Tag Archives: Prospectus

Managing Operating Risk To Drive Value

In my previous post I said that if revenues are diversified and sticky then they are characterized as high quality.  A business with high revenue quality is one that will likely be around for some time to come, and is therefore highly valued.  However no business is risk free.  If your revenues are project oriented with little opportunity for repeat business, or you operate in an industry with low barriers to entry, or a people dependent business such as consulting, advertising or staffing, then what can you do to realize as much value as possible?

Mitigate the risks inherent in the business model by focusing on the following:

Differentiate your Product or Service
While at first glance, it may seem hard to differentiate a business in a well established and competitive sector, keeping an eye on consumer trends combined with creative marketing can often carve out a new profitable niche and present a tremendous growth opportunity.  Lululemon Athletica in the apparel sector and Chipotle Mexican Grill in fast food are examples of effective differentiation strategies.

Grow and Strengthen Customer Relationships
Reduce the unpredictability of project revenues by nurturing customer relationships.  If you can show that the same customers use your services several years in a row then you have an argument for revenue predictability.  If that list of customers is more than twenty then you have an argument for revenue diversity. Length of customer relationships is also a good indicator of a high quality product/service.

Focus on Execution Excellence
In a service business, it comes down to attracting and keeping the best personnel in order to deliver service excellence.  Human resources is a complex, multi-dimensional field and should include processes for recruiting, role definition and responsibility, position incentives and benefits, periodic feedback, and documentation and procedures to fill gaps in the case of unexpected departures.

Add Products and Markets
A one product company is riskier than a product line company.  A local company is riskier than one with a multi-national presence.  While it is easy to over-extend yourself, consider managed product and geographical growth to mitigate risk.

Cultivate Multiple Supplier Relationships
Don’t let your business become “captive” to a sole supplier of component parts.  Cultivate multiple supplier relationships to reduce supplier power and dependence.

Improve Profitability
Analyze your profit margin to see where you want to drive your sales — to higher-margin areas.  A trend of improving margins as a result of operational efficiencies and returns to scale will result in a higher valuation.

Protect Intellectual Property
IP can be patented, copyrighted or treated as a trade secret.  Identify the IP in your business and make sure it is protected and properly owned.

Build Your Brand
Spend time on all of the above will build your reputation and your brand.

The following chart summarizes various characteristics that drive company value.

op risks

Operating risk should be addressed by implementing formal processes.  A business with formal processes, systems and documentation reduces the dependence on individual talent and can quickly respond to exogenous shocks.  Items such as Service Level Agreements (“SLAs”), marketing plans, job descriptions, employment contracts, confidentiality agreements, professional codes of conduct, organization charts, etc. institutionalize a business.  Documented processes are transferable value.  Capturing and transferring knowledge will make the business more sustainable and more valuable.

If potential buyers feel that a business has a high risk profile, they will either not buy it, reduce the price they are willing to pay, or make a portion of the price contingent upon the business’s future performance.

What Does a CIM Include and How Do You Position It?

C.I.M. stands for Confidential Information Memorandum and it is the main overview document provided in the private company divestiture or private placement financing process.  A CIM is made available subsequent to signing an NDA and presents detailed company information as a basis for an indicative value discussion.

The CIM is typically prepared by the adviser and ranges from 40 to 100 pages.  CIMs describe the nature of the business (i.e. products/services, strategy, differentiation, revenue model, etc.), its history, ownership, legal structure, suppliers, customers, competitors, market opportunities, management, growth prospects, and high level financial information such as historical revenues, EBITDA and a balance sheet.  Customers, key suppliers and key management do not have to be identified by name.  It is still important to protect competitive intelligence at this point as there will be only one successful buyer and the company should not be put in a position where its competitors have access to sensitive information about the company.

The reader of a CIM will be looking to better understand the value proposition of the company and to identify attributes that drive sustainable value. Some examples of questions to be addressed include:

–       Has the seller transferred his/her relationships and know-how to management?
–       Are the revenues of a recurring nature or project based?
–       What are the key sustainable differentiators of the product or business model?
–       Is the customer base diversified / is the business reliant on key suppliers?

A CIM must not over-promise or leave less than flattering facts out because it forms the basis of an expression of interest that may turn in to an LOI and, ultimately a purchase and sale agreement.  Due diligence verification throughout this process will uncover all of the facts.

CIMs are different for early stage financings versus divestitures.  In the former case, it is more like a business plan outlining intentions and how to achieve them whereas for a divestiture it is more of a description of the business and the market the company competes in.  In the case of raising capital you need a detailed and logical use of funds explanation and this use of funds needs to generate a positive incremental return on investment.  In the case of a divestiture it is not so black and white because, in my view you would only include a forecast if you expect it to be substantially different from past trends. If you have a strong historical growth record and you expect this to continue then it may be best to just provide an estimate to the end of the current fiscal year.  This is because you don’t know what the buyer may be thinking and he/she may actually envision a future that includes leveraging its assets to construct a forecast that is much higher than what you would have prepared.

Should a CIM be written for the best buyer/investor? What I mean by this is, if there is a well capitalized large company acquiring businesses in your space, should the CIM be written to appeal directly to this potential buyer?  My view is yes and no.  Yes in that, you should exploit every angle to best position the company and no in the sense that you would do 90% of that anyway as you write the CIM to highlight sustainable value drivers.  A CIM undoubtedly raises further questions, and this is a good thing because it allows advisors to engage potential buyers on the opportunity, add color, clarify any misunderstandings and strengthen the main selling points specific to that potential buyer.  In short, create a two-way exchange of information and gain a better understanding of a buyer’s strategy which can be leveraged during negotiations.

In the end, a CIM is a marketing document and should present the business in its best light.  There is an art to writing a good CIM.  A good CIM provides all of the basic information plus it paints a rich picture of opportunities.