Cross-selling new products and services to your existing customers may be a great
marketing strategy, but if your goal is to increase the value of your business, the added
revenue may do nothing for your company’s value – and may even lower it.
In order to be acquired for a premium, consider committing to a product, service, or
bundle that does one thing well. Your aim should be to make that offering so
irresistible, that an acquirer will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. This focus will
help you build a team around your product or service and ultimately make your
company a whole lot more attractive when it comes time to sell.
However, most companies do the opposite. They take their initial success and water it
down by cross-selling additional products, leveraging their relationship with their
customers to sell them merely good offerings on the back of their great product or
service. The problem with wandering too far afield is that while add-on products may
increase your revenue, they decrease your attractiveness to a strategic acquirer. Like
being asked to buy a cable package of hundreds of channels when all you want is a
few acquirers don’t like buying things they will not use and therefore often walk away
from a deal where a great product has been watered down with dozens of less
attractive products or service lines.
How Stelligent Lost Its Focus (and found it again)
For example, take a look at Stelligent, a company in the business of helping help large
enterprises automate their software delivery process. There was a time when big
companies used to install their software deep, deep into operations – but the
emergence of ‘The Cloud’ changed that. Employees across the globe now get access to
the software they use anywhere they have access to a web browser.
Just as you might rent an apartment in a building, software developers pick one of the
big cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Amazon Web
Services (AWS) to rent compute, storage, database, and networking resources to run
their software systems. Since Azure, Google, and AWS all take a different approach to
hosting, an entire industry has been created to help developers configure their
software for the cloud service provider they pick.
Paul Duvall, the co-founder of Stelligent, is one of the pioneers of this industry called
DevOps – which is a set of organizational, culture, process, and tooling practices that
accelerate effective feedback between end users to improve the value of the software
that's being delivered. Duvall started Stelligent in 2007 with his then silent partner Rob
Daly. The goal was to help developers accelerate how quickly they could bring their
software to market.
Stelligent was a typical consulting company, selling the time of the engineers Duvall
hired on contract as his business required them.
By 2012, Stelligent had a half dozen contract workers and a few employees hovered
around one million in annual revenue, as project demand ebbed and flowed. Duvall felt
he was running on a treadmill. Each new project Duvall won required him to build a
whole new team. Around this time, Rob Daly – who had enjoyed success starting and
growing other companies – encouraged Duvall to read the book Built To Sell, where Duvall especially found tips around specialization to be most valuable. With a focus on shifting toward even more specialization, Duvall decided to go all in on AWS.
About a year later, in 2014, Daly then joined the team as its 5th employee and would
transition to CEO throughout the course of the year becoming very influential in
building a team of specialists focused on helping enterprise customers.
As time went by, Stelligent began earning a name for itself as the AWS specialists. As
Amazon’s cloud provider service grew in popularity, and so did the demand for Stelligent’s
services. Over the next three years, Stelligent blossomed into a multi-million-dollar
business with 30 full-time employees.
By early 2017, Denver-based HOSTING Inc. saw how quickly AWS was growing and
concluded that by acquiring Stelligent, they could leapfrog their competition and
become a market leader in AWS almost overnight. Later that year, HOSTING acquired
Stelligent for about double what a typical consulting company would hope to
command for a similar-sized business (when comparing multiples around high-growth
companies in the technology sector).
The story of Stelligent is a reminder of why you should focus your limited resources on
becoming so good in your niche that an acquirer reasons it would take too long – or
cost too much – to compete.