Many of the companies that comprise thedmcollaborators space are owner-operated, SME firms. Set up years ago, they are vital components in the thriving ECM market, as their founder (or founders) continues to work with technology they have either developed themselves or which they have partnered with bigger firms to help re-sell and add value to.
If you’re one of these owner-operators, I have some questions for you…
Firstly, Why do you do what you do and what is the goal of all this hard work?
The right answer, or the answer I would expect, is to continue to service the users that have come to rely on your service – to grow the business profitably and to make payroll so as to give employment and a future to the loyal team working for you.
But there’s a bigger question that I believe you need to ask beyond that, that is in fact even more important…
What is your exit strategy, because ultimately that’s what all your hard work has been for?
If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘exit strategy’ it’s what investors, VCs and private equity companies see as the ultimate commercial destination of any company: going public, a merger with another organisation – or, more likely, the assets of the company being sold to a third party to realise the value of what’s been created by all your hard work.
That third party could be an ECM vendor, perhaps a different sort of technology company, a competitor, a private investor or an investment fund. But if you don’t have some sort of final destination for the company, then arguably I don’t think you really know the real purpose of the business.
Now, it could be that you don’t see this as being a relevant thought to have right now. ‘I’m young; there’s no need to think about cashing out or retiring,’ you might be saying to yourself. ‘There are more years of success in what we’re doing here, and a lot of things to achieve.’
To which I say: fantastic. Good luck – keep on doing what makes you happy and successful. However, we live in a time of market consolidation and some fundamental changes in the ECM eco-system. Vendors, partners, VARS – it’s all changing. Some say that the era of ECM market growth and expansion is over, and that it’s in transition to a mature market, for example – I believe it has been that way for a couple of years which means the exit options for your business have already changed and you may not have realised it yet.
What I want to talk to you about is to ask you to think about that exit strategy.
How will you get out of the business at the point of its maximum potential value? What even is that value – the technology, the customer base, the relationships, the key people and their skills? How would you go about preparing to start the process and then marketing yourself to a potential bidder or acquirer? What due diligence would need to happen – and what skeletons might that process uncover?
Things are moving so quickly now – don’t get left behind!
You can see that there’s a lot of hard work and thinking that needs to go into making that exit strategy happen at the right time and in a way that best suits you. This is where people like our group come in, the core part of the service we offer to the ECM market and ECM firms like yours is to help you set yourself up for such an exercise. When and if you decide to look at your options – then I hope you will come and talk to us.
All I’d say is, Don’t leave it too late – with the impact of Cloud, SaaS and mobile technologies the world is changing so rapidly right now that ECM in particular needs to be framed in the right way for potential investors and buyers to really understand what your value to them is.
So – good luck, whatever you decide to do and whatever exit you are working towards.
Martyn is Managing Partner at UNDRSTND Group, formed by the Information Management industry’s most experienced business leaders & strategists to help software & services companies in the digital content and customer experience management market realise their ultimate potential