Every venture capital investor hopes that all of his investments will succeed. The reality is that a large percentage of all venture investments must be shut down. In extreme cases, such a shut down will take the form of a formal bankruptcy or an assignment for the benefit of creditors. In most cases, however, the investment falls into the category of "living dead", i.e. companies that are not complete failures but that are not self-sustaining and whose prospects do not justify continued investment. Almost never do investors shut down such a "living dead" company quickly.
Most hope against hope that things will change. Once reality sets in, most investors hire an investment banker to sell such a company through a standard mergers and acquisition process - seldom with good results. Often, such a process requires some four to six months, burns up all the remaining cash in the company and leads to a formal bankruptcy or assignment for the benefit of creditors. In many instances, there are a complete lack of bidders, despite the existence of real value in the company being sold.
The first reason for this sad result is a fundamental misunderstanding of buyer psychology. In general, buyers act quickly and pay the highest price only when forced to by competitive pressure. The highest probability buyers are those who are already familiar with the company being sold, i.e. competitors, existing investors, customers and vendors. Such buyers either already know of the company's weakness or quickly understand it as soon as they see the seller«s financials. Once the sales process starts, the seller is very much a wasting asset both financially and organizationally. Potential buyers quickly divide the company's burn rate into its existing cash balance to see how much time it has left. Employees, customers and vendors grow nervous and begin to disengage. Unless compelled to act, potential buyers simply draw out the process and either submit a low-ball offer when the company is out of cash or try to pick up key employees and customers at no cost when the company shuts down.
The second reason for this sad result is a misunderstanding of the psychology and methods of investment bankers. Most investment bankers do best at selling "hot" companies, i.e. where the company's value is perceived by buyers to be increasing quickly over time and where there are multiple bidders. They tend to be most motivated and work hardest in such situations because the transaction sizes (i.e. commissions) tend to be large, because the publicity brings in more assignments and because such situations are more simply more fun. They also tend to be most effective in maximizing value in such situations, as they are good at using time to their advantage, pitting multiple buyers against each other and setting very high expectations. In a situation where "time is not your friend", the actions of a standard investment banker frequently make a bad situation far worse. First, since transaction sizes tend to be much smaller, an investment banker will assign his "B" team to the deal and will only have such team spend enough time on the deal to see if it can be closed easily. Second, playing out the process works against the seller. Third, trying to pit multiple buyers against each other and setting unrealistically high valuation expectations tends to drive away potential buyers, who often know far more about the real situation of the seller than does the investment banker.
"Date Certain" M&A Process The solution in a situation where "time is not your friend" is a "date-certain" mergers and acquisitions process. With a date-certain M&A process, the company's board of directors hires a crisis management/ private investment banking firm ("advisor") to wind down business operations in an orderly fashion and maximize value of the IP and tangible assets. The advisor works with the board and corporate management to:
- Focus on the control, preservation and forecasting of CASH.
- Develop a strategy/action plan and presentation to maximize value of the assets. Including drafting sales materials, preparing information “due diligence war-room”, assembling a list of all possible interested buyers for the IP and assets of the company and identifying and retaining key employees on a go-forward basis.
- Stabilize and provide leadership, motivation and morale to all employees,
- Communicate with the Board of Directors, senior management, senior lender, creditors, vendors and all stakeholders in interest.
The company's attorney prepares very simple "as is, where is" asset-sale documents. ("as is, where is- no reps or warranties" agreements is very important as the board of directors, officers and investors typically do not want any additional exposure on the deal). The advisor then contacts and follows-up systematically with all potentially interested parties (to include customers, competitors, strategic partners, vendors and a proprietary distribution list of equity investors) and coordinates their interactions with company personnel, including arranging on-site visits. Typical terms for a date certain M&A asset sale include no representations and warranties, a sales date typically two to four weeks from the point that sale materials are ready for distribution (based on available CASH), a significant cash deposit in the $100,000 range to bid and a strong preference for cash consideration and the ability to close the deal in 7 business days.
Date certain M&A terms can be varied to suit needs unique to a given situation or corporation. For example, the board of directors may choose not to accept any bid or to allow parties to re-bid if there are multiple competitive bids and/or to accept an early bid. The typical workflow timeline, from hiring an advisor to transaction close and receipt of consideration is four to six weeks, although such timing may be extended if circumstances warrant. Once the consideration is received, the restructuring/insolvency attorney then distributes the consideration to creditors and shareholders (if there is sufficient consideration to satisfy creditors) and takes all necessary steps to wind down the remaining corporate shell, typically with the CFO, including issuing W-2 and 1099 forms, filing final tax returns, shutting down a 401K program and dissolving the corporation etc.
The advantages of this approach include the following:
Speed - The entire process for a date certain M&A process can be concluded in 3 to 6 weeks. Creditors and investors receive their money quickly. The negative public relations impact on investors and board members of a drawn-out process is eliminated. If circumstances require, this timeline can be reduced to as little as two weeks, although a highly abbreviated response time will often impact the final value received during the asset auction.
Reduced Cash Requirements - Given the date certain M&A process compressed turnaround time, there is a significantly reduced requirement for investors to provide cash to support the company during such a process.
Value Maximized - A company in wind-down mode is a rapidly depreciating asset, with management, technical team, customer and creditor relations increasingly strained by fear, uncertainty and doubt. A quick process minimizes this strain and preserves enterprise value. In addition, the fact that an auction will occur on a specified date usually brings all truly interested and qualified parties to the table and quickly flushes out the tire-kickers. In our experience, this process tends to maximize the final value received.
Cost - Advisor fees consist of a retainer plus 10% or an agreed percentage of the sale proceeds. Legal fees are also minimized by the extremely simple deal terms. Fees, therefore, do not consume the entire value received for corporate assets.
Control - At all times, the board of directors retains complete control over the process. For example, the board of directors can modify the auction terms or even discontinue the auction at any point, thus preserving all options for as long as possible.
Public Relations - As the sale process is private, there is no public disclosure. Once closed, the transaction can be portrayed as a sale of the company with all sales terms kept confidential. Thus, for investors, the company can be listed in their portfolio as sold, not as having gone out of business.
Clean Exit - Once the auction is closed and the consideration is received and distributed, the advisor takes all remaining steps to effect an orderly shut-down of the remaining corporate entity. To this end the insolvency counsel then takes the lead on all orderly shutdown items.
Gerbsman Partners focuses on maximizing enterprise value for stakeholders and shareholders in under-performing, under-capitalized and under-valued companies and their Intellectual Property. In the past 60 months, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in maximizing value for 60 Technology and Life Science companies and their Intellectual Property and has restructured/terminated over $790 million of real estate executory contracts and equipment lease/sub-debt obligations. Since inception, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in over $2.3 billion of financings, restructurings and M&A transactions.
Gerbsman Partners has offices and strategic alliances in Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Alexandria, VA, San Francisco, Europe and Israel.