(Editor’s note: Megan Jones is a Director at Hadley Partners. A modified version of this story appeared on the company’s blog.)
For any industry in which scale is important – especially ones like media or consumer technology – consolidation concerns should be top of mind. Winning over a customer that’s dominated by a better-funded and more established company can be a losing proposition.That’s why it’s often smart to seize an advantage early on once the winds of M&A begin blowing.
As a tech banker in Menlo Park, I saw a lot of consolidations early in my career. Recently, in discussions with a number of companies, I’ve heard potential acquirers are beginning to lurk nearby once more – even around businesses that have no interest in selling.
These companies are in industries that some people might think were still in the thick of a growth phase, which raises the question: Why do emerging industries sometimes evolve quickly into consolidating ones? I’ve got a few ideas…
1. Emerging industries that get press and attention tend to those that grow quickly. They also have large markets, attract talented people, have multiple and iterative stages of evolution and scale. All of those factors enable easier funding – either from business partners or venture capitalists.
2. Sometimes, as a result, those industries get over funded – with multiple VC firms each owning a similar company. All of those heavily funded companies then slug it out in a battle royale to win market share.
3. New industries or business segments are hard to build. Business models are often based on precedent – industries that targeted similar customers and monetized in related ways. In other words, you guess a lot, hopefully making reasoned guesses. A lot of mistakes are made (and some companies blow up) as a workable business model develops through trial and error. (Google, for example, wasn’t the first search engine.)
4. To build market share faster, some companies wisely merge. This action can enable economies of scale, a better customer experience (more offerings; better geographical reach; better or deeper management team) and add audience/customers. If the market conditions are right, the merger could create an entity that’s large enough to go public; thereby becoming better funded than its competitors.
5. The market can only support so many like companies – and other competitors in the sector realize it’s better to sell what’s left of a beaten company – and sieze some value from what you’ve built, rather than none.
6. Buying something (capacity; products; customers; geographies) takes less time and money than developing it. This factor can also lead to larger public companies buying into a new and emerging sector.
7. Selling late in the consolidation stage is often not as lucrative as selling early. The first companies to be acquired typically get more resources to build their presence in the industry, giving them an advantage (and making it more challenging for those that remain independent). The holdouts need to execute flawlessly in order to maintain any early leadership position they have.
8. VCs may push for a sale to ensure that their portfolio company partners with other stronger sector players, ensuring they get a good return.