Perhaps the most important transaction you will ever pursue is the sale of your business. Many owners of information technology companies attempt to do it themselves and often times these very capable business people approach the sale of their business with less formality than in the sale of a home. The purpose of this article is to answer the questions – Why would I use an investment banker and what am I getting for the fees I will pay?
More than any other type of business sale, the intellectual property based business is the most complex and difficult. The primary reason is that the seller is not interested in selling their company for a financial multiple like 5 X EBITDA. They almost always want that amount plus a premium for strategic value. Another very important factor is that most smaller information technology companies run their financials on a cash basis and the buyers usually employ the accrual method. The adjustments in transaction value that often occur during the due diligence process are often surprising and expensive. Below are several reasons why a seller of an IT business should seek a firm that specializes in this type of business sale.
1. Confidentiality. If an owner tries to sell his own business, that process alone reveals to the world that his business is for sale. Employees, customers, suppliers, and bankers all get nervous and competitors get predatory. The investment banker protects the identity of the company he represents for sale with a process designed to contact only owner approved buyers with a blind profile – a document describing the company without revealing its identity. In order for the buyer to gain access to any sensitive information he must sign a confidentiality agreement. That generally eliminates the tire kickers and deters behaviors detrimental to the sellers business
2. Business Continuity. Selling a business is a full time job. The business owner is already performing multiple functions instrumental to the success of his business. By taking on the load of selling his business, many of those essential functions will get less attention, sometimes causing irreparable damage to the business. The owner must maintain focus on running his business at its full potential while it is being sold.
3. Time to Close. Since the investment banker’s function is to sell the business, he has a much better chance of closing a transaction faster than the owner. The faster the sale, the lower the risk of business erosion, customer defection, employee problems and predatory competition.
4. Large Universe of Buyers. The investment banking firm that specializes in information technology and software companies already has a developed list of target companies with contact information for the individual that runs the merger and acquisition process. They recognize that information technology companies with the same SIC Code 5734-01 can be vastly different and need a further categorization like document management software, SaaS CRM Systems, or healthcare financial software.
5. Marketing. A merger and acquisition advisor can help present the business in its best light to maximize selling price. He understands how to recast financials to recognize the EBITDA potential post acquisition. He understands the key value drivers for buyers and can position the selling company to enhance its strategic value in the eyes of the buyer.
6. Valuation Knowledge. The value of a business is far more difficult to ascertain than the value of a house. Every business is unique and has hundreds of variables that effect value. This is especially true with companies with a strong component of intellectual property. Investment Bankers have access to business transaction databases, but those should be used as guidelines or reference points. The best way for a business owner to truly feel comfortable that he got the best deal is to have several strategic industry buyers bidding for his business. An industry database may indicate the value of your business based on certain valuation multiples, but the market provides the real answer.
7. Balance of Experience. Most corporate buyers have acquired multiple businesses while sellers usually have only one sale. In one situation we represented a first-time seller being pursued by a buyer with 26 previous acquisitions. Buyers want the lowest price and the most favorable terms. The inexperienced seller will be negotiating in the dark. To every term and condition in the buyers favor the buyer will respond with, “that is standard practice” or “that is the market” or “this is how we did it in ten other deals.” Our firm has saved our clients transaction value greater than our total fees during the due diligence and closing adjustments process. By engaging an investment banker that specializes in information technology companies, the seller has an advocate with an experience base to help preserve the sellers transaction value and deal structure.
8. Maximize the Value of Sellers Outside Professionals. Experienced investment bankers can save the seller significantly on professional hourly fees by managing several important functions leading up to contract. His compensation is usually comprised of a reasonable monthly fee plus a success fee that is a percentage of the transaction value. The M&A advisor and seller negotiate with the buyer the business terms of the transaction (sale price, down payment, seller financing, etc.) prior to turning the purchase agreement over to outside counsel for legal review. In the absence of the investment banker, that sometimes-exhaustive negotiation process would default to the outside attorney. The economics of the deal are not your attorney’s area of expertise and could result in significant hourly fees or even a breakdown of the transaction.
9. Maintain Buyer – Seller Relationship. The sale of a business is an emotional process and can become contentious. The investment banker acts as a buffer between the buyer and seller. This not only improves the likelihood of the transaction closing, but helps preserve a healthy buyer – seller relationship post closing. Often buyers want sellers to have a portion of their transaction value contingent on the successful performance of the company post closing. Buyer and seller need to be on the same team after closing.
Our experiences with information technology companies that engaged our firm as a result of an unsolicited offer from a buyer have been quite instructive. The eventual selling price averaged over 30% higher than the first offer. In no case was the business sold at the initial price.
The technology focused investment banker helps reduce the risk of business erosion with improved confidentiality while allowing the owner to focus on running the business. The advisor- led sale helps maximize sales proceeds by involving a large universe of qualified and targeted buyers in a competitive bidding process. Finally, the investment banker can improve the likelihood that the sale closes by buffering buyer – seller negotiations and by balancing the experience scales.