November 30, 2022


Stock development

How do you sell a deeptech startup

It often goes unsaid, but any person who can take financial commitment from a VC business has also agreed to get the job done towards an exit. Irrespective of whether an IPO, an acquisition or any other implies of returning funds, this provides investors the likelihood to offer their stake and, with any luck ,, realise a sizeable return. Exits are not just about the buyers, nevertheless. Though it may well not be their key commitment for developing a company, several founders desire of producing a existence-shifting amount of prosperity, much too.

That is what delivers us right here, to portion a few of this series.

Aspect one: The five concerns traders require to inquire deeptech startups

Portion two: How to scale a deeptech firm

We’ll speak about deeptech exits, the very best way of acquiring there and, just as importantly, how to reach a very good final result. Specified almost everything we have reported in the to start with two elements, it will not be a surprise to master that deep tech exits operate a bit differently.

Let us start off with a household truth of the matter: companies are acquired, not sold.

When we say ‘exit’, we will largely necessarily mean a trade sale of the organization to a company customer. This is partly for the reason that it is the most prevalent exit route for deep tech begin-ups, but also due to the fact even these corporations that concentrate on an IPO will have to switch down acquisition provides alongside the way!

How to generate value

Let’s start off with a household real truth: providers are purchased, not offered. “Build it and they will come”, as the expressing goes. The “it”, in this scenario, is benefit. But in which does the price lie in a deep tech enterprise? Conveniently this can be broken down into three Ts (many thanks to the staff at Menalto Advisors for introducing us to the idea). The 3 Ts frequently happen in this get, and with every single 1 you incorporate you’ll get an get of magnitude soar in value:

  • Team: Deeptech corporations have a single uncommon advantage above their standard tech counterparts: deep tech teams are challenging, preferably extremely hard, to replicate. Their distinct information and abilities are as a result, like all unusual elements, extremely worthwhile. For case in point, it has been noted that Apple buys groups at $3m for every engineer. That could feel a lot, and it is, but at times the expense to obtain and keep these kind of individuals (specially a concentrated group of them) is substantially, a lot better.
  • Technological know-how: One particular of the defining characteristics of deep tech is the tough-to-replicate know-how. Whether or not it’s simply because there are patents to work about, or due to the fact of the time and exceptional abilities that go into its producing, there is price in technologies. But an notion by itself is not ample. What information or demos do you have to establish that your technology works? How much threat is left in its enhancement? How considerably are you alongside the path from turning the technologies into a item? The far more of these questions you can reply, the more alongside the highway to acquiring a useful technological innovation you will be.
  • Traction: This is the sport-changer for deep tech corporations. If you can blend market place foremost, defensible know-how and a globe course crew with an recognized and expanding customer foundation, your worth commences to climb into the a number of hundreds of hundreds of thousands, if not billions.

Stealth or highlight?

Even the most “valuable” enterprise won’t realise that benefit if nobody’s heard of you. No a single in a company improvement division wakes up a person day imagining, “I’ve bought a billion pounds to commit on an fascinating technology enterprise, I must go and see what is out there.” Corporations acquire organizations they know! This is primarily legitimate when crew and engineering are these a large variable in the acquisition selection. So receiving recognized, for the right motives, is an crucial component of your journey to exit.

Businesses acquire corporations they know. Lively marketing will be required.

Deeptech is a small planet, and the niche you’re doing work in is smaller nevertheless, so you may by now have a superior community of interactions in your industry. The crew powering WaveOptics (AR display screen firm acquired by Snap for $500m in May well) for case in point, arrived from backgrounds at the epicentre of augmented reality (BAE Techniques and 1066 Labs), which meant they were instantly plugged into every person there was to know. This close-knit character of deep tech may well hence imply you by now have a speak to at a possible acquirer, who could in time come to be your “champion”, instigating and driving interest in your company.

Ideally, you really should also attempt and get permission to use their logos and reference these consumers in your advertising components — even if they don’t stop up attaining you, they aid establish your reputation.

Lively advertising will nevertheless be important to get your standing to the degree and shape it requirements to be. Assumed management — writing posts and speaking about your technological know-how — can be an reply, but can also inform competition to what you’re executing . You will will need to navigate that continuous trade off involving being stealth and generating advertising and marketing excitement. But finally, some buzz is wanted.

We have established that men and women get deep tech corporations they know and deem to be a must have. But where could these offers arrive from?

Customers turned acquirers

Several consumers may possibly be acquirers or investors-in-ready, so of class, they require to be nurtured. WaveOptics was a provider to Snap Inc just before its acquisition, even though CQC not too long ago merged with Honeywell, with Honeywell acquiring beforehand been a ‘collaborator’ and investor in CQC. Shoppers become acquirers since they get to know your group and your technological innovation.

They could then make an present for your business for a number of causes: since they worry that they’ll lose obtain to a technological innovation and functionality (or because it may well go to just one of their rivals!) since your technological innovation was on their roadmap anyway and it allows them get there faster or for the reason that the group you have assembled would be tough to place with each other by themselves.

Continue to keep hold of your IP —  nothing at all receives opportunity acquirers extra fearful than contemplating your know-how may perhaps not be readily available to them at some stage.

Consumers as probable future acquirers can, consequently, maintain sway around you in the present, but it’s critical not to permit them to tie you into knots with exclusivity, rights of 1st refusal to purchase the enterprise and so on. For example, a clean method to guaranteeing you maintain your IP, and any IP designed out of the partnership, is crucial. Practically nothing gets prospective acquirers extra apprehensive than wondering your technological know-how may perhaps not be obtainable to them at some stage if you are taken out of the sector by another person else.

As previously mentioned, customers can also turn into traders. Equally, when this happens, it’s essential that the two interactions are held separate. Buyers frequently get proprietary details about a business that you would not want a prospective acquirer to have, so flows of information and who’s integrated and excluded in different situation will need to be diligently believed as a result of.

Usually the financial commitment and business sides of huge corporates are individual, and the natural deficiency of streamlining will help maintain the Chinese partitions. But it is also a superior thought to insist that any opportunity acquirers are an observer on the board, or removed totally. This cuts down their entitlement to critical components and means they just acquire substantial-stage reporting.

The actuality is that all through a thanks diligence process, a future buyer will find out all the key metrics about business enterprise efficiency. However, by this position you by now want the customer to be ‘in love’ with the plan of attaining you, somewhat than an trader who is seeking at forecasted revenues as a indicates of anchoring price negotiations.

Specialisation and expressing no

Deep tech businesses frequently have technological know-how that can be used to all kinds of troubles. Nevertheless, startups are necessarily money and headcount constrained. This would make it significant to zone in on a precise current market section and determine these shoppers with the most significant need for your product or service. When likely by way of this system, it is value considering if clients in that segment could also be acquirers.

Just one portfolio corporation selected to double down on smartphones for the reason that this is wherever the long term acquirer is most likely to be found.

1 portfolio company of ours, whose tech could be used across a broad array of consumer know-how, has picked to double down on smartphones. Not only is this exactly where the most important industrial prospects lie, but also where the long run acquirer is most possible to be identified. This variety of aim can involve tenacity and bravery, as it will generally indicate indicating no to some clients — and maybe even letting aged associations go. Possessing stated that, you don’t want to come to be exit-obsessed way too early, by bending the firm out of condition to in good shape some strategy of an acquirer’s eyesight.

When is the suitable time to provide?

You have taken all the correct steps and abruptly you have received a lifestyle-switching supply on the desk. But is it far too early? This is 1 of the toughest questions and some thing that we think about a great deal. Our duty as buyers is to test to accomplish the greatest doable return for our have investors, still it’s not often as uncomplicated as just holding out for a improved supply.

It’s not always as easy as just holding out for a improved present.

You may only get one particular chance at a massive exit by using acquisition. If you say no, your opportunity acquirer may perhaps glimpse in other places and buy a rival, or their strategic priorities may possibly transform that means your technology is no for a longer period critical. Provided the velocity of technological development, your tech could also stop up getting seen as Gen 1 exactly where a Gen 2 is rising. On the flipside, if your tech stays in advance, the acquirer could come back two a long time afterwards when the business enterprise has scaled up and attained far more traction, with a much superior provide.

For these causes, some valuable concerns to check with by yourself consist of:

  • Are there a lot of doable acquirers or is this give possible to be your final consumer in any case?
  • Are you probable to get a superior give in two decades (when you may have had to acquire much more funds)?
  • Will you be in a position to generate a competitive method from a person present, or could that potentially derail the initial supply — and even your customer romance?
  • Will the management team be happy in the new firm and do they agree on their supreme eyesight?

For founder-led firms, the final conclusion on no matter whether to sell is often theirs and if they have an provide on the table for a existence-modifying sum, it can be difficult to say no, primarily if they are not financially safe nonetheless. For this explanation, supporting secondary sales, or allowing vital administration to “take dollars off the table” along the way, can be significant to de-danger their position and maintain them motivated on the journey. Serial founders with a past exit less than their belt are in a stronger place below. They will be a great deal fewer motivated to provide early and can make to a lot larger results.

The funding hole

It’s also less complicated to say no to an acquisition present if you have an alternative, these kinds of as an give from investors to fund the company on to the next stage. Later stage cash at Collection C and D has been much more durable to entry for deep tech businesses, notably in Europe. This is changing, and the Uk government’s modern start of ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’, a £375m fund for British tech scaleups, implies the expanding intention to plug this gap.

If you can make it by the funding gap and start expanding revenues, your choices open up up.

According to its founding investor, Humayun Sheikh, DeepMind may well not have survived back again in 2014 had it not been obtained by Google. Its $600m cost was dependent on a excellent workforce and the “promise value” of its technology, but the corporation had not however attained commercialisation, and could have discovered it tricky to hold fundraising.

If you can make it via this funding hole and start off expanding revenues, your possibilities truly start to open up up, and that multi-billion-dollar exit seems on the horizon. Darktrace did this really properly and a short while ago stated on the London Inventory Trade for £1.7 billion. Graphcore appears to be to be on a comparable trajectory, but they are at present the exceptions somewhat than the norm.

What about an IPO?

IPOs tend to be a lot less prevalent in deeptech, partly mainly because the most typical acquirers are some of the most important corporations in the environment, with really large cash reserves.

We have viewed a absence of marketplace comprehension (and hence desire) in Europe. This is partly since several deeptech businesses suit the regular public industry profile — particularly worthwhile enterprise, with a particular advancement trajectory, a differentiated offering, and solid revenues with noticeable upside chances on the horizon. That mentioned, general public traders are setting up to consider an active fascination in sector-changing systems. The achievement of Darktrace and Graphcore on this side of the Atlantic, as nicely as SPAC (Particular Function Acquisition Firms) activity main to the likes of Babylon, and quantum engineering encryption startup, Arqit, going public, could necessarily mean European deeptech exits start to glimpse much more like their American cousins.

When ought to you provide in advisors?

Our view is that it is never too early to start the conversation about exits. Your investors need to constantly be there to chat if you require them, but must you begin conversing to advisors as properly? You could possibly assume that it is far too early to be having on formal interactions, but the privileged actuality is that some are happy to perform with you at any stage, in the beginning on an informal basis.

Some advisors are pleased to get the job done with you at any stage, on an informal basis.

The ideal types will give you invaluable enter and there are a selection of expert deeptech advisors. They’ll know the landscape within out — not only who the probable acquirers are — but they’ll know their roadmaps and how you might match in to them. For case in point, they could credibly say “we know that the Facebook crew are looking for a laptop eyesight group to established up Facebook Actuality Labs in the British isles,” as we were being informed ahead of Fb obtained Scape Technologies. The other cause for initiating these relationships sooner alternatively than later on is that when the time will come to formalise factors, you are going to know particularly who to call.

In summary

In spite of some notable successes, deeptech startups in Europe have even now discovered it much more challenging to make it as a result of the pre-earnings desert to achieve commercialisation and productive exit. Still the tide is turning, with governments and buyers waking up to the actuality that deep tech could be a gold mine. Our personal experience with Magic Pony, SwiftKey, Zynstra and now WaveOptics, is a strong indicator that we are on the right route, with much greater exits forward.

Simon King, Spouse and deep tech investor at Octopus Ventures – led the investment decision in WaveOptics, which recently bought to Snap Inc, and sat on its Board.

Zoe Chambers, Principal and deep tech investor at Octopus Ventures – spent 8 yrs as an M&A lawyer ahead of joining Octopus.