Why You Can’t Turn the Company Around

Yesterday, we briefly touched on three different types of turnarounds–strategic, operational, and financial. The point was also made that many successful turnarounds are a combination of more than one type. If you have never had experience determining which type fits a given situation, chances are high that you will make some mistakes than could prevent the company’s successful recovery. There are at least two other reasons the desired recovery may never be seen–procrastination and delusion. We aim to explore both of these mindsets, but first want to dive deeper into our definitions of turnaround types. 

  • Strategic – the changing of markets and products, for instance going after new segments of the market.To do so would require new strategies and tactics with regards to promotions, pricing, design features that would need to be scheduled in the turnaround plan to guide management through the remarketing of the company.
  • Operational – transforms the cost structure of the operations. Unloading aged inventory and increasing sales efforts are two examples of use of this method. The operations section of a turnaround plan discusses schedules, budgets, estimating, purchase orders, direct costs, work in process, customer service, and time and dollars to get profitable work out the door.
  • Financial – this section of the turnaround plan ordinarily addresses debt structure, debt payment, accounts payable aging, accounts receivable strategy,  cash flow, inventory turns, revenue projections, and general and administrative cost structures (among other things). The costs recorded are actual, rather than accrual or standard, due to the time constraints of a crisis situation. 

The Danger of Procrastination

Too many companies decide to “ride it out” -like a foolish person in a coastal area with a category 5 hurricane approaching. Staying in the bad situation and only wringing one’s hands about lurking danger is NOT a solution! Management paralysis extends into business operations in the form of delayed strategic decisions. Those who refuse to admit that a problem actually exists do themselves, their employees, creditors, and customer a huge disservice. 

The business continues to lose credibility and money, and the loss of credibility can incapacitate a  leader’s ability to pursue many options. Teams must, therefore, avoid any procrastination and make the decisions necessary to initiate immediate action. Any delay simply makes the turnaround that much more difficult to accomplish.

The Investor Delusion

At this point, another common delusion is that a “white knight” investor exists who will swoop in and save the company with a cash infusion. Turnaround funds are only available when a credible turnaround exists, a plan that, not surprisingly, must include a substantial return for the turnaround investor. A desirable return normally includes the following:

  1. Origination fees for fund placements: 2 to 10 percent
  2. Management fees for recovery oversight: 5 percent
  3. Equity positions (transfer of ownership via stock): 25 percent or more
  4. Redemption based on retained earnings: 3 to 4 times retained earnings

As one can see…seeking the outside investor can make an imbalanced balance sheet much worse in a hurry. Instead, it’s wiser to work with existing stakeholders: vendors, lenders, (employees) and stockholders. Focus on management–not miracles!

Facing the Problem

When the executive team owns the fact that they must find a new, viable solution and they are willing to do “whatever it takes,” a new course of action must be chosen. Three distinct options should be considered:

  • A complete and comprehensive change in modus operandi–and the implementation of accountability and controls. This almost always is a shift to more team involvement in making decisions to counteract traditional one-man rule.
  • Pursuit of a bankruptcy procedure, led by attorneys, accountants, and others to protect the company assets and try to buy time. The turnaround plan is drafted in legal and accounting language and creditors are put at bay temporarily. Everything then hinges, however, on profitable growth moving forward.
  • Retaining a turnaround advisor who has significant experience in crisis situations is often the best choice. Often, bankruptcy filings can be avoided and the cash saved used to fuel a quicker recovery.

Your choice of option must be agreed upon by the entire management team if you plan to emerge with momentum. Greater transparency than ever before will win morale points with the team and the employees, plus help restore credibility with outsiders. With hard work, tighter controls, and improved leadership, you an “right the ship!”

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Entrepreneurs Have Not Because They Ask Not

The world of entrepreneurship is becoming more divided almost daily between the “haves” and the “have nots.” In this context, we would be referring to technology. Whether a start-up is seen as a technology company or not is determining not only valuations, but access to resources. One of the more common resources available to tech companies that “have” what others presume it takes to cash out somewhere in their trajectory for a very favorable multiple is an incubator, increasingly referred to synonymously as an accelerator.

Until very recently, these accelerators extract an equity position in the start-up company’s cap table in order to justify the risk of helping them for very little compensation up front. Most tech entrepreneurs learn to play the game this way and progress through the angel–Series A–Series B–etc process if they hit their milestones. But…the “have nots” bristle at the model and try to create worthwhile businesses without giving up equity. Unfortunately, they also try to go without mentoring and systematic instruction–to their detriment.

There is an emerging trend toward fee-based offerings that is on the horizon. Organizations like EntreDot, with a fashion innovation center and an industry agnostic innovation center in downtown Cary, NC, prefer the fee-based “pay to play” model. The premise is that a Main Street entrepreneur (otherwise known as “have not”) needs access to resources just like a tech start-up. In order for the innovation centers to provide services like instruction, mentoring, and space, they charge the entrepreneur on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. While this may be an affront to the typical “have” start-up mentality, it meets with less resistance among “have nots.”

Leaders of accelerators around the country who are trying to convert to more of the fee-based services model point to the fact that competition is stiffer than ever to get into the top  accelerators and too many entrepreneurs are being left by the wayside, just as the “have nots” have been for a longer period of time. What the newly disenfranchised and ignored sectors of entrepreneurship have in common is that they are trying to figure out how to commercialize an idea.  They each need help to do so!

Alexander Taub, the director of business development at the Des Moines, Iowa-based mobile-payment network Dwolla, spoke recently with Lauren Cannon for an article on the topic for Young Entrepreneur. Really young companies that aren’t necessarily ready for the big time may not benefit from accelerators, he says. Still, Taub does use General Assembly’s offices, which serve as Dwolla’s NYC home base. The value from using the co-working space stems from connecting with other companies that are also being incubated there, he says. “That’s definitely worth it… We’re part of the community.”

Plus, the experience might be worth paying a little extra for. At the Cary Innovation Center, less than six months of involvement has lead to strong growth for its initial two residents, Shelten Media and the CaryCitizen. Shelten saw an increase in billings of over 60% in her first 60 days and is now looking for larger space at the Center. CaryCitizen has seen their staff grow from two to five people as advertising revenues have increased. Both companies appreciate the value of the mentoring, but are committed to the program due to the cross pollination occurring among the residents. While it is definitely a significant and personal choice to decide to become a part of an accelerator (or innovation center as EntreDot calls theirs), the proof is in the results. As long as those serving the participants help them achieve desirable results, they will enjoy helping both the “have nots” and some who would otherwise be in the “have” category.