Growth vs. Value

We live in a business world where growth is worshipped. Entrepreneurs measure themselves by how many people they employ. Many founders dream about making lists whose sole criterion is revenue growth. However, if your endgame is to sell your business to a strategic acquirer one day, indiscriminate revenue growth may not result in a commensurate spike in your company’s value; in some cases, it may even detract from it.

Strategic Buyers Value What They Cannot Replace

Strategic acquirers—the buyers that usually pay the most—are looking for something they can’t easily do themselves. They covet that unique offering that would take too long—or cost too much—for them to duplicate. But the more extraneous offerings you add, the less valuable you become in their eyes. Take Michael Lieberman, who co-founded a software company named Datastay. It revolutionized how brake manufacturers cataloged their design drawings through its product lifecycle management software. Datastay became synonymous with the brake manufacturing industry. Lieberman was on a first-name basis with almost every brake manufacturing executive in the industry. He was the man to know, the one who hosted dinners at trade shows—he was the guy.

Then Autodesk entered the picture, seeing Datastay as their gateway to the product lifecycle management software market. Autodesk, a billion-dollar serial acquirer renowned for software tools indispensable to designers and builders across various sectors, acknowledged Datastay’s dominance in the brake industry and saw the potential to market Datastay’s product lifecycle management software across the myriad industries Autodesk served.

A financial acquirer sees buying a business as paying today for a stream of profits in the future, which is why companies are generally bought and sold using a multiple of earnings. But focusing on your multiple is a little bit like a hypertensive person focusing on his or her blood pressure report. To really understand the number and to move it up or down, you must understand the calculations.

Autodesk offered Lieberman an extraordinary ten times revenue for his nine-employee company. Had Lieberman prioritized broad revenue growth, he might have diversified his offerings to the brake manufacturers, diluting the core value that attracted Autodesk. Brake manufacturers need all sorts of other software, but Lieberman remained disciplined and focused exclusively on product lifecycle management tools. Lieberman could have branched out to other industries, but spreading his attention to other industries would have weakened his connection to the brake industry and invited competition. Instead, he stuck to his knitting: Make the world’s best product lifecycle management software for the brake industry.

Private Equity and Strategic Acquirers See Things Differently.

Unlike the private equity acquirer that usually bases their valuation on a multiple of your Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA), the typical strategic acquirer is trying to calculate what your product or service offering is worth in their hands. The typical strategic acquirer is much larger and better resourced than the companies they target. They don’t need you to diversify for them. Instead, they want the company that has the one puzzle piece they want, and the less diversified that offering is, the higher the premium they’re prepared to pay.

Benchmark your company now against the Eight Key Drivers acquirers care about by getting your Value Builder Score Now.


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Ashley Brimacombe
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