Picture the scene: your business is enjoying hockey stick growth when your first investor rings you with some news you don’t want to hear.
“I want to sell up,” he says. Your heart sinks.
Marc Duschenes says it’s a scenario founders need to plan for.
Duschenes is the owner of Bayfield Capital. He previously worked as chief executive of investment fund and property management business Braemar Group, which he floated on the Alternative Investment Market in 2005.
It was bought by wealth management firm Brooks Macdonald Group in June 2010 and Duschenes later bought out 10 property funds from the business through his private investment vehicle Bayfield Capital.
Speaking at TechBlast’s latest Going 4 Growth roundtable, he says: “The hardest part of growth is when your first investor is satisfied and wants to sell.
“It normally happens at the time when you’re successful and the growth curve is at its steepest and suddenly the rug is pulled out from under your feet. Then you have to find substitute investors.
“I floated a company and we received a cash offer for it. As a director and 29% shareholder I couldn’t say no to a cash offer, but it quite rudely interrupted my business plan.
“However, the other 70% of my shareholders thought ‘cash offer? Let’s take it’.
“It’s not something you expect to happen in your business cycle but when it does, it separates the entrepreneur who wants to create a unicorn, drive fast cars and own a yacht from those who are just driven by success and don’t want the shiny things.”
Duschenes has seen most sides of business having also been an early stage investor and non-executive director. Last year he was hospitalised by COVID-19 and has since donated 21 units of convalescent plasma to help other patients.
He says the most important appointment for a startup is the first one.
“What stands out, to me, is the most difficult thing is selling your business idea to your first batch of employees,” he recalls. “Effectively you’re pitching your business to someone who is putting their life in your hands.
“When you’re the first employee of a company and you’re trying to employ the second, that’s very difficult because you’re trying to sell them something. You’re so small that they become part of your family and don’t want to let them down.
“There is no training to be a fast-growth company director that is effective.”