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 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.

Presenting alternative views is something that I routinely do with clients.  I can help you tackle these issues and also help you increase the value of your company.  Call me, Frank Mancieri at (401) 651-1585 or email him at frank@gtGrowth.com.

Why You Should Exit While You’re Ahead – A Cautionary Tale

The very best time to sell your business is when someone wants to buy it. While it can be tempting to continue to grow your business forever – particularly when things are going well — that decision comes with a significant downside.

Take a look at the story of Rand Fishkin who started his entrepreneurial journey when he joined his mother’s marketing agency as a partner:

When Fishkin realized how much his Mom’s customers were struggling to get Google to display their company in a search, he immersed himself in the emerging field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

He began writing a blog called SEO Moz, which led to an SEO consulting and software company. By 2007, Moz was generating revenue of $850,000 a year when Fishkin decided to drop consulting to become solely a software business.

The company began to grow 100% per year and by 2010, Moz was generating around $650,000 in revenue each month, attracting the attention of Brian Halligan, co-founder of marketing software giant HubSpot.

HubSpot wanted to buy Moz and was offering $25 million of cash and HubSpot stock – an offer almost five times Moz’s $5.7 million of revenue in its last complete financial year.

But Fishkin wasn’t satisfied. He believed a fast growth Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company was worth four times future revenue and was confident Moz would hit $10 million by the end of that year.

Fishkin counter offered, saying he would be willing to accept $40 million. HubSpot declined.

New Plans Ahead

Instead of selling Moz, Fishkin raised a round of venture capital and started to diversify away from SEO tools into a broader set of marketing offerings. The further Moz veered away from its core in SEO, the more money his business began to lose.

By 2014, Moz was in full crisis mode, and Fishkin had begun suffering from a bout of depression. He decided to step down as CEO, describing his resignation as a “lot of sadness, a heap of regrets and a smattering of resentment.”

Fishkin became a minority shareholder in a company he no longer controlled where the venture capitalists had preferred rights in a liquidity event.

A Lesson Learned

In the ensuing years since turning down Halligan’s offer, HubSpot went public on the New York Stock Exchange and had been worth nearly 20 times as much.

Fishkin revealed that today, his liquid net worth is $800,000 – much of which he was about to spend on elder care for his grandparents. The Moz stock he holds may or may not have value after the venture capitalist get their preferred return. At the same time, Fishkin estimated HubSpot’s offer of $25 million in cash and HubSpot stock would now be worth more than $100 million (based on the increased value of HubSpot’s stock).

Fishkin’s tale is a cautionary reminder why the best time to sell your company is when someone wants to buy it – a story that is shared in his book Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.

What if an offer was made for your business today? Would you be ready to sell? Would you regret if you said no?  Frank Mancieri & GT Growth & Transition Strategies can help you prepare for the day an offer is presented and help you increase the value of your company until that time.  Call Frank at (401) 651-1585 or email him at frank@gtGrowth.com.