and hopefully having a patent issued for their work and achievement.

Due largely to the nature of my business consultancy, I encounter entrepreneurs of all stripes engaged in some truly remarkable endeavors.  These very purposeful encounters over the years have lead me to conclude that while there are numerous rationales for entrepreneurs to seek a patent for their idea – innovation, one rationale seems to repeatedly surface, which is, seldom are they familiar with, nor have they been apprised of options or alternatives to the ‘conventional patent route’.  Instead, I often characterize entrepreneurs as being singularly focused on seeking and securing conventional intellectual property, i.e., a patent.

There’s little doubt, being in a position to seek and possible secure a patent is indeed a privilege and achievement which very few others can put on their resume.  Further, in many instances, obtaining an issued patent will shine a well deserved light on one’s expertise and assign instantaneous credibility, short-lived as it ultimately may be among colleagues, peers, and even competitors.

Too, once a patent is issued it provides the holder with well deserved grounds for expressing pride in their labors, which in many instances have evolved over many years, depending on the product, testing, re-testing, etc.  Of course some do in a singularly boastful manner while others are far more humble and even self-deprecating in their characterizations.

But, I often find it puzzling, particularly with individual entrepreneurs, who, for the most part are very thorough, objective, and ‘driven’ researchers, why and how they readily gravitate to ‘going the patent route’ versus taking time to genuinely explore perhaps just as viable alternatives and/or options.

For the countless entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of meeting over the past 25+ years, is their seemingly innate penchant for ‘going the patent route’ while conveying little if any awareness or interest in exploring alternatives to safeguard and commercialize their innovation against the realities of the increasingly predatorial global business environment in which any idea, patented or otherwise, is in a constant state of risk of infringement, misappropriation, theft, counterfeiting or a target of economic espionage.

As readers know well, there are numerous variables and influences that come to bear on entrepreneurs with respect to the path they choose for safeguarding and commercializing their original idea.  Aside from the demands made by would-be investors, including venture capitalists, angel investors, etc., one influential variable, I’m quite confident, even though I have never heard it specifically expressed in these terms, is that ‘idea holders’ opt for the patent route because they mistakenly assume that if/when a patent is issued, the stewardship, oversight, and management of their intangible asset (idea, innovation) becomes magically guaranteed, thereby relieving them of absolutely essential chores, which of course, is simply not the case!

I respectfully and admirably recognize possessing an issued patent represents for many entrepreneurs the ultimate ‘brass ring’ if you will, that will define, in many instances, one’s professional career.  Any assumption though that ‘going the patent route’ is the only option to achieve the necessary protection, and thus serve as the singularly best path to successful commercialization of an idea and possible profitability, is one that numerous professions and institutions wish to preserve and are not so courteous to those who want entrepreneurs to at least be exposed to equally viable alternatives.  To be sure, part of the challenge lies in the reality that there is no intangible asset strategist available to objectively articulate viable alternatives and objectively describe, with no malice, the reality that all forms of intellectual property, i.e., patents, trademarks, and copyrights have been the victim of some major hits in the past 20 years.

Let’s be clear, intellectual properties, i.e. patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc., are merely one type or category of intangible asset. The primary difference is that a patent, once issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or other countries’ counterpart, will assume a tangible/physical property only insofar the issuance letter one receives which can be framed and hung on an office wall as a testament of one’s persistent and challenging work.

Too, I suspect, respectfully so, that deference is often attached to patent (only) strategies by entrepreneurs due to the time honored, but flawed assumption that an issued patent conveys a more personal sense of ownership and certain legally defensible rights of protection, technically speaking, over say, a trade secret.

A constant source of nourishment to ‘patent only’ strategies is the widely held, but mistaken assumption that an issued patent constitutes a standalone deterrent to, or safe harbor from, would be infringers, misappropriators, counterfeiters, and economic espionage in general.  To that I say, in today’s increasingly aggressive, globally predatorial, and winner-take-all R&D and business transaction environments, ‘idea holders’ can be assured that depending on the nature and subject matter of their patent, it will likely be in a constant state of risk from a host of legacy free players, independent (information) brokers, and certainly state-sponsored entities engaged in economic (industrial) espionage.

Some years ago, I would characterize/frame the likelihood that an entrepreneurs’ idea, innovation (or patent) would be stolen, infringed, or counterfeited, etc., in the context of probabilities.  Since the early 2000’s, I believe I have taken a wiser and more reasoned and realistic approach by framing such likelihoods, not as mere probabilities, rather as inevitabilities if relevant precautions and safeguards are not taken that extend beyond the presumptive deterrents and safeguards in conventional intellectual property.  

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