__Trusted relationships matter.
The “lions” are always out there. You have to respect that they’re there, also hunting. It’s part of business. Our research told us that Liquid Telecom would have possible competitors who also wanted to acquire the asset. The sellers were likely to follow a tender process. Our intelligence seemed to suggest that some very aggressive competitors could emerge, with very deep pockets.
We developed our business plan carefully, and discussed how we would make the business work within the rest of our operations. This would be a large acquisition at $450m, but it would be manageable for Liquid and its management team.
We brought in external advisors to help us evaluate and test each stage of our proposed strategy.
You must always seek expert advice, when it comes to buying a business. It doesn’t matter your own business skills, or how well you know the business — seek advice, and develop a culture of taking advice from trusted and credible professionals… include experts who are prepared to give you hard, cold facts and analysis that they know may not make you smile.
Many of you have asked: What about raising the money?
Let’s start at the beginning: For an entrepreneur, relationships matter. They’re the most important part of business. I’ve told you before, you must build trusted relationships. Twenty years ago, I went to a bank branch in Harare, Zimbabwe and asked them for a loan. It was the local branch of an international bank.
# A bank is a business, and never, ever forget that! They want clients who will grow with them, and continue to make them money. If you run from bank to bank, you may never get an opportunity to build a real relationship with them. Even as we’ve grown and built relationships with new banks and financiers around the world, I still hold on to my oldest relationships, just adding new ones as I go.
# Respect the so-called “small guys” you meet today, because they’re headed to be tomorrow’s “big guys” (and by this, of course, I’m referring to women, too!) Some branch managers at the banks I dealt with 20 years ago, are now very senior executives in the banking world.
# The serious entrepreneur treats the bank as a partner. They don’t just pitch up when a deal emerges. They’re constantly talking and comparing notes with the banks. Some of my best deals are brought to me by the banks… It’s their job, to bring me good deals!
This is not rocket science: Build relationships based on trust, and start today! Some of the other key relationships I rely on, even today, were also made over 20 years ago!
By the time we learned of the Neotel opportunity, we and our “lead” bankers were really old partners. We’d gone on many buffalo hunts together over the years, and we knew the rules of the hunt.
They weren’t hearing it for the first time from me. We’d made known that we were looking for an opportunity to make a big acquisition. Once our teams had completed their presentations, and our advisors had given their support, it was time to make the approach:
“We need money to buy the business, and also to develop it, going forward. We have a solid business plan for it.”
“For that kind of money, we’ll have to syndicate with others. You know you’ll need to come up with considerable equity. How far are you on equity?”
“We’ll share with you our plans on the equity piece. We have everything in hand. We know what you need. And we need your help to make it all happen.”
# Banks like to share risk with other banks. This is called syndication. Sometimes you can have as many as 20 banks working on a deal. Again, a good entrepreneur makes it their business to know how it works. This is how large amounts of money can be put together very quickly to support mega-deals.
# By now you’re familiar with the difference between “debt” and “equity” in financing a deal. From the business modeling (used for our business plan), we’re expected by the banks to know how much debt, and how much equity we need to make a business deal work. At this level, it’s almost a science, and there’s very little debate amongst the experts.
“Our team is ready.”
The rest is history. A few months later, the deal was done, fully funded, and ready to go.
I hear you asking: “And what happened to the lions?”
The “tall” tale of the Buffalo Hunter says: “The lions were very, very big. We managed to shoot the buffalo, and to get it out of the bush just in time. Our children are now fed well, and we’ll be planning a new hunt soon!”
To be continued. . .