Build your brand. Establishing name recognition goes a long way to helping increase your company’s visibility as a viable acquisition candidate. There are so many strong businesses with great products, but you don’t want to be “the best company that no one has ever heard of” if you are looking for an exit. Modesty is not the policy in this case. Building name recognition — in the media with current and prospective clients in your market and with key analysts and influencers is a way to attract buyers because then they are getting a known entity. Think of your brand recognition as money in the bank that allows you to attract a higher valuation.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know If You Want To Build, Scale and Prepare Your Business For a Lucrative Exit, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lenore Kantor.
Lenore Kantor is a growth impact consultant who empowers organizations and leaders to create and navigate change. As President and Chief Growth Officer of Growth Warrior (www.growthwarrior.co), Lenore applies 20+ years of corporate and entrepreneurial expertise to help organizations leverage their strengths and address market needs to accelerate growth from launching new initiatives to pivoting and scaling. She has launched more than 100 products, been spokesperson for 2 publicly traded companies and managed marketing and communications for over 10 mergers and acquisitions and an IPO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Inmy early career, I was fortunate to start one of the first product management functions at The Bank of New York (now BNY Mellon) where I designed and launched multiple business and technology products. The business units I worked in and with (Brokerage, Depositary Receipts and Corporate Trust) were very high growth and were scaling both organically and through acquisition. After 6 years leading product management for a traditional business, I moved to the bank’s recently acquired brokerage subsidiary where I became involved in a rebranding and consolidation effort across 5 separate broker-dealers and led the marketing and communications strategy. I loved the creativity of branding to support business strategy and from there I moved to multiple high growth financial technology businesses where I spearheaded initiatives to launch new businesses, build out marketing functions and rebrand and build out businesses that needed to be repositioned and scaled. I launched the ISE Stock Exchange and then was involved in a number of high profile acquisitions across the derivatives industry including the post-acquisition integration of ISE with Deutsche Borse, taking FXall public and managing marketing communications for its subsequent acquisition by Thomson Reuters.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned in my early career the importance of effective communications and knowing your audience. Of course this came about from realizing I needed to understand the current situation to communicate better. It’s always shocking to discover that people can’t read our minds and they may have different communications styles. I remember not getting promoted after doing what I thought was a [email protected] job on a project, but then discovering that the key people who needed to know about my work didn’t realize my contributions. Obviously it wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back it makes me realize how sometimes we need these challenging experiences to help us learn to do things differently. After that I really appreciated the value of building relationships across any organization that I work in and with and how for career success, it’s often less about what you do and how you do it and more about who you know and how you get along. It was a wake-up call to recognize the extent to which relationships and perceptions sometimes matter more than actual results, which has been a helpful lesson in my marketing and communications work. Once you realize what people are looking for and the actual rules of the game, it shifts the way you play.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Enjoy the journey. Earlier in my life and career as I alluded to, my focus was often on results and outcomes. Over time, I have learned the value of being mindful of the people and the process. I realize for me it’s far more enjoyable to really engage in and appreciate not just where I’m going to (the ultimate destination), but also how I get there (the trip).
Ok super. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a story about how you were able to build a business from scratch, scale and sell it to a bigger firm?
My expertise is in branding, positioning and launching businesses and I’m usually brought in to help companies raise their visibility, tell their story more effectively to differentiate themselves from the competition or expand into new markets. I was brought in to lead marketing for a high growth foreign exchange trading platform and financial technology company as the organization was scaling. In trying to expand beyond 2 primary market segments, a new product launch had not been successful. The CEO hired me to guide the marketing strategy and reposition the brand. I assessed the challenges they were having with their value proposition and simplified the messaging to make it more relevant for a global institutional audience (it had been more retail-focused) and raised the company’s visibility.
We achieved 15% annual growth year over year and successfully repositioned our leadership presence across the three primary FX market segments — corporations, asset managers and hedge funds, in addition to building relationships with all the banks. Our success was a result of consistent leadership, successful product innovation and launches and dedicated focus to customer service. We also had a high performing team and I was instrumental in capitalizing on positive aspects of the organization’s culture to help align the brand both internally and externally. We were able to revitalize the vision, redefine performance metrics to drive growth and also bring in the right team to help scale the organization as it underwent the transition from a place where everyone could fit in a conference room to almost doubling in size. With our expanded positioning we were able to take the company public and shortly thereafter sell it to a much larger strategic investor.
Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “Five Things You Need To Know If You Want To Build, Scale and Prepare Your Business For a Lucrative Exit”. Please give a story or example for each.
Here are a few things that come to mind. First, build your brand. Establishing name recognition goes a long way to helping increase your company’s visibility as a viable acquisition candidate. There are so many strong businesses with great products, but you don’t want to be “the best company that no one has ever heard of” if you are looking for an exit. Modesty is not the policy in this case. Building name recognition — in the media with current and prospective clients in your market and with key analysts and influencers is a way to attract buyers because then they are getting a known entity. Think of your brand recognition as money in the bank that allows you to attract a higher valuation.
Second, engage with and listen to your customers. You want them to love you and support you. Building in multiple product streams and interdependencies where your services are integrated into their daily operations will translate into consistent revenue streams and sticky relationships that are harder to lose to competitors.
Leverage economies of scale. When you establish market leadership in one client segment, you can then extend your services to other closely related markets. To do this effectively, you really need to not only understand the needs of the new market, but ensure that you are capitalizing on your expertise and translating it effectively. It’s not always a given that you can offer an existing service to a new audience. They may have unique needs and you need to understand where and how you might need to shift your onboarding, client support and service model to adapt. For instance, one company I worked with expanded into a new market that required significantly higher touch and daily account interactions. Our service team wasn’t initially equipped to meet those needs, so we needed to restructure the organization and bring in a new team with the right skill set to respond to those client requirements.
Create a culture of collaboration. I find the most successful teams operate like well-oiled machines. There’s an expertise and discipline around working together to accomplish shared objectives. If you can build out a play book for how to operate, for instance around integrating acquisitions or working with strategic partners, and consistently replicate this, you will be more efficient. When different departments are working at cross-purposes and there’s a lot of internal politics, it gets unpleasant and unproductive. People don’t enjoy having to defend their turf and the organization loses a lot of value from high turnover, slower go-to-market and general competitiveness. That’s when you can lose your key employees to competitors and you stop hitting target delivery dates.
Deliver value consistently. This gets back to listening to customer needs, but also means that you can’t rest on your laurels. Your organization needs to be innovating and anticipating market changes constantly. If you don’t know what clients need, someone else may deliver something better and put you out of business. It also becomes quickly apparent to clients when they sense that you can’t deliver what they need — they will go elsewhere to find it.
In your experience, is there a difference in approach for building a service based business versus a product based business when you have the intent to eventually sell the business. Can you explain?
There are pros and cons of each type of business model. While product-based businesses can be easier to add-on to another company as a new offering, unless the integration strategy is well thought through, this may not always be successful. It depends how closely integrated the technology is and whether different platforms can be brought together seamlessly for clients or need to be maintained separately. The success of incorporating product businesses also requires the acquiring company to fully incentivize its sales teams to promote the new products or consciously support the business they acquire to remain independent. A challenge with service-based businesses is that they can be harder to monetize because they are based on relationships. The acquiring company must be committed to keeping key client support and relationship management staff or offering a significant value proposition to customers from the integration.
How does one go about the process of finding a buyer?
There are agents who can find potential buyers. The close-knit financial technology industries I’ve worked in have a set of known players and many times buyers had relationships with the sellers as potential partners or competitors. Clearly you want to assess where there might be a potential strategic fit in terms of adding additional value to existing clients or finding a company that has an interest in the clients you are serving that they don’t currently have access to but can benefit from serving.
How can one decide if it is better to build a business in order to exit, or if it is better to stick around for the long term and let the company bring in residual income, or if it is better to go public?
I coach a lot of founders around thinking through their goals. This really is a function of what the executives want for themselves — are they looking to only monetize their business or do they want to run the business and create a legacy.
It can also depend on the type of business. Some businesses are actually “products” that serve a narrow niche and easily lend themselves to being acquired because they can’t effectively compete with larger players. In a highly competitive market, being smaller can create challenges when you are going up against larger more established and better funded players.
There are many reasons to go public, for instance needing funding to invest in the business and make acquisitions, but it’s a very large financial and operational investment to prepare for a public offering. It requires a level of transparency, discipline and commitment to growth that management needs to commit to and it may not be the right choice for every business. Having a very successful privately-held company can give you a lot of independence and flexibility.
Can you share a few ways that are used to determine a good selling price for the business?
My expertise is really marketing strategy rather than financial valuation, so this is not an area I am best positioned to address. My sense is that the most successful sales occur when there are realistic multiples — for the business size, industry and current market conditions and this is often a function of luck and timing. Sellers need to understand the actual value of their business which is in the eye of the beholder, since they will only get what a buyer is willing to pay.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a big fan of the triple bottom line movement — focused on people, profits and the planet. The more organizations we can get that value all their stakeholders and their impact, it will help us create a world that we can continue to live in.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Twitter at @lkantor, Instagram at @lenorekantor and am connected through LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.