Strategic Entrepreneurism: Shattering the Start-Up Entrepreneurial Myths

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Strategic Entrepreneurism

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My right hand Jim Kovach at CrowdOptic is one of the only NFL players in history to receive a medical degree while playing — critics can call him at Our guest today is Jon Fisher. I want to just read with you, for you just a quick paragraph to get a basic of what the premise of the book is. We are going to talk to Jon about why he wrote the book and his background as well.

It starts out, "Every entrepreneur's dream is to create the big names; a successful story like Amazon. Well, everyone should dream big. The reality is that most starts fail precisely because they're trying to become the next big name success. The real secret to entrepreneurial success lies in strategic entrepreneurism where you design a company specifically to be acquired by a larger one.

We hear about starting a company to make money obviously and grow the company. But Jon's premise is you should always have that end game in mind about creating the business to be sold to a larger one down the road. Jon, thanks very much for joining in the show today. Jon Fisher: Thank you for having me. You sold your company to Oracle, correct? Jon Fisher: Yes, in Jon Fisher: Well, I serve as CEO of three companies in the last 17 years and I think, intuitively, I have always tried to at least think about steering the company.

I was leading in a direction that would eventually bear fruit. We can really do this as startup entrepreneurs one of three ways. We can continue to raise money and indeed an initial public offering is just another form of financing, if you think about it. We can kind of perpetually divest ourselves of the business as it gets more profitable, more successful.


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We can pay ourselves higher salaries or bonuses. But really, in the end, I think the highest propensity method is a successful acquisition.

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I think that's where most of us end up that work out well and so why not plan for that event. I'm certainly not confirming that we had in our sights this last time Oracle or any one company in mind from the very beginning, but we certainly architected the company financially and otherwise to make sure it would be a good fit for companies like that when the time came. Do they ever conflict in ways that you had to make a decision which way you wanted to focus?

Jon Fisher: Yeah. It's not so much a conflict but it's really, I think, a function of discipline and persistence. It's very tough to attack a market filled with all kind of opportunity as a small company and have the discipline to focus only or primarily on really the strategic types of customers that can serve you best in the end.

Typically, these customers are customers that in eventual acquire once they get close to us well. We were securing, for example, in my last company's case, in [Barossa's] case, primarily US banks from online fraud. That's a pretty good business to have been in, in the last x number of years but it took some discipline to focus pretty much all of our energy on the most important banks given how vast and fragmented that is. We could have tried to go after thousands of banks and perhaps that would have not served us as well.

Is it strictly competing head to head with them or maybe just a niche that maybe they're not doing well, that it would be a nice complement to them or how should I be thinking of this? Jon Fisher: Certainly, competing against a much larger company is not always the way to go. It's just speed. I think it makes sense in that respect to focus on areas that might be ahead of their current initiatives, might be niche, might be focused so that indeed they can take a look at synergies down the road.

Should I develop some relationships there or should I do specific in that regard?

I think announcing that a company is for sale is just like putting signs up on your house. That's pretty definitive and that doesn't always work and we're experiencing some of that in the housing market, of course. I think a couple of things entrepreneurs can do, one is really financially architect the company so that you as the entrepreneur and your founding team can literally approve a merger.

Let's not raise gobs and gobs of money deluding ourselves to the teeth-that's not deluding; that's diluting ourselves-so that when the time comes, we're actually not entrepreneurs. Meaning, we don't own the business and we can't approve a merger.

How terrible a feeling that is to actually wind up after a lot of hard work in the right time and the right place but because of so much money raised or so much delusion, we can't actually decide to exit the business. I think that's the first thing is really some discipline around the financial engineering side of the business.

I think the second thing is it's really nice to have whether it's analysts or customers talking for us. Every entrepreneur has a vision in the future and thinks she is doing something remarkable, but in the end a strategic customer confirming why the solution is special is something that I think resonates with potential acquirers. Jon Fisher: That's an interesting question.

Typically in high technology, the C corp structure makes sense because it allows a company to grow much more quickly, much more fluently than the other structures. But the S and the LLC also have their benefits for much smaller businesses or partnerships. There are roughly 25 million entrepreneurs, perhaps 27 million by now in this country.

Strategic Entrepreneurism Shattering The Start Up Entrepreneurial Myths

The vast majority on the 25 million number, 19 million are sold proprietors. I think the S and the LLC structures are much more common but if you're looking to really grow something aggressively then I think the C structure is the way to go. Am I best to try and limit that as much as possible so that there is less to lay off or deal with any overlap later?

Jon Fisher: I think the quality of the employees usually, if not always, is a key concern for an acquirer. I think the more talented folks within reason. I mean, you want to be running a profitable organization and you want everyone to have clear mission to find. But that being said, the more quality folks perhaps the better.

Again, it just helps that acquirer through a clean and perhaps a creative transaction. It just helps that acquirer to move more quickly. Just as we want to keep control of the business, financial engineering and otherwise, we want to hire responsibly but having a few too many good people on board is never a bad idea.

A lot of times, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they're terrible employees and they don't want to be working for a larger company. Should I expect to have to do that thought as part of this to be able to sell my business and there are ways that I can still keep my freedom? Any suggestions there?

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Jon Fisher: I think oftentimes yes, entrepreneurs don't necessarily fit in so well to an acquirer framework especially a larger acquirer. But, certainly, I think the entrepreneur should be prepared to experience that.