Time it right and exit stage left

The Life: The timing of when to sell a company is one of the toughest questions that entrepreneurs face. Hari Kesavan, a scientist and entrepreneur, shares his strategies.

Hari Kesavan, left, shares insights with participants during a discussion on 'demystifying entrepreneurship' in Dubai. (Antonie Robertson / The National)
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Hari Kesavan, a scientist at a medical scanner manufacturing company in the United States, once witnessed a rival company capture more market share by offering a cheaper product with fewer features.

Within a few weeks, Mr Kesavan and his design team hit the market with a new scanner to rival their competitor. But he was told by his boss that, because he had the innovative talents and market knowledge, he should set up his own company.

"Get out of here and start on your own," Mr Kesavan recalls his boss telling him. "Otherwise you'll become a cubicle rut."

Trash the complacency. Innovate. And think of an exit strategy.

These were just some of the tips entrepreneurs heard at a recent discussion on "demystifying entrepreneurship" at Dubai Internet City.

"Start with the thought that you're going to sell the company one day [and] that it [should give] maximum value for you and your stakeholders," said Mr Kesavan, the founder and chairman of Unipropitia, which educates budding entrepreneurs, students and small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

Creating an exit strategy from the early stages of starting up helps the owner to pick the right venture that can provide maximum value to all of its stakeholders. It also helps run the company with best practices when it comes to corporate governance, finances, human resources and customer service, experts say.

In the Middle East, an investment should fetch 10 times its value on the sale of a company, Mr Kesavan says. In the US, investors expect 20 times the value of their investment on the sale of a company. Mr Kesavan, 49, founded the tech firm Percipia in Ohio in 2000 with 10 people. It grew to employ 100 in a few years, then went public in 2004.

Four years later, Percipia was bought out by a multibillion-dollar Japanese conglomerate.

The idea of selling one's company, one day, seemed to resonate with most participants at the event in Dubai, including Pankaj Sohaney, the director of marketing and business development of Eastern Biotech and Life Sciences. Mr Sohaney wants to start his own company and is toying with ideas in the health care sector both in India and the UAE.

"You know, I never thought of [business being long-term] this way," Mr Sohaney says. "I thought only of profit percentages on a day to day basis."

The timing of when to sell a company, however, is one of the toughest questions that entrepreneurs face.

According to Mr Kesavan, there are typically three scenarios to timing the sale of a business: when the going is good for the company and when the buyers are willing to pay better value to acquire the company than before; when consolidations are happening in the industry, it is wiser to consider mergers to avoid stiffer competition against the bigger, consolidated companies; and when there is stagnation in the company and the future does not seem much better.

Flip Media, a digital advertising company based in Dubai, became a member of the Leo Burnett Mena Group in February, after being in existence since 2003.

The management always knew they wanted to take the next step to further the brand, says Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, the chief executive of Flip Media. But getting access to global brands, a worldwide agency network and a pool of talent from around the world made Flip Media go ahead with the sale.

While the popular belief is that funding for businesses is tough in the UAE, this is actually a bigger issue in the US, Mr Kesavan says.

An e-healthcare initiative Unipropitia plans to launch in the Emirates found investments within a few months and less than five meetings here. This process may have been easier due to the fact there are fewer business proposals that reach investors here compared with the US, and expectations about monetary returns may not be as high.

"There are [fewer] innovative ideas in this region and they get better attention with the local investment community, government and high net-worth individuals," Mr Kesavan says.

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