Who’s Going to Buy This Startup?
Many “atypical” markets are surprisingly M&A friendly, but VCs may not recognize the potential buyers without guidance
“I don’t see who would acquire this startup.” I’ve heard this excuse from VCs explaining a decision to pass on investing in an atypical market. It’s usually a diplomatic way to express a deeper concern about a business, and it’s often a mistake. Here’s why:
We heard this all the time when pitching our startup, Brontes, in the dental industry. Turns out we and all of our competitors had meaningful exits. Brontes itself had 5 bids to buy the company in an industry that most VCs believed was devoid of buyers.
If a startup creates a product & builds a business around it, it’s extremely likely that someone will want the asset.
During our 1st decade at FC, we’ve seen portfolio co’s acquired by:
🏭 Industrial Manufacturers
That’s in addition to the usual suspects like Apple/Google/Facebook/Amazon, other tech giants, private equity firms, ad holding companies, and so on. Software has eaten the world. Every company is now a tech company. There are more buyers of startups than ever before.
There are legitimate concerns about unusual acquirers:
👛 They usually offer lower multiples
🐌 Buy fewer companies overall
🗿Tend to prefer more mature startups
But it’s not like traditional buyers are without warts…
Tech buyers have a tendency to:
☕️ Use their market power to grind down the price
🖍️ Redraw cap tables to misalign stakeholders
📻 Go radio silent unexpectedly and suddenly
Be prepared to help educate VCs about potential exits, while not focusing the discussion on this topic. A big market is more important than an obvious buyer. If you get big enough, the public markets can provide an exit. The livery car industry provides a prime example.
Speaking of the livery car industry, most VCs are awful at sizing markets. See why market sizing is so challenging from this market analysis of Uber already 4 years into their market expansion & imagine what it was like to size the market at the start.
A Disruptive Cab Ride to Riches: The Uber Payoff
An intrinsic valuation of Über Is there a lot of risk in investing in a young, start-up like Uber? Of course, but much…
VCs will engage in top-down or bottom-up analysis, but they mostly use other large transactions in the market to convince themselves. Once a company has sold for $1B in the market, it’s a great market. Until that happens, it isn’t.
While I advise against a slide highlighting potential acquirers or exit opportunities, it is a useful backup slide if you’re pitching a startup in an atypical space. You can break it out when an investor starts doubting the possibility of a strong exit in your industry.
Many “atypical” markets are surprisingly M&A friendly, but the majority of VCs may not recognize the potential buyers without guidance. And if you’re working on something weird & wonderful, we’d love to talk.
Managing Partner Eric Paley recently shared this as a tweetstorm. We collected the tweets as a post for your convenience. Please share it with any entrepreneurs you know who are more likely to sell to John Deere than Jeff Bezos.