While much has been written about what persuades investors to buy stakes in businesses, a lot of the discussion revolves around the investors’ decision process in relation to assessing seed or start-up investment opportunities. Advice is often targeted at “the pitch”, the qualities of the founder/s, etc. However, in the market for mature and, ahem, “post-revenue” businesses — and contrary to Silicon Valley thinking, established businesses making a profit do exist — criteria, decisions, and funding work by slightly different rules.
Early Stage vs the Rest of the World
Early-stage opportunities involve high risk, high cash-burn businesses. Investors who take equity or quasi-equity in these businesses expect most of these ventures to tank and a small fraction to become so enormously successful that they more than compensate for losses elsewhere. A VC would expect to get a higher return on money invested in (risky) early-stage businesses than they would get in safer, more liquid markets. The ROI expectation is a fund-level expectation (i.e., it’s the overall return expected from the whole portfolio of investment).
However, the mergers acquisitions (M&A) market marches to a different beat. It’s composed of trade and institutional investors, private equity firms, family offices, and others, and they are looking for businesses with demonstrated viability, positive cash flow, and a loyal customer base. Essentially, they want established and proven businesses. Every business “acquired” must be a business that can be sold later for a higher price, usually after creating value by driving growth and/or reducing inefficiencies.