Monday, February 18, 2008

Treasure or trash?

You may have a comrade like my friend Dave who has a penchant for siring ideas. Lots. Dave’s ideas – products to develop, companies to create, businesses to buy – come in flurries. All are interesting Why not? or What if? musings, most are of the don’t waste your time variety, and a few are gems. In his perpetual ideation, how does/can Dave separate treasure from trash?

Dave’s latest treasure hunt is a cool case study. He is pondering buying a business, an interesting cash cow of an annuity. The business sells to a stick-beholden proposition: Regulations require customers to periodically and consistently do what Dave’s prospective company does. And, the service is not a core competence of the customers; for regulatory and practical reasons, customers outsource the service. Finally, it's a large, established, and growing market.

Dave engaged me and a mutual friend, who runs M&A for an enterprise software company, to lend a few brain cells to his evaluation. What questions should I ask, and how do I value the business? he queried. The latter’s boring (to me), an algorithmic process with a half-dozen or so methodologies to quantify value and audit historical financials; while it’s an ante, there are more important considerations. Two bread-and-butter thoughts:

  1. What is the need-to-have proposition (what and why do customers buy), and what are the economics? Herein I would probe to ensure it’s not a nice-to-have commodity.
  2. Why is the proprietor selling the business?
Tactically – if I was Dave – I would:
  1. Meet with a dozen or so current customers (and a half-dozen former clients) to evaluate the viability and efficacy of how, why, and how often they engage the company.
  2. Contact and meet with a half-dozen competitors, under the auspices of a desire to acquire their business (and, therefore, learn more about the competitive environment).
  3. Shadow the proprietor on a handful of sales calls.
  4. IBID, but go solo: Meet with a collection of prospective customers to evaluate the points in #1.
  5. Learn more about current regulations and regulatory forecasts, endeavoring to determine if the stick is made of mahogany or balsa.
If everything checks out quantitatively and qualitatively – it’s treasure, not trash -- two paramount questions remain: How does this opportunity compare to other opportunities (to either start or buy a business)? And, most importantly, an introspective navel gaze: Do I want to do this, and do I believe it will excite me? There are too many brain-dead, block-and-tackle ways to make money; discovering and pursuing something where you can profit financially and personally is the true treasure.


dave said...

Great stuff Chris. You've codified my thoughts into a few easy to understand bullet points that will bring much needed focus to my analysis.
Thanks dude. The conversation will continue...


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