A favourite game of entrepreneurs, especially in the technology industry is discussing whether companies are worth the price they are bought out for. $1.5 billion for Youtube ………. Sales prices with infinite price earnings multiples (because there are no earnings, or they are loss making). Versus a company being sold for a few times it’s annual earnings with a long period of earnings history.
A more relevant discussion would be which school of business valuation was used during the transaction, and there are two:
1. Sale price representing believed potential
2. Sale price representing return on investment reality
Which is more valid? Well it depends on which side of the equation you are residing. I’d say when selling, we should be aiming for potential. When buying we should go with reality. When buying a business the simplest question to ask ourselves is this:
On current earnings, how many years will it take me to get back my original investment.
There’s no doubt certain industries are more likely to sell using the potential valuation method. Burgeoning industries like the internet, IPO’s and even railways 200 years ago are good examples. To get away with selling on ‘potential’ the industry needs to be growing, the future unknown and your company well known. If your startup ever gets enough traction to sell to an incumbent, then take what you can get – sell on potential.
I used to think my skills base limited the areas of business I could play in. I remember thinking back to the dot com boom in the mid and late 1990’s wishing and dreaming that I could some how be involved in the excitement, the fervor, and yes, maybe even the money. But I wasn’t a programmer, a digital designer or media player or a venture capitalist. I was merely a marketing manager trapped in the industrial complex of consumer goods. The bust came and I was quietly happy that peoples paper fortunes and egos got busted too. Which in hindsight was not a nice way to think. It was built on jealously, lack of knowledge and immaturity on my behalf.
Since then I’ve learned this: The type of skills we have matters far less than the fact we have a skill set which is valuable.
Translation: We don’t need to be a technology gurus to be operating or starting up in the technology space.
Maybe we are good at sales, marketing, raising capital, managing and motivating a team, project management, accounting. All of these skills will be needed in whatever business we start or are involved in. What matters is that we can add value in the chain somewhere which takes us from idea to revenue. Where we sit in that chain isn’t as important as we think. What really matters is being able to create the value chain.
It’s a rare combination indeed for a person to have tech genius and business brilliance. Fact is we need each other. We couldn’t have succeeded at rentoid without the business heads or techies collaborating. I wish I’d known this 10 years ago.
Sure it can be an advantage to startup in an area where we have expertise. It can be an incredible way to keep our costs low. But it’s not necessarily a barrier to entry. If we want to success, we’ll have to build a team in any case. And building a revenue infrastructure is what we ought be focusing on as entrepreneurs.