Playing a long game for big stakes, with Rich Goold, Partner and Head of Tech Law at EY
The companies Notion invests in all share the ambition to build global, category leading companies. Ultimately each of these companies aspires to an outcome that will allow them to realise value and secure the long term future of their business. Many people say, “just build a great business and the outcome will take care of itself”. While that is true to an extent, we believe that long term readiness for M&A or IPO – from Series A investment onwards – can have a significant impact on the scale of the outcome.
We describe this as “Realising Enterprise Value” or “The Art of Exiteering”, and this article is the first in a series of three articles, based on a recent discussion with Richard Goold, Partner at EY. Rich heads up Tech Law for EY globally and leads their fast growth practice in the UK.
You can listen to the interview with Richard in full and here is a link to our insights piece ‘The Art of Exiteering’.
– Map out your long term value journey
– Think about why the people founders surround themselves with is critical for long term success
– Think about your advisers – legal, financial, etc – as being partners, not cost centres
– Build your universe of buyers and establish long term relationships
Play a long game
There is some truth in the statement of “build a great business and the outcome will take care of itself”. The best founders are focused on building the business, building the culture, mapping out the journey and managing their stakeholders. However, even the very myopic founders will often undertake the necessary tasks, that build towards an exit. These things often aren’t directly attributable to building the company, for example:-
- Building an amazing board
- Building a world class leadership team
- Building prolific networks, encompassing companies that may one day acquire them
Every founder can be more analytical and can build a methodology that works towards their exit. Yet the average founder probably doesn’t step back often enough and think “what could I do now and do differently to build the best outcome”. Further, being deliberate about long term exit readiness is highly additive to their ability to raise money at Series B and onwards.
This kind of preparation can have an impact on many parts of the business. For example, when bringing on senior hires, and allocating share options, the ability to describe in detail the universe of potential buyers, and the rationale and route into each, can make or break a senior hire.
The ability to prepare in this way is exceptional. What is really boils down to is the ability to step back from the business and map out the potential future, and do it thoughtfully with a broad range of advisors and stakeholders.
Position yourself for success from day one.
There are many things companies can consider carefully from the start:
– Who they bring on as advisors
– Who they take investment from
– Who’s on the board
All of the above are flags for future investors and of course for potential acquirors.
The founders who carefully consider the above, are also quite mindful of their blind spots and are pulling people in to help fill in the gaps.
This is arguably the most important thing, as founders who are able to get tier 1 talent and spend a disproportionate amount of time on their talent and culture, are often the ones who drive the biggest outcomes at the end of their journey.
The network of talent, should also encompass advisors. A US VC will typically be quite directive in terms of the legal, financial, taxation partners their investees should work with, but this isn’t always the case in Europe, but this is also starting to change.
We are seeing world-renowned US tech law firms investing in the UK and the more progressive founders will look at their advisors as partners and as team members, not cost centres. If founders only think about relationships as a cost, then they will never leverage the support they can offer – whether that is advice or using their network.
Europe has gone through a sea-change in relation to the advisors that companies surround themselves with. The value of a top tier legal, financial, taxation or banking partner is enormous, in a large part due to the nature of their business model – they only meet with and work with the best companies.
These trusted advisors can help you in many ways, not least giving founders confidence that they have “been there, done that”.
Create your universe of buyers and build long term relationships
If more management teams were to take an annual step out of the business and take a strategic look at the universe of potential buyers, this could offer the business massive long term benefits. Founders may not feel they are able to predict who an acquirer might be, however when I reflect on the founders we spoke to as part of “The Art of Exiteering”, one of the most common themes was that tech businesses were acquired by companies with which they had a preexisting relationship. That relationship might have come through a commercial partnership, astute networking or through an advisor, but, from 2-3 years into your business onwards, it is worth thinking about your stakeholder matrix and investing enough in the relationships.
Even if those relationships do not play out as leading to an acquirer, they will put you in a good position if you enter into discussions within an acquirer by giving you some optionality, or maybe as part of a dual track IPO process.
EY works on more IPO’s globally than any other firm, with M&A lawyers on the ground in more than 80 countries. This can be an invaluable resource for founders, from the earliest days of their business.
If you would like to learn more, you can find Rich on linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/richardgoold/ or on twitter @gooldrichard.