With my last startup, our lead investor would tell us how good companies are never sold but rather bought. At the time I never really paid much attention to his comment, but looking back, he was absolutely right. My first tech startup, Field ID – a software-as-a-service enterprise security solution provider – was acquired in Dec. 2012.
We were exhibiting at a trade show in Sept. 2011, when a company casually mentioned they wanted to partner with us. A few weeks later, those partnership talks quickly become acquisition talks. Within the span of three months, two other companies approached us in the same way: partnership at first. with acquisition talks following shortly after.
The truth is, we were never for sale – we were being bought. Is there a secret formula to being acquired? No. However, there are factors you can control to increase your chances of success. Here’s our story and some conscious decisions we made that led to our acquisition.
First, we created value for our customers and users. Field ID was (and still is) a company that provides safety compliance software. We had our heads down and always tried to answer the question, “what do we have to do so that our customers can’t live without our software?” I often see companies fixated on targets like getting on TechCrunch or raising money. Although those are enticing milestones, they’re only small steps towards the overall goal. In our case, we graced the front pages of TechCrunch after we were acquired – not before.
Secondly, we decided to build a scalable company. The old saying “your founders are your best salespeople” may be true, but it’s not scalable. At every point in our business we ensured that we, the founders, were not the bottlenecks. We started off doing every sale until we found people that could do it. I often tell people that I’m constantly trying to work myself out of a job; always looking for great people to do what I do better. From an acquisition standpoint, this is also important. The classic “what if the founders got hit by a bus” is a serious question and a huge risk factor for an acquirer.
Thirdly, we created a metrics-driven company. We would measure anything we could get our hands on. Sales productivity, customer retention, marketing conversion – numbers were always at our fingertips, and helped us to paint a picture of our company. Because we had a solid grasp of these metrics, we thoroughly understood our company, even as we grew. These numbers proved extremely beneficial during acquisition talks. An acquirer is interested in your metrics to gauge potential synergy. For us, given years of historic data, it was easy to show firms that a combined entity was very valuable.
Finally, when there was substantial interest in our company, we hired an investment banking firm. In an M&A transaction, you need to play good cop/bad cop. You’re the good cop that wants to work with the other company. The banker, or the bad cop, needs to enforce a schedule, set the pace and ensure the maximum purchase price is obtained. The banker is able to find other interested buyers and create a sense of urgency and competition. Some may tell you that a banker is not necessary, but I can’t stress enough how instrumental our banker was in our transaction.
The acquisition process can be stressful, but I found it exciting. The entire process took about eight months, which is relatively short, and included the clichés you’d imagine: private jet flights, last-minute negotiations, and emotional ups and downs.
Post-acquisition, I couldn’t be happier. I’m back at it with a new startup, Ideal Candidate, which helps companies use technology to find top-performing salespeople for their team. Just as before, I’m not thinking of an acquisition, just how to create value for our customers.
Somen Mondal is a Canadian entrepreneur and the co-Founder & CEO of Ideal Candidate. Ideal Candidate matches talented salespeople with their perfect sales job, maximizing the earning potential of both candidates and employers.
Prior to Ideal Candidate, he served as co-Founder & CEO of Field ID until it was successfully acquired by Master Lock LLC (a subsidiary of NYSE:FBHS) in December 2012. Somen’s leadership has helped earn Field ID a spot on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50 Companies-to-Watch lists.
In 2012, Somen was named winner of the Ontario Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the “Emerging Entrepreneur” category.