Posts

Stage Expertise is as Important at Sector Expertise

The Workhorse Capital team believes that successful investors differentiate themselves by contributing to the value creation process at each portfolio company. In order to do so, we keep close to our roots – focusing our investments in technology-enabled service businesses which leverage recurring revenue business models. We believe in sector expertise. Likewise, we believe in stage expertise. We’ve chosen to become growth stage experts. We believe that growth equity offers investors an asymmetric risk-return profile; the opportunity to derive venturesome return potential with much lower loss rates than venture. In our view Growth Equity investments exhibit the following return characteristics:

Proven Product-Market Fit and Economic Model

Candidates for Growth Equity investment typically operate in a quantifiably large market with a proven value proposition and economic model. These businesses know how to sell their product/service, how to identify their target customer and understand the economics of customer acquisition. With this foundation in place, growth-stage businesses can deploy investment capital at the use(s) of proceeds that generate the highest return on investment.

This cannot always be said of venture investments, which often wander in the woods and often must “pivot” before discovering a market, or leveraged buyouts, which must focus on repayment of debt to create equity value.

Attractive Risk-Adjusted Upside Potential

Growth and value are concepts that are inextricably linked in the financial markets. It is a well-known axiom that – all else equal – the faster a company is growing, the higher the multiple it commands, and vice versa. It is obvious but worth emphasizing that growth-stage businesses create incremental value by growing revenue and profitability. In a sufficiently large market segment, growth stage investments have the opportunity to drive meaningful growth and profitability.

The same can be said of venture investments, although the failure rate of venture-financed companies remains very high. While it is easy to recall high-profile acquisitions of venture-backed companies with unproven economic models, these exits are very much the exception to the rule. Growth Equity returns are more predictable because base exit value is tied explicitly to growth and financial performance, with the added upside potential of strategic value. Buyouts on the other hand often create value through cost-cutting and by reducing debt. As a result, traditional buyout returns are often bounded, as there is only so much cost cutting and debt repayment available to a given company.

Limited Risk of Capital Loss

We make Growth Equity investments in companies that have created a baseline of value and are typically un-levered, so that the preferred equity is not subordinate to debt. If the investment is priced right, the investment need only maintain its value in order to return capital to preferred shareholders.

This is distinct from both the venture capital asset class and the buyout asset class. In buyouts, the equity is typically subordinate to debt, creating a default risk that could wipe out equity. One need look no further than the 2007/’08 business cycle to see how leverage cuts both ways. In venture, the company must typically grow into its valuation by hitting development and/or performance milestones, which if not achieved can render the equity worthless. Venture is about harnessing home-run potential, but with that upside comes higher loss rates.

Being a stage expert (as well as a sector expert) enables us to better understand the challenges faced by growth stage businesses and to design our business around helping the entrepreneurs we partner with to stay ahead of those challenges. With a combination of sector and stage expertise, we are purpose built to execute on the promise of growth equity.

The Big 3: Team Building Best Practices


Bending the growth curve presents a new set of challenges for your expanding business. We recently touched on The Big 3 imperatives common to almost every growth-stage tech-enabled services (TES) business:

  • Team: Building and developing your team from top to bottom
  • Operational Scaling: Growing the operation and refactoring systems and processes to accommodate scale
  • Demand Generation: Opening up the aperture on the top of the the sales and marketing funnel – efficiently

Today, we’ll dive into the best practices, tools and methods associated with imperative #1: Team Building.  Getting to the right answers starts with asking the right questions:

Do we collectively possess the experience and expertise to be successful in this next phase?

 

If not, how do we architect, hire and nurture a high performance team to meet our goals?

 

Are all of our team members, especially our best and brightest, in the most effective roles?

 

How do we preserve the company’s culture as the business grows both inside and out?

As an owner-operator, you’ve successfully bootstrapped a business built upon a healthy respect for capital. The challenge ahead is how to expand your “bend the curve” team while preserving the company’s special attributes that got you here.

Team members that don’t scale, even one bad hire or unforeseen issues with team dynamics will divert your energies and the company’s focus from the task at hand. Furthermore, having to deal with the necessary course corrections will almost certainly waste precious growth capital.

Team Building Best Practices

There are best practices that cover every aspect of team-building from hiring to esprit de corps to leadership development. While there are many paths, choosing the approach and supporting tools that fit your particular situation is the special sauce. We’ve found that the most successful companies:

  • Common Language: Develop a common vocabulary and promoting consistent team communications. It’s been said that 95% of the issues you’ll face are rooted in communications.
  • Strategic Alignment: Are strategically aligned from top to bottom around “success”. You might be surprised how often teams aren’t unified on the long-term goals. Getting this right will streamline your hiring process, lead to better execution quality and feed a maniacal focus on achieving that “success”.
  • Focus on Performance Not Size: Build small, high performance teams. Company building begins and ends with elite teams. They are the foundation for sustainable, long-term success. Understanding the key attributes of high performing teams, starting with trust, and applying an effective operating model will produce the desired results. It will also promote and nurture leadership competencies throughout the organization.
  • Hiring: Hire well. A recruiting imperative for every growth-stage TES business is the ability to get candidates to reveal their strengths and weaker points from every job and to highlight their successes, failures, key decisions, and key relationships throughout their career. Mastering this approach can avoid misfires with strategic hires and identify potential high performers for front-line through manager roles that fit your team’s chemistry and company’s culture.
  • Psychology of Leadership: Great leaders really “get” their team members. Progressive leaders also focus on understanding their team’s conative faculties – the actions that result from their natural instincts which enable them to be the most productive. A simple assessment and collaborative tool can be used to improve organizational dynamics and hiring.
  • Prioritize: Prioritize continuous improvement. An important steps is transitioning from “the team you have” to “the team you want” through a continuous cycle of planned activities including:
    • 360-degree feedback
    • Creative on-the-job development of functional and communications skills
    • Action-learning team projects
    • Senior to junior level mentoring

The secret to all of this isn’t just figuring out what hurdles lie ahead but rather what “growth elixir” works best for your business. Then, follow through in the most expedient, capital efficient and sustainable way possible. In doing so you’ll also help ensure that every invested dollar in growth will generate the highest returns.

Next time, we’ll be discussing the 2nd imperative, Operational Scaling and how to proactively overcome the systems and process scaling challenges associated with doubling, tripling or even quadrupling your revenue. You can learn more about our views regarding The Big 3 Scaling Imperatives and the difference between building Unicorns and Workhorses at Don’t Die Trying.

Workhorse Capital Invests in Datavail

DatavailWorkhorse Capital is pleased to announce the completion of its first investment; a $7.2 million investment in Datavail Corporation. Datavail is the largest independent provider of remote database administration managed services in North America. Workhorse’s investment in Datavail is part of a $47.0 million growth recapitalization led by new investor, Catalyst Investors. New investor, Lumerity Capital and existing investors, Meritage Funds and Boulder Ventures also participated in the financing.

My relationship with Datavail started through my work at Meritage Funds. Meritage led Datavail’s Series C financing in 2011. I became more deeply involved with the company in 2013 upon my return to Meritage after having run a portfolio company for 16 months. At the time, Datavail had executed several acquisitions of smaller database managed services providers. The working thesis at the time had been to scale the business primarily through acquisition based growth. The acquisitions that the company made were certainly worthwhile, particularly in helping the business to achieve minimum efficient scale. However, it was clear that acquisition based growth strategy would ultimately become limiting and expensive and that the company would have to execute on other growth vectors if it was to achieve its highest potential.

Early in my involvement, it became apparent that Datavail had developed an under-appreciated core competency, the ability to predictably and profitably acquire enterprise class database administration customers at low cost. Datavail has always excelled in customer satisfaction and delivery. Adding a repeatable and scaleable organic customer acquisition capability to the core operating and delivery platform had the potential to create significant value. Through Mark Perlsetein (CEO) and the team’s superb execution, the Company proved its organic growth capabilities, and was able to garner additional internal financing to invest more aggressively in organic growth initiatives. The results is that the company has grown meaningfully over the past two years and with an attractive LTV/CAC ratio.

My relationship with Mark Perlstein, Datavail’s very capable Chief Executive Officer was cemented during our work on the organic growth strategy. We worked together to put the metrics, measurements and decision-tools in place to support the company’s organic growth aspirations. Getting the building blocks right on the front end has helped the business to direct its organic growth investments toward the most productive channels. It is great to see that work proving its worth.

As exited as I am about Datavail’s recent performance, I’m even more excited about the company’s prospect going forward. There are a number of reasons to be optimistic.

  • World-class Team: Mark Perlstein (CEO), Datavail’s CEO has put together an A-quality team across the board. Mark, Keenan Phelan (COO), and Andrew Evans (CEO) do a fantastic job making the business strategically relevant while also making sure the trains run on time. Robin Caputo (CMO) and David Boyle (SVP Sales) constantly improve the customer acquisition process and drive the revenue generation machine with a high degree of precision.
  • High Quality Scaleable Service Delivery Platform: Datavail has built a world-class service delivery operation and infrastructure. With 24×7, global delivery, the Company can meet its customers needs in any location and in any time zone. The company has really differentiated itself in the marketplace in its ability to serve a broad array of needs of mid-market and large enterprise customers.
  • Repeatable and Scaleable Organic Customer Acquisition: Datavail has not only built a world class service delivery platform but also a machine-like customer acquisition engine. With an LTV to CAC in excess of 5.0x, Datavail is poised to continue to grow as it enhances its investments in organic growth.
  • Great Partners: I’ve known the team at Catalyst Investors for many years. Tyler Newton, who led the financing on behalf of Catalyst is a capable and thoughtful investor. Matt Kim of Lumerity is also a long-time friend and colleague in the business. I’m pleased to have Tyler, the entire Catalyst team and Matt as a partners in this investment. I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with Jack Tankersley of Meritage Funds and Peter Roshko of Boulder Ventures. The investor group shares a common purpose to support this management team in taking Datavail to the next level.

I’m really pleased that Datavail is the first investment for Workhorse Capital. I’d go so far as to say I’m proud of it. The investment nicely fits Workhorse’s core focus of investing in growth-stage technology-enabled services businesses. Less than six months after Workhorse Capital’s launch, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an investor in such a high-caliber company and with the quality management and investment partners around the table.

Congratulations to the entire Datavail team!