VCs These Days Are Off Chasing Unicorns. But You Have Another Funding Option: Acquisition.
In today’s competitive venture capital environment, it can prove challenging for startups to secure investors. According to a recent TechCrunch report, VCs are making only half as many investments in technology companies as they did in 2014 and are cutting down on early-stage companies. Instead, they are seeking out “unicorns,” or companies with the potential to lead or dominate their market.
That change means that for your early-stage businesses, it may be worthwhile to rethink how you're going to make it as a startup. And the answer there may be the alternatives to achieving success that don’t involve multi-million dollar funding rounds, inflated valuations and unsustainable burn rates.
A worthwhile consideration? Acquisition.
When most people think of a company being acquired, they envision a fully operational, revenue-generating business with substantial market share. But not all great ideas come in the form of a mature business, so, often, it becomes the old “product vs. business” debate made famous by Shark Tank -- the idea that a singular service doesn’t offer enough profit potential to make an acquisition or investment worthwhile.
In reality, showcasing that you have an innovative idea, understand your market need and have the makings of a talented team can be enough to get your foot in the door with the right potential partner.
With Haven Life, we found the right partner in Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) more than four years ago. Less than one year later, we started selling term life insurance in our first state.
Other companies have found a parent company in this manner, too -- Twitter bought Periscope before the product was launched, and Pinterest bought the team at Hike Labs while that company was developing its first product.
The right partner can not only provide funding but also catapult you to better success in the long-term. Here's what to consider:
Identify a worthy partner.
Similar to what you'd do when you consider an investment, you’ll want to adequately vet a potential parent company before agreeing to an acquisition. When we were creating our company, our category of insurtech (an industry term for companies/platforms that are technology-focused and working in the insurance space).wasn’t really prevalent at the time; so naturally there was little VC activity in the space. That forced us to think differently about funding and to look at established players, in addition to VCs.
Consider what types of characteristics will best set your company up for success. Does a potential acquirer have a legacy or history of success that will benefit your brand? Will you have support from the right levels of the company? Is there a shared vision about structure and post-acquisition autonomy?
Perfect your pitch.
Pitching to be acquired by a larger company is different from pitching for an investment. With the latter, you’re asking only for a check. But with the former, you’re trying to convince an established brand as to why it needs you as part of its business and why the investment makes sense strategically.
In your pitch, demonstrate the unique value you can bring to each other as partners. Focus on what you do well and why it’s better for you to do it instead of their taking it on internally. For example, most large companies have a lot to gain by letting a nimble startup that can execute quickly join its fold, rather than trying to build out and offer a similar product or service on their own.
As they say, time is money, so a startup’s ability to move, learn and iterate quickly is an attractive quality to a legacy company.
In your pitch, you also want to showcase the risk of inaction. Does the targeted company risk losing out on market opportunity or company growth by not partnering with you --especially if a competitor might? Large companies never want to feel that they are behind the curve, so it's important to highlight disadvantages they might face by remaining stagnant.
Position yourself as a harmonious partner.
Big companies are risk-averse, while startups, by their very nature, are risk-loving. The perception may be that startups are loose cannons that may introduce more risk than most large companies are comfortable with.
Fight that perception: Having an answer to this type of concern is important. You need to show that you want to operate autonomously but that you’re willing to collaborate to ensure you fall in line with your parent company’s ideals, where necessary. If you can do that, you can have a harmonious relationship that advances both your own business and your parent’s.
Pursuing an acquisition over VC funding has its advantages, but it may not be right for every business. If money is all you’re after, then chasing the traditional VC model is perhaps the best fit for your business. However, if you’re seeking a partner that can both provide resources to your business and accelerate its growth trajectory, an acquisition may be the right path forward.